Getting Certified—An Adventure Through Documentation and Trailhead

January 3, 2018 Heather Dykstra

This blog post describes how I went from being uncertified and nervous about becoming certified to Certified as a Platform App Developer on Salesforce, including tips and tricks along the way.

Weeks before test day

I made some career goals for 2017: earn enough badges to become a Trailhead Ranger, become Salesforce certified, and become more connected to the Trailblazer Community. While I was confident in my ability to become a Ranger and to network and become connected to the community, I was nervous about becoming certified. I’m not a great test taker, but I knew that taking the test would at least help me understand what I don’t know.

So on August 1, I took a huge step forward and decided to make a date with a certification exam. One of the first steps in registering is to know where you’re taking the exam. I knew that I would be most comfortable taking the test in a local testing center, and my alma mater, University of Colorado at Boulder, offered just the space. I was thankful for the familiarity of the area, and I recommend you do something similar if you get nervous like I do. Look for a space you’re familiar with, perhaps your office or a local testing center. The last thing you want to deal with on test day is struggling to find parking, the test center, or even the right door. If you’re going somewhere unfamiliar, arrive early or familiarize yourself with the area in the days before the test.

Selecting a certification path

Salesforce has more then 25 certifications available. It can be difficult picking the right certification to get started with, but there’s no wrong answer! When selecting a certification there are a few important criteria to evaluate: what role you’re currently doing; what you want to do in the future; and what prerequisites are required for the certification you’re interested in.

I’m currently a Developer Evangelist, and much of my role is a mix of configuration and code enhancements and demos. The Platform App Builder Certification fits pretty well into my current level of expertise in that mix space, without focusing too much on either.

I also want to work toward the Platform Developer II Certification and a Technical Architect Certification (stretch goals!). While only the path to Technical Architect requires the Platform App Builder, I evaluated it to be a best fit for me. I also decided that my next two certifications will be Platform Developer I and II. I used the credential overview page to look at all the different certifications and their requirements to evaluate which best fit my current scenario.

Following my online registration, I set up a few tasks and calendar reminders. My small goals helped me keep focused on studying. Even though 2 months felt far away, I didn’t want test day to sneak up on me unexpected. In my preparation tasks, I made sure to balance my study plans with learning new things and reviewing aspects I was already familiar with. I used the App Builder overview page to pick out which topics to study. I downloaded the exam guide, which provided a glimpse into the test content with the exam outline and some example test questions.

Two weeks before test day

I have some fairly stereotypical programmer traits: I’m lazy and a procrastinator. Setting personal due dates was helpful to prevent those traits from creeping in. I put emphasis on learning the new content in the early weeks and reviewing that content again in the final 2 weeks. When you ramp up to take a certification, style your study plan around what already works for you.

My final 2 weeks of studying were full of free time doing projects and developing on the platform as much as possible. In my exploration, I learned about the illusive IMAGE command in formula fields and played around with roles, profiles, and permission sets. I even learned about visual flows and began to explore using some of my own projects.

You can see the makings of my first flow component, a simple “Hello World.” A huge part of being able to answer the exam questions correctly is having some hands-on experience, so don’t forget to practice!

Test day

I woke up feeling doomed. I got ready for the day and drove to my old college campus in Boulder, trying to remember to breathe (remember, I don’t like taking tests). I showed up ridiculously early, about an hour before my test time and took the first 30 minutes to relax. I ate a snack and walked around outside, being mindful of how I was feeling and familiarizing myself with the space. While this particular prep was not technical, I know that getting my head in the right place before my exam was vital to my success.

When I finally went inside my testing center, a nice receptionist welcomed me, helped me put my things in a locker, and then walked me to the test room. The room had computers on desks that reminded me a bit of an election booth. A darkened glass wall opposite the computers lets official monitors proctor the test without too much impact on those testing. I thanked the receptionist, sat down, and took the exam.

A fast 105 minutes later, and I had passed my certification exam.

What if you fail?

Don’t panic! Failure is often part of the certification process, and it empowers you with an opportunity to keep learning. When you finish your test, you receive feedback. You’re told how well you did in each section of the test, letting you refine your focus for your next test, but also to celebrate your successes.

Maybe you did get those mobile questions right, or your studying paid off and you really understand flows. Make your failure a positive step in your journey of continuous learning. Getting certified is tough, and if you’re really pushing yourself, sometimes you’re going to need multiple tries to get a cert. And that’s OK!

What I learned

As with a failed exam, if you pass you also get a breakdown on how well you did on each section of the exam. While I won’t share my exact scores, it’s helpful to review this breakdown.

Mine showed that while I passed, I still have a lot to learn about the Salesforce platform. I’m not as strong in reports and dashboards as I can be. And I have a long way to go when it comes to knowing all the features of each “click” automation tool. My biggest testing takeaway was that having legitimate hands-on experience with the platform was vital to my success on the test. There were a few topics that I didn’t include in my study plan (namely social and mobile), but my hands-on experience gave me the intuition skills to ace those sections.

Finally, I realized that getting certified was a huge step to helping me overcome my own imposter syndrome; it bolstered my confidence. I made a deal with myself to attempt my second cert within the next year; similar to tattoos or chips, you can’t have just one!

Now I’m off to go study for Platform Developer I. What certification are you working toward? Let me know!

Heather Dykstra
Developer Evangelist, Salesforce

Related Links

Salesforce Credential Overview

Salesforce Blog: Top Tips for Passing Your Salesforce Certification

Trailmixes: Prepare for your Salesforce Credentials:

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