The People of Workday Rising: A Personal Experience

At Workday we talk about how people are at the center of business. My connections with three people at Workday Rising this year—a customer, a prospect, and a Workmate—are reminders that even as the conference has grown and changed over the years, one truth remains constant: Workday Rising is all about the people and our Workday community.

In early September I attended my 11th Workday Rising, and the growth of the conference I’ve witnessed as a member of our marketing team is nothing short of remarkable. I joined Workday when it was relatively small—I was employee 695. We now have more than 16,900 employees globally, and 60 million people use our products.

Our team puts in a lot of hours at Workday Rising, and I find the occasional (and inevitable) bouts of fatigue are just as soon replaced by inspiring and even exhilarating moments from the event. So rather than sleeping in a bit the day after returning home—as any rational person would do—I found myself up early and still hopped up on adrenaline, with a strong itch to write about my experience. I flipped open my laptop and pounded out a first draft before my second cup of coffee got cold. (A few disclosures: Not every quote is likely to be exact, but very close, and this post represents my own personal views.)

So without further ado, here we go: Three memorable connections with what I’m calling the Customer, the Prospect, and the Workmate.

The Customer

It’s deep into the afternoon one day at Workday Rising, and a little caffeine boost is in order. I stop by a refreshment station where a man is replenishing hot and cold beverages.

“How are you doing today?” I ask.

“Oh, pretty good. How are you enjoying the conference?” he replies.

“It’s fantastic,” I say, tipping 2% milk into my steaming cup of joe. “I love hearing all these great stories from our customers.”

His face lights up. “You know, I’m a Workday customer! I’ll show you.” 

He pulls out his mobile phone. “But first let me show you my grandkids.” Two little girls, their apple cheeks framed with glossy black curls, grin back at me. We admire them together for a few moments, his face beaming with pride.

He then holds up his phone with our Workday mobile application. “I have everything right here—I can see my payslip, everything!”  

I’m struck with a moment of awareness; an important reminder: A Workday customer isn’t just the finance, human resources, or IT professional hurrying to get to the next session here at Workday Rising, or the executive telling an engaged audience how their company uses Workday.

It’s front-line workers like this person who is replenishing a refreshment area at our conference. He’s one of those 60 million Workday users—someone directly impacted by the Workday experience every day, happy to have his job tasks on his mobile phone, and by the way, a grandfather of two adorable children he loves dearly.

I smile. “Thank you for being a valued Workday customer.”

“Thank you,” he replies.

Workday Co-CEO Chano Fernandez invited attendees who had experienced growth or stepped out of their comfort zone over the past few years to use their flashlights to create a sky of stars.

The Prospect

I post a link on social media to our first Workday Rising Daily news report on Monday night, and a short while later, the mother of one of my daughter’s closest friends messages me after seeing it. I’ve met the mom just once, at her daughter’s high school graduation party, but I know she works in IT.

“Are you here in Orlando?” she asks.

“Yes!” I reply, and in the ensuing conversation, I learn she’s here as a prospect to learn more about Workday. We agree we should try to meet up, even if it’s just to send a photo of us together to our girls. 

For me, this is a remarkable moment. When I started at Workday in 2011, not many people outside of California had heard of the company—certainly not many people in Michigan, where I presently live. Now, in addition to having a number of fantastic customers in the Great Lakes State, my daughter’s friend’s mom has traveled to Workday Rising to learn more. 

The next day is a blur, as our team works long hours producing articles, videos, and podcasts from the show, and I know she’s busy, too. Then on Wednesday morning, as I’m walking from the hotel to the convention center, a woman holds open the door for me. As she turns around, her hair sweeps away from her face and our eyes lock—it’s the mom I’d been messaging! There are 9,000 attendees at Workday Rising, and magically—miraculously, even—we’ve found each other by accident.

We stop to take a selfie to send to our daughters, big smiles on our faces and palm trees swaying behind us. I send a group text of the photo and include the girls, both freshmen at different universities.

“Gorgeous ladies!” her daughter texts back.

“Awww!” texts mine.

Before going our separate ways, we realize we have much in common—for one, we’re now empty nesters—and discuss meeting up when we get back home. We certainly have something to talk about: how much we miss our daughters. 

I tell her I hope she has a great conference and gains a lot of knowledge about Workday.

The author with some of her Workmates at the Media Hub at Workday Rising.

The Workmate

She reminds me so much of her mother, whom I haven’t seen in person in years. I see it in the set of the same brown eyes: determined, fun loving, grounded.  

I’ve watched her grow up on her mom’s social media posts—photos of the family having fun together, vacations, graduations, emotional farewells as kids go off to college. She joined Workday over three years ago, after graduating from college and a little before the start of the pandemic, and it’s the first time we’ve met in person.

We’re relaxing on comfy couches in a nearby hotel one evening after Workday Rising—her first. She has an important role with her team on-site. “I’m so happy to be here,” she says.

I stop to remember my first Workday Rising. I was there with her mom and other Workmates, in 2010, in San Francisco (where we’ll return for Workday Rising in 2023). 

Back then, the entire conference fit in one hotel, on one floor. Our Customer Appreciation Party was in a small park in the city’s center, featuring global cuisine from several food trucks. (I had a falafel pita topped with pickled red onions, tahini sauce, and crushed peanuts. It was the kind of falafel pita you don’t forget.) The party then moved to a nightclub a short walk away, where we danced away the night to an ’80s cover band.

I knew we’d have a lot of fun at the Customer Appreciation Party at Universal Studios Orlando the next day. There’s no nightclub that would fit all 9,000 of us, anyway. But those early days—those were truly special times. And while Bon Jovi wouldn’t make my top list for ’80s bands, I’ll forever associate our Customer Appreciation Parties with a smaller group of Workmates, customers, and partners singing to a cover band’s version of “Living on a Prayer” on a sweaty dance floor. 

I look at my Workmate, a highly capable and confident young woman. A lot like her mom . . . but her own self. She joined us as a member of the employee group we call Generation Workday, and she is, quite literally, the next generation.

At Workday we often talk about how people are at the center of business. My conversations at Workday Rising—with the Customer, the Prospect, and the Workmate—remind me that despite the changes I’ve seen in the conference over the years (the growth, different venues, and new programs), there’s one truth that remains constant: Workday Rising is all about the people and our Workday community. And, well, thank goodness for that.

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