This series highlights women developers in our community, as a way to raise their visibility and hopefully break down some of the unconscious biases that block the path of women and people of color when it comes to technology jobs. I encourage you to share these stories, and your own, with someone who doesn’t “fit” the stereotype of a programmer. In this small way, we can change the ratio.
Carolina Ruiz-Medina loves geeky stuff and fashion. She brought both of those passions to Dreamforce ’13 and recently launched a new blog: Carol Code and Vogue. She’s making a big impact in the Force.com community, and it’s all the more impressive because her love of computing began in a little village in Spain. She shares her story and advice.
When did you learn to code? What do you love about it?
The first time I was in front of proper code was in University. But, my love for computers and programming probably started when I was 7 years old. I lived in a little village in Spain, near Granada. It was not very common to go to the big city as a student. I grew up with my grandmother and grandfather, who were like my parents really, as they raised me like their daughter, encouraging me to take a course on MS-DOS. You had to see me at 7 years old, with all grown ups, working in front of a big computer, executing MS-DOS commands. I really enjoyed it!
Some years later, I fell in love with video games, one of them was DOOM (I’m sure every geek in the 90’s remembers this one). When I finished high school, I told myself “I want to learn something that I love doing. I can spend hours and hours in front of a computer…why not use that?” So, I went to University and studied computer engineering, and the first time I was in front of code I was like “Wow!” I’m so lucky and grateful to have had good teachers. One in particular come to mind, Juan Manuel Luna, who inspired me so much.
Initially, I thought coding was so difficult, but that was the beauty, because in the end my love for problem solving and coming up with ideas made me discover how much I enjoy writing code. I am always asking, “What’s the next thing I can learn? What is the next thing I can do? Can I modify this to improve that part?” It never stops. Force.com allows you to continuously learn and try new things. People ask, “Why are you working with this platform?” It’s because it challenges me to come up with new ideas and to keep learning.
How did you get started with Force.com?
I went to one of my first job interviews in Spain. One of the questions was “Carolina, if you have to work on a project in English, would you be able to handle that?” My English proficiency was not that great (all I had ever done was in high school), but I said “Of course! Why not?” The company at the time was called Agresso, which later became Unit4. They had a project with a company in England (FinancialForce), on a new platform that no one knew (Force.com). They asked if I wanted to work on it, and I said “Yes!” I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew I would try.
It was the end of 2007, and Apex Code, coming from C++ and Java, was limited and basic. It was challenging to work around limits. It was a new age of coding, I think. It is also at this point that I had the opportunity to work with Andy Fawcett and Stephen Willcock who were, and are still, our gurus.
In 2010, I left work to take care of my grandfather. After his death, my former boss called and asked me if I would like to join his team again. However, at that point I wanted to go abroad, having taking some inspirational advice from my grandfather. With the knowledge that FinancialForce UK was searching for Force.com developers, I put myself forward and got that job.
How was the learning curve for Apex/Visualforce?
It was not difficult. However, in Java you have a freedom that you couldn’t get in Apex, as you need to know that the platform has Governor limits. This means that your code needs to be written efficiently so that your code doesn’t hit them. If done properly, the Governor limits are not your enemy they are actually your friend, because they help you write a better code.
I also like using point-and-click in order to build apps in Force.com. It makes your life easier. As a programmer, I like coding best, of course, but the idea is to use code strictly when necessary. You don’t need to start the house with the roof. When building a house you start from the foundations, and it is the same here, you start with point-and-click and add coding only when necessary as an enhancement. I call it “Point>Click>Enhance”. Author’s Note: I reserved the right to trademark this!
You presented at Dreamforce ’13. Which sessions?
Yes! It was my first experience of going to America, and going to Dreamforce. I couldn’t imagine I was actually doing that. Me, from that little village in Granada, I was going to travel to Dreamforce to meet all these people!
I did three sessions. I was quite nervous, as it was my first time in front of the Force.com community. The first one was Behavior Driven Development with one of my good friends, Paul Battisson, who I regularly take a drink with and constantly talk about Force.com. The second was with my manager and mentor Stephen Willcock, which was Practical Introduction to Chatter Publisher Actions and Salesforce1, where I talked about the experience that I had building a Salesforce1 mobile app. The last one was Force.com Careers, where I had the opportunity to be part of a great panel.
Stephen Willcock, Andy Fawcett, and Carolina Ruiz-Medina at Dreamforce ’13
What was your favorite part of Dreamforce?
I have two favorites: the DevZone and the Girly Geeks. In the DevZone it was like a child in a sweet shop. Incredible! Little workshops and sessions all around. You could stop and chat with anyone, it was great. You didn’t need to know them. You have something in common, Force.com, and you can share ideas and thoughts.
It was great to have the Girly Geeks and the Women in Technology Salon – I am going to use the word “awesome”, because in this industry, you are predominantly around guys. When I came to Dreamforce it was like “hey, we are here too, we are an important part too and we are doing this too.” It is not about men or women, it is about the Force.com community, and everyone gets a say. It’s great!
What is it like being a woman in a technology field?
At the beginning, I felt I little weird because the technology world doesn’t have too many women, but I accepted this and it has become normal. I’ve been raised thinking that anything is possible regardless of gender. Maybe this is because I don’t have brothers or sisters, and my grandfather raised me like his little boy. I like motorcycles, football, video games, technology … and fashion: clothes, bags, shoes.
Sometimes there is a stereotype of women in the workplace and perhaps people believe that you are not capable, but I do not feel this way, because sometimes other people really praise me for the hard work that I put in even though I’m a woman. After they get to know me, I find that men respect me and also start to ask me questions and treat me like an equal.
When I started to go for interviews, I knew it was going to be difficult, but I was clear that I wanted to become a developer, so I kept trying, and got the job.
You blog about tech and fashion – did you have a chance to pursue both passions in San Francisco?
Yes, the blog is Carol Code and Vogue. The first time I went to San Francisco, it was purely for Dreamforce, I didn’t get a chance to go shopping even though on my way to Dreamforce and back I was always passing by some spectacular shops.
The second time (in January), I kept one whole day for the purpose of shopping: to see the shoes, the bags, the new collections. But, I didn’t buy the Louis Vuitton bag, I bought an iPhone instead. I like all these new collections, but at the end of the day, everyone is going to have their own style. Me, I love red shoes, but red shoes can’t go with everything, but an iPhone can!
Tell me about your current role at FinancialForce.
I am a Principal Developer in Product Innovation, and it’s great. Before this, I was working in a team which focused on product delivery. This meant I was not so free to explore new ideas, because my main task was to focus on delivering the release. Now, from a different perspective, I’m able to review the product and customer requirements, see how to fit them together and how to apply new platform features to them. I have time for research and a form of experimentation which enables me to explore ideas and create prototypes.
Sometimes ideas explode. But, sometimes they don’t. It is quite tricky, but fun too. You might have to restart, but that’s ok. That’s just the process. To have the opportunity to put your ideas in a prototype without restrictions – it is great!
Sounds exciting! What projects are you working on (or is it a secret?)?
It’s a secret!
I’ve met many Salesforce Admins who are interested in learning to code. What is your advice to them?
Take it easy. Don’t try to get to learn everything at once. Today, try to create an Apex Trigger and put a simple validation in it. The next day, try to make an Apex Class. Or if you prefer, do a little script for data creation.
Working with the Business Analyst in my old team, I had this approach: on one day we looked at how a formula field works, another day how a query is formed, another the parts of a trigger and at the end, she was telling me how an Apex batch process works and its parts.
Which resources do you recommend for Force.com newbies?
I think a Developer User Groups (DUGs) are good resources, for example in Spain, there is a DUG in Bilbao, and I am starting one in Granada to introduce Force.com to new developers. I also spoke at the DUG in London recently, talking about the new features in the Salesforce1 Mobile App: publisher actions, Flexipages, and Mobile Cards.
The Success Community is a great resource, too. There is a group that I would recommend for Spanish developers: Spanish Developers [ESPAÑA].
The Force.com developer forums are a really good resource, perhaps one of my favorites.
I use IRC a lot. There are more informal conversations there. If you are new to the IRC, check out The Extended Salesforce Community on IRC and Stack Exchange from Peter Chittum.
I’m curious, why did your grandparents choose a computer course for you?
I was a busy child. Constantly doing something, always finding things to do, something to break, something to build. My grandma called me “Culo de mal asiento“, which translates to a person that can’t stop moving! Perhaps they thought the computer would entertain me and I would not give them too much trouble or bother them.
Also, they wanted to give me the best opportunity in life, which they didn’t have. I was the first person in my family to get a degree. My family is all working class with a farming background. My mother had to leave school at 10 years old. My grandmother never even had the opportunity to learn to read, she had to teach herself.
My grandmother is the one that taught me to keep striving for better things in life, which meant doing my best for everything. She always encouraged me, saying, “I never had these opportunities, and now that I see you being student and trying hard, I am so proud.” I’ll always remember the lesson my grandparents taught me: if you fail, don’t stop there – keep trying.