Salesforce certification — more than a numbers game

Before I get started with this post, I want to make it clear that I’m not calling out any individuals, or trying to disparage the efforts that people are putting in to obtaining certifications. This is simply an area that is starting to concern me and I’m keen to inject a note of realism and perhaps caution.

At the moment it feels like there is a trend of blog posts that promise to get you through 1, 5, 10 Salesforce certifications in a few days, reminiscent of click-bait posts using “just this one weird trick”. This is starting to concern me, as it appears that the focus is purely on passing exams rather than learning about and gaining experience with an area of Salesforce. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to pass a number of exams in a short period of time, even on the same day. But it’s one thing when the candidate is already certified to a high level and has a number of years of experience and quite another when it’s someone who has only been working with Salesforce for a few months.

To my mind, a certification is the end result of a period of time learning about, reading around and using functionality, not something to be got out of the way in a day or two before moving on to the next.

There’s a reason for this — in my world of consultancy, if I earn a cert I’ll be expected to be an expert. Take the service cloud a few years ago. Once I’d passed that, in short order I found myself in front of a customer that had an existing customer service system but were considering moving to Salesforce. If all I’d done to pass the exam was cram for a day, take it and fail, find out the areas I need to put additional effort into, then take it later that same day after some more cramming, that engagement would have been a struggle. The customer was expecting an expert who could look at their use cases and recommend implementation routes and improvements, and instead they’d have got someone who needed to see four or five options that included the best approach before choosing one of them.

What I find most surprising is that SalesforceU are promoting and at times responsible for these posts. To my mind they run the risk of devaluing their own product by sharing tactics for smashing through as many certs as possible in a few days.

Looking at this from a customer or prospect perspective I can’t see they will be reassured by the knowledge that those entrusted with ensuring consultants have sufficient knowledge and experience are promoting that all it takes is a little preparation and multiple retakes of the exam in a short period of time. I’ve always felt there was an element of this around Destination Success, with the emphasis on training and certifying inside the same week, but it seems to be escalating around the wider community.

I get that these are feel good stories that will encourage more people into the Salesforce and the certification ecosystem, and part of what they do is to cheerlead. I guess it motivates more people to take exams, but surely there’s more to the stewardship of training and certification than that.

There are a couple of things concern me about this.

  • The quality of solution that a customer may receive if they buy into the idea that certification is purely a numbers game and if someone has 10 they must be an expert. If the consultant has only learned the bare minimum any solution is likely to be sub-optimal. When this happens it hurts all of us — customers feel that Salesforce is somehow a flawed option and all us consultants end up being tarred with the same brush.
  • The messaging around this is Path to Architect, that racking up these certifications in short order puts you in a good place to take the Technical Architect review board. Nothing could be further from the truth (see the recent slew of posts around failing it). In order to be successful at the board you need to know the topics around these certs inside out, not just enough to get by. More importantly you need to be experienced in implementing them in multiple business sectors (and much more besides, but that’s another post entirely).

While it might appear that these certs prove expertise so there’s no need to look further, in an interview situation — for me at least — it has the opposite effect. It suggests that the candidate is an expert who is happy for a deep dive on the associated topics. I’m always delighted to interview someone with a number of the designer certs as it means I can give them some really hard problems to solve and expect them to nail every one of them. Sadly my experience of this is variable.

As I mentioned at the outset, this isn’t intended to make anybody feel bad or to dismiss their efforts, or to suggest that this is being done with anything other than the best intentions. I’m sure everyone is sharing their tactics to get more certs out of a desire to help others rather than game the system. I’ve published a number of posts in the past aimed at helping people make sure they are adequately prepared for an exam, and I’d hate to see those kind of posts dry up. I think it’s great that people are earning large numbers of certifications and I’d like to see more of it, as long as it is being done in the right way.

I’m also not suggesting that the good people of SalesforceU are doing anything untoward, or intentionally trying to promote there are tactics for exams that don’t require a lot of effort.

What I do think is that everyone has got a bit carried away with the cheerleading and started to lose sight of the purpose of certification.

If you recognise yourself in this post then take a moment to consider if this is the outcome that you want — if it is then that’s fine — I’m not your real Dad and you don’t have to listen to me. If it’s not then maybe think about taking a step back and revisiting some of the areas you’ve skimmed over in the past.

Finally, the last time I wrote a contentious post, although not specifically around anything Salesforce, I got accused of being jealous of the success of others, envious that I couldn’t step up myself etc. Just to remind anyone reading and reacting in this way, I passed the Technical Architect Review Board in January 2012 and I’m CTO of a Platinum Partner, so this isn’t motivated by a lack of progression or success on my part, or a feeling that my certs are lacking when compared to others. It’s motivated by wanting to see certifications have real value and customers getting solutions that scale and perform.

I’m better known in the Salesforce community as Bob Buzzard — Umpteen Certifications, including Technical Architect, 6 x MVP and CTO of BrightGen, a Platinum Cloud Alliance Partner in the United Kingdom who are hiring.

You can find my (usually) more technical thoughts at the Bob Buzzard Blog