Why open-source and AI is here to stay (Trails Podcast episode #13 with Alba Rivas)

Join us in this episode as we delve into Alba Rivas' perspective as a Salesforce Principal Developer Advocate. We will discuss how and why AI and open-source are here to stay within the Salesforce ecosystem. Explore her journey, gain insights, and discover valuable tips.

  • Published 28 May 2024
  • 8 mins read
Why open-source and AI is here to stay (Trails Podcast episode #13 with Alba Rivas)
Table of contents

Episode 13: Alba Rivas, Salesforce Principal Developer Advocate

Article Highlights
  • Alba Rivas transitioned from a back-end developer working with various technologies to a Salesforce Principal Developer Advocate. Her journey involved learning Apex and actively participating in the Salesforce community, eventually becoming a Salesforce MVP and securing a role in developer advocacy.
  • Alba highlighted significant feature releases like Lightning Web Components (LWC) and the integration of generative AI into Salesforce. She emphasized AI's transformative potential in developing custom applications and workflows and the introduction of tools like Einstein for Developers to assist in coding and testing.
  • She discussed Salesforce's commitment to open-source technologies like LWC and Salesforce CLI. She noted the growing ecosystem of open-source libraries and plugins. She advocated for Git-based development practices, citing benefits like cost efficiency, customization, and improved software quality through community collaboration.

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How did you first get in touch with the Salesforce ecosystem and technology, and how did your career evolve from there?

I have a technical background. I started telecommunications engineering here in Granada, the city where I live. My first jobs were as developers for other technologies. I knew Python, I did things with Java, and so on. Because of that, I was offered a position as a back-end developer in a partner of AppExchange that has some applications on the Salesforce marketplace.

They basically taught me Apex at the beginning. Because the people at the company and the program for learning were so good, I got up to speed quickly and then evolved my career from there.

Did you then move from working for an AppExchange ISV partner to Salesforce itself?

In the middle, I spent some months in a Salesforce training company, which offered courses about Salesforce development and Salesforce in general. Then, a position opened in the team I am currently in, which is developer advocacy for the platform. I knew many people from that team because I was very active in the Salesforce community. I was also a Salesforce MVP. When I heard about the position, I thought this was for me. I also liked teaching and training, so I applied for the position and got it.

What are some feature releases that specifically excited you in the past? Or is there anything upcoming that you are looking forward to when we look at the whole bandwidth of technology the Salesforce platform offers its users and partners?

Lightning Web Components were a complete game changer. Before they were available, we had to code with Visualforce, and Aura was somewhere in the middle. When they came out, they were an open and standardized way of building front-end with well-accepted technologies in the development ecosystem. I was so glad that I could learn JavaScript very well and better CSS, HTML, and web components. It is entirely standard, although we provide a thin layer on top of that so you can use them in Salesforce more agilely.

Everything opened up, which I enjoyed. I was a back-end developer, but I'm now a full-stack developer, as I spent a lot of time learning web components in JavaScript. In the beginning, it was a challenge because the mindset of a back-end developer is quite different from that of a front-end developer. You need to invest some time in the beginning so that things stick in your mind and you understand what user interfaces are doing behind the scenes when you execute them in the browser.

The second one, of course, is AI. Generative AI has come here to stay, and it's been a small revolution. I think it has a lot of potential. There are many opportunities for companies to develop themselves and customer applications and create custom workflows using AI features. I think Salesforce is doing a great job of making things easy for customers regarding AI adoption.

I was initially skeptical when we started to create our own AI products, but now that I've been playing with them for a few months and implementing things myself, I think it's super powerful. There are many use cases that people can implement and for which they can leverage the help of AI.

Do you see AI changing the life of Salesforce Developers, let's say, from local to pro already now, or do you think it will take more time?

I like saying that developers can get involved with AI in two main ways. One of the ways to do this is by using the generative AI features of the platform to create apps. By the way, you can try it out for free, because you don't need a license for that, but using them in production depends on your company.

Suppose your company purchases those licenses or add-ons and invests in AI. In that case, developers must get involved with Prompt Builder, Copilot, and Model Builder. Their life will change in some sense because they will be developing generative AI applications, on top of the applications they are used to developing.

The second tool applies to every Developer – Einstein for Developers. It is an assistant that you can use in Visual Studio Code. It is an extension that you install, and it helps you generate code and learn how to generate code. There are three ways in which you can use it.

  • One way is prompt-based, which is probably helpful for beginners and those who are learning and want to ask Einstein to generate classes and methods that do certain things.
  • The next is inline suggestions. If you activate Einstein for Developers in your org, while you are typing and creating your code, Einstein will give you suggestions. Many times, those suggestions are very accurate because Einstein for Developers takes into account the files you have opened in your project. If you are using a certain style guide or programming methods, the suggestions will follow that same style.
  • The third way you can use it is to generate tests. You can go into a method, click the right button, and select "Generate test." This one is complex, as creating tests is hard work. It's not going to be 100% right most of the time, but at least it's going to generate some structure. It's also going to do some work for you so that you can start playing with that test and finalize it. It saves you time and makes you much more productive.

Do you have any thoughts about open-source and Salesforce and how they play together?

Salesforce was the first one to turn towards open-source because LWC is open-source. The Salesforce CLI is open-source and all its plugins – not 100% of them, but most of them. I know there's been an ongoing effort to open-source all the different plugins and technology. LWR is also open-source. So, it's something that Salesforce is adopting as part of its philosophy and pushing internally and externally.

I think that's probably one of the reasons the general open-source ecosystem around Salesforce is growing. I can tell you that it is growing because I've been looking at some of the repository statistics of open-source libraries:

  • “sfdx-git-delta” from Sébastien Colladon has 60K downloads a week, which is impressive.
  • SFDMU, which is the Salesforce Data Move Utility, has 6K downloads a week.
  • We have DX@Scale (now Flxbl), which has 4.3K weekly downloads.

There are many more plugins, libraries, and frameworks people are open-sourcing, maintaining, and downloading. Many of them apply to DevOps, which allows our customers and partners to build their own DevOps workflows using a combination of paid and open-source features. Everything is open-source, which is terrific.

Do you think that going Git-based will become more mainstream in Salesforce teams?

I think that's definitely going to be the trend. But I also think that there is a lot of work, a lot of education, and a lot of advocacy to do. Many people just don't know what's available. When I go to conferences, give talks, have discussions, and do some networking, many people don't even know that the Salesforce CLI exists.

It's surprising for me as I'm always learning the latest technologies because I work for Salesforce, and it's my job. But it's not that surprising for other people. I have many colleagues and friends who work in different companies, and they explain to me which practices are being followed.

Sometimes, it's not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of investment from the company. A lack of investment usually means a lack of knowledge from company directives that don't see the value of investing in certain features. This could maybe be due to us (in Salesforce) not telling the whole story or telling the story in a way that conveys value.

I do, however, think that many people are helping with this. For instance, open-source advocates who have been building libraries – and yourself with this podcast – are doing a fantastic job advocating the right thing. I hope that more people adopt Git-based development and proper CI/CD best practices in their Salesforce projects and implementations over time.

Here are some benefits of going Git-based:

  1. Cost efficiency: Reduced licensing fees and lower overall costs.
  2. Customization: Enhanced flexibility to tailor solutions specifically to business needs.
  3. Community support: Access to a vast community of developers and users for collaboration and problem-solving.
  4. Transparency: Greater visibility into the codebase, fostering trust and security.
  5. Innovation: Faster implementation of new features and technologies due to collective contributions.
  6. Quality improvement: Continuous testing and feedback from the community help improve software quality and reliability.
  7. Vendor independence: Avoids vendor lock-in, providing greater control over your technology stack.
  8. Rapid deployment: Accelerated development cycles through shared resources and pre-built modules.
Author’s note: Do you want to up your Git game? Download our eBook!

What's coming up for you on your travel schedule? Is there any event that you are specifically looking forward to?

We are doing an AI + Data World Tour globally. I'm presenting at several places. For instance, I did a workshop in Granada. I enjoyed it because it was very new for everyone. People usually have many questions, and I interact with them a lot during those meetings. I think that they are finding that super helpful. It's like a session in which we explain everything around the new generative AI features and how Data Cloud supports them.

In addition, I am attending two new community conferences. One of them was Wir sind Ohana in Berlin (it took place on 24 May), and the other is Portugal Dreamin' in July in Lisbon. The passion that you see in first-time organizers is fantastic. I love that every time I go to a first-time community conference, it's like the best conference ever.

Are you going to a Salesforce event for the first time? Here are some tips:

  • Get an overview of event schedules: Take note of sessions relevant to your interests or professional development goals. Prioritize critical activities and strategically select sessions that align with your objectives.
  • Plan downtime for networking and exploration: While attending sessions is essential, remember to allocate time for networking and exploration. Attending events is 50% learning and 50% networking. Hence, schedule breaks between sessions to engage with fellow attendees, speakers, and exhibitors.
  • Participate in Q&A sessions: Prepare relevant questions in advance and actively participate in Q&A segments after sessions and workshops. Engaging with speakers and fellow attendees during these sessions showcases your expertise and opens avenues for meaningful conversations. 

Until next time

Thank you for tuning into this episode of Hutte's Trails Podcast.

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Last updated: 09 Jul 2024