Learning Salesforce Before Trailhead

How I learned how to Salesforce before Trailhead existed.

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It was the year 2 BT (Before Trailhead), circa fall 2012 when my journey toward the Developer-side began. I was branching over to the “core” from a marketing focused role and looking for a starting point that suited my preference to learn by doing when I got some great advice from multiple members in the community, “use the Force.com Fundamentals book if you want to learn how to use the Platform.” Learn by doing for the win!

My first reaction was, ‘I’m not a coder.’ However, I was reassured that with Salesforce, you don’t have to code to build something on the Platform. Quick public service announcement: There are times when code is necessary. Those who know what they’re doing with code are invaluable so please, NEVER take them for granted. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s continue…

Getting Hands-On

I had already tried and failed to “learn Salesforce” and pass the admin certification just by studying without practical application of the content. I even tried to cram with a course, but there wasn’t much if any hands-on work in that particular class. I found my groove when I switched my focus to the Developer track and picked up an actual book made of paper and ink at a local event. If you attend Dreamforce or another event, you can still find one to take home, order a hard copy online or simply use the online version (you can also download the PDF from here). For safe measure, I followed that up with a spin through the Force.com Workbook (now retired) which was another good resource that is best consumed by following along in your Developer Edition org.

While these sources might not be as entertaining as learning on Trailhead, it was extremely interesting because of their tell, show and do methodology. If you need humor and bite-size chunks of material, then start with Trailhead. It’s a lot of fun and you might forget you’re learning something new! They hold contests multiple times a year for prizes (I won a once after I completed the Battle Station Trail) and miraculously made getting the key information out Release Notes bearable with their Release Notes Trails.

 The key for me is the hands-on experience. The Developer Community helped me obtain my first Salesforce certification and fed my appetite to continue learning. As of this writing, I have 7 Salesforce certifications. I would not be where I am now if I was not introduced to the Developer track. Like the rest of this community, I love creating things. It’s why LEGO is so much fun and a great excuse to have kids.

Make it Personal

One of my favorite accomplishments on the platform, Babyforce 2.0 was inspired by the birth of my youngest child and my friend, everyone’s favorite wizard, Brian Kwong who created 1.0 (Pre-Salesforce1). I created an app for the “fun” purpose of tracking diapers, wipes and a silly excuse to build it mobile first. I created a fully functional and mobile app without a single line of code and even ran a pilot with my wife who graciously tolerated my antics for a month while I tracked diaper changes. She even let me install Salesforce1 on her phone and used it for a few days. My advice, build something for yourself. The content will be more interesting and at the end, you could have a pretty awesome app to call your own.

Meet and Greet the Community

What I love most about this community is the accessibility of information and opportunities for hands-on learning. Whether you do it all online or balance it with attending live events like your local Developer Group, people are willing to point you in the right direction as long as you’re willing to roll your sleeves up and take action. Hands-on applications are a common component of Developer Groups. In North Carolina, where I co-lead a group, we coordinate with other groups in our region for a “supergroup” meetup on an annual basis where we get together for a whole day of learning, networking, and fun.

Super Developer Group Meetup

The Bottom Line

If you want to learn Salesforce, there’s no better place to start than the Developer Community. You don’t have to be a coder to start. If you want to code, great, you can learn. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Either way, you must “do or do not, there is no try” — Yoda. Developing on Salesforce can only be learned by doing so might as well have fun doing it. Jump on Trailhead. Join your local group (my bias strongly recommends this last one). Connect with other Developers, both aspiring and seasoned veterans. You’ll have plenty of time to bury yourself developing on your own, but you’ll have more fun and support when you stumble upon a tricky trigger or bug. There’s even an e-book from the Salesforce Developer team help you get started. What are you waiting for?

Originally posted on Medium

Spring ’14 Release

Spring14Release.jpgIt’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here! No, not Salesforce Spring ’14 maintenance exam, that’s available on the 20th. I’m talking about my own update in the form of a new baby boy. It’s an exciting time in the Zullo family and while I was watching my oldest interact with my youngest, I was reminded that you get back what you put in…to anything. My marriage, family, friends, career, pretty much everything I do is dependent on my input. You get back you put in. I was reminded of this over the weekend when my oldest met my newest child. Like most parents, I think my kid is pretty sharp and more importantly a good person in the making. I’ve known for a while that my firstborn is a compassionate soul, but was still floored by his love and affection for his younger sibling, by the pride, joy and determination in caring for his new brother. I’d like to think our family has had something to do with that and it’s not a coincidence.

The Salesforce Success Community is no different. I don’t believe is a coincidence is my professional happiness has improved significantly since I increased my activity in Salesforce and the community it fosters. In the past 2 years alone I’ve met some amazing people, strengthened and stretched myself and I am as happy as I have been in my career in some time. No way this is all luck. Do I feel lucky to have an amazing family and network? Of course! Do I actually believe it’s all luck that the pieces of my life puzzle have randomly fallen into place? No. You get what you put in. If you put crappy data into your system, guess what? Your data is crappy. If you don’t put genuine effort into your relationships, then you probably won’t have anybody to stand by you when things get tough. I love my life and those who are in it. After my family, my Salesforce family has been a huge part of my recent success and professional enjoyment. Where else am I going to find people who send me congratulations about my Spring ’14 release in Salesforce-speak?

Whatever you do in life, know that you get back, what you put it in.

Salesforce Certification – Where do I start?

So you use Salesforce and you want to “cert up” aka get certified, but where do you start? For starters, it doesn’t hurt to bookmark the Salesforce Certification page. Once there you will notice there are four tracks to follow.

Since the purpose of this post is to help those starting their journey towards certification, I will focus on the first two options only. The Administrator and Developer tracks are both starting points while the last two are for advanced users. Certifying as an Administrator requires you to understand the idealistic way to leverage the the core functionality of this powerful CRM application. The ADM 201 exam is the gateway and prerequisite to obtaining additional certifications that fall under the Implementation Experts track that specialize in two different areas, Sales & Service Clouds respectively (see Implementation Experts for more details). There are many community resources out there to help you study in addition to official offerings. Here are a few of them to help you prepare for ADM201

In my opinion, the Developers exam is more practical. If you’re a hands-on type of learner, then take advantage of the practice resources available to you. In the bullets below, are two main Developer workbooks that I used to prepare for the Developer exam. I was wisely told prior to starting down this path that if you “know the book, know the exam”. I started with Fundamentals and quickly followed that up with the skinnier Workbook. I strongly recommend you create an account on Developer Force and practice using these guides:

Here are a few community-based resources for DEV401

Choosing the best track for you will come down to your role and responsibilities. Another consideration is your learning style. For me, I learn best through hands-on experience. If this you and/or you don’t have much practical experience with Salesforce, then the Developer track is the way to go. As I mentioned above, there are two practice guides you can follow in your developer org. I felt great before, during and after passing developer exam because I completed both developer workbooks. If you need additional incentive, Salesforce has some swag for you just for building a simple app (details supplied at registration). A happy coincidence is that you get hands-on experience that is also relevant to Administrator track. Something that I benefited from as I recently added the Admin certification to my collection. Win-win situation! Here are more Salesforce resources to help you prepare for and maintain your skills:

Good luck with whichever certification you choose to tackle first!  Let me know in the comments if I missed a helpful resource the community would benefit from.