Ashley Allen always had the mentality of, “If I was in charge, I would do it differently.” Now, they make that come true as CEO and founder of ITequality. They started the company in 2017 after working as a system admin at Verizon, and before that, working as a Salesforce consultant in order to provide for three children. Read on to learn about this green-haired, tattooed, smash-the-mold trailblazing partner, and the journey to running a business and blazing trails all along the way.
How did you get your start in tech?
Ashley: When I was fresh out of college with a bachelor’s in mathematics, I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter. I wondered how I’d get a job if I had to leave in nine months, so I started looking for work-from-home jobs, figuring I’d do something like stuff envelopes, making minimum wage.
From a Craigslist ad, I found a startup Salesforce consulting company, who hired me to code. After a year, I left my developer role, and did freelance Admin work. I didn't really find my stride with my career until I met someone who truly believed in me. His advice was to always know the value of my work, and he was the first boss I ever had who really built me up. In fact, 5 years after I left that position, I went back to thank him and had lunch with him! In 2014 got a job at Autotrader.com as an in-house Salesforce admin. That was eye-opening because I hadn’t worked in such a large organization. Later, I worked at Verizon and recently, I started ITequality.
Tell us about ITequality. What it’s mission?
Ashley: We are a Salesforce consulting company, but we’re also so much more than that. We are community outreach. We help people gain Salesforce experience. Maybe they need a small resume boost, or they’re going back to work after being a stay-at-home dad. We strive to help people any way possible.
ITequality is very much about helping nonprofits and the community. Why?
Ashley: When I was growing up, I was an at-risk kid struggling with mental health issues. I would not be where I am today without the teachers, neighbors, counselors, and friends I had to lean on. We have this vision of creating a non-profit tutoring café where LGBT and at-risk kids can get tutoring help, do their homework, get free food, and have a safe place to go after school. Most of all, I want kids to have people who believe in them, the way I had people believe in me. I want every child to know they are important, and there are people who care about them and genuinely want them to succeed. I want profits from ITequality to kickstart this vision, and one day have it grow into a self sustaining nonprofit.
Wow. Do you have time for fun?
Ashley: I’m so passionate about this that it feels like a hobby. It doesn’t feel like work to me. For fun, I do enjoy ceramics, ballet, and gardening. My partner and I have three kids, and we like to do crafts, robotics, cooking and music with them.
What have been some of your challenges in starting ITequality?
Ashley: I self Identify as a non-binary lesbian. When somebody looks at me they don’t necessarily see a stereotypical business woman. When I started ITequality, I thought to myself, ‘Who do I want to be? Am I going wear long sleeves to cover my scars and tattoos?’ I wondered if my appearance would hurt my credibility, and I really wanted to be successful. At the same time, I wanted to be authentic, and so I decided to just be me. That was extremely hard because at first nobody hired me. It was months before I had one customer. I was broke. One night, I tried to lighten my hair to a brown color using a store-bought box of hair dye, but made a huge mistake which resulted in a horrific shade of orange. It was late at night, and I needed to fix the color, so using what I had on hand, I covered it up with some old bright pink hair dye. I had forgotten that I had a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce the next day, and now I would be showing up with pink hair.
I was at rock bottom. I had nothing left to lose. However, in a turn of events, everybody at the Chamber of Commerce loved my hair. They really loved it. It was the self-esteem boost that I needed so badly. Shortly after, I received a phone call to help a company with a Salesforce quick start. And so, the day after I dyed my hair pink, I had my first customer.
How do you continue to learn and grow?
Ashley: There are a few different ways I like to learn. I’m extremely active in the local user group community. I’m the Orange County Non-Profit User Group leader. My co-founder and I go to community led events like Tahoe Dreamin, WITness Success, Forcelandia, Force Academy LA, TrailheaDX and Dreamforce. Wherever we go, there’s always something new to learn.
Hands-on learning is important as well. I’ll go to Trailhead, and focus more on reading the trails than getting the badges. I’ll ask a team member to do something in Salesforce, and then teach me. It reinforces what they’ve learned and I enjoy that experience. I believe certifications are important. I have seven Salesforce certifications with three that I’m actively pursuing.
What does being a Trailblazer mean to you?
Ashley: A Trailblazer is somebody who pushes through all of those barriers in front of them, in order to get to where they need to be. I had an incredible network of Salesforce Ohana who helped me learn Salesforce, but I also read through thousands of pages of documentation before the days of Trailhead. My story resonates with others because so many people work just as hard to learn and grow. Trailblazers push through those barriers to make the path a little easier for the next person.
What is your advice to Trailblazers?
Ashley: That day that I got my first customer was life changing. They didn’t care that my hair was pink, or that I had tattoos and scars. You don’t need to fit someone else’s mold to be successful. People are going to hire you for your brain. If somebody is going to discriminate against you, they’re going to find a reason regardless of how much you try to fit in. Don’t let that hold you back.
Don’t be afraid of failure. On my certification journey, I have failed four separate times, and I have failed the same exam twice. My advice is it’s okay to fail. Failure is part of the learning process and part of being human. It’s not about always being perfect; it’s about learning how to fail forward.
Learn more about ITequality.
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