Misbah Sheikh is a Salesforce consultant who spoke on our Successful Relaunchers Panel at our recent virtual iRelaunch Return to Work Conference. She went on career break after the birth of her twins in 2009 – a story in itself. During a career break that was for childcare as well as eldercare, Misbah continued to be an active learner, completing an initial Salesforce certificate program and then moving on to complete a variety of others. Hear about the certificate programs she pursued, how she managed to do the work with all her caregiving responsibilities, and how the certificates ultimately led to her relaunch role. This is a story of perseverance and grit and we have a lot to learn from Misbah.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch, and your host. Today we welcome Misbah Sheikh. Misbah spoke on our successful relaunchers panel at our recent virtual iRelaunch Return to Work Conference.
Misbah, a Salesforce enthusiast with an engineering background, took an extended break after the birth of her twins in 2009, a story in itself. During a career break that was for childcare as well as elder care, Misbah continued to be an active learner, completing a variety of certificate programs. We will find out exactly what certificate programs she pursued, how she managed to do the work with all of her caregiving responsibilities, and how the certificates ultimately led to her relaunch role. This is a story of perseverance and grit, and we have a lot to learn from Misbah.
Misbah welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.
Misbah Sheikh: Thanks, Carol. It's an honor to be here.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, we have so many questions for you and thank you so much for sharing your story with us. So, we first heard about your relaunch story when your husband tagged you in a LinkedIn post by fellow relauncher, Lucy Chang Evans, who was also a speaker on the panel you were on at our conference. And Lucy was describing her experience on the 3,2,1 iRelaunch podcasts. You have your own very compelling relaunch story, and I want to know if you can start by sharing some of that story, the career path that led up to your career break, and then what made you decide to take your career break?
Misbah Sheikh: So, as you mentioned, I started as an electrical engineer. I did my engineering back in Pakistan in 2000. Right after my graduation, I joined Siemens Pakistan as an engineer. I made my way up to senior electrical engineer, design engineer there. I worked there for five years until 2005.
I met my husband, and I was also pursuing my MBA at that time. But things so happened that my husband was in the United States, and then I had to make a decision to move here with him. I had to leave my degree incomplete and also of course, leave my job. I came to the United States to just start a new life here.
It was in the beginning, of course, when you come on a dependent visa, you're not authorized to work here. So, it took around, I would say two years, to get the employment authorization. But it just so happened that I got my employment authorization, so I started working again.
Luckily I got an opportunity very soon for the same kind of work that I used to do in Pakistan. It's just that I got pregnant at that time. And I came to know that I'm pregnant with twins. I still wanted to continue at that time and I was making plans, how are we going to manage the daycare and everything and all those things.
But you know, sometimes God has different plans for you. Well, I ended up delivering my kids in just four and a half months. They were severely premature. One of them was probably a thousand grams. The other one was 900 grams, so less than two pounds each. And also I had contracted swine flu. So, I was put into a full medically induced coma for two and a half months. Needless to say, when I woke up, the kids were already there, which I did not believe.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow, I'm just thinking about that moment for you.
Misbah Sheikh: I was made to go to sleep while pregnant. And when I woke up, there were two kids. And of course, I mean, I had no strength at that time and I was on a ventilator as well for that period. When I woke up, when I came home, I had no strength. It was a lot of physical therapy. Just doing simple things was also difficult because of being in a forced coma for so long, including motor skills and everything. And then of course, we had to take care of our kids as well.
At that point, there was no question about going back to work. And honestly, I didn't even want to go back at that time. I was so scared of leaving the kids because they were so precious, we got them after so much struggle. During all that time while I started working, me and my husband were trying, we were not just able to get pregnant for two and a half years. It's just like when I became distracted with work, I got pregnant. But then I had those two precious lives in my hands. So I just wanted to be with them. There was no desire, honestly, at that moment to go back. And then of course we were scared, okay, what if something might happen to them?
They were so little, they were so fragile. Time started passing and probably, I would say in three years' time, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to rush to Pakistan, of course, with my twins. They were just three years old at that time. I stayed there for six months. And then even after I came back, she was going through her treatment and everything, I had to be mindful that I may have to go to Pakistan at any point. At any moment, I might receive any news or anything and I might have to rush. But things did start getting better. It was just that, my parents then, I had them apply for a visa and they started living with me. Then of course, I had kids plus I had my parents to take care of. And at that point, although me and my husband would discuss sometimes, he would honestly say, "You have been wasting time." We have a Siemens office in Dallas which is quite close to our house, and whenever we would pass by, he would say, "Why don't you apply here? There's a Siemens right there. It's so close." But leaving the house and going out, leaving kids and parents at home was out of question at that time. So that did not work either. Now, it's just that things started changing. We had more remote work options available, but the kind of work I used to do in Siemens, there was no remote work possible.
So what led me to come back was probably the options of remote work that started coming up. That's where I actually started thinking that, okay, now this is something that's possible and I can do that.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. All right. So let me just recap, really quite an unbelievable story. Infertility issues for a couple of years on, then you were in this medically induced coma, you had premature twins. You had to get them to a point where they were fully healthy. And then once you were on that career break, you had an elder care issue with your mom in Pakistan when you were in the United States. So a very complex situation there, and that turned into a long career break. How many years were you on career break?
Misbah Sheikh: I would say around nine to 10 years, strictly speaking, when I talk about the career break. It was just that since you do have an urge to do things, so I kept on doing things here and there. For example, joining a course to learn Arabic. I have a thing for Arabic. I really like languages.
So I joined a nonprofit Institute where I learned Arabic for nine months. And then they gave me an opportunity to do some work that was not even part-time, it was as needed business work that I would sometimes do for them. That included publication, admin/marketing coordination, CRM administrators, that kind of stuff. Since I knew IT, I knew technology, I could help. So that's what I did, but I would not really include that. That wasn't really my start. But that was something that I did. Another thing that I did was I helped somebody do listings on Amazon because that's something that I learned just on the fly. I said, okay, I can help with that. So these kinds of things I did in between, but if you really talk about strictly going back to work, it happened after the nine to 10 year gap.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Well, that's quite a lot going on during your career break. What I'm hearing though is a person who is a constant learner. I'm hearing you talking about, "I wanted to learn Arabic." "I learned how to do listings on Amazon." Once you were taking Arabic at that nonprofit, they must've gotten to know you to the point where they knew that you had certain abilities on the technical side, that you could help them. So, just being in that position of being a naturally curious person and a constant learner is a great mindset for a relauncher to have, even if the relaunch is in the future.
So I want to switch now to the point where you started to think about seriously relaunching. And when you were thinking about that, you did some coursework, and I want to talk very specifically about the courses that you took, and how did this all fall into place?
Did you take the course first and then later that made you think about relaunching, or did you think, okay, it's time to get serious and then start taking the courses?
Misbah Sheikh: I would say partly both. I was exploring. Sometimes I would explore something and discuss it with my husband. I remember once he came home and he said, "Okay, there is a course about Azure, and I'm joining that." And I'm like, "I'll join you too!" Two weeks into that, I'm like, okay, this is something that I really don't have a base in. You can't really learn from F, G and H unless, you know, the A,B,C,D. So it was something I had to discontinue. I'm like, "No, this is not something that I can do." It was a partially serious effort that I made.
But then it happened that my husband attended a seminar. He went because his friend was doing that seminar and he went there out of support. When he came back, he just forwarded the slide deck to me which was about Salesforce. He forwarded it to me and said, "Hey, it's not for me, so why don't you look at it if you like it?" And I'm like, "Okay." And that night I created an account for the Salesforce learning platform, which is called Trailhead. And I said, "let me try." And, I was very impressed by the way they had provided the platform for self-learners and I just started. And as you know, I have this thing to keep learning, it really interests me.
And after that, I'm like, "Okay, this is something that I can do, and this is something that I developed an interest in." But again, the relaunching discussion did not come up at that time because I still thought I still needed to stay home. I cannot go out. But then we were told, this is something that you can work from home as well.
And, at that time, since it was something very new for me, I only thought about going back to work part-time, not full-time. Then I was told that there would be opportunities to go part-time as well, so that made me even more interested. So I started studying the Salesforce admin side of it.
Once I learned a considerable amount of it, a substantial amount, then I thought, I've learned enough, why not get certified as a Salesforce admin. I did my fourth certification. And then my husband talked to his friend, "Okay, my wife got interested in this," and he was very helpful. He had his own company set up. But then he said, "Okay, here's the thing, she needs to do at least this much. So I can help her get something part-time."
Carol Fishman Cohen: MIsbah, hold on a second. I just want to recap for a minute to understand your thought process here. So you try to take this Azure class with your husband. You realize it's too advanced, you have to learn something. So when that happened, did you feel intimidated or did you just feel like it was very matter of fact, "Oh, you know what, this is too advanced. There are things I have to do before I can do this." Was that discouraging to you at all?
Or was it just a factual thing that you had to address?
Misbah Sheikh: Yeah, I think being from engineering background, I had this thing that if I try, I can do it, but it's just that, yes, I had to go back to level zero to start. It was a lot to do. So yes, that was kind of intimidating. But then, I do think that there's always something for somebody to do.
For example, if this is something advanced for me and it may or may not be advanced, it's just something that I find interesting, but others may not find the same thing interesting. Honestly, I found that boring as well. I wanted something that would keep my interest alive. So networking was kind of dry in my opinion. Apologies to all the networking folks out there. I found it kind of boring.
But Salesforce was not boring for me. Again, I found it interesting and I found it something that was logical and my logical brain really accepted that. And it was just making sense to me. I think everybody has their own niche, their own way their brains work, and something that can interest them and something that makes sense. For some people art may make sense, for some people technology makes sense. So I think it's different for different people.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And when you started with Salesforce, is it obvious when you get into Trailhead where the starting point is? And then once you were in that very first course, do they onboard you into that gradually so you learn about it without feeling, you can assess whether you're interested in it without worrying about the intimidation factor? What happens at the beginning of the course?
Misbah Sheikh: Yes. So for people like me who have been self-starters before, Salesforce is something that provides a very good platform where you know where to start from. They do give you a starting point, you can say that. And then they have, if you start digging deep, investigating more, you'll find out, okay, this is the path I can follow.
So I can give you an example, like if you want to become an admin certified Salesforce professional, they have set up an entire set of modules that they called TrailMix. And if you complete that TrailMix, you'll be quite close to becoming a certified professional. Of course, there's more things that you have to do, prepare for the exam and everything, that's separate. But at least they'll give you a base.
So, yes. What makes Salesforce different from other technologies is that they give you a platform to learn. And this is all free of cost. You really don't have to pay anything for that except for your examination. And, another thing good about Salesforce is their community. They have a very strong community and you'll find people who can help you.
If you have a question in mind, somebody might have already asked that question. All you have to do is to go and do some search and find the answers. So I think these two things really impressed me about Salesforce and apart from the fact that I found it interesting.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And is that community how you found out that there are remote roles and part-time roles, or do you find that out from somewhere else?
Misbah Sheikh: Yes, so I basically found out from my husband's friend for the first part of the seminar that he did. That was where I got the introduction. I never heard of the name Salesforce before, honestly. I did not know that this thing existed. So yeah, that was the first thing. But, the community helped mostly for more tech related questions.
So whenever you're stuck somewhere, You can ask somebody or that question may have been already asked. So that helped.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I just want to acknowledge your husband here, because he's the one who tagged you in the first place, in Lucy Chang Evans' story, and that's how we ultimately connected with you. And I hear at different points of the story that he had this course, and he came home and said, "Hey, you should take a look at this." So obviously, he's your biggest fan and is a very enthusiastic partner.
Misbah Sheikh: Yes. And I must say that he has been not only supporting me all along, he has been valuing me a lot, thinking highly of me, that I can do it. And not just saying, actually believing it. He would sometimes say, I'm not sure if he's joking or what, "Among both of us, you are the more intelligent one."
So yeah, he keeps on saying that, I don't know how much he believes that. But I think that's also a big factor and it's a blessing to have a companion that supports and is part of your journey all along.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I totally agree, and it sounds like he also had a role in building your confidence or keeping it at a certain level along the way, especially because you're doing a lot from home and you're doing a lot of this coursework on your own. Kudos to him. That's really great.
All right. So I want to ask you a little bit more about Salesforce. So you took some core courses, you took more courses, you realize there's a pathway to certification, so you're taking a series of courses. How long did it take you to get through them?
Having all these responsibilities at home, did you end up doing this from midnight until four o'clock in the morning? Or when did you have the time to really focus on it?
Misbah Sheikh: Honestly, any time that I would find in the middle of things. Again, I will quote my husband and he would say that he really appreciates how we can switch our brains. There will be one time that you have to take care of something kid related. And the other time you have to look at something home-related and in a flip of a second, you go and start working on your studies. So that happened a lot. So anytime that I find in the middle, and honestly, the thing that I could have given away was my entertainment time.
That was replaced by my study. It is after the kids go to bed, whether it's somewhere in the middle of the afternoon where it's quiet and everybody is settled, and all the work is done. So it could be any half an hour in the middle, one hour at night, something like that. And it took, I would say about three to four months to prepare for my first certification.
That was the Salesforce admin certification. I passed that. Then I started preparing for the second one right away. Once I was done with the second one, then I approached my husband's friend, Kashi, again. So that's how it's happened.
Carol Fishman Cohen: So Kashi was a mentor to you in a number of ways, giving you guidance and feedback. And then at what point did you start to change your thinking that maybe this was going to be an entree to actually returning to work, but returning to work on your terms, remotely and with the schedule you wanted? When did you get to that point?
Misbah Sheikh: Yeah, I think when I was preparing for my admin certification, by that time I had the idea how admin jobs work, and of course I was in contact with Kashi as well. He was giving me ideas that it would be possible to work on a project base, part-time. But again, I did not have experience at that time. But once I was really close to getting my admin certification, I became very serious about, "Okay, this is what I want to do. That's it. I found my path." But then, Kashi did offer me that if I do at least two certifications, he can have me come over to join his company. But it was not something that he just offered me. I was interviewed for that position. I had to present to the panel and only after that, he hired me part-time, of course, because that's what I wanted to do, that worked for me as well, and that worked for his company as well.
So I interviewed with him and started working for his company. And with that, I wanted to continue to study. So the part-time work did work well. And of course I wanted to test the waters as well. Okay, how will it sound like, will I be able to manage something? Unless I do it, I will not know. So I had to work around a lot of things, such as when to do what, creating schedules at home, and knowing when to do my tasks. The good thing was that my kids had also grown up, so they could have done a lot of their personal stuff themselves as well, like for example, making their own breakfast. So that helped as well. With my parents, taking them to their doctor's appointment, making sure that things are taken care of, that was something that was still ongoing. But, what happened was that we were right in the middle of COVID and things started shutting down at that very time when I was working with Kashi's company.
So that became another challenge, which probably we can talk about. That made my relaunch kind of difficult because when I was starting to launch Salesforce, I was under the impression that there were just so many Salesforce jobs out there, that they’d be lying in front of my door.
That didn't really happen. My bubble burst. I was working with Kashi, but now since I wanted more of a serious assignment or role, that wasn't really happening. I applied to a lot of jobs but what I used to hear was people were actually losing jobs at that time.
So it took some months, but then I used that time to do more certifications. I did three more Salesforce certifications. But then again, I had a few interviews scheduled, but they would know that all experience I have is a part-time job, as an admin. So they would say, "Oh, you don't have experience."
So that was a challenge, and to be honest, I left the corporate world nine years ago, so I did not have that kind of experience. So it was a challenge in the beginning to find something that was more meaningful.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And how did that actually happen? How did you end up with a full-time offer?
Misbah Sheikh: Yeah, I applied to a lot of places, but again, I hardly had one or two interviews scheduled, honestly. They were not even calling me back. And I understood that applying, it's just going into a black hole. The resumes are not even being read or something. So people are really not impressed. I worked on a lot of things, my LinkedIn profile, my resume, and made a lot of connections on LinkedIn. Of course, I cannot pinpoint that this translated into this, but all these things do help, your resume, your cover letter, these things do help, your LinkedIn connections, what's going on.
So I applied for a job with Teradata, and that was something that was below, I would say, my qualifications. They needed somebody who could create reports and dashboards. And I said, "Okay, I can apply to that." I had a one panel interview and that's it. They needed somebody for just two months at that time. And I'm like, "Okay, at least I'll get something.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Like getting your foot in the door.
Misbah Sheikh: Yeah. So I joined Teradata and at that time they told me, "Okay, we will extend that contract for three more months, but again, it's a COVID year and we don't have the budget, so we cannot hire somebody full time."
So honestly it was something which I was overqualified for, but I think it was a blessing because I learned a lot of things that were not even tangible. It was my exposure to corporate after 19 years. Things changed. I learned a lot of soft skills and there I found another mentor, her name is Kritika and she was so awesome. That there was somebody that I could just ask, "Okay. I'm new to this. Can you please tell me that?" So she was extremely helpful and I think these three people, my husband, Kashi and Kritika, I would give so much credit to these three people that helped me all along.
So my project with Teradata continued for six months. The two month contract got extended to three more months and then one more month. But again, they did not have a huge budget. But I was in a very good position after that. Now, I was just ready for my next assignment.
And I would like to mention here that, a lot of things that came up where I thought, "Okay, I know Salesforce, but there are a lot of other things that I may not know." And I only came to know when I was silently listening to calls at Teradata, or I was part of meetings, or reading different emails that I was part of.
There were so many different skills that I thought that I still didn't know because, of course, I had a gap. Then I started working on that. I don't really feel ashamed saying that I heard the word agile for the first time. I never heard the word agile before. When the first time somebody said that, "Okay, we just add it to the standup meeting." I'm like, "What is stand up? I don't know what stand up is.”
Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. I remember when I heard those terms for the first time myself.
Misbah Sheikh: I did not know that. So then I said, "Okay, I should learn these things." And so much so that right after my contract expired with Teradata, I started learning for a Scrum master certification. I became Scrum master certified. I became a product owner certified, and I even joined a certificate course for product management in Cornell University. So I did all these things. And after that, now here I am working for another Salesforce consulting company, that was something that I always wanted to do. When I started Salesforce, that was something that I wanted to be, a Salesforce consultant. And, even after my Teradata assignment was over, my contract ended and I started applying. At that very moment, honestly, this time I did not apply to a lot of jobs.
Carol Fishman Cohen: You mean you were more targeted.
Misbah Sheikh: Honestly, I was getting calls from people. People could approach me, rather than me approaching people. Still, if you would check my mailbox today, I'm not even looking. I turned off each and every platform where you search for jobs, and I still get a lot of emails every single day.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Do you think that's because you have your Salesforce credentials on your LinkedIn profile, and so companies are screening for that and they see that and that starts the process?
Misbah Sheikh: Yes.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I see. So those credentials are very valuable.
Misbah Sheikh: So I have a business analyst certification, I have a Scrum master and product owner certifications, and then I have experienced as a Salesforce consultant as well. So all these things added up and now I see that the companies have more of a proactive approach for hiring people.
You really have to have yourself marketable. You should present yourself in a way that you don't have to really go and approach companies, companies will approach you. So that's what happened this time. And, I got a lot of calls, a lot of interviews got scheduled. At one point, I was in a final round for four companies.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow! That's incredible.
Misbah Sheikh: I had to decline one of the offers just because it just came too soon and I was waiting for three other companies to come through. So I just took a leap of faith and I said, "No, I want to wait for the other three." I did not want to tell them that that was not my number one choice, because I wanted to be a consultant.
But then I took a leap of faith and I declined that offer. And then two more offers came through. And then I took the one that I was really interested in. That's how this happened.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. Oh, so I just want to highlight for our audience that this was a very gradual process, and happened over a long period of time and happened in a series of steps.
Yes, while Misbah ultimately was in a situation where she had multiple offers, that was because of all these steps that you took along the way.
Misbah Sheikh: That's what I even talked about during the panel as well. One thing that I noticed throughout and people who approach me a lot ask, "Okay, how did you do that," or, asking for guidance, they just want things now. And that does not really happen. So I keep on telling them that, "Okay, I have to burst this bubble that this is not going to happen. That you can't just," I mean, people would ask point blank, "How many months did it take for you to do the certification and then get a job?" So I'm like, "Yes, you can do the certification in three months, but you're not going to get a job the next day." That's not going to happen. You really have to be persistent and if things are not working out the way you expect them to work, then use that time as an opportunity. Take it as an opportunity. And it's not that I did not have those low moments. I did. There were times when I would just tell my husband, "I'm not getting any calls. I applied to like 50 today and nothing happened." So yeah, these things do happen, but I keep telling people to not look for things to happen quickly. Magic does not happen. It does not happen that way.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Such important messaging. And actually that brings us to, we're running out of time here, and I have this final question that we ask all of our podcast guests, and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something we already talked about today? So I'm wondering, is it that same theme or is there anything else that you were thinking about?
Misbah Sheikh: I think I did say that, I don't know how many times, even when I talk to people personally, I keep repeating this over and over again, don't look for shortcuts. So this is one thing, but another thing I would say is build your network, and find people who you can succeed with together. I had my husband, I had my mentors with me. So you really have to have a community, either as a community, or it's just maybe one person, a friend, or somebody that together you can share the failure and success with. So I did find a lot of other people along the way. I think Salesforce is very good in that they proudly call it "Ohana," which means a family.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Ohana is a Hawaiian reference, right?
Misbah Sheikh: Yes, that's something Salesforce is very big on. And that's something I like. And for people like me who are not that extroverted, they don't go out and make connections. I can give this advice for people like me as well, even if you have a small network, grow together. So that really helps.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That's excellent advice and very consistent with our advice of saying, find a relaunch buddy or a relaunch circle, a group of people. And, it also helps you with your momentum. It helps you keep pace, and sometimes you do this on your own and you get hung up with something and three weeks go by and you don't make any progress. So it's almost like they're an accountability partner as well as a source of encouragement or a sounding board.
So I love that, that you ended with that advice. Misbah, thank you so much for joining us today.
Misbah Sheikh: Thank you. The pleasure is all mine.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO and cofounder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences, to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources, go to iRelaunch.com.
And if you like this podcast, be sure to rate it on Apple podcasts and your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to share this podcast with a friend on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.
Thanks for joining us.