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Flipping the Switch: How a Kid With No Computer Became an IT Nerd

Valerie Nadi
Aug 22 - 6 min read

Tre Robinson is a development automation engineer. It’s the kind of title he never thought he would have. But thanks to some eye-opening STEM programs in high school, the opportunity to complete an associate degree in record time, and some serious drive, Tre has turned his passion into his profession at Salesforce.

Part of that passion is making sure kids from underrepresented backgrounds have the chance to discover the world of technology, to imagine themselves in it, and to get there.

Tre shares his story.

you’d said to me 10 years ago that I’d be working in IT for a company like Salesforce, there’s no way I would have believed you. As a kid, it just didn’t occur to me that someone like me could do a job like this. I didn’t have the financial resources to purchase my own tech or know anyone working in the industry. But thanks to some STEM programs at school, my eyes really opened up to the world of technology and the idea that there could be a place for me in it. When I finally got my own PC, which wasn’t until after my senior year, it was like I’d found my calling. I’ve been tinkering and innovating with technology ever since!

Part of what drives me today is that I never want a kid to feel like that world is closed off to them just because of their economic background. My way of saying ‘thank you’ for the opportunities I had is to make sure kids like me get the same chances to have their world opened up.

I graduated from Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis in 2011 and went straight on to Ivy Tech Community College. I was part of the ASAP program which was basically a trial program to see if inner-city youth could get through an associate degree of applied science in under a year. I was raising my little brother at the time and needed to get working as soon as possible. I just wasn’t in the position to take on two or four years of study.

To my amazement, I did it — a two-year degree in 10 months. It was a huge boost, not just to my morale, but to the way I approached challenges in life. Having conquered that, I knew that it was possible to achieve even the most daunting of goals.

I started working immediately for a local company, mostly in their call center. But they needed someone onsite for IT support, so I became the IT department for 650 employees. I worked there for five years.

Don’t Know the Answer? Welcome to the Club!

I didn’t know a whole lot about the Salesforce culture before I started working here, apart from the fact that the people I’d met who worked at Salesforce were working on some cool projects. But what really intrigued me was that they seemed to have such a positive attitude about themselves and each other. It was all about uplifting and empowering each other.

I was pretty intimidated when I started. I felt self-conscious — I didn’t feel like I had the impressive qualifications my colleagues had. Was I going to be able to perform at the same level as them? What if I didn’t know what I was doing? What if I didn’t have the answers?

But what I’ve discovered in the two and a half years I’ve worked at Salesforce is that not always having the answers is kind of the point! We are all working it out together. That’s what problem-solving is: finding the answers. And so asking questions is essential. It’s not weak — it’s smart.

Sometimes I have to still remind myself of that. Just the other day, for example, I’d spent about five hours looking into something and, the more I looked, the more complicated it got. So finally, I reviewed our company’s interactive org chart and found someone with a title that I thought was relevant to what I was trying to resolve. I asked for help, and was given two steps that helped me figure out the problem in less than 45 seconds. I just had to laugh! I mean, here I am working with some of the best minds and expertise in the business — you just have to remember to reach out and ask.

It works the other way too. I love the feeling of being able to help someone with a problem they’re having. I’ll reach out to someone who is looking a bit stressed out and see if there’s something I can offer. That’s how it works at Salesforce — we are in it together. The attitude here is less “Here’s your task, get it done,” and more “Here’s a puzzle, who wants to have a go at solving it?”

Lighting the Spark

One of the other aspects of the Salesforce culture that really matters to me is the focus on contributing to the community. After all, it’s largely thanks to community programs that I’m here today, so I’ll take any opportunity I can to give back.

“I remember that feeling of excitement, of a world opening up before my eyes. Salesforce empowers me to make that happen for other kids and that is something I’m grateful for… every day.”

A big highlight for me was helping out Code Black Indy and 100 Black Men of Indianapolis last summer — both are great organizations that work to develop tech and leadership skills in young Black people, while mentoring and role modeling. When I was helping out those organizations, we went to a school that Salesforce had partnered with to help teach fourth and fifth graders some basic robotics.

At first, you could tell the kids were thinking, “Why are we stuck in class on a summer’s day?” And fair enough. I remember that feeling. You’re just looking out the window thinking of all the other stuff you could be doing.

But then we got to the part where they had to put a couple of pieces together themselves, plug in some wires, make sure the circuitry was right. And when they flipped the switch and the robot started working? Well, it just blew their minds. In that moment I saw a spark ignite and I knew we had them. Everyone was engaged, talking, collaborating, wanting to try it for themselves. Many of these kids never had their own computer or even internet access at home so showing them what was possible was amazing.

I remember that feeling of excitement, of a world opening up before my eyes. Salesforce empowers me to make that happen for other kids and that is something I’m grateful for and excited about every day.

And every day I’m still excited that this is my world now — I build the highway the developers get on to drive their code to customers.

There is undeniable power in representation. Join us for our annual Racial Equality summit, Representation Matters — an event to inspire, empower, and elevate our most underrepresented (Black, Latinx, and Indigenous) communities in tech. Or, to learn more about joining our team, visit our Careers site.

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