I have to admit, ever since Microsoft completely ruined the entire concept of technical certification by watering down the “Microsoft Certified Professional” monicker and opening up the program to any Johnny-Come-Lately that could take a “boot camp” course and pass exams that were more geared towards testing one’s ability to drink the Microsoft Kool-Aid and regurgitate MSFT marketing terms than actually get their bloated software to perform any meaningful functions, I have been completely skeptical of technical certification as a whole. Granted, certain programs such as the Cisco engineering and administration certifications carried a good deal of weight because I knew how tough they were to obtain, but for all intents and purposes I have felt that the process of becoming certified in a given area and the ability to perform at a high level within that domain were mutually exclusive. That is, until I experienced the salesforce.com certification program.
What got me thinking about all of this is the flood of really bad Salesforce “developers” and “consultants” that I have had to clean up after in the past year. For some reason, there is a common misconception among DBAs and traditional (read: non-cloud) platform developers that because Salesforce is so easy to use from the perspective of sales, marketing, and support professionals, it must be easy to configure and maintain. It absolutely can be – but only if you take the time to understand the underlying multitenant architecture and how it applies to every area of the application and platform architecture. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see the remnants of traditional system thinking that have been incorrectly applied to Salesforce data modeling, UI design, and business logic development; in many ways I am continuously reminded of the horrors that I witnessed (and had to fix) when the Microsoft-certified “boot campers” burst onto the scene and were hired up by companies desperate for Microsoft resources. Obviously salesforce.com has been smart enough to learn from this, because their certification program is structured to ensure that their customers are not condemned to repeat the history of Microsoft’s blind ambition to build an army to spread marketing gospel…which subsequently spread the talent pool to razor thin levels.
When I signed up to take the Salesforce development certification at Dreamforce last year, my inner skeptic couldn’t help but feel that it was an exercise in “going through the motions” in order to get a piece of paper to maintain my company’s status in the SFDC partner program. But when I emerged from the testing room dry-mouthed and in a cold sweat, I realized that I had earned the distinction of being a certified Salesforce developer, and that the entire exercise meant something. The test was nothing like the Microsoft test that I had taken a dozen years prior, where the “right” answer was the one that best demonstrated why Microsoft was better than everyone else (I almost walked out after the fifth “Here’s why Windows NT is so much better than Novell Netware question / answer combo), but a true measurement of my ability to grasp the core concepts of Salesforce and Force.com, and more importantly, how to apply these concepts in solving real business problems.
What really got me thinking about the value of Salesforce certification, though, was the regular refreshes that were required throughout the course of the year to maintain the certification. Any of the million+ users of Salesforce already know that the 3x per year upgrade cycle is a major competitive differentiator and value driver for salesforce.com; but what I was most impressed with was the fact that all certified administrators, consultants, and developers have to take additional tests after each and every one of these upgrades in order to maintain certification status. When you buy the ticket, you take the ride, and you have to commit to staying on top of new functionality as it rolls out. Fall behind the curve, and you lose the right to display the certification logo on your resume and business card. Now that means something – as a Salesforce customer, you can rest assured that a Salesforce certified resource knows what they’re doing and that they didn’t “boot camp” their way to a certificate like the “paper MCSEs” of the previous decade. So when you’re looking to staff your next project or hire a trusted partner, insist on Salesforce certified experts, or you risk having to bring them in later to clean up after the “how hard can it possibly be?” crowd now entering the game.