One of the factors when choosing what mountain to climb is the view that you are afforded. Even on minor climbs, the views as you climb along the trail and from the summit can be outstanding. With more experience, a mountaineer tends to climb more difficult mountains where the challenges are greater and the views are even more breathtaking. One rule of thumb is the harder it is to scale the mountain, the more serene and wonderful the views at the top are.
I started my journey up Salesforce Architect Mountain two years ago when I cleared my Platform App Builder exam. At the time, the new Salesforce Architect journey had just been released, but the thought of obtaining any Domain Architect credential was far from my mind. In fact, the idea of pursuing one of the architect “designer” certifications wasn't on my radar until this year's TrailheaDX (TDX18) conference. In the last two months I've earned three new certifications. And learned a whole lot about the process of planning for these high-level exams.
In future blogs I will talk in detail about test strategies and my opinion on the best order to obtain your certifications. But, for now, I want to share some important lessons I learned at TDX18 and how earning your Salesforce Architect credentials is a lot like mountaineering.
I planned to pursue the System Architect Domain credential first. At work I was just promoted to Architect and I was working a lot with our integrations, so it seemed like the natural choice. At this point, The Certified Technical Architect (CTA) summit wasn’t something I even considered.
I originally, and very incorrectly, assumed that the Identity and Access management designer certification would be a good one to start with (I know, what was I thinking!?) After doing a bit more research, and talking to a lot of people in the Salesforce community, I realized my mistake. As many of you might know, the Identity and Access exam is one of the toughest of the architect exams. One of the reasons this exam is tough is that the exam’s content isn’t part of most people’s day-to-day work (think SAML, OAuth, identity providers, things that you set up once per implementation). I also heard that the Integration Designer exam wasn't a walk in the park either. I realized I needed to revisit my planned route up Salesforce Architect Mountain.
With the realization that my journey to the top of the mountain would be a bit longer and more challenging than I had originally thought, I figured I might as well set myself up for an early win. I already had my App Builder and Platform Developer 1 certifications, and since there were two opportunities to take a certification onsite at TrailheaDX, my new path was clear. I would take the Data Architecture and Management Designer exam first, followed by the Sharing and Visibility Designer exam, with the goal of going home with a shiny new Application Architect credential.
I would attempt the Data Architecture and Management Designer exam first because it contained the most new content for me. Since I had about a month before TDX, I would focus 100% of that time studying for the Data Architecture certification, then during the bootcamp I would focus on filling any gaps in my existing knowledge of Sharing and Visibility.
Preparation for the Data Architecture and Management Designer was actually quite fun. I dug into some new topics including considerations for Large Data Volumes, and the mechanics of how sharing tables and search optimization work. With about one month to study, my mental preparation for the exam was pretty thorough. I took full advantage of the study guide provided by Salesforce and bookmarked each and every resource to review. I took notes after each video or blog post and then studied those notes repeatedly. I also found a really great Quizlet set. There is also a Trailhead Trailmix for this exam that was released days before I flew to TDX.
The journey begins
Sunday morning (the first day of TrailheaDX bootcamp) I lined up to take my test. Even though I prepared well, I was nervous. Luckily, the test itself was pretty much what I expected. The most challenging part was the length of the exam and the wording of the questions (more dense than other exams I've taken).
I ended up flagging way too many questions for review. At one point I found myself second guessing my initial answers. Pro Tip: for anyone taking Salesforce exams, this is usually the time to stop reviewing the exam and just press submit, especially if you prepared well before taking the test.
I took a deep breath, left a handful of flagged questions unread, and submitted my exam. Moments later, I was the proud owner of my first architect certification. I raised my hand to have a proctor come and close out my exam. It just so happened that Doug Ayers was the proctor who came over to help me. He congratulated me on my pass and made sure I didn't forget my apple watch I had stored under my seat!
onto the next exam
From the get-go I knew my preparation for the Sharing and Visibility exam would need to be different. I assumed the biggest challenge would be the limited time to study, but as it turned out, the toughest part of was how tired I was after sitting in a 10-hour day of training, AND THEN sitting down to take a two hour exam. Luckily, I saw this coming after the fatigue I felt on Sunday. Like a good mountaineer, I knew I needed to be both mentally and physically prepared this time.
Since I had limited time to prepare, I turned to my Salesforce Ohana at the event to help me. I knew several people who had taken Sharing and Visibility the first day. I asked them if anything surprised them about the exam, and if they could share any pointers. They shared some of the areas they wished they had studied more, and I honed in on those. For anyone looking to take this exam I highly recommend brushing up on the different types of community licenses, the difference between sharing sets vs. sharing rules, and when you need to use programmatic sharing vs. declarative sharing capabilities.
To prepare physically I studied for two hours after the classroom sessions ended on the first two days of bootcamp. That way on the third day, I would be prepared for the fatigue I would feel sitting down to start the exam.
In the end, I left TrailheaDX with three new certifications: Certified Sharing and Visibility Designer, Certified Data Architecture and Management Designer, and the Certified Application Architect certification. I learned a lot about the strategy of planning for exams and the difference between attaining a domain architecture certification and being ready to pass the CTA board. I also did a great deal of thinking about Salesforce Architect Mountain, and how preparing for the summit (becoming a Certified Technical Architect) is a lot like mountaineering.
To be a mountaineer, you don't need to be a master rock climber, but you do need to know the basics of using a harness, belaying, and tying a rope. I think this applies quite nicely to the relationship between the designer exams and the actual CTA. Make sure that you brush up on your basics (the content of each designer exam) before you attempt to take them. But don't assume that passing all your exams means you're ready for the CTA board right away. You're not a master rock climber just yet!
Susannah Kate St-Germain is a 20x certified Colombian-American Salesforce nerd, travel fanatic, and aspiring Certified Technical Architect.