Spoiler: Achieving the certification was not an all smooth journey...

After using an Oracle Fusion CRM at my previous job, Salesforce was an easy ecosystem to jump into. Everything seemed to make sense to me from the very beginning.

Background: I am my own worst enemy

I have been quite enthusiastic about technology since I can remember, be it frontend web-development, running this blog on a Linux server, assembling physical hardware, or whatever else you may think of. What struck me using Salesforce was its flexibility, enterprise-readiness, and its API first architecture. It seemed to integrate well with any 3rd party software that we threw at it and Salesforce itself has definitely stood the test of time by growing along with all of the not-so-good baggage being collected on the way (an example being the Salesforce "Classic").

Hell, someone even connected Salesforce and made it work through a Minecraft game. I started getting inspired by the possibilities.

I've had this thought in the back of my head that in addition to focusing purely on sales, I wanted to develop a stronger sales operations, as well as pre-sales consulting skillset. After I saw how well Salesforce was catering to some of our specific business needs, how easy the reporting and analytics functionality was, and how fast the newer (Salesforce Lightning) UI was to use, I started finding out more.

Finally, I thought it could be a good idea for me to get officially certified.

Sometimes I get pretty ambitious and when I set goals for myself, I tend to do everything in my strength to achieve them.

This time, my expectations were a little bit higher than what reality was about to offer. Very little in fact - just one percent too little. Sometimes the unrealistic expectations that I set for myself are indeed my biggest enemy.

Reasons why I thought it would be worth to go for a Salesforce admin certification

  1. If any, it feels to me like a CRM that I enjoy using from the end-user perspective
  2. My company offered to pay for the exam
  3. Salesforce is an enterprise grade solution. Where there are enterprises, there is money
  4. While suited well for enterprises, it also has a relatively low barrier of entry for smaller companies at their lowest tier (Essentials, $25 per month per user)
  5. The growth of Salesforce's business has been pretty healthy as you can see below. This is why I expect to see more of it also in the future:

6. Salesforce has come up with a pretty nice approach for learning and staying up to date with how the platform evolves. The portal is called Salesforce Trailhead, and it makes learning a joy. You can also easily provision sandbox environments for hands-on testing, etc. They do a very good job here.

There might have been some additional reasons for me to set a goal of getting certified, but my intention is not to keep selling you the idea, so let's get back to the story.

It can't be that difficult... Right?

I started preparing for the exam by spending on average an hour a day on the Trailhead platform. In three months I went through several modules and a larger "Prepare for Your Salesforce Administrator Credential" learning path. I did all of the recommended "superbadges" which required some hands-on configuration and setup within a Salesforce sandbox environment. I also systematically studied the various automation capabilities and inner workings of the extensive Salesforce security model.

I feel like Salesforce does not miss the chance of marketing to you some of the less useful or known capabilities in their platform, thus optimising the certification towards making administrators generate more money for the company in the future. Unfortunately, it almost seems like a propaganda machine at times - just think of their admittedly awkward "Ohana" culture which I got to know during some of the job interview rounds with Salesforce back in 2017.

The badges and points start stacking up over time within Trailhead.

After three months of such progression on Trailhead, I did some practice tests where I got mixed scores, thinking it would be enough for me to pass the actual exam. I also scheduled and completed an official practice exam by Salesforce which costs $20 and is allowed to be attempted just once.

My score turned out to be 47% out of 65% required to pass, and I have to say I was a little bit disappointed. The exam felt pretty brutal and I got an impression that lots of things would need to be learned by heart. I was also quite unhappy because some of the questions felt like trick questions.

Oh well...! I told myself not to worry as I still had some time and energy left to practice.

The results from the exam showed me some of my weaknesses on a per topic basis, so I knew where I needed more practice. I spent a whole bunch of additional time reviewing Trailhead modules that weren't just on the main learning path, but also some additional ones that touched on configuring territory management, collaborative forecasting, etc.

I also went in detail through the exam guide and researched for additional answers. What helped me a lot was spending extra time on working within the sandbox environments and coming up with different small setup and configuration requirements that I could complete by myself. If you do the official superbadges, you'll notice that they sometimes get so complex that you might even forget what you're actually doing and how it is actually supposed to provide value for the business.

I felt relatively comfortable, so it was time for the full exam.

The first attempt

I scheduled the full exam for Friday afternoon, so I could go and complete it directly from work. Many online forums recommend you to take a full day for the exam, so you can probably tell that my idea was not the best.

Before going to the exam center I felt tired and nervous from a long week. I work in a pretty fast-paced sales environment, so I sometimes get dead tired by Friday. What didn't help me either was that I drank more than 3 cups of coffee before starting the exam.

I first answered all of the questions that I was sure I knew the answer for. These weren't that many - way less than half of them actually. Then I started reviewing the questions I wasn't sure about when I heard a person next to me whisper "Yesss!", which was a sign of his apparent success. Eventually I felt like really needing to hit the bathroom. While there was still a lot of time left, I couldn't finish reviewing all of my answers and ran away with well over an hour of exam time left.

As I submitted the exam, a text appeared on the screen. Fail.

I was pretty disappointed as I spent so much time learning and would need to soon fly back to Finland for the new year's.

When I came home with my inner suffering, I found an exam score calculator where you can write in the different percentage scores and see your total score for the whole exam. Salesforce doesn't show this to you by default, so I filled it in.

What I saw got my blood boiling.

I had scored 64% correct while the score to pass the test was 65%. I was out of my mind. Does a 1% miss ever happen?!

A second Attempt

I really wanted to focus on other things for early 2020 which was a big contributor to my disappointment in the first exam.

I did remember some of the questions from the earlier exam and studied them during the following days. In-between, I flew to Finland for a 3-week break and spent some time with my family and friends. As I had already scheduled my second attempt on the next day from the previous exam, when I came back I had to push it by another week due to general tiredness and work-related delays.

For the second attempt I made sure to do it in the morning on Monday while my mind was still fresh and responsive. I did some additional practice exams and reviewed pretty much everything that I could. Understandably I was quite worried.

I was surprised and horrified to find out that the second time attempting the full exam there were just one or two questions that I had seen before. It definitely felt more difficult overall.

Although I took my time I was more sure than ever that I would fail. This is why I tried to write on a temporary sheet of paper all of the topics that I would still need to keep studying for my third attempt. Before submitting the exam I resorted to praying for a bit, which is an activity that I resort to do extremely rarely.

When I submitted the exam I was surprised and relieved to get a pass. I had received 78% which was over the passing score of 65%.

Behind me was now a lot of theoretical, as well as hands-on learning which stressed my memory. I think I also learned a lot about myself as a person too.

What helped me the most was a systematic approach to learning, writing down things from modules where I performed the weakest, and not giving up.

Usage at work

I don't think the Salesforce Admin Cert is particularly useful and for sure can't say how much added value it provides. I think in my personal case it rounded up my own professional profile and forced me to look deeper into the inner workings of how such an important tool for so many organizations actually functions.

At work I've since been building additional reports, fixing some of our integrations, managing our data, and deploying an all new sales process within our Salesforce instance. I'm not so sure I could do all of that as confidently as I am doing it right now if I hadn't learned so much about Salesforce on my own.

On to next challenges

I think as my next thing I'm going to be again focusing more on web development, aiming for my long-time desired AWS (Amazon Web Services) certifications, and do more Bachelor-level studies in Informatics and Computer Science.

Let's keep on setting goals, learning and maintaining our growth mindset. This is, what I guess makes the professional side of our lives a little more interesting...