When I moved from Platform Product Management to Developer Evangelism last May, the first thing I noticed at developer events was there were fewer women than I was used to seeing at Salesforce admin events. At the same time, the news seemed filled with articles about Women in Tech, encouragement for women to lean in, and statistics about the under-representation of women and people of color in STEM fields. I was curious, and I started reaching out to get a better understanding of our developer community. Today, I’m kicking off a blog series highlighting women developers, because they are definitely out there, and I want to share their stories and advice.

First up is Kristine Hankins (@kristinehankins), who I actually shared a cab with two years ago on my way home from a NYC Developer User Group (DUG) meetup, and then had a chance to chat with again recently at the NYC Post-Salesforce1 Tour drinkup. She represents a persona I see a lot: self-starter-power-user-turns-admin-then-coder. She also wears her WITbot t-shirt with pride. I asked her to share her story.

How did you learn to code?

My experience “began” in Microsoft Excel, where I did data entry and reconfigured the data using a macro. I thought “this is cool, but let me see what the guts look like”, so I would open the macros in Visual Basic editor and look through the logic, and then started to modify that code. I used VBA to streamline a process that used to take days and days, and I cut it down to 2 hrs. This involved staring at code for hours on end, trying to figure out “what does this do, and if I change it, what happens?”

I regret never taking Computer Science in school. I was a Chemistry major and had to do a lot of data analysis in the lab. Now that technology is where my career has taken me, I am a little disappointed that I haven’t had more classical instruction.

Next, I started working in Account Management in that same company, a market research firm. I got roped in by some Account Reps and our VP of Operations, who said “We want to scale up this customer service function around you.” So I did that and I built on it. We collected all of our data in an SPSS database and had Salesforce data working in concert. I started to learn database queries, following recipes and different models, such as how to cross-tab the market research data to deliver more value to clients. At the same time, I was creating business processes in Salesforce for our account retention metrics. I became a primary power user of the CRM and one of its most vocal internal champions.

As I got more exposure into Salesforce, I got to learn what it could do, and eventually went from power user to Admin.

That was my turning point. I went into consulting and did declarative development and Admin items, but didn’t touch Apex. My friends cautioned me, if it says “must know Apex” you can’t just pick that up.

Then, I got this job at Relationship Science.  We’re a technology solutions company. A young company, commercially launched in the beginning of 2013.  Within 12 months, we had over 300 clients. It was crucial to have the Salesforce backbone in place.

When I came in, someone had already written an API-based integration with the help of a consultant. I think everyone expected me to stick with Admin tasks, but as we started to bring in more products, we had these use cases that required more code. I could either have hired the consultants again, or I could try it myself.

My fiance Adam Ady (he’s a Salesforce architect) and I went to dinner with Luke Cushanick (co-leader of the NYC DUG) and his wife socially, and I told them, “Hey guys, I’m going to write some code.”  They asked if I was going to do a simple child parent lookup thing, and I said “no, we have a custom object that is being updated by an API, and we need the Case to query data on the custom object when we do Email-to-Case.”  They said, “Why are you doing that as your first coding project?!?” I said, “That’s what the business needs.”

There were definitely false starts, but I wrote the code and I got it - online resources were my primary help. I also continued to talk about it socially. I got my last ditch inspiration from Masha Thomas from 2U. When I talked through the code with her, she said, “That should work” and so I kept trying, and finally it did! I was so excited, but I was also so green: I had it working in Sandbox, put it in a Change Set, tried to push it to Production, and then saw:

I didn’t even know what a test class was!

Did you attend Dreamforce ’13?

Yes, it was my first Dreamforce!  It was totally awesome, but I was completely overwhelmed.  I presented a session with the Service Cloud team: Small Business: Growing Your Company With Service Cloud & a 360 Customer View.  [Author's Note: this makes Kristine a Dreamforce ’13 DevZone Session Rookie!]

What was your favorite part of Dreamforce?

I spent a lot of time in the DevZone, got a lot of my questions answered, and met a bunch of cool people who were really interested in Salesforce and what it could do.  I am the only one in my company doing Salesforce, and it was nice to see what other people were doing. It was great to network with the other women there, too.

I was so happy to stumble upon the Women in Technology Salon. I went in during the Becoming a Powerful Communicator session, and I thought the discussion was really interesting.

When we focus on it being about women, it’s like we’re trying to prompt for more exclusive things, but really it’s just let’s let this community be more inclusive. I liked seeing people who’s experiences were similar to mine.  It’s nice to have models, not just role models up on a pedestal, but others doing what you’re doing and know what it’s like.  When you sit on the outside and you see a community that is mostly men, you wonder if it would be uncomfortable to break into it.  But, it’s not. The work is gratifying and there’s a lot of creativity and problem solving.  It’s not “masculine” or “feminine” work and that’s something that is really cool.

I’ve met a lot of Admins who are interested in coding. What would you say to them?

Go for it!  I’ve never looked back. I’m so empowered with the code that few of the architectural challenges for the CRM application scare me. Now I can deliver value in a holistic way myself. I am pushing the limits of what the system can do and what I can do. I think I’m a better Admin and Sales Operations person because I understand the thresholds—what can be done quickly and what is possible with more investment.  It’s fun to be a part of this community, too.

Tell me more about the Force.com developer community.

I have Force.com experts in my inner circle, but I don’t like to ask them because of my pride.  I find the answers I need on the Force.com Discussion Board & StackExchange (I’ve got 3 StackExchange items up right now), often without even asking, because someone else has already asked it and it has been answered.  At Dreamforce, I wanted to find Steve Molis because I owe him a six-pack of beer – I’ve read a bunch of things he has answered on the Success Community.  I have also learned a lot from reading Jeff Douglas’s blog.  It’s fun because you get to learn who everyone is by reading and listening to podcasts.

What tips do you have for newbies starting to code?

If I had it to do over again, I would have spent more time in the cookbooks before I had a real project to deliver!

I also wish that I had started talking to others sooner. The way I learn is to really understand everything that’s going on. I want to figure it all out myself, but I should have talked to others. I didn’t know what an IDE was, or a test class.  I needed to ask “what will I have to do?” Once I had the tools and had some models, I was making progress through trial and error.  I wish some one had told me all that trial and error was normal: type, think about it, look up a resource, type a little more.

And finally: always, always, bulkify your code.

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  • mattlacey

    “I wish someone had told me that trial and error was normal”…. that’s pretty much 99% of coding! :) Good read, hope we get to say hi at DF this year :)

    • MaryScotton

      Yup, copy & paste + trial & error = working code, eventually. ;-)

    • Jeff Douglas

      I’ve actually gone through 2 “V” buttons in the last 2 years. ;)

      • Kristine Hankins

        Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Z… My current method is Ctrl+S, cross fingers, yell in vain at IDE to finish compiling and commit changes.

        I am so delighted by this thread. I actually recently used a post by Matt Lacey to help me figure out how to write a custom controller. And I just lent my friend who’s interested in learning Salesforce my Jeff Douglas Salesforce.com Secrets of Success book. And now these guys are reading my story? Awesome!!

        • mattlacey

          Apologies for being so slow but only just saw this! Glad that I wrote something of use to you Kristine :)

          And for the record, this is what ‘that’ area of my keyboard looks like (please excuse the grub!!) …

  • Luke Cushanick

    It’s the accessibility to accomplishment that Kristine and I both experienced that really makes me supportive of the Salesforce Community. It gives intelligent people technical tools to address organizational needs. Organizations need the kind of operations processes and analytics that Salesforce delivers, there’s a shortage of STEM graduates in the country and with the Force.com Platform, you don’t need a STEM education, let alone a Comp. Sci one to bridge that gap. Thanks Mary for writing this inspirational article about Kristine!

    • MaryScotton

      You’re welcome, Luke. You’ve got a great crew in your NYC DUG. Looking forward to the next meetup!

  • Katie Swol

    Thank you for this great post Mary! It is inspiring to hear other women’s stories about how they got in to coding. Keep coding Kristine!

    • MaryScotton

      Thanks, Katie! I loved hearing your story, too, at the NYC Salesforce1 women in tech lunch. Hope to see you at the next CT DUG meeting!

    • Kristine Hankins

      Thanks Katie! I love your profile pic :)

  • http://www.bobbuzzard.org/ Bob Buzzard

    Trial and error, 2am with tears in your eyes. We’ve all been there.

    • Kristine Hankins

      Definitely…it’s sometimes more Joseph Conrad than George Jetson. But I still love it.

      This week’s new vocab of despair: “Developer script exception.”

  • Adam Ady

    Thank you, Mary, for providing a spotlight that will encourage others to participate and take the Force.com platform as far as they wish. I’m thrilled to see Kristine’s own commitment to increasing her skills garner this recognition. Watching her progress from power user to StackExchange poster has been very exciting. Can’t wait to bug her to teach me bulkification.

    • MaryScotton

      Thanks, Adam. I have seen/heard a lot of these types of stories in my time, and it’s great to be able to share them.