Dreamforce 2017

As the new year begins, I’m finally getting a few minutes to reflect on Dreamforce 2017. It was my 4th Dreamforce with my 4th different company, after having made a few positive career moves in the last few years, and my first Dreamforce since my inaugural one that I wasn’t presenting at. It was also the first Dreamforce that I had experienced that didn’t seem to have some sort of ecosystem altering announcement (Wave/Analytics Cloud in 2014, IoT in 2015, Einstein in 2016). Despite the lack of a major announcement, Dreamforce 2017 was anything but dull, as there were still a ton of exciting features being shared and teased that I’m looking forward to!

My Dreamforce began with the Women’s Network Dinner. If you didn’t get the chance to attend this year, I highly recommend it for next year. It was a great opportunity to hear from some impressive women that have accomplished a tremendous amount in their careers! They shared life lessons that can everyone can learn from regardless of your gender or background. My particular favorite was a quote from Amy Weaver, Salesforce’s President of Legal and General Counsel.

Day 1

Moscone West

After being greeted by some friendly mascots, I started checking out all the demos and interactive exhibits in Moscone West, including a pretty impressive IoT enabled city built by LEGO! I also swung by a session on my new favorite IDE, Illuminated Cloud!

I also finally got the opportunity to meet the man himself, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff!

Main Keynote

Speaking of Marc, while usually his keynote takes place on the second day, I thought it was a welcome change to move it to the first day. I personally like hearing new products get announced and explained to get some context before checking out their respective demos.

One of the new product announcements was something I’d been hoping to see for a while, myTrailhead!

Salesforce is essentially making Trailhead available to your company to personally brand and create learning modules for! I believe that Trailhead and gamification of learning are part of what make working with Salesforce so incredible, and if I can now customize a gamified platform to meet my company’s needs, I can just picture the endless possibilities! While this feature won’t be available until sometime later in 2018 and will come with an (in my opinion fully justified) additional cost, I’m excited about the possibilities for it. This will make training my users SO much easier and hopefully reduce a ton of the support tickets that my team and I receive on a regular basis.

This was actually just the first of the “my” series of products announced during the Keynote. myEinstein (customized AI), myLightning (custom UI branding), mySalesforce (customized app for your company), and myIoT were also discussed.

The other announcement that got me excited was Salesforce’s partnership with Google. As an employee of Google and an active participant in the Salesforce ecosystem, it makes me incredibly happy to see my two favorite tech companies working so well together! It also means that Salesforce is going to be getting deeper integration with Google products such as Gmail, Calendar, and gSuite (Docs, Sheets, Slides) so I’ll definitely be following this closely in 2018!

Day 2

Michelle Obama

My second day started off with a pretty cool fireside chat with former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama! She talked about how important education is for everyone and also shared some stories about people she met all over the country while her family was in the White House and how even though many people disagreed with her, they were all trying to do their best and still had something to offer. In today’s climate, I think it is more important now than ever to listen to as many viewpoints as we can, even if we don’t agree with them all.

Einstein Keynote

After seeing Michelle Obama, I was able to get a great seat for the Einstein Keynote in the same room. One of the first pieces of info they shared was that 80% of all records in Salesforce are created in Custom Objects. As customizable as the Salesforce Platform is, it seemed like a believable stat to me. They followed this up by going in depth on myEinstein, which will allow Salesforce admins and developers to take advantage of Einstein AI on their custom objects! In particular, you can start making predictions on your custom records based on fields that you specify. It comes at an additional cost but you can play around with it for free today on Trailhead!

They also shared something they’re playing with regarding summarizing text. I haven’t had the chance to experiment with Einstein personally yet outside of Trailhead, but I’m very excited with the direction that it’s going!

Developer Keynote

After Einstein, I went to one of my favorite sessions at Dreamforce, the Developer keynote. While there weren’t any major announcements here, I was definitely excited to hear that Lightning Components can now be dynamically displayed in Lightning Pages. Lightning Base Components also continue to get more powerful (similar to Visualforce apex tags, think apex:form, apex:inputField, etc). As someone who is trying to get more into Lightning Component development, I’m extremely encouraged that Salesforce continues to make it easier to make the transition.

They also introduced the capability of being able to style Visualforce pages like the Lightning UI by simply adding lightningStylesheets=”true” to the apex:page tag. Between that and the apex:slds tag that automatically imports the Lightning Design System without needing a static resource, Salesforce once again continues to make it easier and easier for developers to make the switch to Lightning Experience.

Zayne Turner also showed off how Platform Events work and Leah McGowan-Hare shared some updates on Einstein Bot capabilities.

If you’re interested in checking all the entire keynote and the technology discussed, there’s a great Trailmix for you!

Trailhead Keynote

After the Developer Keynote, it was time for the first ever Trailhead keynote! Over the last couple years, Trailhead has exploded to note only encompass over 300 badges, serve as the theme for all of Dreamforce and TrailheaDX, but has turned the concept of “the Trailblazer” into a central message for Salesforce as they continue their massive growth.

The center of that message, is the platform that started it all, Trailhead. The Keynote kicked off by talking about that very growth. Over 4 MILLION badges had been earned on Trailhead as of Dreamforce. Trailhead also announced a bunch of new features including Trailmixes, which allows you to combine your favorite modules together and send them to others, as well as the long awaited Account Merge, to ensure that you never lose your progress! My favorite feature was the vanity URL though, which makes it easy to show off your Trailhead progress on your resume or social media. Check mine out! https://trailhead.salesforce.com/en/me/adammvp

We then got a demo of the very exciting myTrailhead, which lets you create your own personalized Trailhead modules that you can use at your company!

The last major component may be in my opinion, the most important one. I’ve always believed that addition to the great technology, Salesforce’s advantage has always been their community, the people that are out there to help out out of the goodness of their hearts. The Trailhead team has capitalized on that industry advantage by formally introducing the key that has helped build Trailhead into what it is, Trailheart.

Trailheart is the motor that makes the Trailhead engine run so smoothly and sweetly. By focusing on making learning into a conversation that EVERYONE can participate in, Salesforce has an instant competitive advantage that everyone else is just playing catch-up on. When myTrailhead becomes Generally Available, companies would greatly benefit by trying to capture this concept if they want their internal Trailhead modules to be nearly as successful as the Salesforce developed ones.

Trailhead is continuing to grow and develop new features. The one that is most interesting to me, is the concept of earning credentials on the Trailhead platform. We’ve already seen some of this come to fruition with Superbadges now comprising the entirety of the Platform Developer II technical exam. As someone who is also looking to increase my credentials in my quest of continuing my learning, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this space.

Day 3

Success Cloud Keynote

I started off Day 3 by checking out Salesforce’s newest Cloud, the Success Cloud! This essentially entails the different approaches Salesforce can take to help you as a customer achieve success. It can range from a light touch (such as taking advantage of Trailhead and the Trailblazer community) to an in depth analysis (using pre-built accelerators and Salesforce internal architects).

We heard some different customer stories and got some nice flair as well with a special appearance by Despacito singer Luis Fonzi and some lucky winners who got the chance to meet Star Wars stars Mark Hammill and Billie Lourd!

True to the Core

After stopping to see my team at YouTube present on how we moved to Lightning, I headed over to True to the Core.

True to the Core is one of my favorite sessions every year, as we get the chance to hear directly from the Product Managers and ask them and Parker Harris questions on the future of the platform. They’re usually brutally honest and it is refreshing to hear what they have to say outside of the marketing and flashy lights.

As always, there were some pretty cool things coming down the pipeline, and my favorite was probably the concept of dynamic page layouts, both at the lightning component and the field level. If you’re interested in a deeper dive, check out the Salesforce Weekly recap!

Admin Keynote

One of the most exciting keynotes at Dreamforce, and the last major session I attended, was the Admin Keynote!

My favorite announcements were that we’ll soon no longer be landing on Recently Used records on an Object tab, Lightning will have text wrapping in list views, and there is a new Lightning Report Builder for building reports!

We also saw some more demos of the myLightning custom branding capabilities, Einstein prediction builder, dynamic Lightning components, and Platform Events launching a process in Process Builder.

My recap doesn’t begin to capture the atmosphere though. The #AwesomeAdmin community is like no other and I highly recommend you attend this keynote yourself next year! Admins are tremendously passionate about the Salesforce Platform and as long as Salesforce continues to emphasize their low code capabilities, I’ll continue being a firm believer that anyone can be a Salesforce master!

There was a custom made Admin Trailmix for the keynote as well that you can check out!

Day 4

Having Fun

On the final day of Dreamforce 2017, I attended an Analytics workshop in the morning and focused on having fun. My main event was the Lip Sync battle that I attended and participated in. Since I sing in the shower anyway, I figured it would be fun to come out of my shell a little bit and do some lip-syncing in public.

People seemed to like my rendition of Taylor Swift and I was off to the finals!

For the final round, I decided to do a classic I grew up with from the Backstreet Boys.

People seemed to enjoy this as well and I got a cool trophy! I had a lot of fun and will most likely be back to defend my title next year!

Ohana

As always, I got to say hi to my Ohana as well! Seeing all these fellow Salesforce enthusiasts is one of my favorite parts of Dreamforce every year!

Thoughts for next year

I spent most of my time at keynotes this year, and while that was helpful, I missed out on some of the more in depth sessions to really dive into topics I’d want to learn about. For those planning for Dreamforce 2018, my suggestion would be to try to pick at least a couple sessions to go to on topics you really want to find out more about. In the mean time, check out the sessions from 2017 here!

The other thing I noticed was similar to previous years, I contracted the “Dreamflu” and was sick for a few days after Dreamforce. I also noticed that for the 3rd in a row, I barely touched the free hand sanitizer that Salesforce provided with the backpack. My suggestion would be to take full advantage of this under-appreciated perk and keep yourself healthy!

Recap

Overall at Dreamforce 2017, while there was no paradigm shifting announcement, I liked that there was still a strong focus on improving the core of the platform. The Salesforce ecosystem is stronger than ever and looks to continue growing into 2018 and beyond. The platform continues to be more customizable than ever and I’m looking forward to AI continuing to allow people to focus on more implementations and creating things as Einstein figures out some of the org’s problems and pain points. Dreamforce 2018 is coming up at the end of September and will be excited to see everything new that Salesforce continues to create!

Start Your Salesforce Journey

First Steps

Hopefully by now you’re aware of how awesome Salesforce is, what a Salesforce career can bring to you, and some of the paths you can choose to walk down.  You probably have a few obvious questions such as “How do I get started?”, “How long will it take to get started?”, and “How much will it cost?”  Depending on what direction you want your career to take, there may be slightly different answers in the long term, but for taking your first steps, you can start today, it will take 20 minutes, and it will cost you absolutely nothing.

Trailhead

A couple of weeks ago, Salesforce made generally available its Trailhead learning tool that it introduced in beta at their Dreamforce conference last year.  Trailhead as the article states, is a fun, free, and easy way to learn Salesforce.  They play off the camping theme and divide modules up into different “trails” that again allow you to choose your own path.  They have trails for almost every possible path including Admins, Developers, Non-Profits Admins, and even End Users.  They also have trails for everyone regardless of your experience from Beginners on up.  They are constantly adding more and more trails and modules as well.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.39.52 PM

Trailhead is accessible at trailhead.salesforce.com and gives you the opportunity to consume knowledge in bite size chunks.  The trails consist of modules and the modules are broken down into steps that average about 15-20 minutes in length to get through.  As you progress through the steps, you can earn points, and as you complete modules, you can earn badges!  You can also choose to complete the project route and get even more hands on experience focused on building certain applications.  Salesforce now even lets you show off the skills you’ve learned by posting your badges to your LinkedIn profile.  You have the option of posting each skill individually under your Certifications section or you can add it as part of your Education section as shown below to show that you’ve used it to learn.  Just search for “Trailhead by Salesforce” as your place of study.  You can also make your Trailhead profile publicly available to show off to your friends, co-workers, and even recruiters all the skills you’ve learned!

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.05.16 PM

The other cool thing about Trailhead is that it does more than just give you content to read.  Some module steps have questions to answer at the end to make sure you’ve understood what you’ve read but my favorite ones are the ones that actually allow you to create with your hands what you just learned in your own free Developer org.  Trailhead can then validate in real time that you’ve built what you were trying to create correctly and will help guide you if you’ve missed something.  This gives you quick, free, hands on experience using a variety of new features.

Next Steps

I usually like to describe learning Salesforce as an Olympic swimming event.  It’s not easy, but it is a lot of fun and if you do it really well, you can get a medal at the end!  Good news for us, unlike the Olympics though, there are an unlimited number of medals so don’t give up and take Dory’s advice to “just keep swimming”!  Trailhead is the initial push off in this Olympic swim.  It won’t get you all the way there, but it will give you one heck of a heads start and do a lot of the initial leg work for you.  Whether you want to just learn some new terminology, get some basic coding skills, get introduced to a new part of Salesforce, or just get a refresher, there is a great chance that Trailhead has something for you.

Dory

At this past Dreamforce, I presented on how you can use Trailhead to help get you on the road to becoming Salesforce Certified.  This is one of many steps you can take to help you advance your career, but to be honest I had a ton of fun just building things and earning badges.  Like the Trailhead theme suggests, you can always choose whichever direction you’d like to go (another difference from the Olympics where you’re not under a time limit and don’t have to stay in your lane).  I’d actually suggest checking out a few different paths to see what works for you since everyone has different learning styles.

SalesforceU

If you do choose to go down the certification path, I’d like to make sure you know all about Salesforce University, more commonly referred to as SalesforceU, a group at Salesforce whose main responsibility is to help teach people how to use the platform and get certifications that can help you along in your career.  As I mentioned in my previous post, there are a multitude of opportunities available here and several of them can be quite lucrative.  To help teach, SalesforceU offers courses both in person and online.  While I haven’t been fortunate enough to be able to take any of the in person courses due to the cost, I do hear great things and I would highly recommend the online versions.  While you can’t learn the same depth of 5 days worth of content in only a couple hours, I found them extremely helpful in understanding terminology and learning the ins and outs of the platform.  The courses are also directly relevant to getting certified on the platform as well.  If your company is a Premier Salesforce customer, you will have access to a larger portion of the online curriculum than if you’re a Standard customer, but there are many courses available to Standard partners as well.  While these courses can take a bit longer to go through, and can cost some money depending on your relationship with Salesforce, it is a great next step to look into along your Salesforce journey.  I actually took these courses before learning about Trailhead.  In hindsight, I would have preferred trying out Trailhead first rather than diving in head first, but hindsight is always 20/20 and I did really enjoy learning a ton about the platform through them.

SalesforceU

Summing It Up

I intentionally didn’t title this final section “Conclusion” because there really is no conclusion to your Salesforce journey, or whatever journey you choose to take for that matter.  For Salesforce though, Trailhead is always the first place I recommend people to start and then usually a combination of SalesforceU resources and getting involved in the vibrant community that I’ll discuss in a future post.  I’m available as well if you have any specific questions via Twitter, the Success Community, LinkedIn, and of course, this blog.  There are a ton of people much more knowledgeable and with much more experience than myself to help guide you as well!  I frequently rely on them when I have questions or wonder what my next step should be.  I wish you well along your own journey, whichever path you choose to go down, and hope to see you on the trail and you drive toward your gold medals!

What is Salesforce?

SFDC_logo

Background

This is a question I get quite a bit from my family and friends alike when I tell them I’m a Salesforce Software Engineer.  While it would probably be shorter to write a post about what Salesforce ISN’T, I’m going to do my best to summarize anyway.  If you have a little bit of a technical background, one of the best articles I’ve seen that defines Salesforce is one from Admin Hero about how Salesforce is a relational database.  Either way though, I’m going to do my best to summarize as well as I can about how I explain Salesforce to people.  If you don’t have a ton of time, you can skip to the TLDR section, and/or check out the links at the bottom on Trailhead.

Cloud CRM Platform

Usually the first thing I tell people is that Salesforce is a Cloud CRM Platform*.  That description itself generally leads to more questions so I’ve stopped even waiting for the ask and just continue explaining. While a lot of people out there are still afraid of, confused by, or just hesitant to adopt cloud computing, it really isn’t that scary. Basically you just throw all of your data up into the air and it lands in the clouds! Simple right 😀  A little bit more seriously though, all cloud computing really is, is regular computing, that you don’t have to worry about taking care of because you’ve already hired a professional to do it for you.  You don’t have to care where it sits, don’t always have to manage the security, and can for the most part manage as much or as little of it as you want to.  As I stated in my first post, I’m all for efficiency (my way of explaining my laziness) so I’d like to have to worry about as little maintenance as possible.  With cloud computing, I don’t have to go find physical storage drives, or a room to house my servers, or open up the back of a server to add additional CPUs.  I just tell a computer somewhere “up in the clouds” what I want and the cloud computing fairy magically makes it happen (the fairy isn’t free unfortunately though but I was going to have to pay for everything anyway).

cloud-storage-and-computing

What is CRM?

Once you’ve wrapped your head around the idea that Cloud computing is really just a more convenient way to perform ordinary computing, I like to describe the concept of CRM, or Customer Relationship Management.  In case you ever doubt Salesforce’s roots, look no further than their stock ticker symbol; NYSE: CRM.  In a nutshell, CRM, as the name states, is the act of managing your customer relationships.  Generally you’d keep track of different customer accounts, each of which will have its own unique contacts.  Depending on your business model, your customers may be individuals, companies, or both!  This is pretty much a universal truth for any entity looking to sell a good or a service.  These customers would generally start out by showing some sort of interest in your product, whatever that may be.  You’ll also probably be interested in finding more customers to consume your product and undergo a process known as lead generation.  As your unique sales cycle progresses, these possible sales, or leads, will generally turn into more sales, or opportunities for you to grow your business.  The farther along a customer goes down the sales cycle, the more likely it is that your opportunity will successfully close.  Managing all of your customer accounts, contacts, leads, and opportunities, can be tiresome, which is where Salesforce comes in to give you a product that can do precisely that.

Why a Platform?

This product comes in the form of a platform.  The reason I use the term platform rather than software is because you don’t have to install anything.  It’s also not really just a solution because it does more than just solve your CRM problem.  Maybe you also want to have an option to manage your company’s service requests, or handle all of your marketing that I mentioned in my previous post, or perhaps you’re really trying to grow your business and you want to develop a community around your organization. Furthermore, at some point your organization will probably begin to rely on some sort of reporting or analytics to help you close more deals.  You most likely also have your own terminology and processes specific to just your organization that you would like to be able to use while running your business. Salesforce is the PLATFORM that lets you do ALL of those things and more.  Oh and by the way, it also does CRM, gives you a ton of automation capabilities, and it does it all in the cloud so you can access it from any device including a computer, tablet, phone, watch, or any other product you want across the wide Internet of Things.  

Salesforce in the Industry

Forbes has recognized them as one of the world’s most innovative companies several years in a row for many of the above reasons.  In 2015, Salesforce finally cracked the Fortune 500 and Gartner shows that they are truly the leader in CRM over competitors Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft.

What Salesforce Is Not

While Salesforce is great at many things, there are some things that Salesforce is not great at.  I read a great article from one of the emerging leaders in the Salesforce industry, Ryan Lorenzen, that mentioned a great piece of advice; “Be an evangelist, but don’t drink the Kool-Aid”.  Part of being a great architect, or even a great admin or developer for that matter, is understanding where the capabilities of Salesforce begin and end, both from the declarative side, and the coding side.  Even if you don’t understand both sides well, knowing when to use which type of solution, is tremendously valuable on its own.

  1. Salesforce is NOT an ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution
    • While some apps exist that can help track some of this data on the Salesforce platform, this is not their core competency
  2. Salesforce is NOT a mass email system
    • Again while there are apps that can increase the standard Salesforce limits for email, it should not be relied upon as a system that can send unlimited email
  3. Salesforce is NOT perfect
    • Technology is only as good as the technologists who use it.  By having an understanding of how to best utilize the platform as an admin, developer, or architect, you can help solve common problems such as messy data or too much required information for business people to do their jobs

Beyond Technology

While Salesforce is recognized as a technology company, what they truly represent goes way beyond technology.  Like Steve Jobs recognized (and I myself subscribe to), your technology can be great but you need to have something more to it.  You really need to also pay key attention to your customer experience.  Salesforce has lately begun marketing itself as the Customer Success Platform, rather than a CRM tool.  When you ask them what they do, they say that they “help make your customers love you”.  

On top of being an option for just about any for-profit company with any sort of decent business model, Salesforce also has created a specialized solution (and gives discounts to) the non-profit organizations of the world.  Furthermore, they ensure to give back to their communities that they serve with their innovative 1-1-1 model, which gives back 1% of time, 1% product, and 1% equity to those in need. Their founder, Chairman, and CEO Marc Benioff is also well known for publicly standing up for the rights of LGBT community as well as making a pledge for gender equality.  I truly think it’s a disservice to try to explain Salesforce to someone without mentioning these key differentiators as well.

1-1-1 Results

Conclusion (TLDR)

Salesforce is a highly diverse, cloud based, customer relationship management platform, that allows just about any organization to automate how they sell their goods and services while forming close bonds with their customers.  Their innovative technology company also does a tremendous amount to give back and fight for equal rights for all.  The sense of community that surrounds Salesforce is what truly makes it special and it is why I have begun to dedicate my career towards working with it.  There is so much more about what Salesforce is and can do though than I can fit into just one post.  In my next post, I’ll begin to outline how you can start your own journey as you look to take advantage of Salesforce and grow your own career.  In future posts I’ll discuss some of the terminology and the best places to get started…

“We help make your customers love you.” – Salesforce.com

*The platform is traditionally referred to as the Force.com Platform or the Salesforce1 Platform.  Salesforce.com is generally used in reference to the standard CRM software provided.  More information can be found from SalesforceBen here.

More info on what Salesforce is, aimed at end users.

More info on what Salesforce is, aimed at administrators and also more info here

More info on Salesforce behinds the scenes, how it works, and what makes them so successful beyond the technology.