Quiz time!

What is a field? 

A) a portion of a farm or open land where one can grow crops or play sports

B) a category or attribute of data, commonly known as a “column” in a spreadsheet.

C) a career path or an area of expertise

D) all of the above

If you guessed “D”, you’re right!  For me, “field” has meant each one of these definitions!


When I say food justice was one of my greatest passions, I mean, I threw myself into the theme with endless exuberance.  I wrote my bat mitzvah speech about animal rights; I found meaning weeding beds of brassicas; I worked my hands raw trellising tomatoes;  I threw myself into work at the campus cafeteria, earning myself a job that was low on the totem pole but high in my esteem; I campaigned for better food and working conditions on campus and across the country; and before I knew it, I was applying for jobs in the sustainable agriculture nonprofit world.  This, I thought, would be not only my career but also my life’s work.  I don’t do things halfway, and this was no different.

Beets me!

My first job was with a nonprofit that addressed sustainable agriculture, farmland preservation and food access/insecurity.  Within a few years, we outgrew our “frankensystem” of googlesheets and migrated to a fresh Salesforce database.  Everyone asked who would learn and manage the system… and I said, “beets me!”  A few months later, I was knee deep in Salesforce architecture and automation and I never looked back.  It didn’t take long for me to think, “this is a-maize-ing!”

From field to field

I cared a lot about transparency and wanted everyone to have access to information, so while the technical side of Salesforce administration didn’t come naturally to me, the social transmission of systems and information did.  What we needed to do was capture that information and use it to make meaning, alert errors, and inform decisions.

It might seem like a huge leap to go from the fields (farming, that is!) to fields (database-land!) but now I see the two hand-in-hand.

  • Track record – Farmers and nonprofit practitioners have to keep track of LOTS of information, whether that’s seed varietals, volunteer shifts, or donors.  In farming, we did most of that with an industrial scale and a clipboard.  In the warehouse, we did it with an inventory management system.  In my current job, we do it with Salesforce.  No matter how high-tech, many of the same principles apply!
  • Seasons Greetings – Perhaps it’s obvious that farmers work on the seasonal-calendars-set-four-each-season-41193567seasonal
    schedule, from planting to harvesting to planning and starting again.  One thing that has surprised me is that database managers do, too!  When should you make planned system upgrades?  August and December, when many colleagues are out on vacation time.  When do you scrub your contact data?  November – right before your annual appeal or annual report.  When do you audit profiles and permissions?  The spring, when you’re not working on the other stuff.  See?
  • Expect the unexpected – Weather, pests, and other unexpected conditions can dramatically change a farming season, even if you go into it with a great plan.  Similar disruptions can occur with data… rogue users, system downtime, or logic with unintended consequences.  You always have to factor in a back up plan or some kind of insurance for the worst cases scenario.
  • System thinking – Farmers are incredibly attuned to the interaction of land, people, nutritional inputs, weather, and more.  Inputs (seeds, fertilizers, water, labor) and outputs (crops, value added products, soil health) are the name of the game!  You have to think long term, from rotating the crops to making investments that will take years, or even generations, to yield results.  Database managers are also thinking in terms of inputs (records, whether they are user generated, uploaded, or ported over from another system with an API) and outputs (alerts, reports, dashboards, process mapping, approvals, etc).   We have to implement measures to keep the database environment clean and healthy, from dupe-blocking to validation rules to data retention policies and more.  Finally, we have to think long term about utilizing third-party integrations, building out automation, and planning for the future.  Any farmer would agree – outsourcing, automating, and future planning can be essential!

I couldn’t have planned that my career would go in this direction, but I couldn’t be happier.  Why? Because I can satisfy my systems-loving, season-loving, info-loving, tender lil heart.  I thought I was an ‘accidental admin’ but maybe it was no accident, after all.

“Field”-ing questions (har har)

When I’m not building systems at work or for social justice movements, I love answering your questions through Dear Spreadsheet Whisperer (or on facebook!).  If you’re sitting on a question, don’t be shy!  Reach out and your question might be featured on TDAA.

Playing the field

Just kidding, I’m happily partnered, but I couldn’t resist one more pun!  ;P


4 thoughts on “far afield

  1. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying all your posts, Sam, and this might be my favorite. I really resonated with your linking data management to farming. You helped link something that can be quite abstract/challenging for me (data-management) to an earthy, systems-based activity (farming) that I grok more intuitively. And I enjoyed the puns! Thank you.

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