Why Aren’t You a Llama Farmer?

Hi!  I’m Mary.  Maybe we’ve met at Dreamforce, or at Cloudforce NY Dev Zone?  Or you’ve heard my voice on a recorded training or on the “welcome to the new Page Layout” overlay?  If we haven’t met, then I want to introduce myself.  You’ll be seeing a lot more of me around these parts as I shift my focus from inbound to outbound: from building awesome  Salesforce Platform products to expanding and deepening our awesome developer community.


November 1st of 2012, I left for an epic 6-month trip to South America with my wife and 6-year old son.  As an “old-timer” at Salesforce.com (7+ years), I was taking a sabbatical.

My skeptical manager asked, “Are you sure you’re coming back?”
“Yes, unless I decide to become a llama farmer,” I quipped.

Alas, llama farming was not for me.

I did meet some very snuggly llamas, but the bottom line is: I have always been and will always be a technologist.

As a kid, I loved Star Trek (who didn’t, really?).  I went to “computer camp” when other kids went to the Y.  In college, when faced with a list of possible Liberal Arts majors, I crossed them all out except “Math with a Computer Science Emphasis”.  In my first consulting job, I implemented custom applications at large companies.  I designed and coded and tested and trained.  I found that my true love was product design.  Product design is both creative and analytical, and involves solving puzzles with grace and (hopefully, for the end user) ease.  In my product management roles at Salesforce, I have designed many of the point-and-click features of our Platform, and evangelized good product design as part of our weekly cross-team design reviews.

Saved By Social Media

I returned to work in May.  Though it’s only July, South America feels like a dream.  Luckily, I have 4000 photos to remind me of the trip, and 1 Free Terabyte on Flickr!  I knew a lot would change while I was “off the grid”, but it’s still amazing: So much innovation and change!

How did I ramp back up, you ask?  The two best water coolers around: Twitter and Salesforce Chatter.  Before I made a single phone call, I trolled these social media channels.

What did I find on Twitter?  Summer 13 is bursting with new features, many of which are #TTTC (True to The Core) Ideas; Yahoo bought Flickr (#goMarissa); Apple is worried about being #cool; my iPad 2 is too big (#mini); my Blackberry is #uncool (ok, to be fair, that was true when I left); #Mobile app building has improved leaps and bounds; @Force devs were hacking for good, not evil; Mike Gerholdt @MikeGerholdt is still the champion of ButtonClickAdmins and Nik Panter @nikpanter still loves #hockey.

And Salesforce Chatter?  The Platform has a new head honcho, Salesforce lifer, Mike Rosenbaum @mike945778; my old teams delivered on my old promises #SpanToOwner; new Force.com per app/per user pricing is live (@force); Parker @parkerharris is all about Mobile, and Marc @Benioff ‘s energy continues to be unparalleled.

I read articles and release notes and watched marketing videos and training courses – all links from social posts.  I marveled at how far we’ve come since I set up a Twitter account 4 years ago, and Marc called all-hands-on-deck to build “Facebook for the Enterprise” shortly after.  Now, these types of social applications are a rich mine of data, exposed via APIs, that developers can use to create innovative applications.  Social and mobile are the norm.  Expected. People wear their technology.  People track their every movement.  And people expect to be able to directly communicate with a business, no matter how large, via Facebook and Twitter.

Making More Technologists

My not-so-secret agenda in life is to make more technologists.  I do this with adults by turning Admins into App Builders, and with kids by showing them how much fun it is.  Especially girls, because I see that the media is telling them how NOT fun it is (“Math is hard,” says Barbie).  That’s why I love organizations like RailsBridge and Black Girls Code.

Alas, in my own home, I failed to make my 18-year-old daughter a technologist (she wants to study neurobiology and psychology, huh), but I am trying my best with my son.  Last week, I tried to instill an appreciation for dreaming up tools that are “impossible” (like cell phones) by watching the first, original, Star Trek episode with him.  It sparked a thoughtful debate about whether they should have just left the salt-sucker and Professor Crater on the planet and just given them a bunch of salt, rather than killing the last of the species.

I wasn’t sure if the science fiction technology design discussion had an impact, until today.  Our breakfast conversation this morning was about the practical details of how life would be if we really had the Star Trek transporter system: “Would everyone have a circle to stand on?  Where would it be?  Would it cost money?  How would you get back?”  I felt victorious!

It wasn’t like this in South America.  In fact, I #fail-ed to instill a love of design one day when we were preparing for a long flight.

Him: “I want to download a backgammon app.”
Me: “Here, let’s design one…what would the user see first?  How will they select their colors?  What would happen when they win?”
Him (eyes rolling): “Mom, do I have to?”

It was at that point that I realized I needed to get back home, back to work, back to my “tribe” of technologists.  But, I could not go home yet – I had one more bucket list item to cross off: the Inca Trail (stay tuned for that tale).

What About You?

I am looking forward to working with you, and I want to know more about you.  Tell me, my tribe members – whether you are a fan of the original Star Trek or of the many that followed, and whether you majored in History and learned the Salesforce Platform on your own or you were raised on Java and then fell in love with Apex Code – what is it that keeps you cranking out apps, rather than being a llama farmer?

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  • sherod

    Lack of storage space, Llamas are quite big.

  • mattlacey

    Great post Mary! Very heartening to read 🙂 I’m build apps on the platform because it’s the perfect platform for doing so — we’ve been in business 6 months, and in that time have built 5 apps (one still unreleased), a VF powered website, numerous prototypes and found the time to do some ad-hoc jobs as well; and this is with two people.

    I love to build things, and I love to code, so putting together force.com apps is a natural fit for getitng things done. I still lower level work though so spend plenty of hobby time hacking away in C and other languages (see pic!).

  • MaryScotton

    @mattlacey:disqus – you built 5 apps in 6 months?!? Awesome! I’d love to see them. Are they on AppExchange? Or for individual clients? I am spending my hobby time learning how to build mobile apps. Have you dug into our Mobile SDK and Mobile Sample Packs? Check ’em out: http://www2.developerforce.com/mobile?title=page/Salesforce_touch_platform

    • mattlacey

      Four of them are on the AppExchange! You can find some details here: http://www.spkeasey.com/spkproducts

      The fifth is still in development, and in that same time we built our website which is also VF powered 🙂

      • MaryScotton

        Love your website theme. Makes me want to buy and I don’t even know what the product is. 😉 I’m planning to build a Force.com Labs app. I am going to give Drop My Dossier a test drive.

        • mattlacey

          THanks! We come from a consulting background and wanted to use the opportunity to break away from the more standard look and feel that seems prevalent in cloud consultancies 🙂

  • MaryScotton

    @sherod:disqus – yes, space is an issue. 😉 In the Sacred Valley of Peru, there was a LOT of open space, and it seemed to be communal. People kept their animals in their yards (walled open area of the house) at night and then in the morning they would walk them up the hill to some open space (different spaces each day) and let them graze all day. Kept the grass cut and the animals fed. Just like the goats on the hillsides in Oakland!

  • Ryan Upton

    My transporter circle would be mobile. I could drop it anywhere 🙂

    • MaryScotton

      I like that! Much more convenient than stationary circles. And the
      transporter would be controlled by a mobile app, using the built in GPS
      on the device. Totally!