Thursday, July 24, 2014

The best vacation day...ever.

Yesterday, July 23rd, was the sixth day of my vacation, and so far one of my favorite days.  No, I didn’t go to the beach or anything like that.  I attended the NYC User Group and helped facilitate User Group Therapy sessions. You may be reading this and looking at the title again, saying to yourself, “Didn’t she just say vacation day?”  Yes, you read correctly. 

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Kendra Webb-Scott, the NYC User Group Leader, stating that she was going to be trying something new at the NYC User Group called User Group Therapy.  The description of this read, “You asked, and we listened! Our focus for the next meeting is all about YOU! One of the biggest benefits of the User Group community is getting tips and best practices from your peers to make the most out of your CRM. That's why we're introducing User Group Therapy - an open forum session to allow all attendees to ask questions, seek advice, share experiences and generally help each other out.”  When I read this, I immediately knew I wanted to attend this and offer up to help out.  I can’t think of a better way to give back to the community that has helped me so much than to facilitate a session like this.

Kendra had this broken out into three different 45-minute sessions, which were held downstairs from the main area where the partners were presenting.  There really weren’t specific topics, but each session had different facilitators.  The session I was facilitating with Jean Winget was first at 9 AM.  That first session had around eight attendees.  After brief introductions, we jumped right in and the questions and comments just started flowing naturally.  The questions included making sure the right people were informed about Opportunities, building mobile apps, data integrity, tools for data cleansing, and some general adoption questions.  My co-facilitator, Jean, is a database/data expert and offered up some great advice on what to do if you have dirty data coming in from an integration, and who you may want to reach out to at your company to help you fix it.  We ended the session by talking about some great administrator tools that come out-of-the-box, such as workflow, validation rules, visual workflow (flow), and of course, my favorite, publisher actions!

After the first User Group Therapy session ended, it seemed that word spread like wildfire about what was going on downstairs.  As I was gathering my things to head back upstairs, I realized how big the group had gotten in the room; it more than doubled in size for the next two facilitators, Ohad Idan and Carlos Frias.  I decided to stay because I thought there might be even more interesting discussion, because Ohad and Carlos both act as both admins and developers at their respective companies.  I have always enjoyed hearing their perspective on things, so I knew this was going to be a great session. 

The second session started similarly with brief introductions, then everyone just jumped right into it.  The first question was around Documents vs. Content.  Various people in the room, including myself, were able to answer questions on Libraries, some best practices on Libraries and some benefits of Content.  Then, someone in the room made a comment about the session in general, “I can’t say the word workflow at my company, because I’m the only one who understands what that word means.  I love that I can come here and talk to others who know what that means and can talk about challenges, ask questions, and see what others are doing.”  This started to lead the discussion around the path of community, not just community, but The Salesforce community and how great it is.  Carlos pulled up the New York User Group page on the Success Community and showed everyone how to access it.   People in the room started to share their stories of how much the community has helped them over the years.  Carlos and Ohad started to go through the different tabs on the community.  When they got to the Ideas tab, more discussion started to happen on why you should vote on ideas.  Ohad pointed out that they now put in the release notes all of the ideas that were delivered in that release.  I talked about how one of my ideas was delivered in this release, and how many Ideas points Salesforce Product Managers released this past release.  I also talked about the power of the community, and how if outside of these meetings if anyone needs advice just post on the New York User Group Page.  Once they got to the Answers tab, some of the attendees started to recount Steve Mo answering their question.  There was a lot of community love in the room. 

One of the other major topics discussed was Chatter, on successful rollout and adoptions. There was one name that must have come up about five times during this discussion, and that name is Becky Webster.  There were several of us talking about some of her great blog posts as well as her Dreamforce presentations from last year. We plan to post them on the New York User Group page so everyone can watch because they are so helpful. 

After the community discussion, the second session wrapped up with questions around communication and training to users and some best practices.  There were so many great suggestions in the room for the newbie admin.  In my opinion, this is why these sessions were so successful. You had people from all types of companies, in various roles, helping each other be successful. 

Allister McKenzie and Vikram Kamra, who both have a wealth of Salesforce knowledge and experience, facilitated the third session.  It was actually Vikram’s first user group in NYC, but even though he didn’t know anyone, he was completely willing to help as many people as possible and share more than a decade worth of Salesforce knowledge.  I figured I had stayed for the first two sessions, why not stay for all three? I’m so glad I did.  The third session went through even more detail on Chatter, including some of the benefits and how to convince your manager to let you roll it out.  There were so many great suggestions around this.  We also talked about the different types of Sandboxes, what a Sandbox is, and how you should use it.  I talked about how our developers use the different types of sandboxes for our development process.  I also encouraged everyone in the room, after they make sure they are on the success community, to go to and sign up for a developer org. It’s free and you can play with all sorts of stuff. 

In the morning, I had set a goal for myself that I wanted to try and help five admins at the user group.  Together, we helped around 40 admins of all levels.  We received extremely positive feedback about these sessions, and Kendra has now made this a staple for the NYC User Group!  I am so happy to have been a part of this.

I will never forget when I first attended the NYC User Group and how happy I was to get help with my formulas.  If it weren’t for those people, I may not have the career I have today.  I’m hoping that at least one person has the same feeling and maybe at the next meeting they will help facilitate a session and pay it forward.  After reading this, I’m hoping now you will see why this was my favorite day of my vacation so far.  To me, this isn’t work, this is fun. 

As always, thank you for reading.


P.S. – if you haven’t attended your local user group, definitely do so, you can see a list of all user groups here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Do Experienced Admins Need A Certification?

Making the decision to get certified

As some of you know I have been a Salesforce Admin/BA for nearly 10 years, but I was never certified. It's not that I didn’t want to, it's just that I never made time for it. A few community friends of mine, as well as post from Button Click Admin, convinced me I should do it for a whole myriad of reasons. I started on this venture because I honestly got sick of people saying, “You’re so good I can’t believe you’re not certified, just do it you’ll pass.“

When I made my decision that I was going to get certified, I set a goal to be certified by July 31, 2014. I highly recommend putting a goal with an actual date around it otherwise you'll never take the plunge. You'll just keep saying next month or next year, which is basically what I did. I honestly made the decision because I was sick of people nagging me.

Studying and Practicing for the Certification

Once my mind was made up that I was going to do this, the first thing I did was google “Salesforce Practice Certification Test.” Oh boy where do I start?  There is some bad information out there. I remember taking one practice test and the first question on the test was clearly wrong. It only got worse as the test went on.

Here is an example of that:

I gave up on finding a good practice site and joined the “NYC Cert Club” which was members of the NYC User Group working together to get certified. Unfortunately my work schedule sometimes got so crazy I wasn’t able to make these sessions. Even though the sessions were recorded it wasn’t the same and I enjoyed the discussion and interaction I had with others. It's a great tool if you can make time for it, unfortunately I ended up having a mandatory meeting at the same time as this each week so it didn’t work out for me. I do highly encourage those who can carve out the time during their day to attend these. There are also certification groups on the community you can join here (please keep in mind you will need to meet their qualifications mentioned on their page).

I started to take a different strategy. I signed up for a new developer org solely for the purpose of practicing for the admin exam. When I first started on this venture, I was using a configuration only sandbox tied to my org.  Shortly after starting to study some out of the box features, I realized this was not the best approach since my org is so highly customized. Once I setup a free developer org, I found that it was even more beneficial for me, because I was able to see what Salesforce comes with out of the box.

I wasn't prepared for what was going to happen next...

An interesting thing started to happen that I was completely unprepared for. It was an unexpected surprise. I was learning not only for the certification, but for the benefit of my company and well, my career. After I spent about 4 hours on a Sunday afternoon reading the help section and playing around in my developer org, I sent an email to my team highlighting some best practices and even about some features we could be using. I started to see the benefit of the certification right away. It wasn’t that I just needed this cool little icon on my Twitter picture, it's that I was learning about features that I wouldn’t normally look at. Features I didn’t necessarily have requirements for, but I started to figure out ways our business users could use them. 

As I mentioned above when I first started this venture it was more about getting people off my back about getting certified rather than all of the benefit that could possibly come with getting certified. I think this was because I never really saw what the big deal was about being certified. My studying became more about how I could help better our implementation rather than a status thing or proving my knowledge to someone, which is what I prefer anyway and part of what drove me to keep doing this every Sunday. I was building my own knowledge as well as building our backlog.

Finally a Great practice resource

It was about a month ago when I came across a site called Certified on Demand. I was blown away. They offer free content as well as paid content. They have their site broken out into sections of the test. I decided to pay for a membership of $40.00. The first thing I did after paying for a membership is start taking the quizzes for each section without reading through the sections to see how well I did and what I needed to work on. Turns out on most of the quizzes I was scoring 90-100%. There were a few in areas where I hadn’t used or studied yet that I needed to work on. 

When I was taking the quizzes and I got something wrong I would write down the topic(s) on a piece of paper near my desk and keep a running list. Every Sunday, I would dedicate at least one hour to knocking a few of these items off of my list. What I would do is open up my dev org, and the help, section and learn about the topic/feature and start to play with it in my dev org. I personally find that I learn better by actually setting up a feature rather than just reading or memorizing something from the help section.

Jumping in with both feet

I looked at my calendar and June was halfway over. I decided to register for my exam, I figured if I had an exact date then I would push myself harder to spend more time studying. After I knocked all of my topics of my list and went through each one in my dev org it was the weekend before my certification. I decided to take the full practice test on Certified on Demand. You know what, all of the hard work paid off, first time around I got all but two correct! I looked at the two questions I got wrong and studied up and took it again Monday evening and got all but one correct. I started to google for more practice tests to cram the night before. I found some answers to practice questions on Shell Black’s website and got all of the questions correct! I finally felt ready. I was going to do this. I was going to pass my certification with flying colors on my first try.

Answering the original question

I am happy to say that as of July 1, 2014 I’m officially a certified admin. I don’t know if it makes me any better at my job, but I definitely learned a lot through this experience. So, do experienced or veteran admins need a certification? Absolutely. You may know everything about your org/implementation but there maybe features that you haven't touched that could be helpful to your organization. It's not just about your org it's about the platform as a whole. When you become certified you become more than just an expert at your company, but an expert on the overall platform. I used to never see the big deal, now I do. I know there are probably about a dozen people reading this rolling their eyes, yelling, "We told you so!" So to those dozen people, thank you for nagging me.

I would like to end this post by encouraging all “veteran admins” who haven’t been certified yet to do so. I guarantee that you will increase your knowledge about Salesforce beyond your org. Go for it. I did and don’t regret it one single bit.

As always, thanks for reading.

PS - If you think Salesforce should come out with a good practice test with questions and answers vote for my idea here.