Skip to Content
Skip to Footer

Artificial Intelligence

Parker Harris Wants to Flip the Script: “What if Software Isn’t Something You Go to, but Something That Comes to You?”

“Keep talking, I’m listening,” Parker Harris says as he walks off the computer screen. Ten seconds later he’s back with his Trailblazer hoodie in hand. “This is TrailblazerDX, not Dreamforce. A hoodie and t-shirt is as dressy as it gets.”

The Salesforce co-founder and CTO is days away from taking the stage at TrailblazerDX 2022. And yes, it’s a real stage. This year’s event is bringing developers together in person and online, with an expected attendance of nearly 5,000. 

Harris joined this conversation from his home office in San Francisco to share thoughts on automation, innovation, and how the Salesforce Platform adds speed to both.

Q: Automation is everywhere these days — how is automation changing the human-computer equation?

What if enterprise software wasn’t something that you proactively logged into or activated, and instead was something that comes to you only when human input is critical? That’s the power of automation. 

We see automation as the orchestrator, able to pull people in at specific times when human sentience is needed for decision-making or an approval.

We see automation as the orchestrator, able to pull people in at specific times when human sentience is needed for decision-making or an approval.

There is a tremendous amount of potential with automation and AI. You can automate processes and workflows with low code, or you can do it with no code at all. With Flow, for example, you can automate processes with a point-and-click tool. And by doing so, you can create a lot more productivity across your company, or create incredible value for other companies if you’re consulting. I think everyone is always looking for ways to squeeze out more productivity. So why do that yourself if you can have the computer do it for you? 

Q: Slack is going to be a big part of TrailblazerDX this year — particularly the Slack integrations. What’s that going to open up across the platform?

Imagine if you could bring everything that you’re working on in Salesforce — all of these applications, the workflows, the forms — together in Slack. 

So many Trailblazers out there know about the power of the Salesforce Platform. They understand how to build what we think of as “applications.” You think of those built with the Lightning interface, for example, and you might have workflows or forms, or integrations that bring in data from other sources. 

Slack, on the other hand, has a more conversational-based interface with powerful workflow capabilities, and occasionally, you might enter a modal or bring information to your own window. 

We’re exploring new ways to bring Slack and Salesforce together to create a single powerful platform. Imagine you connect the workflow from Salesforce to Slack and then approve it with a slash command. From there you just quickly open a modal window to see just enough information on that opportunity: “Great, I see it. I’m good. Click approve and I’m done.”

Q: Digital transformation is accelerating with no sign of slowing down, and developers need to innovate at speed. How can developers innovate faster?

We want to solve problems quickly. We want an incredible experience for the end user. And we want it to be simple and beautiful. 

Just because we could do something in a complex way doesn’t mean we need to or that it’s better. It shouldn’t come down to ego — we all love code and reflecting back on flawless script, saying, “Look at this incredible amount of code I wrote today. Look at the volume!”

We want to solve problems quickly. We want an incredible experience for the end user. And we want it to be simple and beautiful.

Instead, I celebrate when my developers take code out. If they can remove code, what results is something a lot simpler. I can understand it more quickly. It’s going to perform better. That’s the beauty of low-code and no-code tools — you’re going to go faster, your business is going to be much happier, and you’re going to be able to iterate much faster, with less custom code to maintain.

When it comes to TrailblazerDX this year, I encourage the whole developer community to ask, “How can we use Salesforce to innovate so we keep moving the needle while reducing or removing code?”

Parker Harris, Salesforce co-founder and CTO, hosted TrailheaDX 2021 at Salesforce Park in San Francisco.

Q: What thoughts or advice do you have for people without developer experience interested in how the Salesforce Platform can provide new opportunities to find work, upskill, or even make a career pivot?

My short answer is definitely a nod to Trailhead and the Trailblazer Community, which supports individuals along their learning journey with Salesforce.

But really when I think about it, it comes down to making an impact. We all fundamentally want to make an impact in our jobs, and both the Salesforce Platform and the Salesforce ecosystem empower people to do that through Trailhead. 

Q: Recent MuleSoft research showed that 93% of organizations say it’s become more difficult to retain skilled developers. How is the ‘Great Resignation’ impacting the developer community?

I think everyone needs to really think about themselves and their own health and balance. I like to say I’m always striving for balance, but I’ll never achieve it.

At Salesforce, we’re doing interesting things like having a week of asynchronous work, which we call “Async Week.” We shifted from an in-person meeting culture to online [during the pandemic], but now we’re thinking about each individual video call and reconsidering if it needs to be on live video. Maybe, instead, it could be a chat, or a shared document, or even a video clip in Slack.

The developer community is global. They don’t all live in one place, so asynchronous tools allow them to work at their optimal times, depending on time zones, and depending on what’s going on in their lives. 

We all have to experiment and iterate on it. Maybe you should go old school and talk to someone on the telephone; go outside for a walk and talk. You might find that you concentrate better on the conversation there than if it’s yet another video call.

Q: Thinking about the next five years in tech, what excites you? 

I’m definitely watching the metaverse, I’m watching where blockchain and some of these newer technologies are going, and where Salesforce can play a role. 

Right now, I’m most excited by data platforms, and our Customer Data Platform in particular. CDP provides the data for marketing automation. It helps companies create a single source of truth to know who their customer is and then personalize every interaction with AI. And underneath it there is some incredible open-source technology and open standards.

Think about the proliferation of data — it’s coming off of devices, it’s coming off of activities of customers on websites, or physically coming into stores, call centers, and more. All of that information is very important in shaping the customer experience. 

Every company is building or leveraging a data platform. We also have incredible partners like AWS, Snowflake, Databricks, Google, and IBM providing data platforms. 

The power of these data platforms and having them move to a more real-time nature — which has been a vision of mine for decades — it’s coming together now. We can capture and unify all the data from anywhere and give our customers a single source of truth across our entire Customer 360 platform.

We’re enabling customers to harness the full power of the Customer 360 in ways that enable developers to quickly build, integrate, and automate apps across the Salesforce Ecosystem — Salesforce, Slack, Tableau, and MuleSoft.

I spend most of my days with some deep architects at Salesforce looking at our future in this area. It just gets you really jazzed.

Q: What concerns you about the evolution of technology in the next five years? 

I do have concerns. I think that the internet is global, but nations are looking at the world a little bit more from a sovereign and national perspective. So, around technology, how do we think about data sovereignty and data privacy and data locality in this future world? That’s why Hyperforce is such an important innovation for us. We can scale our infrastructure rapidly and securely using public cloud partners all over the world — where our customers need them. 

As much as I’m excited about the potential of data, it also has the potential to be used in the wrong way. We have to lead with our values, not just our technology, to make sure that, as we provide these capabilities for our customers, we’re also giving our customers’ customers the transparency and trust in how their data is being used.

Near the end of the conversation, barking echos in the background. “That’s my dog Sadie. She’s 14 years old, still trucking,” Harris chuckles. 

When Sadie joined the Harris family, Salesforce was becoming the first enterprise cloud computing company to breach the billion-dollar mark in annual revenue. A far cry from current day, where the company achieved $26.5 billion in revenue in its 2022 fiscal year

But the thing that brings Parker Harris the most satisfaction in the company’s 23-year story isn’t revenue.

“I’m proudest of the impact we have as a company. Marc’s vision to integrate philanthropy from day one with our 1:1:1 model. That cemented in our culture this idea of doing more with this company, this foundational mindset of giving back.”

Join Parker Harris at TrailblazerDX on April 27.


Get the latest Salesforce News