Everyone has a unique story, one that they can look back on and see exactly how they got to where they currently are. It's a journey we can look back on and learn from. This is my story.
In the winter of 1980, in the hills of upper east Tennessee, I began my life as someone with a vision disability. This presented many challenges for me throughout my life and shaped my life as much as nature shaped the Appalachian Mountains. Over the years, the struggles I faced taught me many things: how to be resourceful, to solve problems, to face challenges with strength and determination, and how to find and appreciate the small things of value that can be easily overlooked.
I was an early reader, soaking up every bit of information I could get my hands on, something that has remained an integral part of who I am and that informs many of my choices. Whether it was figuring out how to manage my schoolwork while not being able to see the material well, learning to ride a bike while barely being able to see the street in front of me, or even driving my mom's car around the block in order to allow the alternator to charge the jumped battery, I learned ingenuity and tenacity. Extra lighting, slower speed and greater leg strength, and diligent attention to detail enabled me to accomplish all of these things.
I started college at the same time as my peers, though I didn't finish for various reasons, including not understanding how to accommodate my learning style. Unfortunately, challenges in my personal life had me put formal education on the back burner. Since then, I have sought out as much knowledge on various subjects as I could. Whether that was learning enough of a number of programming (and markup) languages to get done what I needed at the time or deep dives into various psychology, science, and IT topics, I have never stopped learning.
In mid 2001, I was offered the opportunity to gain a medical transcription certification, something that very much appealed to me. Attention to detail has always been a forte, and I had developed a fast typing speed without having a keyboard in front of me by air-typing as "something to do" when I was bored. Learning terminology was fun for me. Having a natural ability to understand the various accents of doctors I worked with made me a valuable asset on the job.
A move to the Midwest meant a lot of changes for me. Marriage, a different job market, and an chance to work as a switchboard operator at a local VA hospital. Like any endeavor, I sunk myself into the work. I dedicated my first days to learning everything I could. It took very little time for me to recognize just how tedious some of the tasks we had to do were using screen reading technology. It took precious time that we could spend helping patients and spent it on searching for information that would be at our sighted peers' fingertips. It was then that I determined to learn all I could about the JAWS screen reading software and how to customize it in order to simplify the process of searching for information in a patient's record. While it took me a few weeks of working between my other duties, I managed it and created a seamless process for myself and my coworkers that provided not only accessibility but better usability. When it came time to switch from desk phones to soft phones, I volunteered to go through this process again with the new software. This time, it was far from accessible, much less easily usable, out of the box. I applied everything I'd learned months prior to the new task before me and in no time made this new software just as easily usable as the rest of the tools we used on the job.
Personal challenges took me from the 9-5 work world after that, and while I spent a bit of time trying to figure out how I would handle that, it wasn't long before my communication skills and detail oriented nature combined into a new opportunity. It started with a few people I knew (or their family members) needing short story submissions, school papers, and cover letters reviewed for errors. At one point, I worked for a small publishing company in Texas, White Bird Publications. The work there was fulfilling and quite enjoyable. But eventually, I moved on in order to go back to my roots of helping out individuals on a 1:1 basis.
Part of that decision was my involvement in advocacy organizations. Volunteer work and giving back have always been important to me. When a long-time family friend asked me to join a local affiliate of a national organization, I took on responsibility almost immediately upon joining. At the time, their greatest need was marketing. Back then, I had nothing but personal experience with social media and very little other than that with website development. I became their Internet and Social Media Coordinator, building a website and establishing their presence on social media. In time, I took on more and more responsibility, first as Secretary, then as President. During all of these roles, I took on additional projects, including fundraising, event planning, and gathering of non-monetary donations for the annual Missouri Council of the Blind convention. Part of being President was acting as a board member on the state level. But once more, my involvement wasn't limited to a simple job description. Not long after becoming involved with the board, I was asked to be the copy editor for the organization's quarterly newsletter. A short time after that, I was asked to be their Credentials Chair. I had never taken on such responsibility before. It was my job to see that the state-wide elections were handled effectively and securely. Like any new endeavor, I approached it with an open mind and an eagerness to learn.
During the same time period, I did other volunteer work as well, at one point serving on an event committee for a local disability organization working to host a fundraising event. At another, I worked on a national committee for a Leadership Conference, planning an event that would be open to organizational leaders from state and local chapters of the American Council of the Blind.
But all good things must come to an end. Eventually, it was time to focus once more on copy editing and personal development. Through a time of self-discovery, I realized that while I enjoyed the day to day of copy editing, being able to sink myself into a piece of writing and make it better, I also wanted to better myself. This first involved focusing on my own writing, but then grew into something more; a realization that I wasn't satisfied being a solo contractor, always looking for the next gig. A change in my vision status following a failed cornea transplant expedited this change. It was time to pursue something closer to my passions.
It was time to move into the field of IT. I'd been a hobbyist for many years, following various professionals in the field, keeping up on news. It was in December of 2020 that I reached out on social media with a request for something new, some way to make my skills and talents useful to others. It wasn't long before I received a reply from someone I'd known only through that medium. I was told of Salesforce, of the Blind Institute of Technology, and of the opportunity to start my desired career change with a class that would be held six months later.
During the time between finding out about BIT and joining the Summer 2021 class, I worked on personal development once more. If I was going to be reentering the workforce in a new industry with a different environment, I was going to need to be prepared for those challenges. From virtual workshops to research, to learning more about CRM and what the day to day duties of a Salesforce Administrator would be, to looking around at universities for one whose class structure would best fit my learning style, I spent a lot of time growing and preparing to learn.
I have taken on this endeavor with just as much passion as I've taken on every other endeavor in my life. It hasn't always been a smooth road; there have been challenges I've faced that are related to my visual disability and to circumstances of life. Each of those challenges have been faced with perseverance, ingenuity, and tenacity.
While taking part in the BIT Academy's summer 2021 Salesforce Admin Certification Prep Class, I had the opportunity to help my fellow students by tutoring and leading a study group. I also began moderating a Discord server geared toward cooperative learning and collaboration between new and established Salesforce Professionals and those on their certification journeys.
While still in class, I was contracted to write the written material for the next. The opportunity was one of value, both for how I knew it would help those who came after me, but also for how I knew it would help prepare me. The certification exam itself did not come without a good case of nerves, but with everything else, I took it on with my chin up and am proud to say that I easily passed and became a Certified Salesforce Administrator.
Before I was even finished with that contract, I was asked to come work for BIT full-time as their internal Salesforce admin, as a Salesforce consultant for their clients, and as a general IT coordinator. This fit my skills very well, and I learned a great deal. In early 2022, I transitioned into teaching Salesforce as the instructor of the program and leading the BIT Academy. I kept my hands in Salesforce during that time. I trained to be a Salesforce Administrator, and that's what I want to do. And as the organization needs a program coordinator, I have made the difficult choice to move on and find a new organization where my skills can be of benefit.
I am eternally grateful for the opportunity BIT and Salesforce have provided. I have huge plans for the future, plans that begun only a short time ago. No journey is enjoyable without stops along the way, to reevaluate travel plans, without pauses to take in a deep breath of fresh, cleansing air and enjoy the scenery. Mine is no different. I look back on the trail thus far and know that I'm only where I am now because of where I've been. I can only go forward by using what I've learned to the benefit of others and myself in the future.