The Software Agents: Episode 17 - A Platform to Enable Anyone to Rebuild the World in Software

Written by: Christina Noren

4 min read

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The Software Agents is a podcast series sponsored by CloudBees. Each week, we bring you a leader reinventing a different field through software for the new world that is being born. Listen to this week's episode.

Our guest this week is Marina Harrell, Director of Software Development at Salesforce who leads two teams tied to the Salesforce DX platform - the developer experience for building Salesforce applications. Uniquely among our guests, Marina is also a former Bee. She led a team of engineers who contributed to our new Software Delivery Management product. 

(Disclaimer: this episode may sound like more of a CloudBees and Salesforce commercial than most, but with good reason. Marina is passionate about the benefits of both CloudBees and Salesforce, their relevance to the current moment and how in many ways CloudBees Software Delivery Management is doing for software delivery what Salesforce has done for managing the business. We’re both pretty passionate about these topics so we fed off one another a bit in the conversation!)

Marina recounts her story from childhood in Washington, D.C., to her first coding job at age 16 in a summer program at Bethesda Naval Research Lab. She worked on algorithms to help U.S. submarines better evade detection. It was a Navy sponsored scholarship to study math and computer science at one of the country’s top engineering schools. Then, she was off to North Carolina State University and then to her first full time job with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, where she built analytical models in SAS while she was still a student. This led to a long career with SAS. 

She tells us how, after several years as a developer at SAS, she became very interested in ways to improve developer experience and productivity through automation. This led her to a management role leading a team that grew to 35 engineers who introduced DevOps to the company. 

CloudBees was an opportunity for Marina to productize the automation and reporting concepts her team had been developing. (Some listeners may remember Marina on stage for the CloudBees keynote at DevOps World 2019. Who knew that would be the last physical DevOps World for a while?)

Marina then takes us into her current product and role at Salesforce, and how COVID has increased the need for what they build. Salesforce as a whole has seen big growth in public Q2 numbers, reflecting increased use of their platform as sales and other business employees work remotely and can’t fall back on co-location for communication. 

For the DX platform specifically, the need to develop new applications of all kinds quickly, often with staff who are less experienced developers or rotating from other roles, has made the ability to build Salesforce applications mission critical. Marina says customers need a range of approaches, from no-code to low-code to high-code options.

She tells us about the specific example of Work.com, an application Salesforce built itself using the DX platform’s tools. Conceived after the pandemic hit, and built in less than a month, Work.com provides Salesforce customers tools from contact tracing to employee wellness.

Toward the end, I ask Marina about her non-profit passion project, Code Edge. Marina and her husband, who is also an African-American programmer, started Code Edge in 2012 when they realized how expensive it was to send their own sons to a typical summer code camp. $1,500 or more was prohibitive for most families. Code Edge provides free coding and computational thinking instruction to school-age children from underserved communities. Marina and her husband have served as instructors from the start. She tells us why it’s so important for the kids to see role models—working programmers that "look like them.” With the pandemic, in- person instruction has had to pause. But a local Raleigh, N.C. company is helping Code Edge move their classes online. Our listeners can support this worthy effort either by donating funds or by volunteering to be an instructor.

Most of our Software Agents bring solutions to a specific industry or effort. With everything Marina has done—from SAS through CloudBees and Salesforce, and with CodeEdge—she has lowered the barriers to building software and improved productivity and outcomes for people across a wide range of endeavors that once would have seen no use for software, or no way to adopt it. Thanks, Marina. We’ve both gleaned a lot from each other.

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