Why Every Salesforce Developer should be using Trailhead

I have recently been using Trailhead to help me study for an upcoming exam and I have been incredibly impressed with how good it is. I have already posted about the Trailhead modules that cover new material, such as Lightning, but what I was surprised about was how useful it was for reviewing material that I thought I already knew pretty well.

Trailhead is definitely not exhaustive in it’s coverage, but what I like most about the modules is that they go over just the stuff you really need to know. And most importantly, they go over best practices. There are so many examples of inefficient and just plain bad code out there (even on some of the Salesforce sites I hate to say). The text and challenges in the Trailhead modules were well thought out and it is obvious they put a lot of time into developing them. It still Trailheadsurprises me that something this good is free, but fortunately for us, it is.

If you are preparing for one of the Certified Developer tracks, you really need to check out the Developer Trail. It covers a lot of what goes into the exams and the progressively harder challenges really solidify what you just learned. Unlike tutorials that you can just follow in your sleep, the challenges tell you to do something, but not how to do it. And, if you do not do it exactly right, you do not get the points. You actually have to THINK about what you are doing and this is absolutely the best way to learn.

And if you are a certified developer who has been doing this for several years, there is still stuff for you to learn, even when it comes to best practices. As we all know, this platform is changing constantly and that means that so are best practices.

And honestly, it is just fun seeing yourself rack up the points. I really like the WooHoo I get at the end of the challenge. I am proud to say I have 5 badges and over 12,000 points so far (with more to come). How many will you get?

Salesforce Developer Spotlight: Michael Welburn

This is the third in a new series of posts that will spotlight one Developer who has successfully transitioned to Salesforce. The people in these posts were interviewed in order to share their transition experiences with other developers. This information was used as part of a Dreamforce 2014 session titled, “Career Strategies for Developers Transitioning to Salesforce“.

Michael Welburn, Developer/Consultant at 7Summits  michaelwelburn

Michael completed the Salesforce Advanced Developer Certification back in January of this year and has a lot of great advice to share with others wanting to follow his path. Formerly a Java developer, Michael was thrown into the world of Salesforce development very suddenly when his company assigned him his first Salesforce project. Even though his Java background helped a bit, he learned a lot of lessons through trial and error.

I am grateful he took time out of his very busy schedule to complete my interview. I think we can all learn a lot from each other.

Can you tell me a little about your background and the type of development you were doing prior to learning about Salesforce?

I graduated from University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign with a degree in Computer Engineering. I spent the next ~3-4 years doing a lot on the Java stack consulting on Documentum projects. Lots of Java, JSP, Tomcat, SQL/Oracle.

What was your main transition approach, or was your transition very sudden?

My company was starting a Salesforce practice and the first project (a single VF page and class) needed to get done. I was unbillable, so I got roped in without any idea what Salesforce was. Having a Java background helped quite a bit on the Apex side, but I ran into a lot of problems dealing with things like governor limits that blindsided me. Mostly I just fought my way through whatever tasks were tossed on my plate, learning what not to do and best practices as I went.

Did you pursue any certifications? Did you take any online or in-person classes? What other types of training did you do to learn about Salesforce?

I picked up the Dev 401 shortly after starting, which studying for helped demystify a lot of the platform. About a year later I started work at another company that was all for certifications, and I had some down time, so I cranked out Admin, Advanced Admin, Sales Cloud, and Service Cloud in a month. I found that working on a lot of smaller engagements over that year helped me be extremely prepared for those tests with minimal amount of studying. Then last fall I decided it was time to take Adv Dev 501. I felt pretty prepared, though there was a handful of material I had simply never used on my projects, and studying for that opened my eyes to a bunch of new ways of accomplishing things that I’ve integrated into my toolkit.

What are some of your favorite online resources for learning? Do you have any favorite blogs that you follow?

The Salesforce documentation is my #1 google result, looking for objects and fields. I subscribe to a handful of Force.com MVP blogs, particularly enjoying what Reid Carlberg, Jeff Douglas and Matt Welch have put out in regards to taking the platform to new limits.

Did you get any advice from other developers and if so what was the most helpful?

Unfortunately I was in a position where I did not know any other person developing on Salesforce, nor had any coworkers developing, for almost a year. I had to self teach myself pretty much everything (and I did not realize the depth of content available on the internet for that same amount of time). I’m glad that I discovered a lot of best practices via my own trial and error, but having some coworkers on the platform, or even reaching out on #askforce on twitter or the salesforce stackexchange site makes solving problems far easier.

What are you doing now and how did everything you do prepare you for it?

I’m a Technical Architect at 7Summits, helping build out their Salesforce practice that is particularly focused on creating online experiences to transform businesses. It is really exciting to see the UX/UI team that we have build awesome front ends on top of the Salesforce platform, and time and again the people I work with tell me how shocked they are that the backend work can be done so fast.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently in your transition approach?

I would have spent a little more time trying to find helpful resources before punishing myself with trial and error, and I would have made more of an effort to find other developers working on the platform to bounce ideas off of. I have a hard time remembering what the ecosystem was like back in 2011, but the last couple years it has really exploded on the internet, to the point where there is always someone willing to help out on a variety of websites.

Anything else you want to add that you think would be helpful to developers transitioning?

Pay attention to the best practices that are documented, you will see them ALL. THE. TIME. https://developer.salesforce.com/page/Apex_Code_Best_Practices The workbooks that Salesforce provides for Force.com, Apex, and VF are also extremely helpful. https://developer.salesforce.com/page/Force.com_workbook Beyond that, just get your hands dirty in a dev org!

Salesforce Developer Spotlight: Jason Hammerle

This is the first in a new series of posts that will spotlight one Developer who has successfully transitioned to Salesforce. The people in these posts were interviewed in order to share their transition experiences with other developers. This information was used as part of a Dreamforce 2014 session titled, “Career Strategies for Developers Transitioning to Salesforce“.

JasonHammerleJason Hammerle

Salesforce Architect for Cameleon Software, a PROS company

Jason, who recently passed the DEV501 certification test, has been working with Salesforce for the past two years. But Jason is no newcomer to software development. He has been a professional software developer since 1994, when he began his career as a computer programmer at NASA. It was there that he developed a C++ and X-Windows application used to plan Space Station and Shuttle missions. You can read more about his programming background here.

Jason has worked with many technologies and platforms over the years, but it was his exposure to a Dreamforce session one year ago that ignited a certain spark in him. The following are Jason’s own words about what led him to becoming a Salesforce Developer and why he likes it so much:

What was your main transition approach, or was your transition very sudden?

It was very sudden and exactly one year ago.  I had just taken a HOT session and I was sitting on a bean bag practicing what I learnt in an Interfacing with Salesforce using REST class while listening to 80’s music.  At that moment, I realized why Salesforce was so successful and why I was going to devote the rest of my career to this fantastic platform.  Specifically, Salesforce understood how to make the developer experience very cool and very fun.  We hear a lot about user experience but less about developer experience.  Good software requires good user experience and a good platform requires good developer experience – and Salesforce has the very best.  At that time, I was managing a large salesforce team, a dynamics CRM team, and two cloud teams.  My days were filled with double or triple booked meetings from morning until COB.  I decided in the bean bag that my life was about to change and that I was a developer again.  I took PTO the week after Dreamforce and spent 30 hours developing a Salesforce 1 app to validate my decision.  I have not stopped developing since.

Did you pursue any certifications? Did you take any online or in-person classes? What other types of training did you do to learn about Salesforce?

In the Spring of 2014, I travelled to Dallas TX to attend the DEV401 training class.  A few weeks later, I travelled to Salesforce offices in San Mateo, CA to attend the DEV501 training class.  Both instructors were really great teachers each with their own very unique style.  I passed the DEV401 cert in the Summer of 2014 and I hope to pass the DEV501 cert in Fall of 2014.  After I pass (while I wait for the programming assignment), I intend to purse two more certifications in Sales Cloud and Technical Architect.

 What are some of your favorite online resources for learning? Do you have any favorite blogs that you follow?

We have premier support so I heavily use the partner training portal to prepare for certification exams.  Also, I have a membership with pluralsight and think these video resource are a great way for developers to stay up to date and relevant.  I also follow several blogs like Sara Has No Limits, Bob Buzzard blog, Andy In The Cloud, Force365 – Cloud Architects, The Humble Salesforce Developer, et al.  I also started blogging myself on topics that I practice at work that I think might help others.  Recently, I have been working a lot with metadata api’s and so I probably reference Andy In The Cloud blog the most.  I have a lot of content from my recent experience that I would very much like to blog about when I can find the time.

Did you get any advice from other developers and if so what was the most helpful?

Yes, but it was a very weird situation.  I was managing (and leading) a remote team of very experience Salesforce developers (all in Bolivia) and then swapped roles with a technical lead (in Houston) that wanted to pursue management.  Most of my remote reports were now my peers and it was difficult at first to get advice from them.  Once the other developers saw that I was very serious about changing role – the certification helped – and they realized that I really did want to follow the technical path then they really helped me out.  Two of the Bolivians visited for two weeks.  During this time, they helped me to switch from Eclipse to MavensMate, work with Git and Stash (previously I only worked with Mercurial and other like versioning software), and – most of all – they really really challenged my code.  My years of being a professional developer came back to me very quickly during their visit which really motivated me. 

What are you doing now and how did everything you do prepare you for it?

After the Bolivians visited, we sprinted together for four three-week sprints developing a managed package.  It has been the best 12 weeks of my career by a long shot.  I am really looking forward to working with Salesforce over the long term to really master the platform.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently in your transition approach?

Nope, I would not change a thing about the transition approach.  I use to go to work every day as a manager.  Now, I go to work every day to play with my favorite hobby.  I look at every work day like I would a fun vacation day on the slopes in Telluride or on the beaches in Maui.  I truly love my job and more than that – I love knowing what I am going to be doing for the rest of my career.  There is a clear difference between management and developer.  I liked management but development has always been what I truly love to do.  If I could do parts of my career over again, then I probably would not have gone into management.  With that said, I am a better developer now for it.

Anything else you want to add that you think would be helpful to developers transitioning?

If you already program in Java or C# then the transition will be very easy for you.  If you are a front end developer then your experience would likely be extremely valuable to a Salesforce development team.  And to all other developers (and even managers), you can be a Salesforce developer too by leveraging the great Salesforce training course, Salesforce resources, Success forums, blogs, and the many many people (like Sara) that have already transitioned and really want to help you.  I also very much would like to help anyone that wants to make this transition too.

Finally Passed the Advanced Developer Multiple Choice Exam!!!

This is no April’s Fool joke. Yesterday, I finally passed the Salesforce Advanced Developer Multiple choice exam!!! It was my second attempt. The first attempt was 6 months ago, but I now know that I was not ready then, so it was a good thing that I did not pass.

Back then, I barely knew the material. I thought I knew it because I had memorized it, but that did not mean that I “understood it”. I am now happy to say that I “know” this stuff. I know it like I know the back of my hand. And, that is a VERY good thing, because I now wait to complete the next stage of the process…the dreaded programming assignment.

Unfortunately, I have to wait until the next limited registration period (which is not until June 2). But, I am confident that the skills I have acquired so far will not atrophy before then. If anything, they will just continue to improve.

So, how did I learn this stuff like the back of my hand? I did it by following EVERY suggestion on Forceprepare. I basically did all of the following:

  • Obviously, I memorized all the notes I have posted on this site (but that was just the beginning and was not enough by itself to pass)
  • I watched the entire re-broadcast of the 501 Dev Class (which I posted about here). I took additional notes from that and posted them to this site (still not enough to pass). UPDATE, sorry to say but Salesforce has since removed the re-broadcast links from the 501 class.
  • I watched all of the 8 training videos on Pluralsight (which I posted about here)
  • I watched at least a dozen or more videos from Dreamforce.
  • I read countless blog articles from experts like Jeff Douglas, Matt Lacey, Bob Buzzard, etc
  • I worked through all the code in Bob Buzzards latest book, The Visualforce Development Cookbook (which I reviewed here).
  • I worked through ALL the Workbooks on DeveloperForce (they have been updated recently and they are REALLY GOOD).
  • I read through the entire Developers Guide (and YES, I know it is LONG).
  • The MOST important thing: I played with all the code on my Developer org (which is now packed with best practice code examples).

When I took the test yesterday, it was so easy to me. I could see through all the tricks they had put in. It seemed really obvious to me (which I think will make the programming assignment phase a breeze). Bring it on, I say. I just wish I could do it sooner.

On Being a Certified Salesforce Developer

sf_cert_dev_rgbAfter six very intense weeks of study, I finally cemented my status as a Certified Salesforce Developer on March 9, 2013. As a former Microsoft MCSD, MCDBA and MVP, let me just say that Salesforce sure ain’t giving these things away. The test was VERY tricky and reminded me of the certification tests for Microsoft SQL Server (those were not easy either).

The funny part is that if you look at the official logo on the left, one might be led to think that the large slash through Software would indicate this stuff is a piece of cake. That is not exactly the case.

While I will admit that Salesforce has removed many of the complexities associated with software development, such as setting up and maintaining development and database servers, it has not totally done away with software (as their logo might suggest). What they have done is expose to small and mid-level businesses the potential of using some very highly functioning and scalable business applications through their affordable and subscription-based cloud-based platform.

As a software developer with twenty-years of experience building enterprise-level business applications for a variety of industries, adding the expertise of cloud-based development using the Force.com platform was a no-brainer. I simply cannot lose with this certification. The demand for highly-trained cloud-based developers is sky rocketing and I intend to strap myself to the top of that rocket.

In the next few weeks, I will continue my education as I prepare for the Salesforce Advanced Developer Certification. This distinction will be even harder to get, as I need to not only pass a grueling test, but I also need to complete a programming assignment and then defend my programming choices in a proctored essay exam. I feel like at the end of this I will have earned a Salesforce PhD.

I am using the excellent Premier Training available from Salesforce to do most of my training. In the coming weeks, I will be posting notes from the online training in hopes that it benefits anyone else out there trying for this certification. There cannot possibly be too many of us. The better trained other developers are in this field, the easier it is for me to work with them. It is also better for me, because they will be producing good solutions that highlight the platforms enormous potential and create opportunities for EVERYONE!

Please share with me your thoughts about cloud-based development and specifically the Force.com platform. I would love to hear from you.