December 7, 2011

Force.com Certification — My Experience So Far...

There is a group of us at Quattro who have been working almost exclusively on the Force.com platform for around two years now, though until recently none of us have even considered certification. Our reputation as a company would appears to be enough to win work, but we've decided to push on and actually test ourselves by going on something of a certification drive.

Personally, around three quarters of my work in the last two years has been direct development, i.e. writing Apex and Visualforce classes and pages, as well as performing integrations via webservices etc.. I've done a good share of consulting, system design and configuration too, but typically I've not had to do any full-on administration, so I figured the first stop on my tour through the land of certification should be tackling the Salesforce Certifed Administrator exam.

I did do some reading on what was required by the exam, and found a few sources online for sample questions (one good source is proprofs.com) to get an idea of the style of the questions—this in particular is key as the questions are written in a somewhat peculiar fashion.  They stop a little shy of being trick questions, but they do require very careful reading to deduce exactly what is being asked. I won't post any particular examples but on more than a few occasions I've read a 'choose two out of four answers' question, and thought that three (or even all four) of the options fit the bill. When this happens read the question again; I guarantee there will a key word or phrase, which will immediately rule out two of the answers if you know your stuff.

Areas I specifically read up on were those where I knew I was lacking knowledge and for me the most of obvious of these was reports, doing so served me well — I passed the exam just over two weeks ago and was pretty pleased to know that I have picked up on various administration details and complexities to a sufficient degree while cutting code. If you know you're a little light on approval processes, or workflows, or any other area, it goes without saying that you should concentrate on those.

The next destination on the tour was to test the knowledge I've picked up of the declarative side of Force.com development, the world of "clicks not code". I love writing code. I started coding well over twenty years ago which means I've been doing it for three quarters of my life so far, and I'm not about to stop any time soon despite actively working to expand my skills in developer coaching and management. The Force.com platform forces you to think differently though, and it's one of the reasons I love it — I've lost count of the number of times where my initial thought has been "I could do that in a trigger", before realising that a couple of formula fields will do the same job. This line in the sand is largely what the Certified Developer exam is about: any developer worth their salt could solve any problem they need to with code on the platform, but, quite rightly in my opinion, Salesforce want to ensure you also know when not to write code. The takeaway from my rambling should be that just because you're an apex and Visualforce demon, don't expect that to be enough to pass this exam, in fact it's barely even relevant.

The biggest criticism I have of the certification tests, and it's one I've seen brought forth by others in Linked in groups and on the Dreamforce chatter feeds, is the complete lack of feedback provided. When you finish the exams all you will see is a pass or a fail: no mark, no indication of areas you need to brush up on, nadda. I understand why this is the case, Salesforce need to protect the content of these exams and ensure they remain valid tests, but even though I've passed both of mine so far, I still came out wanting to know what the answers were to certain questions. Of course you could research these later, but trying to remember the exact details after going through sixty questions is pretty tricky.

Next up is the first part of the Advanced Developer Certification which I'm due to sit in little over a week, I'm intrigued to see how that goes and will definitely write another load of babble for your consideration.