Attending Dreamforce 2018 was a unique and memorable experience. Our team Operation Ohana, consisting of Alyssa Ream, Rachel Ream, and Ashely Weihe, won the trip after competing against more than 50 teams in the Trailhead for Students Dreamforce Case Competition.

The contest began in mid-July when Ashley Weihe, the founder of Salesforce Trailblazers, reached out to the rest of us to form a team. Our team was given only a few weeks to determine the best ways to use Salesforce to help Big Brothers Big Sisters of America solve 3 main issues: lack of marketing, lead management, and event management. Submissions could help with one, two, or all three of these issues. We decided to tackle all three and were inspired by the Salesforce organization’s culture of Ohana (which means family). Our solution began with embracing the Ohana spirit and using various Salesforce technologies across multiple clouds.

Our team created a custom community, objects, reports, dashboards, and email templates to help Big Brothers Big Sisters increase their number of Bigs and speed up the matching with their Littles. On August 10, we submitted our solution which included a PowerPoint, a screencast, and a video describing our solution. After returning to Illinois State University for the fall semester, we found out we made it to the semifinals and had won a trip to Dreamforce, which is the largest software conference in the world with over 170,000 attendees.

Alyssa Ream, Rachel Ream, and Ashely Weihe We traveled to San Francisco to attend the conference the week of September 24. On Monday, our team met members of the other four teams in the semifinals and picked up our Dreamforce badges. The next morning, we had the opportunity to visit Salesforce Tower and present our solution to a group of judges including Shirlene Chow from Trailhead for Students, Rick Ohern from Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Nick Ronzino from Bluewolf IBM. Within a 7-minute time restraint, we explained our message and the value of our solution as well as provided a live demo. After all five teams finished presenting, we were told we had ranked first and were advancing to the finals.

On Thursday morning, our team headed to a live session at Dreamforce with a team of four students from Indiana University and a team of four students from Boston and the San Francisco Bay area. We were given just five minutes to present our solution in the Developer Theater using only screenshots within a PowerPoint. Judges for the finals included the chief technology officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters, the vice president of the Trailblazer community, and the general manager of Trailhead. Supporting us in the audience were Illinois State graduates as well as other Trailblazers from the Chicago area that we had met over the summer at user group meetings and larger Salesforce events including Midwest Dreamin’. Although we didn’t come in first during this final round, it was a great experience to be on stage speaking at our first Dreamforce.

Throughout our week at Dreamforce, our team was able to connect with Salesforce employees, MVPs and many other students and Trailblazers from around the country. We attended keynote addresses and sessions on areas of the Salesforce platform that interested us, as well as the “Dreamfest” concert featuring Metallica and benefitting the University of Califronia, San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospitals. Trailhead for Students has specific events geared toward students and we were able to learn about the soft skills and hard skills we will need for our careers. Salesforce even hosted a career fair for students and veterans Thursday afternoon allowing us to speak to companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Silverline, and Simplus. The professionals we met at Dreamforce were very interested and intrigued about students learning Salesforce skills prior to entering the workforce.

Our experience at Dreamforce was transformational for all three of us, and we are so excited we get to share our story with students and faculty at Illinois State. We hope our story will inspire other students to join our new student organization, the Salesforce Trailblazers, and start learning about the Salesforce platform .