Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Earn 5 Salesforce Certifications in 2 Months

Salesforce Certified

If you are looking for shortcuts or test answers, you can stop reading right now.  While it is possible to make this journey, there is no substitute for hard work.  If you are ready to invest in learning the platform, keep reading for my experience and insight. 

First the background, I started working with Salesforce in June 2014 after joining a Salesforce Partner.  While new to Salesforce, ten years of prior SaaS and CRM experience meant familiarity with Cloud concepts.  What I needed to learn was the Salesforce specifics – capabilities, functionality and terminology

My objective in this endeavor was to get up to speed as quickly as possible in order to contribute to my team and ensure customer success.  Earning certifications was a great source of external validation that I had a firm grasp on the material.  So here is how my journey unfolded. 

As a Salesforce Administrator needs broad knowledge of how to configure Sales Cloud and Service Cloud applications, it seemed like an appropriate place to start.  The Administrator Certification study guide helped me understand the learning objectives to cover.  What I quickly discovered is the breadth of application, feature and functionality knowledge an Admin must posses is extensive.  To learn the material, I used online training, my own developer organization and workbooks to prepare.  The details of How to Learn Salesforce were covered in a previous article.

About four weeks into my preparation, I was not feeling very confident.  While I had covered a lot of material, my first exam was only two weeks away and the material was not gelling.  I found having exams scheduled was a great motivator.  In addition, I found it beneficial to take the exam when the material was fresh.  After discussing with my co-workers, one suggested taking a look at the Developer material first.

This was my aha moment when the light bulb went off.  I found the developer material to be much more focused and a better place to start.  It included an introduction to the Force.com platform, the Data Model, User Interface and Business Logic.  Additional topics on Data Management and Reporting rounded out what I needed to know.  Now, I was on a roll and felt on top of the material.  I scheduled my Developer exam for the next week, even before my Admin exam.  This was definitely the right exam to start with.  The material was more focused and it helped me understand what the exam looked like.  Passing this exam was a confidence boost and the developer content provided additional insight for Admin.

Now my attention was back on admin and the additional areas to know.  One significant difference from other CRM systems, is the multi-level security model.  It took multiple lessons and different types of content before I completely grasped the concepts. What really helped solidify it for me was the Who Sees What video series, available on YouTube and now in the Trailhead module on Data Security.

My approach for all the exams was to take copious notes from the training to create an outline of the material. I would then write out “answers” to the objectives on the study guides.  It helped validate my learning and see what else I needed to know.  I also used example question flashcards that can be found on various websites.  One strong word of caution here. With the frequent updates to Salesforce, old answer can quickly become obsolete.  Additionally, there are many wrong answers out there.  Anything that I missed, I verified with an authoritative source, such as the current Salesforce documentation on trying in my development org.

Passing the Admin Exam, meant I qualified to try Sales Cloud Consultant, Service Cloud Consultant or Advanced Admin next.  I opted for Sales Cloud based on my prior experience.  Using the same methods previously described, I passed the exam the following week.  The Sales and Service Cloud Exams are different than the other exams, as they are more scenario focused and longer in duration.  Three exams in three weeks plus a previously scheduled vacation, meant it was time to take a break for a week.  When it was time to get back to it, I switched my focus to Advanced Admin, rather than dive into the Service Cloud scenarios.

In reflection after learning the material and passing the exam, it would have been better to take this right after Admin.  The content builds on the material in Admin and is a great segue to learning more.  Finally, I returned my attention to Service cloud, wrapping up certification number five about two months after my Developer exam.  Since then, I took a deep dive into Apex and Visualforce, passing the Advanced Developer exam in early December and eagerly awaiting the opening of the next programming assignment window. 

At the start of this year, I decide to take a look at Pardot to better understand marketing automation.  Pardot has a great deal of material available on their site, which is fantastic for learning.  However, Pardot does not offer a developer org, which hurts those who learn by doing.  The available content was enough for me to have a new appreciation for marketing and to pass the Pardot Certified Consultant exam in February. 

From my experiences, one final tip about certification exam content.  The exam outline is an accurate depiction of the content on the test.  The weighting of a content area reflects the number of questions to expect on the exam.  If a section indicates a 10% weighting and there are 60 questions in total on the test, expect to see 6 questions about the topic.  Furthermore, look closely at the wording of the objectives.  If it indicates describing the use cases for a feature, anticipate questions about when to use a feature.  Conversely, when the objective talks about describing features and capabilities, expect detailed questions and specifics.

That has been my journey in learning Salesforce and becoming certified.  A lot of late nights and hundreds of hours of study, has netted a great deal of new knowledge .  Let me know what your experience has been and any tips to share.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How to Learn Salesforce

salesforce One of the questions I frequently hear is “What is the best way to learn Salesforce?” Now every student has a different learning style – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Visual learners are those that want to be shown, while auditory learn best by hearing. They last group is where I fall, as my preferred learning style is by doing. What I will share is what worked for me to learn Salesforce and encourage you to adapt to how you learn best.

Perhaps the hardest part of learning Salesforce is figuring out where to start. There is so much material out there to sift through. Further compounding the challenge, is three new releases a year and related release notes. While this delivers enormous customer value, it means more to learn and often renders old material obsolete. So, where to start?

My first recommendation is to sign up for your own, free development organization, which you can do here. This is your own environment where you can try out features and experiment risk free, which is great for those who learn by doing. You will also see how your development org plays into my next set of recommendations.  Next, the Salesforce User Guide is a comprehensive document with information on a ton of topics.  At nearly 5,000 pages, it is a better reference document to lookup a concept than light reading!

To help validate your knowledge, Salesforce offers a series of certifications from developer to admin to sales and service cloud consultant. Each of the tracks offers a study guide with recommended training courses (both classroom and online) and topics of study. Even if you do not plan to pursue certification, the information in the study guide provides a great learning framework.  To reinforce my learning, I went for the certification exams after going through the material for each track.

For me, I started with Developer track followed by Admin, Sales Cloud, Advanced Admin, then Service Cloud certification.  In retrospect, the Advanced Admin track is better to take right after Admin as there is material overlap and Advanced builds on top of Admin.  Next, I took a slight detour to earn Pardot certification before returning to Advanced Developer, which I am eagerly awaiting programming assignment availability. When I started last summer, the Salesforce online training was a great help. The online training combines all three learning methods – video demonstrations with voice over reinforced with practice exercises in your developer organization.

Now, the online training is a great resource, but unfortunately the full catalog of courses is not free. I had the benefit of being a Salesforce partner which includes access to the premier training catalog.  Access is also included for any customer that signs up for premier support. If you don't fall into these categories, all hope is not lost. There are a series of workbooks available that will help walk you through various topics.  If you don’t want to go at it alone, you can find a local Salesforce User Group or Salesforce Developer User Group to meet up with a like-minded community.

Additionally, there is a new resource available that was launched at Dreamforce ’14, which is a game changer. Trailhead is an interactive learning platform that walks you through the building blocks of Salesforce. There are focused modules of topics from Chatter and Change Management to Apex and Visualforce. Each course provides a lesson with instructions, examples and often videos to watch. At the end of the module there are either questions to test your knowledge or assignments to complete in your developer organization. Successful answers and working solutions earn you points and badges to track your progress. Did I mention that this resource is entirely free!

With a variety of learning resources tailored to your individual learning needs, you will be up an running on Salesforce in no time.