Teamwork Makes The Dream Work Part 2: My Most Exceptional Hires

Holly Firestone
17 min readJul 27, 2020
Image by bamagal, provided by Unsplash

This is Part Two of a four part series:

I Don’t Mean To Brag But… 🙌🏻

I mentioned in my first post of this series that I am really good at hiring. Well, I am. The numbers speak for themselves. Out of the last ten people I’ve hired, eight were incredible additions to my teams. A couple turned out to not be the right fit, and while disappointing, that’s part of this process as well.

I know I can be a little boastful about my tremendous “luck” with hiring, but after getting them in the door, the rest was up to them — their brilliance, their hard work, and their determination.

Teamwork Actually Does Make The Dream Work 👯‍♀️

I want to share some stories about my most exceptional hires throughout the years. How I found them, when I knew they were going to be a great person to bring onto the team, and where they are now. I love being a people manager and one of the reasons why is because I love watching members of my team grow. There is nothing better than celebrating your people, and I am here to do exactly that with some of the people I was lucky enough to hire over the years.

The success I have found in my career wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible individuals that I have been honored to have on my teams.

There have been times in my career where I was a one-woman show, and while it is fun to be able to build on my own, nothing can compare to being surrounded by the brilliant and hardworking people I’ve surrounded myself with over the years. If you lead a community team and think differently, you either have the wrong team, or you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror for some self-reflection. You absolutely cannot be a good leader if you don’t recognize and value what your team members each bring to the table. I also don’t believe you can be a good leader if you don’t shout about that value from the rooftops every chance you get. *steps off soapbox*

Now, let’s talk about these exceptional people that I’ve been lucky enough to hire. If you are in the community management space, these folks are people that you absolutely must follow. They are incredible.

I’d also recommend checking out their backgrounds to get a better understanding of their experience I saw before I hired them. Might help give you some ideas of things to look for as you’re hiring. I’ve linked to each of their LinkedIn profiles.

Ashley Elder 🚂

I’ve shared a lot about my story at Atlassian and how I was a one-woman show for quite some time. We had some folks join the team and leave both in a full-time role and several part time roles and interns. However, the day the glorious words were spoken “You have a headcount to hire a Community Manager” I couldn’t be more excited to start digging into hiring. Atlassian is an amazing company, so we had a great pool of applicants. I worked with one of Atlassian’s fantastic recruiters, Chantelle Palmer, and she also did her own digging to ensure we found the best of the best. In walks Ashley Elder. Ashley went through a rigorous NINE rounds of interviews for the Community Specialist role. I have to admit, it was excessive, and looking back, I wish I had pushed back more with leadership. I would have been devastated if we had lost her because of the circus that was that interview process. Worth noting that it wasn’t an Atlassian interview thing — it was related to a specific manager. If you’re interviewing at Atlassian in the future, fear not!

Ashley looked great on paper already with her experience working for the Livestrong Foundation. She had experience dealing with people from all over the world, and she was also regularly working on some delicate situations that required a massive amount of empathy. On one of Ashley’s trillion interview rounds, she came into the office and we did a white-boarding session. That’s when I knew for sure that we had to hire Ashley. She lit up with excitement throughout the whole exercise. Her thought process was genius. She looked at things from our customers’ perspective. She was receptive to feedback. We bounced ideas back and forth off of each other like we had been doing it for years. She was the first whiteboard session I had done in interviews for that role, and unfortunately for everyone that came in after her, nobody else even came close. I was all on board the Ashley Elder train. Choo Choo.

I left not too long after Ashley started at Atlassian. The work she did in the five and a half years she was there is beyond impressive. Atlassian won the CMX award for best community this year, and there is no question that the work that Ashley did to build and fight for that community played a huge role in the success of that community and that team. I am still so proud to see what she accomplished. There was a time when that community felt like my baby (still does deep down), and I couldn’t have put it in better hands. Not too long ago, Ashley left Atlassian for a new role as the Head of the XM Professionals Community at Qualtrics. I can’t wait to see the impact Ashley has at her new company. Qualtrics found a true gem of a Community Professional.

Alex Pisani ⚔️

Alex came into my world as a referral from a friend of his that was already working at Salesforce on another team. What’s interesting about Alex (well, a million things, really), but what’s interesting about Alex in the context of hiring him for this Community Coordinator role is that he didn’t have any direct community management experience. Out of everyone I walk through in this post, Alex had the least “expected” experience of what you’d look for when perusing through resumes for a Community role. I can’t completely remember what ticked the boxes to kick off the interview process with Alex, but whatever it was, I’m so incredibly grateful it happened.

We started with a phone screen and by the time I hung up the phone, I KNEW that Alex was going to be the person we ended up hiring. He was actually the first person I interviewed for the role. I did my best to keep an open mind with every other candidate, but Alex brought so much more to the table than anyone else. We continued with screening questions and in-person interviews, and Alex nailed every single one of them. It was unanimous across our entire interview panel. He had an awesome personality, was a quick thinker, had creative ideas, understood our company values, and most importantly, it was easy to see he was empathetic. Those are things you just can’t teach. Teaching community management skills to someone in a Community Coordinator role can take some work, but it’s absolutely worth it for the right person. Keep that in mind as you’re looking for the next hire on your team. When you have to make tradeoffs, think about the skills that are teachable vs not teachable. I remember exactly where I was when our recruiter called me to tell me Alex had accepted the offer to join our team. I was ecstatic.

Alex has been on fire since day one at Salesforce. He came in ready to do anything, from the most obnoxious, but very important administrative tasks to bigger, more complex projects. That enthusiasm to take on anything is how he learned Community Management and Salesforce from the bottom up, and it has played a major role in his success today. One of our biggest issues at the time Alex came on board was our reimbursement process for the User Group Leaders. It was a nightmare, and the way we were treating these amazing individuals volunteering for us was embarrassing. The work to fix this process was no small feat. It was actually one of the most difficult and complex projects I’ve ever seen anyone take on in my career. Alex fixed it. While it may seem like something small, this impacted thousands of User Group Leaders — both at the time, and all of the ones we’ve brought on since. The community even dubbed him the “Reimbursement Slayer.” He’s had a boatload of other accomplishments since then — his scope has expanded greatly, but that one will always stick out in my mind as a scary monster he attacked head-on and defeated.

Alex is getting close to five years at Salesforce, and his impact over the years has been monumental. He has grown in so many different ways and has been promoted twice. He focuses on building relationships, engagement, and collaboration between the product team and the community in his current role as a Senior Community Manager on the Trailblazer Community Team.

Sofía Rodriguez Mata 🚀

Sofía applied for an open Community Coordinator role on my team at Salesforce. She had community management experience from her time at Course Hero, so I was excited to chat with her. To be completely honest, I knew Sofía was “the one” starting with her phone screen. We moved forward with screening questions from there. Sofía is a passionate and brilliant writer, and her screening questions blew me away. Her responses were thoughtful, fun, creative and empathetic. She came in for an in-person interview, and I’ll never forget walking into the room and seeing her sitting there with her iPad with a smile on her face. Sofia came to freakin’ win that day. Her iPad was loaded full of her brilliant ideas — she took this interview seriously and it showed. We had a great conversation. Everyone else that interviewed her loved her. One of the things that stands out most to me about this story is that Sofía knew what she brought to the table, and she did an awesome job negotiating her offer. She’s not the only person I’ve hired that’s negotiated, but for some reason I remember hers most vividly. I knew we HAD TO get her on board or it would be a huge loss for us, so it wasn’t even a question when the recruiter brought it up with me. A good lesson to learn there. Know your value and push for it.

Sofia just hit four years at Salesforce. She is a force to be reckoned with. She has been an international keynote speaker, is the VP of the Salesforce’s internal community- Latinoforce, has been the mastermind behind several massive global programs that have impacted thousands around the world, and to this day is still the most natural Community Professional I know. She has an amazing ability to connect with people on a meaningful level, and that has served her well in her career. This year, CMX awarded her offline Community Manager of the year! Sofía has taken off like a rocket ship since her first days at Salesforce four years ago and is currently focused on the content strategy for community and global community programs as the Senior Community Manager for the Trailblazer Community team.

The Quad Squad

This is a fun one to share! Ok, they’re all fun, but this is a little different. It felt like a miracle, but our team had THREE open headcount. Two that I was hiring — a Community Program Manager and a Community Coordinator, and one that Erica Kuhl, my manager, was hiring- a Senior Manager for Student Community Programs.

Amanda Bauman 🎸

I’m the first one to kick off the hiring process for the open roles. I talk to Amanda Bauman on the phone for the Community Program Manager role. Her experience was dynamite. She was most recently running the very successful Community Champions program at IBM. We had a great first call that definitely felt like a relaxed discussion introducing ourselves instead of a forced conversation about experience. After the phone interview, Amanda came to meet me for an in-person interview at our WeWork space in Austin (where we both lived). She crushed it. Absolutely brilliant person with a strong personality that I knew would be an incredible asset to our team. The next step was flying her out to San Francisco for more in-person interviews. I went out there that week as well so I could do a whole lineup of in person interviews, so I got to spend a little more time with Amanda. We had another great chat and she shared some incredible ideas she had for our User Groups, our large scale community events, and even ways to weave in mentorship and students to what we were doing. Like I said, it was a fantastic conversation, but something kept nagging at me about hiring her for my role. I (probably too aggressively) demanded she try San Francisco’s famous Humphrey Slocumbe ice cream on her way out, and as I was walking back to the elevator, a lightbulb went off in my head. 💡 She was a remarkable candidate, but with her experience, she was really too senior for the role I was hiring for. That realization paired with her bringing up students multiple times during our chat brought me to the absolute best conclusion — Erica needed to hire her for the Senior Manager role.

I called Erica immediately. In my breathless, excited, rapid-fire babble that only two people in the world can properly decipher when I’m in such a state (Erica and my husband, Eric — and yes, the similar name thing has caused many texts to go to the wrong one. A story for another time.), I explained every reason why this was the best decision ever. I was sure of it. Erica didn’t even have her role posted yet, but she trusted my judgement at this point (hell at this point we could read each other’s minds), and set up an interview with Amanda.

Amanda wasn’t technically my hire, as Erica made the decision, but I love the role I got to play in her joining the team in a role that fit her so perfectly. There’s no doubt in my mind that Amanda would have been able to meet the needs for the Community Programs Manager Role. She would have crushed it, but in the long run, that role might not have served her needs. Both are equally important.

Amanda built the Salesforce Student Groups Program from scratch which was no small feat. The amount of work that she had to do and the brilliant strategy that she built that made those programs grow the way they did was nothing short of amazing. She is a rockstar (literally and figuratively). Amanda will be at Salesforce for three years in September and is now the Director of Trailblazer Connect.

Tiffany Oda ☕️

Tiffany came in to interview for the Community Program Manager role. She was very thorough and thoughtful on her phone screen, and was invited to come on in for an in-person interview. I flew into San Francisco for a bunch of interviews lined up that week, so I got to meet Tiffany in person. The Community Program Manager role had a lot of focus on building out programs, processes, and operations. We did a brainstorming session, and right off the bat I noticed 1. Tiffany had the best damn handwriting I had ever seen and 2. She had a very methodical, organized approach to planning. Tiffany had most recently been working at Plastiq, focused on business relations. That meant that she was customer facing/ working with customers regularly. I thought that experience was great for the community world, and that paired with her approach to our brainstorming activity catapulted her to a front runner for the role. At the time, we also had Amanda Bauman interviewing for the role, and these two were leaps and bounds above the rest. It was clear that Amanda was meant for the Student Community role and Tiffany was meant for this Community Program Manager role. Badda Bing Badda Boom, we extended the offer to Tiffany.

Tiffany’s first few weeks at Salesforce were batshit crazy. Almost immediately after she started, we sent her packing on a whirlwind tour of our community events around the world. She went to Paris, the middle of the country in Ireland, London, and Noida in India. When I say it was a tour around the world, I mean it. I met Tiffany before the Ireland part of the tour and we traveled together from Dublin to a small town in Ireland called Bundoran. We traveled by car for around three hours. You learn a lot about someone on a three hour car ride in the middle of nowhere. We were friends fast. We connected on the most random things — we love Marvel, we’re both foodies (though she takes it to an even crazier level than me), we have similar opinions on a lot of social issues, and we got to learn a few of each other’s quirks. From Donegal we traveled together to London, where I took Tiffany to tea at the Shard — I’ve never seen someone so joyful in my life. The tea really won me some early points with Tiffany. From London we traveled to India, which was a first time for both of us and QUITE the experience. The Salesforce Community in India is wild. Huge, excited, fun, crazy — all of the best things you can imagine. I can’t believe Tiffany went there in her first few weeks at Salesforce. Looking back, I can’t imagine how overwhelming that must have been. She handled it like a boss.

Now, one thing that’s interesting to me about the first few weeks of Tiffany joining Salesforce, is that things didn’t go as smoothly as you would have expected if you know where things ended up. This was not a knock on Tiffany, who was doing exceptional work right off the bat. While we had a great time traveling the world together, we got back to normalcy and something just wasn’t “working.” Our communication was totally off. I didn’t get it — the interviews went so well and the traveling was great, too. I adored her. She adored me (I did take her to tea, after-all). Why weren’t we clicking? Turns out Tiffany is the most like me out of anyone I have ever managed. I have to laugh when I think about making that realization. We essentially weren’t communicating well because we were always saying the same thing to each other and didn’t realize it. It sounds weird, but that was exactly what was happening. Once that clicked, we adjusted how we communicated and that led to an unbelievable partnership.

It’s so important to not jump to conclusions when something isn’t working perfectly. 99% of the time the people you’re working with mean well, and you’re all just trying to do your best. Take the time to dig into the issue, and you’ll figure it out. Give your people the benefit of the doubt. It’s just as much your responsibility to fix things as it is theirs, maybe even more. Tiffany is one of my most exceptional hires, and I can’t imagine not having had the joy of working with her for the years I did.

Tiffany’s role was completely revamped a few months in, and she essentially became the owner of all operations for the community team. She is damn good at it, too. She managed the strategy for rebuilding every single process for our team. Beyond that, she managed the rebuilding of all of the tools and platforms we were using, became a successful people manager, improved all of the tracking our team was doing, became Salesforce certified, and so much more. She has been promoted twice in her almost three years at Salesforce, and is currently the Senior Manager, Program Manager for the Trailblazer Community. Hell yes!

Kendall Odom 🦴

Kendall came in as a referral from another amazing Community Professional who used to be on our team, Phoebe Venkat. We had a fantastic phone interview, her screening question responses were top notch, and then we had an awesome in-person interview. Kendall was most recently working at Pinterest coordinating all of the interviews for technical roles. She was juggling a lot of different things in her role — working with candidates and hiring managers directly (so gaining great people experience), scheduling interviews, working out some of the technical needs for the hiring process, and more. I thought those skills were perfect for our community coordinator role. One of the first things that stood out to me about Kendall was her personality. She was truly a beam of light in the room. In the Community Coordinator role, there was a ton of administrative work along with being on the front lines of managing support for our community leaders. Her personality and up-beat attitude were exactly what I knew we needed. She was clearly damn smart, too.

***Pause on Kendall Odom’s story***

Lizzy Roberts

Holy moly. We interviewed a ton of people for the Community Coordinator role, and it came down to two absolutely amazing candidates, Kendall Odom, and Lizzy Roberts. We loved both of them. I knew we couldn’t go wrong with hiring either of them, and I was pained to have to make a decision between these two amazing individuals. Luckily, one of the people on my interview panel was the wonderful Anne Young, who was on the Salesforce .org community team (different team entirely), and also, turns out, hiring for a Community Coordinator. Anne and Lizzy clicked really well, and the rest is history. Now, while I also can’t say that Lizzy was my hire, I also love the role I got to play in her story. She is now the Lead Community Manager at and is coming up on 3 years at Salesforce.

**Let’s head on back to Kendall Odom***

So after chatting with Anne Young and deciding that Kendall was the best fit for my team and Lizzy was the best fit for Anne’s team, we excitedly extended our offer to Kendall and she accepted! Kendall hit the ground running. Out of everyone Kendall is the person that I have seen grow the most in her role. She was already outstanding when she joined us at Salesforce, but she continued to prioritize learning and growing her knowledge and skill set. Like I said, the role was focused on a lot of administrative work, but Kendall didn’t stop there. She ALWAYS stepped back and asked if we could be doing things in a better way. She is the epitome of work smarter, not harder. She continued to manage all of the administrative work needed in her role, but at the same time, developed ways to be more efficient. She continued to take on bigger projects and really flourished as she spent more time working on different operations-focused initiatives. If the community team was a body, Kendall was the skeletal system. We would have just been a blob of organs without the operational and administrative work she was doing to keep us moving forward every day. Kendall is a Community Program Manager at Salesforce. She’ll be coming up on her 3 years at Salesforce very soon! I can’t wait to see Kendall and her career continue to grow.

Quad Squad

So you might be asking, why are you calling this group the Quad Squad? Well, if you didn’t catch it, all of these interviews were happening in the same time period. All of the in-person interviews happened the same week. And even crazier is that these four amazing community professionals all started at Salesforce on the same day!

It was my four-person power hire winning streak. 🏆🏆🏆🏆

But Wait, There’s More

I’ve also have had a couple people on my team that I “inherited” as part of a reorg, and I was beyond lucky in that situation. I’ll share a little bit more about those folks in Part Four of this series.

Altogether, these seven community professionals listed above have been at the companies I hired them into for a total of 26 years! Many are still going strong! Now, there’s TONS of different things that play into that, but the hiring process is the important start.

If you manage your hiring process the right way then it is a ton of work. You’re going to spend tons of time weeding out people that aren’t the right fit. Only a few are really going to knock your socks off. 🧦 It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes support from other people at your company. There is no question that it is worth it in the end. Like I said before, as a leader, your success is entirely dependent on the success of the people on your team. If they aren’t successful, you can’t be either. Always make your team members’ success your top priority.

I’m so damn happy with how things turned out. I think that’s pretty clear though, considering I just wrote a seven page blog post to talk about how remarkable these individuals are. ❤️


  • The success I have found in my career wouldn’t have been possible without the incredible individuals that I have been honored to have on my teams.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions if things aren’t working perfectly right off the bat. 99% of the time the people you’re working with mean well, and you’re all just trying to do your best.
  • Always make your team members’ success your top priority.

The things that stood out to me the most about these candidates:

  • Empathetic- their responses in person and in writing showed great amounts of empathy
  • Possessing qualities that you can’t teach- awesome personality, quick thinker, has creative ideas, understands the company values
  • Enthusiasm for the role and for learning new things
  • Taking the interview seriously- submitting thoughtful screening questions and coming “over-prepared” for the interview
  • Customer-facing experience, even if it’s not directly community
  • Up-beat attitude
  • Proven ability to juggle a lot of things at once



Holly Firestone

Community Strategist. Currently: CEO, Holly Firestone Consulting. Previously Venafi, Salesforce & Atlassian.