Leah McGowen-Hare of Salesforce: It’s Time to Go Beyond Being Tech Consumers to Being Tech Creators

I saw Leah McGowen-Hare speak at last year’s Salesforce TrailheaDX conference for developers focused on building apps on the Salesforce platform. And after seeing her captivate a conference center of thousands of developers with her knowledge of cloud development platforms and coding tools and environments, I was struck by a couple of things. I have gone to countless tech conferences over the past couple of decades, but I had never seen an African American woman deliver a keynote to a group of hardcore developers. And she had the whole crowd eating out of the palm of her hand with her mix of experience, knowledge and passion for coding and developers.

Developer Evangelist

In addition to being Director in Tech and Product for Salesforce, she’s also director of Developer Evangelism. And after seeing her present again at the Salesforce Analyst Summit this week, I was anxious to ask her a few questions about her journey to being a developer evangelist, and what it would take to see more folks that look like her get into coding and developing apps in the cloud.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To see the full interview check out the video on this page, or click on the embedded SoundCloud player.

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Developer Evangelist Leah McGowen-Hare of Salesforce: It’s Time to Go Beyond Being Tech Consumers to Being Tech CreatorsSmall Business Trends: Talk a little bit about what it means to evangelize technology today?

Leah McGowen-Hare: Well, I think it’s interesting you ask that, Brent, because when I came onto the Salesforce scene, I had come from ERP systems, right? On-premise ERP, and that development mindset is very different than developing in a cloud computing, multi-tenant environment. So, I had to change my narrative on how I developed, and now I like to think of it is, I’m a better developer because I’m a green developer. I’m not wasteful with my space. So, it took a minute to understand that coming into the tech space.

Small Business Trends: You were at it years ago. How’s it changed from a perspective of a developer in the cloud era compared to what it was like back in the day?

Leah McGowen-Hare: There was so much more you had to worry about. You had to think about infrastructure, right? So, I actually had to build my [database] tables and then talk to my tables. A lot of that infrastructure has been taken away, and I may not worry about that, and I can truly focus on innovation and how to make my client, my customer experience, as efficient for them, right?

Small Business Trends: Right.

Leah McGowen-Hare: It’s really a different space. I remember … okay, I’m dating myself, but when I was doing mainframe, you had the choice of orange and green text, right? There was no UI development, right?

Small Business Trends: No, there was no UI.

Leah McGowen-Hare: There was no UI. And then, when client-server came in you had these forms, and then people got crazy with it, with the flying gifs and all kind of madness going on. And so, you started as a developer how to start to think about UI development as well. And now, everything is at your fingertips. So, to be a truly well-versed developer, you can’t just code, right? Or, you can’t just be ‘I specialize in being effective in performance tuning in my Java writing, right? I mean, you can have those fields, but you have the opportunity to really go across the spectrum.

Small Business Trends: Right.

Leah McGowen-Hare: It’s just a lot more choices. So, developers are very wide-term these days.

Small Business Trends: But what’s cool, it seems to me, is because you don’t have to kind of start from ground one and be all in the bits and bytes, you’re able to be more creative in your approach to it.

Leah McGowen-Hare: Yeah.

Small Business Trends: Does that provide some additional opportunities for folks who may not have been suited for, or interested in back-in-the-day mainframes …

Leah McGowen-Hare: Yes, because you don’t have to be as techy as coding, right?

Small Business Trends: Okay.

Leah McGowen-Hare: For example, and you know I work for Salesforce, I’m not pushing our platform, but I kind of am … But you have opportunities of creating apps — all clicks, no code. So, you can come in there and it’s point and click. You can come in and create an entire app from no code to low code, right? That opens up who can be participating in this, so it’s not limited to just this exclusive class of hard-core developers.

Small Business Trends: Okay.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And truth be told, a lot of the people that know the click side are sometimes more powerful than people that just know the code side, right? Because, they know what you’re able to do right out of the box.

Small Business Trends: Right.

Leah McGowen-Hare: And how you can customize with clicks, no code, whereas our developers might be coding stuff that was available right out of the box, right? I’ve seen those situations. So, it’s less intimidating, right? I encourage people, and there’s a free online tool called Trailhead where people can learn these things, so it’s really opening up the playing field.

Small Business Trends: One of the things that really caught my attention was when I was sitting at the Trailhead conference, and also when I was at Dreamforce last year, you were up there front and center stage (during the main keynote), and you were doing it. Everybody knew that you knew what you were talking about. You had passion about it. What is it going to take to get more people looking like you to be doing this kind of thing?

Leah McGowen-Hare: Well, it’s so interesting because people always say, “You know Leah, you’re up there and you’re glamour and they talk about branding,” and I said, “Listen, this is what I tell people to focus on. Focus on adding value, and I promise everything else falls in place.”

I started rising, getting more visibility, I had already done the work, right? I had been in the classroom for years. A lot of people knew me from teaching them and enabling others. Part of my career was really servicing others to help them better their career or better their company or better their customer experience. So, it wasn’t about, oh, me-me-me, it was about, let me show you how you can do this.

Master your skill, do not be intimidated, know your stuff, right? And help others, because I’m telling you, it’s infectious. People will start marketing you for you, okay? I’m not saying just sit back and wait for that to happen. But in truth, it’s really about build your knowledge base.

One thing I’m really hard about. If I’m presenting on a topic, I have to know it. I am not about the smoke and mirrors. They’ll be like, Leah, you don’t need to … I go, yes I do. I understand we’re not going to that level of detail, but when I walk on stage and I’m talking about AI and Einstein Platform Services and the APIs, I need to have coded in those. I may not even be talking about the code, but knowing I have that in my back pocket, knowing that I worked with it at that level, helps build my confidence.

Small Business Trends: What’s really cool is when you’re presenting, people know that you know your stuff. But, you also have fun with it, and I think it makes the other people in the audience not only learn more but enjoy it.

What are the first steps for folks who may be great users of technology? They know apps inside and out, but really haven’t thought about, how can I help to develop some of this stuff?

Leah McGowen-Hare: Right.

Small Business Trends: What are some of the best ways for folks to get started doing that?

Leah McGowen-Hare: Once again going back to the Salesforce platform, I always say, “Go to Trailhead.” Learn some of these. So, if you are a Salesforce CRM user, right? Go out there on Trailhead and there’s modules how to customize. Start with Lightning. Learning about Lightning experience. How to customize some of the Lightning pages, right? Changing that whole experience, and then you can see things start to click, and it just takes a little bit. And then people just … all they need is a little flame, and they will take off, right?

Small Business Trends: Yeah.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I definitely encourage you, explore. Get yourself a DE (Developer’s Edition) org, right? Where you can go in there and play and you’re not going to hurt anybody if you create a field or drop one. There is so many resources out there, and I encourage people, instead of always being consumers, look at being creators.

Small Business Trends: There you go.

Leah McGowen-Hare: How can I create an app like that, right? How can I build it? And, go on AppExchange. Those are apps that people built. Look at what’s been created on the platform, and when you’re using things, think of how it could be better. And that’s a place where you can say, well, how could I make that? There are so many ways, it’s just a matter of how bad do you want it, and I know that’s so cliché, but it really is.

Right before I met you, this is how crazy I am… Right before I came here to meet you, I was like, okay, I might be a few minutes late but I’ve got to finish this badge. So, I was on Trailhead finishing up a module so that I could get the Apex Specialist Superbadge.

Small Business Trends: Yeah, because they were talking about how over the holiday Christmas break, you were over here working on badges.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I’m a Ranger, over 100 badges, thank you very much! I am a little bit of a geek.

Small Business Trends: No, but that’s good. I think that’s a good thing, and we like to see more folks, a more diverse set of developers out there, wouldn’t you?

Leah McGowen-Hare: You’re being real nice. I’d like to see more black people out there. I’d like to see more folks that look like us. I would like not to be the only one, right? I would like to be able to see people that look like me, and I will do whatever … I work with Black Girls Code.

Small Business Trends: Oh, great.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I volunteer a lot to help build that pipeline. I work with Girls Who Code. I work with another group called Technovations. I work with the Girl Scouts. I think it’s so important for people like me, and there are a few of us out there, but to expose yourself so that these young girls can see it, because if they can’t see it, they can’t achieve it.

Small Business Trends: Right.

Leah McGowen-Hare: It makes it a lot harder. I know in Oakland, I’m going to be one of the keynote speakers for the first all women of color conference in tech in Oakland. It’s called Tech Intersections, and their requirement for anybody teaching any of the tech courses — they’re teaching Python, all these different ones — it had to be a woman and it had to be a woman of color.

Small Business Trends: So, where can people learn more about what you’re up to, what you’re doing?

Leah McGowen-Hare: I’m on Twitter at LeahBMH.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.