“Focus On Your Story, Not The Glory”: Leah McGowen-Hare with Salesforce (Video + Transcript)

October 15, 2018

At Girl Geek Elevate 2018 Leah McGowen-Hare (Senior Director, Developer Evangelism, Salesforce) shared how doing the work with a focus on adding value – and everything will fall into place – rather than focusing on self-branding.


Leah McGowen-Hare / Senior Director, Developer Evangelism / Salesforce
Sukrutha Bhadouria / CTO & Co-Founder / Girl Geek X


Sukrutha Bhadouria: [inaudible] some people making popcorn and pouring the wine. While we get ready, we had a little bit of a technical difficulty, but we’re all set and ready to get started. So introducing the senior director of developer evangelism at Salesforce. She has over 20 years of experience in technology, mastering a variety of roles including consultant, developer, manager, and technical trainer. I can tell you from my own personal experience, she was the best technical trainer I had. Her career reflects the evolution of computing technology. She uses her knowledge and experience to demystify and make technology more accessible to youth, girls, communities of color, and that’s through organizations such as Black Girls Code, Technovation, Girls who Code, and Vetforce. Thank you so much for making time for us today. I can’t wait to hear what you have to share with us. So go ahead and get started.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Yes. First of all, I’m Leah and I always start with the forward looking statements. Now, I’m not sure that I’m going to be speaking about some products, but if I do, I need to cover my backside. So I want to make sure that any purchasing, implementation decisions are made based on what’s currently available, and not anything that I might speak about that’s in the future, but I really want to start with this. I want to start saying thank you. I want to thank you, Angie, I want to thank you Sukrutha for first of all, having the vision for something like this. This is amazing, and taking that vision and creating it. And I believe you guys started with like the Girl Geek Dinners 10 years ago, and now you’re revamping this. This is amazing. And you two are trailblazers, so I thank you for your vision, your tenacity, and creating this platform and allowing me to be a part of it and share my story. So thank you.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Yes. So as Sukrutha had mentioned, a lot of people know me from different things. They may know me from the classroom. Here, I’m teaching at a hands on training at Dreamforce, probably apex class. I’ve taught Visualforce classes, or you had my week long classes, learning admin tool one, or you may have seen me delivering keynotes for TDX, TrailheaDX, or doing interviews and pre-shows or the Dreamforce keynote. So I often tell people, you see my glory. People who are like, “Oh, you just sashay up there. You just get up there, and you do this,” and I go, “But what you don’t know is my story.” And everybody has a story. And I think while it’s wonderful, and it’s amazing to be on these stages, and sharing and inspiring, really knowing sort of a piece of the story behind the scenes has a lot more power from my perspective.

Leah McGowen-Hare:  I’m going to share with you very little bit about my story, and I share this because people often go, “Leah, I have questions about branding and my branding,” and I’m often like, don’t focus on your branding, focus on the value you add, and everything else will begin to fall in place. And it’s really easy to get caught up in that branding piece, particularly with social media and all of this good stuff. And I’m always like, “Well, let’s take a step back and what is your story? What are you trying to build? What is the story you’re trying to create?”

Leah McGowen-Hare: With my story, I started developing coding when I was really young. You can see my little picture. I was busting the collar up, I was very fashionable, and that’s a Commodore PET, where if you see it, there was no memory stick, there were no CDs. It was a cassette tape that you actually had to push play, and that’s how the computer started turning. That was me back in the day coding, when I was much younger, but I did not have visions of myself working at technology because, for twofold, first of all, nobody was really doing that then. It wasn’t a widely known field.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And two, it definitely was not representative of females or African American females at that matter. I was more inclined to go to, I wanted to be a dancer. I loved Fame. Probably many may not know Fame. Fame, Flashdance, I wanted to be a dancer, and Alvin Ailey, I wanted to dance. So I went off to college at UMass Amherst, and I started my career as a dance major.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And my father, who was a professor, who was just really gracious about it, he said, “Leah, you’re multifaceted, you have many gifts, many talents, and I don’t want you ignoring one completely, such as your ability to really problem solve, coding, math, and science. You have a real innate gift for that.” And I said, “Yeah, whatever, Daddy.” And I twirled away with my leg warmers and headband. But he allowed me to explore that side of me. So every summer, I would go to New York City, and I would do the whole starving artist thing. And one summer, I was there living in New York, I was a waitress, and I was working at a restaurant called Honeysuckle and there was this other waitress there.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And at that time, I’m maybe 19, 20, 21 I should be because they had alcohol, but she was working there, and she too was a starving artist and she was 30, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, this woman is 30.” And that felt ancient to me at the time. Right? And I was like, “And she’s still trying to make it? Oh no.” I went right back to school and I changed my major from dance to computer science, and I was like, “Oh no, I’m not trying to do that.” I went off, and I was grounded in computer science, and let’s see where this is going to take me. Once I graduated, I worked for a company called Andersen Consulting, which is now Accenture, and that was out in New York City, and I worked on a lot of the older systems, mainframe, batch programming. We’ll talk a little bit about that.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Then I moved from Andersen. I moved out from New York office to San Fran, and I started working for a company called Peoplesoft as a developer. And I did a lot of development there. And after doing development for a while I realized, “I’m good at this, I’m okay, I’m good.” But there was a piece missing for me, and that was the interaction with other people. I really liked interacting with people, even talking about technology. My manager, who was really nice, at the time, said, “Leah, when you’re in the office, morale goes up, but productivity goes down,” and I was like, “What?” She goes, “You get this, but I think there’s something more you can do. I think there’s something different, a different path that you should look at.” And while she wasn’t saying I didn’t want you in my group, she was just saying, “I just don’t think this is serving your innate talents well.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: She said, “What about there’s, this position, be a trainer, training developers how to code using the Peoplesoft tools.” And I was like, “Trainer? No way, that’s too close to my parents. My father’s a professor, my mother’s a teacher. I’m not trying to become my parents.” She was like, “Just give it a go and see what it’s like. Just go ahead and try it.” I went in and tried out, tried out because you actually had to do a test teach for this position, a little begrudgingly. And I did it, and I then soon quickly realized I actually loved it. It mixed the two things that I loved, which was technology and talking to people. So I was helping people understand technology, and it was almost like a game to me, like how can I explain these really complex concepts in a way that people can understand it.

Leah McGowen-Hare: From explaining things like polymorphism of objects, or being object oriented languages, how do you break that down in a way that’s consumable by those that may never have heard this before? I had room of Cobol programmers learning how to code in People code, which was object based. It was a challenge, but I was up for the challenge.  I did that. It was amazing, I traveled the world. I really stepped out on faith and was like, “Okay, I’m going to try something that I didn’t think was for me.” And it turned out it was, so much so that I went and got my masters in education and technology because I really wanted to take it a step further, and really see what are the different ways that I can help people learn very complex technological concepts. So I went off and I got my masters in that, and after I got my masters I had my company, this was while I was getting my master’s.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I was working full time in my own company, and I was a grad school student full time, and I was a single parent at the time, just doing it all, making it happen, just grinding it out. And it was an amazing time for me. It was challenging, but I really surprised myself with how I rose to the occasion.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And then I went on and came to Salesforce, and I started, at the time it was called Salesforce University, and I started training here as a developer trainer, training on Apex, Visualforce, the system admin journey helping people get sysadmin certified. It was amazing, and did that for seven years. And then in the last year, it hasn’t even been a year, but I left SFU and came over to TMP, and I was working for a organization called TPL under Lisa Marshall, and then recently, I think it’s as of August, have joined the Trailhead team, which has just been amazing. 

Leah McGowen-Hare: My story has lots of curves and turns and downward turns, upward turns. It’s just been amazing, and it’s been lots of learning that I’ve truly embraced, and I’ve just learned to be open to opportunities that I may not initially see for myself, but allowing myself to at least try and go out and take a risk. So if you notice on the slide, I have the trail still going because who knows what’s going to be next.

Leah McGowen-Hare:  I wanted to kind of hone in a little bit about, talk about my development journey going through this. So in developing, I started off in mainframe. Now I wasn’t coding in the 80s. I mean I wasn’t working full time in the eighties. I’m not that old, but when I did start, it was on mainframe, writing in Cobol, JCL, and that’s a time when customers built everything in house. They would build their own systems. You had a slew of developers, huge organizations, huge server rooms, just everything in house. Everything was custom built, and so you would go there and work on these different clients. I worked on so many different clients, modifying their information, debugging their Cobol batch programs, or if you were one of the cool kids, you got to work on the online portion called CICS, which was just the terminal online intermediate transactional system.

Leah McGowen-Hare:  I did that. And then when I moved on over to Peoplesoft, I went from mainframe technology to client server technology. And that’s when a shift started happening in the marketplace where people were beginning to not buy the software. When they buy the software, it still was on premise, meaning it was in house, all of their servers, everything they maintained from their database servers and app servers or web servers. Everything was in house. The infrastructure wasn’t that much of a shift, you still had in terms of everything was on premise, but now with client server, you have these new pieces, you had your web server, you had your app server, these other pieces that you had to integrate and work with as well. I had to learn that, that was a little bit of a shift. The big jump is when I jumped from client server into cloud computing.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And here, now it’s more subscription based model, and this is where customers are, it’s no longer on premise, it’s in the cloud, and of course, there’s some hybrid ones and things like that. But I’m talking straight cloud technology and subscription based. That was a huge jump for me from a development standpoint, and I was reflecting on that and what that looked like for me. I wanted to share what that transition was for me from moving from an on premise to a cloud based technology, particularly multitenancy, which is very different than a non multitenancy.

Leah McGowen-Hare: From on premise standpoint, when you do that, some of the costs and expenses that occur, not necessarily development, but tying capital expenses, you have a lot of things in pieces that you have to purchase from licensing fees and maintaining, and if you have your app servers, your web servers, new releases that now require new upgrades and slow product releases, things did not happen quickly ’cause, “Okay, now we got to do the product release, we have to upgrade our app server, but that isn’t compatible with this database server that might not be compatible with this web server.” So there was a lot of checks and balances that went in place across that, and it took a little bit of time. So it was also longer to proof of concepts. You couldn’t quickly and easily spin up a proof of concept like, this is what the system would look like, or here’s what the flow would look like. And slower time to market. But that was what I was used to working in.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Then, jump on over into the cloud. Here, if you look at some of the cost things, you have lower total cost of ownership because at this point, it’s subscription based And it’s interesting because I had a conversation with someone who is looking to go over from on premise to cloud, and they go, “I don’t like the fact that,” and this is a while ago. They’re like, “The cloud will have all my data, and what if I don’t like it? I’m stuck because my data stuck in the cloud.” I go, “Let’s look at this picture. What would it look like if you go with this on premise system? You’ve got to purchase all of the different hardware pieces, all of the infrastructure, everything there. Then you install the software and guess what? Now you don’t like it. Well, guess what? You’re stuck with it because you moved it into your home. You’re stuck with it. Whereas if you’re in the cloud, you can extract your data and keep it moving. It’s less baggage.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: They hadn’t thought about that perspective before, and they’re like, “Oh, that’s true.” There’s a lower barrier for entry. You can actually try, and many of you know, for those that back in the day before Trailhead, you could go and create a DE org, and go and play in the DE org, and it did not cost anything. Now with Trailhead, you can definitely get in there and start playing around and be like, “Oh, this is what it looks like. This is how I can customize it. These are the kinds of things that I’d need to know to change the process or make it more conformed to look like my processes, rapid development cycles.” And because there’s a lower barrier for entry, you have more people coming in there playing, and you don’t necessarily have to be with a company that’s using Salesforce.

Leah McGowen-Hare: You can go out there and just start learning it for yourself with Trailhead, and that creates a larger community, a larger developer community, a larger user community, so you have a larger support group. And this is a little bit more detail, but this is more personal for me, was coming from an on premise to cloud development, particularly multitenancy, it made me a better developer. Now what does that mean? So when I, on premise, from my standpoint, I have infinite resources. I can write code the way I want. If I get an infinite loop, I call the DBA and be like, “Oops, did something, can you kill that for me?” And for those out there that know SQL, there’s this thing called SELECT *, where you select every single field that you want.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And then, I admit I’ve done this in the past, long time ago, where I would say SELECT * and it pull in 500 fields into memory, and then I may only end up using five or 10. Now that’s not being very efficient. Well, when I’m developing here on the platform, I have to be very explicit about the fields that I want. There is no SELECT * in your sock or SQL statements. You must select the particular fields that you have to explicitly state the fields that you want, which causes you to be very mindful about how you develop your code. So it makes you think through things in a more efficient way. You use your memory space. You use as much or as little as you need, but you’re a green coder.

Leah McGowen-Hare: You’re not wasteful with that virtual shared memory space because for anybody who knows works in Apex, all of our code runs in the same memory space, hence the reason we place limits so that everybody has equal performance, so I can’t go in there and create an infinite loop because it would impact somebody else’s performance, and those safeguards are to ensure that everybody is getting good performance. So, really changing my mindset when I moved from an on premise to a cloud development really shifted a lot of the different ways that I thought, and that was just one of the examples. But I know we’re short on time, and I just wanted to sort of talk about, you’ve seen some part of my story, and then I wanted to kind of hone in a little bit more detailed, and see what my development story looked like because I know they wanted, Angie requested something a little bit more technical. And at this point I would, Angie and Sukrutha, if you guys are open to question and answers.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. So like you said, we want to be a little bit mindful of the next session that’s going to be happening soon, but we’re sorry for the minor technicality that we had at the start. This was such an informative session, and Leah, you’re such an inspiration. Thank you so much. The questions that we’re getting, we’ll have them answered via Twitter with the Hashtag. So use the hashtag, everyone, GirlGeekXElevate, and we’ll get you all the answers that you need. And seeing so many amazing comments like, “Leah, you’re the real deal! Such an inspiration!” And other amazing comments like, “I remember you in that gown at Dreamforce.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: It was a great time. It was a good time. This is an amazing community. I have never come across anything like what I see with the Salesforce community. It really is a reflection of all that is good and inspirational.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yes. So thank you. With that, thank you so much, Leah.

Leah McGowen-Hare: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Okay.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Bye.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Bye.

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