Women in Tech: Iron Woman Co-Founder of Girl Develop It Boulder

This series highlights women in technology, to raise their visibility and break down some of the unconscious biases that block the path of women and underrepresented minorities in technology jobs. Kate Bierbaum, from salesforce.com, coded fan pages in middle school, is now coding features for the Salesforce1 Mobile App, and she co-founded Girl Develop It Boulder. Last week, Girl Develop It Boulder celebrated their one year anniversary, and I asked Kate to share her story.

This series highlights women in technology, to raise their visibility and break down some of the unconscious biases that block the path of women and underrepresented minorities when it comes to technology jobs. I encourage you to share these stories, and your own, with someone who doesn’t “fit” the technologist stereotype. In this small way, we can change the ratio.

Kate Bierbaum’s first website was a high school fan page for Friends, and now she is coding the secret sauce of Salesforce1 Mobile, Publisher Actions, at salesforce.com. In between, she’s worked at a number of startups and co-founded Girl Develop It Boulder. Last week, Girl Develop It Boulder celebrated their one year anniversary, and I asked Kate to share her story.

When did you learn to code? What do you love about it?

I started making random websites when I was in middle school. I was obsessed with the TV show Friends and taught myself HTML, CSS and JavaScript to make a fan site. It was quite terrible – I think it had a bunch of nested tables and everything was pink and purple, and I’m pretty sure it used frames for the side bar, but it played Phoebe’s songs and had an interactive JavaScript quiz to assess how much of a fan you were. [Editor’s Note: unfortunately, that site has since been demolished…]

I dabbled a little bit in high school, and then when I got to college, I thought, “What am I good at and what do I enjoy? I guess I’ll major in Math.” I’m pretty analytical, so math was always something I was good at in high school. CS (Computer Science) was cross-listed with Math, so I started taking CS classes and really loved it. I had a great experience and just kept going. One of the main reasons was the fantastic professors I had in Math and CS: I was inspired, I liked it, I was good at it, and history was made. I ended up with a double major.

When did you join salesforce.com? What is your role?

I joined a year and a half ago, after previously only working at startups. I started as a developer on the Import Wizard team for one release, and then joined a team in Boulder. We’re working on Publisher Actions. We just did the separation of Chatter from Actions in Salesforce1, which will allow customers who are not using Chatter to still take advantage of Actions in the Salesforce1 Mobile App (coming in Summer ’14 Release #SafeHarbor).

I’ve recently started to transition into a Software Development Manager role, so I wear a lot a hats now: Scrum Master, Manager, and I’m still a coder and a tester (we’re a hybrid team – all the engineers do both development and quality assurance). I’m moving into management because I think it will be interesting to help people with their career development, and I like to help organize and facilitate.

Tell me more about the startup life.

After graduating college I worked for a few years in the Washington D.C. area for two start ups. Then, I randomly moved to Colorado – one Subaru, one Mini Cooper and six bikes made their way across the country. After moving to Boulder, I worked for 3.5 years at Tendril, and then found my way to salesforce.com.

In a smaller company, there is less support for infrastructure – for example, I had never worked with a DBA (Database Administrator) before working at Salesforce. In a way it’s a plus, because then you have to learn more. I chose to work in startups after college because I wanted to have breadth of knowledge. I knew I’d have to figure it out as I went. It was a way of being a jack-of-all-trades in technology.

What programming languages do you use? Do you ever write Apex/Visualforce?

A lot of Java, and also some JavaScript and SQL. I had a brief affair with Ruby, but at the moment I’m pretty much exclusively Java. I have done a little bit of Apex/Visualforce coding, and I’d like to do more. It’s on my V2MOM to create a Force.com app and demo it.

I’ve met many Salesforce Admins who are interested in learning to code. What is your advice to them?

The thing that I think works best is learning HTML and CSS first, because there’s an instantaneous result. That’s where the Girl Develop It curriculum starts. We suggest students take HTML/CSS and then Intro to Programming Concepts, which is a workshop that divorces the concepts like loops and control logic from any particular language. It can be really difficult to learn the concepts and syntax at the same time, and some students learn better with that separation.  After that, we like to recommend JavaScript, because it builds from the HTML/CSS classes. There you can apply the programming concepts by practicing them over and over. It’s building blocks, and taking it slow.  From there we like to show how things like GitHub Pages work so you get the full experience of developing a simple site and can understand the process of checking code in and out of a code repository. Then, you can start using JQuery or D3 or some other library and see the power of open source – using stuff other people have built. Then, maybe you want to learn OO (Object Oriented Programming). I’m preparing the Girl Develop It curriculum for the OO class right now, because it’s something a lot of people want to learn.

Tell me more about Girl Develop It.

Girl Develop It is an international organization with 36 chapters. I am the co-founder of the Boulder chapter along with Cara Jo Miller, and we are celebrating our first anniversary tonight (June 4, 2014)! We started last June and now have over 500 members and have taught 250 people in our classes – both men and women. The response has been great, and it’s been a tremendous amount of fun, too. We’ve taught 30 workshops and classes in the last year – it’s been pretty busy!

What inspired you to start a Girl Develop It chapter?

It wasn’t really a why as much as a how — because it came to me by way of Cara Jo. She was involved in the founding of the Girl Develop It Detroit chapter and was put in touch with me when she moved to Boulder. She had told me all the positive experiences that members had, and how great being involved with Girl Develop It was for her personally. So we decided to start a chapter in Boulder. We had a kick off event last June and shortly after hosted our first class. The feedback from students and the support of the community has been amazing. We couldn’t do it without all the help of our volunteers and sponsors (including salesforce.com).

I think people do better in an instructor-led class, rather than in an online class. In person, you have someone to guide you when you get lost – “Here’s where you got confused, let’s talk about why that happened…” – and bring you back to where you need to be. It’s amazing to see the impact a single class can make for a developer. Teri Charles attended our first HTML/CSS class, and then she went further in her studies and came back as a teacher! She recently wrote her own content for an Intro to Programming class, and is blogging about her journey at Boulder Tester.

What is it like being a woman in this field?

I have worked directly with three other women developers in my whole career. I know there are many more women developers at salesforce.com, but I am the only women developer on my team. However, most of the time, I don’t think about it. I’ve also been very fortunate to work with a bunch of fantastic people and we just focus on getting things done. I know this isn’t true for everybody, and that’s one of the reasons I think it’s important to create awareness and work to increase diversity, which is why I’m excited about working with Girl Develop It.

Did you attend Dreamforce ’13?

Yes! It was ridiculous! I’ve never been to an event that big in my life. I couldn’t get over how complimentary customers were and how excited they were. I kind of felt like a rock star. I really got into the swing of things – I liked talking to people and finding out what they were doing and what they needed, and giving them suggestions. I signed up for a few shifts in the DevZone, and then worked 10 more hours because I didn’t want to leave.

Do you have kids? Do they code? What is your advice to parents of young children who express an interest in technology?

I have zero children, and thus no advice for parents. Although, in February, along with Cara Jo and another Girl Develop It volunteer, I helped a Girl Scout troop get their Technology Badge. We taught the girls to use Scratch – it’s an amazing tool – it’s drag and drop code blocks, so you can “code” without writing code, to animate “sprites.” They have the concept of variables, and even “cloud” variables (global variables). The best quote from that whole experience was when one of the moms introduced us and asked, “Do you know what code is? Code is the thing that makes the apps work on your phone. These ladies write code.” One of the girls replied, “No way! Thank you! Thank you!”

We did a similar thing recently for Bring Your Child to Work Day at salesforce.com. We had kids from age 7 – 13. One kid coded a soccer player that moved across the field and if it was touching the ball, sent a signal to the ball to move to these x,y coordinates in the goal, and then play a sound of people cheering. Seeing kids code control logic and events is pretty cool.

What do you do in your free time (if you have any!)?

It’s great to live in Boulder – there is so much to do! I really enjoy triathlons and hiking with my dog and husband, and I am addicted to riding my bike. In particular, I like long distance triathlons. Two years ago, I did Ironman Louisville. A month ago, I did a half Ironman in Utah.

Kate immediately after crossing the finish line in Louisville

Author’s Note

No Girl Develop It in your area? Check out these other organizations to learn how to code:

Looking to learn about Salesforce Administration and Development? Check out the Salesforce University classes.

Want more ways to teach kids to code? Check out this article for other fun tools.

Please feel free to share your experiences and other resources in the comments.

Looking for me on Twitter? I’m @rockchick322004, and I tweet about the Salesforce1 Platform and Women in Tech. #DiversifyYourFeed

Published
June 11, 2014

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Women in Tech: Iron Woman Co-Founder of Girl Develop It Boulder