Salesforce TrailheaDX: Path Toward Redefining Developers

To help businesses adapt to a world of omnipresent software, Salesforce aims to create more programmers. Here is a look at the company's first developer conference, where it explored that mission.
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A software platform requires developers, but developers aren't easy to come by. By Salesforce's count, there are about 20 million of them in a world where demand for software could support 50 million of them.

There's also a counterargument that the ostensible shortage of tech talent is really reluctance to extend excessive managerial pay to software engineers, even if top software engineers have been known to get significant bonuses in recent years.

A less controversial claim would be that among the developers out there, few are likely to have the exact skill set sought by employers, because two out of three are self-taught, which doesn't make for a consistent skill foundation.

But taking Saleforce's assertions at face value for the moment, it's understandable that the company might want to open development up to a broader group of people than the relatively limited set of computer science graduates.

That's what the company is trying to do with its Lightning tools and with its online learning environment Trailhead. Salesforce sees value in creating more developers capable of improving Salesforce and associated apps.

[See the Top Programming Languages That Will Future-Proof Your Portfolio.]

To make more Salesforce-savvy developers and support existing ones, on Tuesday and Wednesday the company held its first developer conference, TrailheaDX. It was a far more modest affair than the company's sprawling Dreamforce extravaganza, which had about 160,000 attendees last year.

Setting aside the event's excessive use of capital letters, TrailheaDX presented Salesforce's latest developer technology in a positive light -- the pleasant spotlights and fill lights from the Warfield Theater lighting grid. As a point of contrast, the blazing sunlight illuminating the outdoor Google I/O developer conference last month made that event more of a trial than it should have been.

In keeping with the wilderness theme suggested by the conference name, TrailheaDX tried to evoke the outdoors inside its two venues. The Warfield and an event space called The Village across the street were appointed with fakes trees, fake grass, a taxidermy bear, and a person in a bear suit.

One of the vendors I encountered while wandering the exhibit floor claimed that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff wanted a real bear for Dreamforce last year but was denied a permit. Asked about this, a company representative said it wasn't true. A USA Today report from last year recounts Benioff suggesting a live bear as a jest. There's still hope for Dreamforce '16.

Quirkiness and simulated trees aside, Salesforce is onto something. A lot of programming involves reinventing the wheel. Turning those wheels into ready-to-use modules that anyone with a bit of ambition can use to build an app has real promise.

Here are some scenes from the event. Take a look and let us know what you think about Saleforce's first developer conference and its goal to redefine the term "developer."

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