Stop and think for a moment. What do you want your future to look like?
For many people, this is a tough question to answer — let alone make a plan for.
Leah McGowen-Hare, Vice President of Trailblazer Community and Engagement at Salesforce, has found a better way to get people to tap into their potential. “I never ask people what they want to be. I always ask them what kind of experiences they want to have.” This approach is one of the ways that the executive and ardent advocate for building tomorrow’s leaders lives out her passion.
In her role, McGowen-Hare has seen her fair share of success stories but acknowledges that even the biggest triumphs come with their share of challenges.
In fact, McGowen-Hare admits that her own path to success hasn’t been a linear one. Instead, it’s been marked by experiences that she never envisioned but ultimately excelled at. Her secret? Staying open in the face of adversity, and saying “yes” to new opportunities, even in the face of her biggest doubts.
McGowen-Hare received her undergraduate degree in computer science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and moved to New York City after undergrad to start a position at Andersen Consulting, which now flies under the flag of Accenture. Soon after pivoting from her work as a consultant, McGowen-Hare found herself in San Francisco, embarking on new opportunities.
A New Beginning
McGowen-Hare landed a job at PeopleSoft working in client server technology but ultimately felt that something was missing. “I missed connecting with people like I had before,” she says. “As a software engineer, you literally could stay in your office all day, just coding.”
When the opportunity to teach presented itself, McGowen-Hare initially hesitated because, in her words, teaching a class full of tech professionals wasn’t what she had envisioned for her future. “I was like: ‘No, that’s what my parents do. I’m not ready to become my parents!’ But I took a leap of faith and I got the job,” she said. “It was probably one of the best things I could have done because I found something that I absolutely loved. I love talking about technology, and I love connecting with people.”
Her teaching journey took her worldwide, from Brazil to India to South Africa, where she was often the only female teacher — and almost certainly the only Black woman. But she found that really gratifying, too. “I was breaking stereotypes,” she said. “People would come into these hardcore development classes that I was teaching and would wonder, ‘Where’s the teacher?’” Most of the time, her students looked nothing like her, but she was still able to make an impact. “Just by being who I was, I was changing people’s minds without even having to say a word,” she says. “I was just doing my job and being great at my job.”
Source: Leah McGowen-Hare/ Twitter
Charting A New Horizon
Post PeopleSoft, McGowen-Hare started her own business and eventually transitioned back to the traditional workforce. She found herself facing a new opportunity as a technical trainer at Salesforce, which she had no idea would lead her to where she was going next. Again, the barrier that she faced came from within.
“When I started, I remember having to change the narrative in my head,” she recalls. “I remember having this conversation in my head, like, ‘Don’t think you’re gonna come here and be a superstar instructor like you were at PeopleSoft. This is a whole new thing, this is cloud computing, and you’ve never developed in cloud computing.’” Eventually, she had to push through that voice and learn that, sometimes, the voices we need to challenge are our own. “I had subscribed to a lot of notions that other people might have put out there when I took on the role, but I had to shut those voices down.”
She went on to become one of the most sought-after instructors in her field, not to mention the only Black person and only woman teaching developer work. But that was all before taking on her biggest challenge yet. A colleague at Salesforce approached her about working at the executive level. “He told me, ‘Leah, you have a bigger gift. You need to be on bigger stages.’”
Shaping the Future & Growing Leaders
Once she was tapped to take her role to the executive level, she had another decision to make. She initially resisted, but decided to give it a shot. “After that, I started saying ‘yes’ to everything. I made it a year of saying ‘yes.’”
McGowen-Hare’s work saw her taking on more strategic roles, traveling to make keynote speeches and ultimately leading the Trailblazer Community.
Trailblazer Community & Its Impact
Her work at Trailhead, a free, online learning platform for all, developed into a full-blown movement, spawning its own community. The Trailblazer Community is made up of individuals and creators who seek to make a better life for themselves through training, job creation and utilizing Salesforce’s low-code/no-code technology to lower the barrier of entry for all individuals. This has especially impacted women and communities of color who often find themselves excluded from arenas that largely cater to communities they don’t identify with.
Salesforce’s aim has been to create a solid foundation for everyone to become a part of this community. In an effort to further connect users, the tech giant has also launched Salesforce+, a streaming service that reaches those who need it most with its original and aspirational programming. One of those programs she helps produce includes the Trailblazer series, which highlights the lives and work of five Black tech leaders making major moves in the Salesforce ecosystem.
McGowen-Hare has been instrumental in the success of the service. She hosts the show Leading Through Change, a Webby award winning series that connects viewers with leaders making a difference.
Leaving a Lasting Impact
So, what’s next for McGowen-Hare?
As she explores more of her passions outside of work, including competitive fitness and published a children’s book — another opportunity that happened by accident — she hopes to continue growing future leaders and expanding the Salesforce community.
In fact, by 2026, Salesforce is set to have 9.3 million new jobs. The impact is huge. And for McGowen-Hare, it’s a day in the life of doing what she loves.
Learn more about Leah McGowen-Hare’s incredible journey, and take a deeper look at what Salesforce is doing to grow the community.
This editorial is brought to you in partnership with Salesforce.