From Dreamforce to Destination Success. Zero to 14 Certifications in 159 Days!

Part 2: My Architect Journey to Destination Success 2017

Shortly after returning home from Dreamforce, I start receiving emails about Destination Success, an event focused purely on Salesforce training and certification. There was an Architect track, and it was here that I first saw “The Pyramid.”

Right there in front of me was my own personal success plan. I decided to hold myself accountable and “earn” my attendance to #DST17 by imposing a goal on myself: To complete at least one more certification before registering. My plan was to earn my Application Architect certification at Destination Success, and then complete my System Architect certification at Dreamforce ’17. Now I had my milestones to aim for, but I needed a plan.

The “exam kit”
Where to test? Where to study? I travel for work, a lot. In addition, the testing centers in my area are not convenient, so I looked into online testing. I liked the flexibility of scheduling, as generally you can get immediate access to a proctor so you can test on demand. So I dug out an old tripod, bought a camera from an auction site, and configured a spare laptop for the online proctoring. Not wanting to eat into my family time when I was at home, I took my “exam kit” on the road. It soon became a fixture in my luggage.

Following the same pattern I had established at Dreamforce, I began studying for Platform Developer I. Turns out, a hotel room, after work hours, is an excellent studying and test-taking environment. Who knew? I took the exam in December, and although I did not succeed on the first attempt, I continued to study and passed a few days later.

Destination Confirmed
I was now 3x certified and had just secured my seat at Destination Success. Amped-up and ready to move on, I jumped straight into studying for the Advanced Administrator certification over the holiday break. Even though this one is not on the pyramid, I was certain I would learn topics and skills that would help in the tougher Designer exams. I passed on my first attempt—only three days after achieving my Platform Developer I credential.

Time for the Clouds
Feeling like I didn’t want to lose momentum, and convinced I was on the right track of diversification before attempting the Designer exams, I decided to work on the Clouds next. The very next day, I took and PASSED the Sales Cloud Consultant certification—on the first try! I dove right into Service Cloud Consultant and although I did not succeed on the first attempt, I felt good about it, so I must have been close (at this time, there was no section level feedback to confirm). I studied and retook it a few days later. Another pass.

Next up, Community Cloud Consultant. This proved to be more challenging, as it simply works differently than the Sales & Service Clouds, and I had zero experience with it. Relying on the exam guide, study materials, and all the Community Cloud topics I could get my hands on in Trailhead, I set up and played with Communities in a dev org. I was back on the road with work and determined to clear it, which resulting in several late-night study sessions in the hotel and a couple of attempts, but in the end, I was successful, and now 7x Certified.

Deep breath…The Architect Designer exams
It was now January 6th. Still 3 months before I was to arrive at Destination Success. Staring at the pyramid on my wall, I started to think…could I actually achieve Application Architect status on my own, prior to attending Destination Success in March?

I was well on my way, having already completed Administrator, Community Cloud, Platform App Builder, and Platform Developer I certifications. Just two more Designer exams, and I would be cleared to focus on the System Architect path at the event, well ahead of my original goal of Dreamforce 2017!

Never one to back down from a challenge, six days later—after a ton of studying, research, devouring the Architect resource guides, and modeling in Trailhead—I held my first designer certification, and was Sharing & Visibility Designer certified. After taking a break from studying for a few weeks, and with Destination Success now looming, I dove back in and completed Data Architecture & Management Designer on March 1st. I was now in the double digits: 10x certified, having gained my Application Architect credential just in time for Destination Success.

#DST17 Roll Call Group
One of the best decisions I made regarding Destination Success was on the plane heading to Las Vegas, when I happened to come across the Destination Success Roll Call Group in the Success Community. I immediately joined. Best decision ever, as had I not done so, I would have had a much different event experience, I’m sure!

Let me just take a moment to extend a huge thanks to Monica Sandberg and Misty Jones for setting that group up. By the time I landed in Las Vegas, I was heading to a Roll Call networking dinner, which would become the norm for the week. I met so many great people through this group. From the dinners to a photo shoot and so much more…I could go on forever about how great Destination Success was—David Liu wrote a great blogabout it that I could not agree with more—so let’s get back to the testing.

Exams, exams, and some more exams
A Destination Success ticket comes with three free exam certification sessions. As my goal was to leave as a System Architect, I had to pass three designer-level exams that week. A challenge for sure! Of course, I brought along my handy “exam kit” and set it up in the hotel room. I committed to myself take an exam daily, in addition to the three included in the track.

In order to set my cadence for the week, I sat for my Development Lifecycle & Deployment Designer exam that night in the hotel before the show officially began. While I was not successful, I learned my gaps and set to studying. The next morning I sat for the exam again, this time with my peers. Even though I felt good about it, I was, again, not successful. Feeling a bit behind my goal for the week, I studied all night and took the exam early in the morning. SUCCESS (finally!).

11x certified and back on track! Elated, I headed down to the keynote—part of which had everyone standing if they held a Salesforce certification. Then the countdown began. “Remain standing if you have more than 3 certifications.” A decent amount of people sit down. “5 certs…” The standing crowd is getting thinner. “8 certs…10 certs.” More sit. “11 certs.” Here, I was sure glad that I passed another that morning. There were not many left standing now. Was this it? Was I tied for the lead? Alas, not this time. “12 certs!” And I sit. Three of my peers were top at the event, with 12 certifications each. “Right, a new challenge!” I thought to myself. “Let’s see where I stand by Friday.”

So, I begin studying for Integration Architecture Designer, and sat for the exam the next morning before class and…success! Two down, only one to go! This allowed me to focus the remainder of my time on the final exam needed to meet my goal of System Architect, Identity and Access Management Designer. I doubled down, leveraged all my class experience (as well as those all-important—and free!—, self-guided Architect resource guides), walked into the room, sat for the exam..and was not successful.

That Deja Vu Feeling
Feelings of deja vu kicked in as I recalled my Dreamforce experience only five months prior. So it was back to the hotel room, because I refused to give up! Once again, I studied all night. In the morning, I come down for my final attempt. No pressure. I mean, I was already sitting at 12 certifications, having already completed two that weeka huge success by any standard! But I was driven to meet my goals.

And I was not alone. There was a look of determination on everyone’s faces that day. Everywhere I turned around the halls I saw flash cards, manuals, iPads, and laptops. People were cramming for that last success of the week. I sat down for that exam with my heart in my mouth. I felt like I had done the best that I could’ve, so I clicked that Submit button and… SUCCESS! I nearly jumped out of my chair. I was Destination Successful!

Meet “The Twins”

Not only did I leave with “The Twins”—my Application Architect AND System Architect certifications—but I also left Destination Success as the most certified person who attended. Another goal achieved. It just goes to show, if you stay focused, even when everything seems to be slipping, you can double down and make it happen.

My one key takeaway for you is this. Never give up! Focus on one exam at a time. Don’t put off taking your first test, and if you don’t succeed, certainly do not wait on your next attemptmy personal max is 24-48 hours for a retake. Also, use the section-level feedback wisely (as I covered in Part One of this series).

Remember, the only test you fail is the one you do not attempt. Next stop for me? The infamous Certified Technical Architect review board. Wish me luck!

My First Certification Experience

Part 1: My First Certification at Dreamforce 2016

My certification journey started innocently enough. When registering for Dreamforce ’16 (my 2nd, as I had attended in 2015 as a Salesforce newbie), I noted there were certification exam options. Knowing that certification was on my to-do list, I decided that this was my line in the sand, and registered to take the Salesforce Administrator exam on October 3rd, the day before Dreamforce kicked off.

Having completed some Trailhead modules, and attending the Administrator Essentials for New Admins class—together with a lot of self-taught experience—I felt my chances were reasonable. I planned to arrive in San Francisco on Sunday, so I could have all day Monday to prepare, then sit for the exam in the afternoon. The day came. The atmosphere in the waiting lines and in the room itself was tense with nervous energy. I took a deep breath and started. I felt pretty good about it until I hit that submit button. And there was that word no one wants to see: FAIL.

However, this is the last time you will hear me say that word. I really didn’t fail—I simply did not succeed. Anyone who prepares for and then sits for an exam is simply not a failure. Valuable lessons are learned. As this was my first time, I learned what the exam process really feels like. That was a HUGE win, and I highly recommend to anyone who’s on the fence about attempting an exam to simply just do it! With every subsequent attempt in my certification journey, I either passed, or learned more about the process and the topic, revealing where I needed to go back and study some more.

Back to Dreamforce ’16. I still wanted to meet my goal of leaving the event as a certified Administrator. I returned to my hotel room to review my section-level feedback (it was in beta back then). Now, here is an important exam tip: Section- level feedback is a powerful tool, if leveraged correctly.

Section-Level Feedback is KEY

Here is my actual feedback from that day:

Now at first glance, you’d think Activity Management and Chatter would be an area of concern, right? Well, the reality is no, actually it’s not. Without leveraging this feedback against the weighting from the official study guide, you will not get an accurate picture of where you stand.

In reality, Activity Management accounts for 3% of the grade, whereas Chatter is only 1%—which likely equates to about one question. This goes both ways, however, so don’t get too excited about that 100% on Organization Setup, as that’s only 1% as well—which again, is just one question! So let’s apply that weighting and see where the real impact is:

First off, I was so close! When you reorganize the topics by the weighting, you can easily see that I was quite comfortable with the top topic—Standard & Custom Objects. The next two, however, I really needed to work on. I was actually not surprised, as I had not yet hit on these topics in my real-world experience.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!
So now, I had a plan. Study all night, concentrating on the Security & Access and Analytics, Reports & Dashboards topics, and then retake the exam in the morning. Aggressive? Maybe. But I was hungry for success! Morning came. I sat for the exam, completed it, and clicked that final button—this time, with some trepidation—and it was a PASS. I had moved those two key categories to 88% and 83% respectively, also bumping up the top topic to 90%; therefore, easily passing.

That feeling of passing your first certification is amazing. Now I was hooked. And I thought, as I still had three days, could I complete another certification? I had not prepared at all, but decided that I would go for it anyway. I made a pact with myself: I would sit for an exam every morning that was left of Dreamforce. Again, emboldened by my success, I studied all night, this time for Salesforce Platform App Builder.

And again, morning came, I sat for the exam…and learned some valuable lessons about the areas I needed to work on. I leveraged that section-level feedback against the weighting and, in this case, it revealed three areas I needed to work on. Study, morning, test…more lessons learned. I had improved on those three areas, but slipped in another, so I just missed it. I did not succeed by ONE question. “Game on, App Builder exam!” I thought. This just got personal, and I had one attempt left.

The embodiment of Salesforce Ohana
By Friday morning, I had hit the “books” again and crammed all night. I was determined to succeed. I headed over to the Salesforce University Lodge… only to find all the exam spaces were full! Gutted. But this is when I really learned what #Ohana means at Salesforce. The Salesforce University crew stepped up. They easily could have turned away the extra people. They’d had a long, hard week too (one even lost her voice!) and they likely just wanted to get home.

But no, they stepped up BIG time. They magicked up another testing location at the local Salesforce offices. Now, I have no idea what this took, but I assume it was no small feat. They offered transport to anyone who needed it, and even brought over “Certified” swag for those successful candidates (again, #Ohana!).

This time it was a PASS. I was ecstatic. I achieved more than my goal and left Dreamforce 2x certified! Little did I know then what was to come next…


Preparing for the Field Service Lightning Certification

As with my previous certification exams, my preparation for Field Service Lightning Consultant was initially the same, start with the official study guide, but there was some lessons learned in the process this time, requiring a deeper dig to be successful.

First lesson learned:  Always look at the release version of the exam!  When registering for an exam, note that the release version is appended to the exam title. (SU16) Summer 16, (WI17) Winter 17, (SP17) Spring 17, and so on.  This was crucial in this particular exam, since FSL is growing significantly with every release, my original modeling in a Summer 17 org with the Summer Release of FSL would not fully apply as the exam is modeled on Spring 17, and there is significant changes in FSL for Summer 17.

Now that my certification journey is release dependent, how do you study for a release dependent exam?  FSL is so new, its not on trailhead (as of 6/8/17), also not in the Salesforce guide to all certifications yet, so we really are trailblazing this one!

So where does one start with learning an emerging product?  Well, I headed for the success community!  after some digging there, I found this group:  Field Service Lightning Support Listed there is two key docs, that I printed out and read over and over again.

Compete Guide to Field Service

Field Service Lightning Managed Package Guide

In addition to those two key docs, I consumed everything else on the site, including reading through the chatter.  Finally, read through the Field Service Release Notes

Spring 16 Release Notes

Summer 16 Release Notes

Winter 17 Release Notes

Spring 17 Release Notes

Now that you are fully read up…. back to modeling.

With modelling, here is another key link to your success FSL Managed Package Installer you will need this to set up and and configure the FSL managed package, a key learning to passing the certification. If you have access to a org with more than two seats, I would recommend that, as there are several actors in the FSL experience, each with unique permission sets, Standard, Dispatcher, Scheduling, Mobile. If not, don’t worry, you can wear all the hats in a dev org, just may need to inactivate a user time to time.

Another Key part to modelling.. the mobile app. install it on your phone, connect it to your FSL instance, learn what you can customize and what you cannot.  Learn the “order of operations” of off-line mode.  What is available in off-line mode, and how it syncs back to the instance, when connectivity is available.

Once you have all that installed and configured, and have a handle on how scheduling and optimization works by acting in the different roles, and did all the reading mentioned above, you should be well prepared for the exam.

As I always say, the best practice exam is the exam! there is no substitute for the real thing, and you are a success just for sitting for it.  If you are not successful, analyse your section level feedback ( I do.. even when I pass! )  and learn what you need to focus on, go back and research or model some more.