There are two questions that I get asked on a regular basis:
“Do I have the skills to become a Salesforce Administrator?” and “I want to get my Salesforce certification. Should I go Admin or Developer?”
After seeing an increased number of these questions over the past few weeks, I figured that I would provide some details around certification that would answer these questions for you and provide enough context to help you make an informed decision.
On Being a Skilled Salesforce Administrator
5 Steps to Jump-Start Your Salesforce Career is by far the most popular post on Admin Hero. If you take a moment to read through the hundreds of comments, you’ll notice that the question of whether an individual has the experience to become a Salesforce Administrator gets asked a lot. And for those that don’t have prior experience in Salesforce or CRM, it’s a valid question.
While responding to a commenter a while back, I felt like I had to express to the individual that being a great Salesforce Administrator doesn’t require a whole lot of learned skills. Any experience you have had in the past, regardless of what it is, will play into your role to some degree. Here was my response:
In my own personal experience, this is true. If you need additional validation, just read the stories which are a part of the Origins series; where Salesforce Administrators tell the story of how they got into Salesforce. You’ll notice a common theme. Every Administrator who provided their story had a background in something other than Salesforce an took on the challenge to learn the platform. They come from all walks of life, fell in love with Salesforce and committed to become awesome at their new found passion.
So, if you are wondering if you have what it takes to become a Salesforce Administrator, let me tell you that you do! You just need to light a fire under your butt to get the drive and motivation burning within in order to take the leap and go for it.
Salesforce Certification & Your Career
Being a certified Salesforce professional is, of course, very important. I’ve talked about this in The Importance of Salesforce Certification. Data shows that the majority of companies are requiring at least a base level certification in all of their job postings.
The Denver User Group has conducted an annual salary survey for a few years now and we have seen that the general salary lift you can expect (in Denver of course) when going from zero to one certification is close to $20,000 a year! There is no doubt that you should become certified if you want to play in the Salesforce space for a while.
But of course, if you have decided to get certified, the next step can be confusing. There are multiple certifications and related classes, little information on how the certification process works and seemingly very few resources to help you understand the next steps and how to prepare. So, let’s see if I can provide some insights into your Salesforce Certification options.
Administrator vs Developer Certification
These are the two most popular certification tracks offered by Salesforce.
The Administrator track currently comprises of two certifications: Salesforce Administrator and Advanced Administrator. There are no prerequisites for the Administrator exam, but you must have successfully passed the Administrator certification in order to take Advanced Administrator certification exam.
Salesforce created what I would consider a middle layer which is called an App Builder and is meant to test your knowledge and skills around building out solutions, and leveraging things like Lightning to customize reports and dashboards and leverage Lightning Components to create custom apps for desktop and mobile. The App Builder certification would be what I would suggest after the Admin Certifications and before the formal Developer certifications. There are no prerequisites.
On the Developer side, Developer I (1) and Developer II (2) are much more focused on the concepts of knowing code (Apex and Visualforce), development lifecycles, and related best practices.
While the hierarchy of the certifications in each track are straight forward, there still seems to be confusion on how the two overlap. What is the real difference between the two tracks?
What’s the Difference?
The Admin certification focuses more on the day-to-day areas of Salesforce. For example, it will test you on your understanding of the Salesforce security model; how to best manage users, setting up features like Territory Management and even how to create workflow rules. The Advanced Admin Certification focuses on similar concepts, but takes it to a more complex level.
The App Builder exam is meant to test your knowledge as an Admin as it relates to solving problems declaratively using components and best practices. It’s all declarative development, but you still need to know when and/or where code would be appropriate.
On the Developer side, these exams are focused on Apex and Visualforce, their best practices, use cases, and security.
What I Recommend
Personally, I recommend that every Salesforce Administrator take the Administrator, Advanced Administrator and App Builder certifications. Between the three, you’ll demonstrate an understanding of Salesforce features and functionality, along with a knowledge of the Salesforce database structure and how to build with it.
If you prefer to go down the Developer track, I would still suggest starting with the Administrator track and then move into the Developer track since all of the Administrator track certifications will still be relevant to you and that knowledge will go a long way in helping you pass your Developer certs. But, since there are no prerequisites for Developer I (1), you could start there and move on to Developer II (2).
How to Study for Certification
Before doing anything, head over to the Certification page on the Salesforce website. There you’ll find all of the details of the certification program, official Salesforce training being offered in your area, and access the Certification Verification tool which allows you to check the validity of a person’s certifications.
On the Salesforce Certification site, you’ll find an up-to-date study guide. This guide is more of an outline of the exam with topics that will be covered and the weight of each topic. The higher the weight, the more questions will generally be asked on the topic. Print out the study guide and use this as your sherpa. Determine the areas on the outline that you are not proficient in and begin focusing in on those areas.
Now that you have an idea of what is on the exam, here’s how to prepare.
Official Training Programs
Salesforce offers a great training class for every one of it’s certifications. It should be noted that the intent of these classes is not meant to prepare you 100% for the exam. While the classes do cover a decent amount of the exam competencies, you will still be responsible for filling in the gaps. While I personally have found value out of these classes, they can be price prohibitive.
Partner organizations, like Stoney Point and K2 Partners now offer similar classes at a fraction of the cost and are a good alternative if the budget is tight. However, be careful when selecting a partner organization. You want to ensure that they have a good track record and former class participants found the content helpful and worth paying for.
There is a free version of a training program offered by experienced Salesforce professionals and I’ll cover this more in the Community resources section below.
Those of you who are real go-getters may be more inclined to study at your own pace using Salesforce’s extensive documentation. Help & Training and is a great way to focus your attention on specific features or functionality of Salesforce. You may also want to see what is available on the Salesforce Developer site where all of the workbooks and technical documentation for Salesforce is housed.
Regardless of the study method you choose, self-study will be a part of your learning process. Be sure that the information you are using is accurate by sticking with the official Salesforce resources as much as possible.
There is an endless amount of certification study material available. From sites like Admin Hero to YouTube, there is an endless supply of information. However, I want to provide you with a healthy dose of caution. There are great community resources available, and there are others that are not so great.
Focus your efforts on the Success Community and well-known community resources like Admin Hero. Check out my Resources page for a list of community sites and resources that I think are accurate and well worth your time. In addition, you may also want to consider joining the community-led Salesforce Certification Study Group.
This group is run by Certified Salesforce community members who volunteer their time to facilitate a virtual study group. There is a formal program which lasts about 16 weeks and includes homework which you complete on a weekly basis in your own Developer org. Once every week, you’ll meet with your other study group members and the facilitator and talk about your homework, have the ability to ask questions and so on.
This group does a phenomenal job at helping other community members pass their certification exams so take a look if that is something that interests you.
If there is one thing I want you to be wary of, it is the practice certification exams.
These tests tend to be out of date, are not real Salesforce exam questions and can lead you into a situation where you experience a false positive. What I mean by that is that you could “pass” the test exam, feel confident in your knowledge, then go right into the actual exam and fail. That is because these practice exams tend to not be accurate.
Words of Wisdom
I hope that this information has been helpful and cleared up some of your questions. Getting started down the certification path is exciting and daunting at the same time. Before the post ends, let me encourage you to get moving; to make your dreams a reality.
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t pass the first time. I failed my first certification exam and nearly lost my Admin Certification when I failed two of my three maintenance exams. But I buckled down, did the hard work and succeeded in earning (and keeping) not just one, but three certifications.
Please don’t feel like you need to rush into getting your certification either. Give yourself about 6 months of learning before you even tackle an exam. A certification is meaningless if you don’t know how to use the information you were tested on. Volunteer with an organization or shadow a successful Salesforce Administrator. You’ll learn so much more by doing this than you will with self-study alone.
When you’re ready to tackle your exam, consider your location options, including taking the exam at home!
So with that, go and be great! You are going to make an awesome Admin Hero!
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