We’ve all heard stories about career changes “later in life,” and while I’m still enjoying some level of healthy denial as I move swiftly into my fiftieth year on the planet, I find myself apparently living one of these tales.
About a year ago, I decided that I needed something more from a career. I had been working as a Realtor for twelve years and while I enjoyed many aspects of the job, I was not thrilled with the idea of selling myself to really build the business; I’ve never been the handshaking, salesman type, ready to draw out a business card like a pistol at a shoot-out. It’s just not me – it was all I could do to remember to have my business cards with me.
My predicament became a topic at a barbecue one afternoon, and a friend asked if I had ever heard of “Salesforce” or a “Salesforce Administrator” – I had not. In fact, I had absolutely no background in the tech industry or anything remotely related. The closest I came to any experience was a basic programming class I completed as a college freshman (back in the Computer Cretaceous Period). I was also something of a math “whiz kid” in high school (see: “Woulda Coulda Shoulda”) but other than these brief brushes – nothing.
What followed the barbecue exchange were a series of conversations and online research over a few weeks until I was convinced and interested enough to take the first training, Administration Essentials for New Admins (ADM-201). I was intrigued by learning something entirely new and interested in the puzzle solving and detective work it seemed would be required as a Salesforce Administrator; I love to unravel problems and hunt for solutions – this was really what motivated me to take that first step – the challenge of it all.
The ADM-201 training is a relatively soft exposure to the Salesforce Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”) platform’s environment. In the exercises, you set-up the users and systems, complete customizations, and set access, among many other things, for a mock corporation’s platform (or the “org.”). A problem I noted right away with the first training is that the Fauxecutives who submit requests do so in almost perfectly articulated Salesforce-speak; in other words, in the real world I knew that issues and requests would not be so perfectly worded. Salesforce Administrators are not just detectives – they are translators, as well.
That said, my first training was a healthy introduction to the environment and I subsequently sat for the certification test. Common knowledge holds that there is a 60% average failure rate for the first test, a fact that I knew going in and that caused my right eye to twitch slightly; but I passed the first time – and was reassured that, although the hamster in my head may have … um … matured … and played on a rusty wheel, he could still run. Phew!
Once I had my new certification in hand, I updated my LinkedIn profile and really very little else. I did poke around online about how to get into the biz, but no one offered a viable way. I live in rural west Sonoma County and the job market here is limited, at best. For a while it seemed my career change had stalled. I thought, “Now what?”
Four months passed and then suddenly – an email arrived – my LinkedIn profile update had been noticed and well, the rest is (recent) history. Here I sit as a new Salesforce Administrator at an amazing company, Safari Books Online, right in my hometown – and I love it.
Once in, it quickly became clear that I would need more than the somewhat cursory pass at Salesforce that the ADM-201 modules had provided. So, in early March, I completed Building Applications with Force.com (DEV-401) at the Salesforce University, located on the 3rd floor of the Salesforce mother ship in San Francisco. (Turns out, there is an “ice cream floor” at headquarters (It’s Its! All three flavors!), but I’ve been sworn to secrecy as to the exact location – sorry.)
The overarching theme of the DEV-401 training was building Force.com applications. We learned how to create custom objects, fields, lookup relationships, master-detail relationships, lookup filters, applications and tabs and most importantly, learned the differences between these components. We studied the relationships between objects in-depth, with the help of charts, an exercise and a student guide, and solid instruction.
We drilled deeper into our training org., creating layouts, formula fields, cross-object formulas and roll-up summary fields. This section of the training increased our understanding of field dependencies, object relationships (Parent-Child) and how these settings can impact the overall user experience.
We continued by completing exercises designed to provide a clearer understanding of the Salesforce sharing model, with training in Organization-Wide Defaults, Role Hierarchy, Public Groups, Sharing Rules and Apex Sharing Reasons. This section was very helpful and will be key to furthering my understanding of how to provide the appropriate access to end users in our real world org.
We then learned how to embed images directly in records and created hyperlinks. We also looked at data security, and practiced with Validation Rules and field level security settings; these are important aspects to understand as they help to protect the quality and integrity of the data.
A very interesting portion of the training, which I believe will be of direct benefit, were the areas we covered regarding Workflow Rules. The takeaway was that many of our current processes that are now hard-coded could have been easily accomplished declaratively with Workflows and Tasks – a slogan at Salesforce is “Clicks not Code,” and now I know why. The question remains; can these simple point-and-click solutions work now with the code currently in place in the background? We shall see.
The remainder of the training focused on Visualforce, which provides the ability for a Developer to customize the UI that the end user sees. We moved into understanding and creating Flows (simple input frameworks), which I don’t feel will ultimately be that useful but it did expose me to aspects of the platform I didn’t know existed; they’re kind of fun, too! It might be nice, at some point, to create a Flow for new Leads or Account entry through a user-friendlier process for our Sales Reps., for example.
In this module, we also created a Visualforce page relative to our training org., adding new templates, images and web content. This required learning some basics with regard to writing Apex code, and I found this really engaging and interesting. I picked-up several handy tips that will help a lot as I do my detective work with regard to our Apex code. As a beginner, this portion of the training really lit a fire in my belly and fueled my desire to learn more.
To summarize in the abstract, the DEV-401 class revealed the “Why?” of components and systems that exist in the Salesforce platform, whereas the ADM-201 training is really just an introduction to the core environment and exposure to some basic principles (the “What?” and the “How?”).
I had an excellent instructor in the DEV-401 training, Leah McGowen-Hare, who really took the time to illustrate in simple terms some of the very complex and deeply buried features of Salesforce – she used an entire wall of the room, covering it with diagrams, thereby grounding otherwise cryptic concepts – I’ve never witnessed such skilled use of Dry Erase Markers.
I feel much more equipped and confident now as I move forward. It also became clear, as a result of our complex business processes and amount of hard-coding here at the home office, that I am already performing development-level work as opposed to basic Administrator tasks, and that realization has helped a lot with my confidence.
The next best training for me would be Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming with Force.com (ADM-231, formerly DEV-531), which is more in-depth with regard to writing/understanding Apex code, and follow that with Apex & Visualforce Controllers (DEV-501) some time in the future.
Until then … may the Salesforce be with you.
P.S. It also helps that Safari Flow offers some great titles to help me with my journey. I particularly enjoyed Salesforce.com® For Dummies®, 4th Edition, which is a good way to start exploring the Salesforce universe (actually, it’s more of a multiverse). Another engaging text to check-out is Teach Yourself VISUALLY Salesforce.com, which offers a unique training approach – sort of like a firm handshake between the left and right sides of the brain.