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Focus on People: Brian Lueken From Call Center to 16X Certified

Brian Leuken is an Application Architect for a large healthcare corporation. Rumor has it, that they have the largest Service Cloud healthcare implementation in the U.S. The implementation is growing right now – they’ve got licenses for 6,000, and it’s growing to around 21,000 in the next five years. The user population varies from frontline call center representatives to back office processing of all of the mountains and mountains of forms, papers and claims.

How did you first hear about and get involved with SalesForce?

I grew up in Call center worlds. I managed a team that was doing forecasting and scheduling. It was technical, but it wasn’t IT. When I joined my current company, I reported into an IT department. I was responsible for a homegrown application that has since been road-mapped into replacement by Salesforce. The opportunity came up as the team was growing – I was the third person on the team. I joined as a program manager, but I don’t think I ever did that job. It was immediately go and learn Salesforce, because we need somebody to cover this meeting, and we need someone who knows what they’re talking about. That’s when I started diving into training materials just to figure out what I was doing.

It was a huge eye opener in terms of career-growing potential. The Salesforce ecosystem is huge – it’s limitless. There are so many opportunities in the Salesforce ecosystem consisting of different types of customers and companies. Anything you can imagine!

How do you use Salesforce on a daily basis?

We are almost a Center of Excellence, but not quite. Primary role is consultation for any Salesforce applications that are happening within the company. We have a very large team that’s around 85 developers, 8 architects, 3 managers, 1 director, and the testing team. Huge team – that is building our large application that is protected health information. It’s encrypted and secured above and beyond the Salesforce security features implementation. Most of our energy goes into shaping and guiding that organization, but we also have some more back office (financial reporting, locating items, learning management application, etc.). These are more company data, rather than customer data, that exist in more of an open environment. This is also more of a traditional Salesforce environment that is not behind an encryption gateway. Much smaller user base, but as the company finds – more and more uses for the platform, we’re seeing more and more action happen there.

What challenges do you find working with Salesforce and how do you overcome them?

The challenges really depend on the day you ask me. This week, some major challenges are with licensing models and limits. You’ll find some things that scale as you add more users. If I had more people, I can store more stuff. You have other items, like Omni-Channel Routing that are the same for every customer on an Org. So if you have 100 users, and I have 10,000 users – we’re looking at the same number. I have to figure out a way to make my 10,000 people be able to use that feature without breaking the platform or hitting the limit to protect the platform. This is obviously more difficult for my 10,000 users to do than you and your 100 users. Finding creative ways around that, Omni-Channel, for example – we are looking at the possibility of creating a hybrid routing engine where I am using traditional queues and Omni queues. Fitting through way more work – 20-25 times more work than the limits allow into an omni-solution because we like the idea of the delivery mechanism being a push not a pull. How do I do that without breaking the system or running into the limit that says I’m in danger of breaking the system?

Why do you think being certified is so important?

Certifications, for me, were important to prove to myself that I was worth representing my team in the meetings. I knew conceptually what was going on, and I could add value to a conversation. But without any real and deep understanding of Salesforce, and I’m sitting at the table as the “Salesforce expert” – I had to fix that very quickly. I had to fix that quickly, just in terms of personal value and pride reasons. I wanted to feel like I deserved what I was doing.

What certifications have you achieved so far?, what was the first?

I started off with the Admin certification, from there – I went to Developer. Then, I did Advanced Admin and by the time I got into Advanced Admin, I was actually slowing down on the training and was picking up on the “provide value in meetings” and “sitting at those tables and having those discussions”. My Advanced Admin is where it all kind of stretched out in my rapid fire certification path that I was on. It turned into more of a realistic and sustainable schedule.

I had done Admin, Developer, Advanced Admin, Sales Cloud Consultant, Platform App Builder, and Service Cloud Consultant. After that, I was able to convince people to enroll me in the Architect program. I was convinced that I was going to buckle down and get 2, maybe 3, of those certifications in that first year that it was available. I was taking three certifications for the Designer certifications within 7-10 days. It was insane. But I wanted to do the beta exam whether I’m ready or not. 

How did you study and for how long?

When I went through the core certifications, it was before Trailhead. I was able to get the video versions of the in-person course work. With those, I felt like I was prepared for going into Admin and Advanced Admin. For Developer, I read through development guides and read through the documentation. I then realized that Developer was really not as code-heavy as I imagined.

How did you find the experience of taking the exam? / What was the hardest part?

I went into the beta exams thinking that I was in over my head, and I’ll be able to study in a more focused way and retake the exam again anyway. Surprisingly, I passed! I passed 6 Designer beta exams. I added Community Cloud onto it as well through a beta exam.

The beta exams were very similar to the way Salesforce asks an exam question. Once you’ve been through a few of them, you start to understand and see how they pose questions and answers. The writing style is similar, the options are similar as well, but the material is so much deeper. It wasn’t the core functionality of “how do I do stuff in Salesforce” – it was “how do I do stuff for an enterprise that’s really, really making an enterprise-ready system.”

What tips do you have for others who are in the process of getting certified?

Right now, I would say Trailhead. Trailhead, being able to get the hands-on and the interactivity of “go and do this, then we’ll check that you’ve built it right, and then we’re going to build on this in the next lesson.” It really built upon each other and all of its lessons connected to past lessons. The ecosystem that they’ve built on Trailhead is amazing. Getting your hands on Trailhead, engaging properly in the learning process, and using it as a learning tool is extremely useful.

I find that when interviewing people, just because you have the certification doesn’t mean you know the material that you’re certified on. There is a level of engagement with that process that turns it into something that is valuable. You actually learned, you’re certified, and you can have a conversation to back it up.

What are your future plans for gaining more certifications?

I’m obsessed with checking the beta exams on webassessor.com. The last one I took was CPQ and on Friday this week, I’ll be taking Field Service Lightning. I want to learn what I can about the platform; I want to figure out if I can learn it, and if I can get through a beta exam or get through a failed beta exam. The big one right now is CTA. The Review Board scares me to death, but as I’ve talked with people that have gone through the program, I feel much less concerned going into a Review Board situation after the Designer certifications and the modern curriculum versus “you’ve met the multiple choice, now go and talk to the Review Board”! I feel like they’ve done an amazing job at really preparing the people that are going in front of that Board.

There’s a nervousness with that sort of environment and the amount of money that’s on the line. It’s not a cheap certification, and the amount of prestige that comes with achieving it – it’s a very small community! Being part of that community, I already don’t feel like I deserve to sit next to these amazing people. I’ve got a lot of the same certifications they do, and it amazes me that on paper, I look like one of them. I don’t feel like one of them.

What Certification are you studying for now?

Focus on Force currently provides practice exams and study guides for sixteen certifications