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Salesforce Certification Pathways

This post provides an overview of the current Salesforce certifications and the logical pathways to be considered in developing and extending expertise on the Salesforce cloud platform.

On a personal level I’m a huge advocate of certification in general, over the years I’ve accumulated all of the Salesforce certifications apart from those related to the Marketing Cloud and Pardot, some 20+ Microsoft certifications, multiple Scrum related accreditations plus a host of more obscure and perhaps less useful certifications I felt like pursuing at various times. The reasons for my own appetite for certification most probably relate to the early stages of my career where I worked as a freelance programmer and viewed certification as the key differentiator in terms of securing the best contracts. Anyone can make claim to being competent and cite various employments as evidence, however, unless you incorporate proficiency testing into the recruitment process there’s never absolute certainty. Certification can mitigate this risk for employers and provide attainable, unequivocal evidence (a strong selling point) for the applicant – a win-win situation. I can definitely attest to the employer perspective, for technical positions the first CV sift is often premised on simple pre-requisites such as the level of certifications held; this has a clear duality of inference in respect to skills but also professional commitment. The idea here being that anyone worth-their-salt should be striving to develop their skill-set and use certification as the focus for their energies and the reward for the effort involved. Surprisingly, for me at least, in many cases this simply isn’t a reality. Whenever I’ve been involved in Salesforce talent recruitment on behalf of clients (and this happens regularly), the number of applicants for senior, experienced roles with no certifications, or just one, is alarming. The mitigating arguments made are typically a lack of support by employers, time to invest in education or simply that they haven’t got around to it. I don’t accept any of this; staff development is a key concern for most employers, they may not wish to pay for the examination, but should provide some degree of support (employers can’t have things both ways), a lack of time for learning can be directly attributed to poor time management and not prioritising certification suggests that the individual isn’t entirely committed either professionally or to moving job. Regardless of the rationale, and I accept that it is easy to fall into a rut or be overwhelmed by the pace of change, the risk is straightforward in that the experience an individual develops, and can offer to their current or prospective employer, is limited by their day-to-day activities.

Note, the Certification Verification page is a highly useful tool for employers to validate the current status of the certifications presented by candidates. Certifications do expire if release-specific maintenance exams are not passed.

If we accept that certification in a general sense provides significant value to both employers and professionals for the reasons outlined, the question becomes one of identifying the appropriate set of certifications to be attained or expected for each job role. The image at the start of the post shows a standardised set of Salesforce job roles (or certification categories) and their specific requirements (based partly on my experience – not necessarily the official view). Also shown are the typical knowledge development pathways which outline the logical sequence in which the certifications should be attained – working back from the desired job role (or certification category).

The following sections of this post serve to outline the certification relevant considerations for each job role or certification category.

Salesforce Administrator

A Salesforce Admininstrator is responsible for the day-to-day service management activities such as user maintenance, data exports, reports and dashboard management and general housekeeping. The administrator is primarily accountable for the creation and maintenance of a secure environment in terms of the sharing model, permissions model and org-access model. A good administrator will implement a proactive approach in respect to all security aspects of the platform. It is highly likely that the role will encompass basic configuration work such as Custom Field maintenance and process automation with workflow and process builder.

A recommended best practice is to ensure that all administrators hold the Salesforce Administrator certification. Where the Salesforce support model is decentralised, business users administering the system should be subject to the same rule. Effective Salesforce administration requires a thorough understanding of platform concepts, no user should be empowered beyond their knowledge level regardless of their seniority within the organisation. Many organisations use the job role Senior Salesforce Administrator, a prerequisite for assigning this title should be the Salesforce Advanced Administrator certification plus of course the requisite experience (3 years plus hands-on Salesforce administration).

From a knowledge development perspective, the Salesforce Administrator role naturally flows into application development within the declarative build environment. The overlap between the two certification areas is significant. Many administrators ultimately become developers in one form or another, many progressing to become proficient with the programmatic development technologies.

Salesforce App Builder

A Salesforce App Builder is responsible for delivering applications on the Salesforce platform using the declarative build environment. This role is often blended with the administrator or developer roles, it can also provide a useful transitional role for junior developers. It may be the case with the emergence of additional declarative capabilities such as Lightning App Builder and Lightning Process Builder that the Salesforce App Builder role (or equivalent) as a distinct job title starts to gain more popularity. In both cases application development concerns that historically required code, no longer do so.

The obvious knowledge development path for this role will be toward Salesforce Developer, it is inevitable that application developers will be drawn toward Apex, Lighting Components and Visualforce technologies.

Salesforce Developer

A Salesforce Developer is responsible for developing custom interactions that require the use of Salesforce proprietary technologies such as Apex and Visualforce and complementary web standard technologies such as Javascript, Html and CSS. Typical projects will entail ApexTrigger scripts to be written or Visualforce pages to be developed. A good developer will understand that technical components should be used as glue to enable declarative solutions, i.e. to plug the gaps, wherever possible.

All Salesforce developers should be aspiring to attain the Salesforce Platform Developer II certification. This one is challenging and requires a serious level of platform expertise. Unlike the majority of the Salesforce certifications (which are 1-part), there are 3 components to pass; a multi-choice exam, programming assignment and essay exam. All-in-all a big commitment.

A typical knowledge development path for this role will be toward Salesforce Architect, this isn’t inevitable as many developers are not aspiring architects. I’ve come across many highly talented developers who enjoy the constructive art of developing end-to-end solutions. This is perhaps vaguely comparable to the Master Builder and Architect roles and relationship in the building trade, the former isn’t a precursor to the latter.

Salesforce Consultant/Analyst

This logical role maps to two distinct job functions; a Salesforce Consultant, providing domain expertise to a client, and a Salesforce Analyst working within an organisation. In both cases the primary focus is to engage with business stakeholders across the organisation, capture requirements and understand directives, translate requirements into solution designs and to work with implementation resources to deliver solutions. A key aspect to this role in the Salesforce context is the ability to negotiate on business requirements such that declarative solutions become possible where the original requirement mandated technical work. The ability to push-back on requirements to find the declarative path requires in-depth knowledge of the platform in general but also the Sales Cloud and Service Cloud capabilities. The earlier in the analysis and design process that Salesforce expertise is applied the more efficient the process will be. This doesn’t suggest that requirements become solution domain concerns, business requirements should always be solution agnostic, instead the point is that some low-level compromises made early can have a significant impact on the delivery of the project.

A possible knowledge development path for functional experts will be toward the Marketing domain and its specialist Marketing Cloud (ExactTarget) and Pardot related certifications.

Salesforce Marketing Specialist

The Salesforce Marketing Specialist role covers any individual tasked with the design and delivery of marketing solutions built on the Salesforce Marketing Cloud (Email application, Social Studio) or Pardot. Such individuals are required to be proficient in respect to platform configuration to deliver required user workflows and to ensure appropriate integration of data from external systems.

Given the specialist nature of the roles, there are no obvious knowledge development paths beyond the completion of the 2 distinct certifications per platform.

Salesforce Architect

The Salesforce Architect role encompasses a variety of skills spanning identity management, integration, solution architecture, system architecture, security, development lifecycle, release management etc. This role requires significant platform experience and serious expertise across all knowledge domains. The architect is responsible for defining the architectural standards and governance model upon which a solution is built and is ultimately accountable for the design integrity and execution. The level of responsibility placed upon this role on complex projects can be considerable.

Prior to Dreamforce 2015, the certification process for a Salesforce Certified Technical Architect (CTA) entailed 3 steps; a self-evaluation submission, a multiple choice exam and finally a review board presentation. The latter being a highly rigorous examination of the candidate skill-set and experience through preparation and presentation of a hypothetical scenario to a board of peer judges. The high-level of expertise and practical experience required across a broad set of diverse knowledge domains presents a significant challenge.

Perhaps in recognition of the fact that there were no stepping-stones to guide (and reward) an architect toward the CTA certification, an Architect Academy was announced at Dreamforce 2015. In essence the individual knowledge domains are now available as distinct Domain Specialist certifications, individuals passing multiple domains become eligible for the Domain Architect certification, those with all 9 domains are finally eligible to take a board review for the Technical Architect certification. Domain Specialist catalogues will be available which encompass training materials, practice exams and a voucher for the certification exam. The changes to the architect programme are still in an early adopter phase with more details to be revealed toward the end of this year, early 2016.

Final Thoughts

As I hope the content of this post makes clear, there are an abundance of certifications and certification pathways to consider in the Salesforce domain. For professionals committed to developing a career in the Salesforce eco-system, certifications provide clear targets to direct professional development and help broaden and maintain depth of expertise in an ever-changing, fast-paced technology domain. Personally I’m looking forward to the future possibility of new certifications related to the Lightning Component framework as the impetus to enhance my own skills in this area.

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About the Author

Mark Cane / Salesforce Certified Technical Architect