This post is about a labor of love. It’s about administrative logistics, signup forms, and un-glamorous data validation. It’s behind the scenes, it’s in the weeds, its everything most organizations WON’T tell you about. It’s not going to be terribly juicy, but I think it’s a story worth telling.

Amplify is an organization dedicated to empowering Underrepresented Voices in the ecosystem (and those who support them) to be fearless leaders in technology.

Amplify programs, leaders, mentors, and allies are a huge reason how I went from “Accidental Admin” to “Professional DBA” (database administrator)… an acronym that I didn’t know a few years ago! And I know that I’m not alone. This year, I joined Amplify as a board member and took on the mantle of running one of our flagship programs, certification study groups.

I know that many, many TDAA readers can relate to a story about using Google Forms to set up an elaborate program. I’m going to share how I did it, and how I learned from my mistakes!

Registration Station

There are a LOT of things to coordinate to run a program like Amplify Study Groups, but first and foremost, we needed a way for people to sign up and join… so I designed a (relatively simple) Google Form registration system.

I’m going to come clean…. I made some iffy decisions in that form! Those decisions cost me a bunch of time, and they resulted in us collecting information that we didn’t 100% need. Worse yet, the questions may have been confusing for our registrants.

The way I asked for pronouns really worked – and I’m happy about that! However, the way I asked people to select their study group topic was somewhat of a failure. I designed two questions. The first one (multiple choice) asked “Which study group would you like to join as a MEMBER?” and the second asked “Which study group would you like to join as a LEADER?” with a little bit more context about that role. The results? Most people filled out BOTH questions, leaving me in an impossible position of having to guess which role the person really wanted.

I quickly realized that I could rely on my own relationships and assumptions (oh I KNOW that person, they must have MEANT xyz!) but that’s how you get racism and nepotism and bias! So instead, I followed up with every single person to get clarification and then I subsequently updated the data. WHICH is how I ended up with an outbox that looks something like this…

I asked a question where registrants could identify their ideal learning style. Even though we aren’t going to save this information forever, I think it’s a worthwhile question for personal reflection purposes, and it didn’t take long to answer.

On the other hand, we had registrants fill out a scheduling grid for each day of the week and times when they tend to be free. Since we OVERALL make SG decisions based on timezones (and not day of the week) it turns out these data don’t really matter. Plus, people’s schedules can and do change, so each study group will use a Doodle or another scheduling tool to answer this question and schedule their meetings. Next time around, this question is gettin’ snipped.

Instead of asking registrants about aspects of their identity, we used an approach that I call, “free response.” We had a “write in” box where registrants were invited to share anything that felt important to them about their identity. We separately had a multiple choice question where people could identify as “an underrepresented voice in tech” or “an ally.” People who don’t identify in either of those categories don’t belong in our study groups! This is all of the data that we need for reporting – we do not need to segment by race, gender, age etc (although respondents did mention those characteristics in their free responses!). If we do want to report on identities in the future, we can extrapolate based on people’s free responses. I am happy with our data for these questions. 146 underrepresented voices and 13 allies, and lots of beautiful vulnerability in the free response box.

Outreach, not ouchreach!

We did a big outreach push for the three week registration period, including some framing about NY Resolutions. I think that helped, but what helped the most was working out partnerships with “sibling organizations” (like other organizations that share our mission around diversity, equity and inclusion in Salesforce and tech in general) to “amplify” the message. I also created email templates for our board members and partners to use to invite people in their lives to sign up.

I think a personal invitation can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD, especially with people who identify as underrepresented (we see fewer mentors who look like us, feel like we don’t fit in, and are often neglected when professional development opportunities arise) so I wanted to make it as easy as possible to get those going.

Our registration list turned out to almost 4x bigger than what we expected, so we had to hustle to find more SG leaders to make SGs a success. Luckily, Amplify has a wide network of people who rose to the occasion. I tracked all of those (pending, confirmed) SG leaders in a specific spreadsheet tab.

Lastly, it felt important to me that we put all of this into a broader context. YES we are creating opportunities to support people in earning these sought-after Salesforce credentials, but the last thing we want to do is create a hierarchy in our community of people with certs and people without them. There are lots of valid reasons why someone might not pursue a cert, or might not have time at any given point to study for them. It was important to use broad and inclusive messaging – and create invitations, not mandates! Since I know we can’t control how other people share the message, I decided to write a blog post that would allow people to link to more information. And I wrote this loud and clear in the blog post!

Delegation Station

As you can imagine, all of this outreach, orchestration, coordination, and messaging is a LOT of work and I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t do it on my own. (BIG thanks to Vered, Rachel, Jace, Lindsey, and Marisa for pitching in! Yeah, it’s really a TEAM effort)

But… surprise, surprise… I’m a TERRIBLE delegator. I’m so glad that Amplify board members stuck with me and helped a tremendous amount. Every few days, I posted a list of tasks to our Slack channel and everyone who could found a way to take a few things off my plate. I’ve never worked together like this before, and it’s truly eye-opening and revolutionary!

The crux of the matter

Each Study Group cohort is memorialized in a Salesforce Campaign in Amplify’s Salesforce organization. From now on, it will be relatively easy to track each group and capture how many people have passed their exam. It will also be easy to count how many study groups we had, and go back and find Study Group leaders for future cohorts. I’m really excited about having this level of organization, which wasn’t previously possible for this program!

On the other hand, like MANY MANY people in the world, even with the most sophisticated technology at my fingertips, and the skills to use it, I still reverted to doing a lot of things the slow way.

I could have used a mail merge to send all of those SG confirmation emails (pictured above), but instead, I sent them manually.

I could have used a Form Builder app that integrated with Salesforce so that we didn’t have to migrate the data from a spreadsheet into the system, but I didn’t because it would have taken more time and planning. Google Forms were easy and readily available. I wanted to get started right away!

So here’s permission to readers near and far to USE WHAT WORKS and then reflect on it later! I know there are changes that I will make for our next sign-up period, but I stand by the decisions that I made this time around. We got moving quickly, and we grew our program by nearly 400%. That’s nothing to sneeze at!

As budding technologists, we often have to make hard choices between “building the perfect system” and “getting started with what we have.” I could write a-whole-nother blog post on this topic, but for now, I’ll leave you to marinate on the trade-off, and grace for which ever side you choose.

Have you used Google Forms to register people for events? What are some of your best practices? How do you refer to those Sheets years down the line? What are the limitations of your sign up systems? I want to hear it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. You know where to find me!

2 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes with Amplify Study Groups

  1. Love the insight and lessons you talk about Sam! I made similar mistakes in my past Admin life, and it always seemed like I automated everyone else’s processes first, leaving myself with the long manual tasks. Reflection is key and I look forward to your blog about how you improved your process next time!

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