Which Salesforce Certification

should I do first?

Getting certified in Salesforce offers numerous advantages. Whether you are new to the Salesforce ecosystem or have been contemplating certifications for a while, you have likely considered which certification to pursue initially.

It is crucial for beginners to choose the most suitable certification to establish a solid foundation for their career and enable them to delve deeper into their chosen career path. 

Which SF Certification to do first

In a recent conversation, I spoke candidly with Roy Moore, a Salesforce Architect and leader of the Colorado Springs User Group, about how to kickstart your career by selecting the right certification.

Interviewee Roy Moore

Roy Moore

Roy Moore has been Salesforcing since 2010 and has passed 7 exams on the first try, and 3 exams on the second try — making him an 11X certified Application Architect (heading for Platform Architect). He is a 6X Trailhead Ranger and is Co-Leader of the Colorado Springs Salesforce User Group.

Which Salesforce certification should I do first?

Which SF Certification first

Martin: One of the common questions that we get from people new to Salesforce and starting their Salesforce journey is, ‘Which Salesforce certification should I do first?’ I'm here with Roy Moore, Salesforce Architect and User Group Leader, and we're going to talk about this question. So Roy, what is your answer? What do you recommend to people when they ask you which certification they should start with?

Roy: Well, first off that's a great question. One of the most important questions about Salesforce is where you start. What is your foundation going to be? Now, the answer's going to depend a little bit but for the vast majority of people, I think they should start with the Admin Certification.

Admin Certification versus Platform App Builder Certification

Roy: And the reason for that is while the Salesforce Admin Certification isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for other certs, it kind of is. It's expected that you have this basic administrative knowledge of Salesforce. Think of the Admin Certification as the ‘high school diploma’ of Salesforce. It's the bare minimum. It's the basis and everything else will build off of that. A couple of exceptions where people might consider starting with a different certification are maybe Developers who have a very strong developer interest. They could start with the Platform App Builder Certification — which is very similar to the Admin Certification. If I had to break out the difference between them, I would say the Admin Certification focuses more on the proper care and feeding of your Salesforce org as Administrator. And the App Builder is more of a ‘How to enhance it declaratively.’ A lot of Developers say they want to go straight into more developer stuff so they might want to go to the App Builder, but most start with Admin. The other exceptions are those who are only in one of Salesforce's more tertiary products. Like if you're only in Marketing Cloud, then look at the Marketing Cloud certifications. The Email Marketing Certification is probably where you want to start. But most people should start with the Admin Certification. 

Martin: And just to add on to that it can be very tempting to think that Admin isn't really required if you're more on the development side — as Roy mentioned, but Admin does give you all of that foundation knowledge that really is required. It's a building block and there are so many fundamental topics within Admin. For example, Sharing and Security, and all about users and data management. And it really is a step that you should go through, and I think it's also expected that you have a really good declarative knowledge. 

Roy: You're absolutely right and I'm glad you said that Martin, because on the Platform Developer 1 Certification, it says that they have a strong handle on the declarative functionality of Salesforce. And there are several questions on the Developer 1 Certification exam that the right answer is the one that requires the least amount of configuration, so it might be a declarative answer. So if all you know is to code, then you're missing some knowledge that you need for the Developer Certification.

What you're leaning towards

Martin: So there's a Functional Career Path, and there's a Technical Career Path.

Functional Career Path

Functional Career Path icon
  • Aligns more with an Admin or a Consultant role
  • Great to start with Admin, followed by Advanced Admin

Technical Career Path

Technical Career Path icon
  • Admin is the foundation, followed by App Builder
  • Important to understand how you can declaratively build applications

Martin: So on the Functional Career Path, that would align more with an Admin or a Consultant role. Architects — I think they sort of overlap between Functional and Technical. But if you're more aligned with a Functional Career Path, then this is a suggestion of a path that you could follow. So obviously, starting with Admin then Advanced Admin. It is good to know there are a lot of advanced topics in that. And sometimes that just depends on the environment that you're in whether you're actually using some of the things that are covered in Advanced Admin like Territory Management, Forecasting; more advanced reporting. And then you can see App Builder is in there and even if you're on a Functional Career Path, it's still important to know what can be done declaratively — what's actually possible. And then the next box is just listed as Consultant. Salesforce has a number of different Consultant certs so obviously there's the Sales Consultant, Service Consultant, Field Service Consultant, and it goes on. And then there are specialty certs. And then you may wish to go down to the end of the path which is getting into the Architect-level certs.

Salesforce Functional Career Path

Martin: And on the Technical side, Admin is listed as the foundation, and then App Builder. Because as we just discussed, that's really about understanding how you can declaratively build applications. And then you get into the more Technical ones which you might want to jump in straight away but you need to restrain yourself. And then you'd get into the Platform Developer 1 and the Javascript Developer 1 level, before then getting on to either getting into more specialty certs. So if you're in an environment that, for example, is using Field Service, or using Marketing Cloud; or using something that's a little bit more ‘out of the normal’ range of clouds. That's where you'd look at maybe obtaining one of those. Platform Developer 2 is a more advanced one from Platform Developer 1. It's probably becoming a little bit less popular because it's not aligned to becoming an Architect. And then a lot of Technical people on that path — they then go into the System and Application Architect-level certs.

Salesforce Technical Career Path

For people who aren't sure

Roy: Going back to the whole school analogy — if the Admin is the ‘high school diploma,’ I'd say going from Admin ⇾ App Builder ⇾ Advanced Admin ⇾ Sales Cloud ⇾ Service Cloud, would not be a bad path for someone who's not sure what's next.

Path for someone who's not sure

Roy: This would be the path I'd probably suggest for someone who's not sure — they know they want to do Salesforce, they know they like what they've seen so far but they're not sure if they're going to become a Consultant or a Developer, or if they're just getting started. If they start with those five, they are starting with the staples of Salesforce. This is the bread and butter that Salesforce has had for a very, very long time. And then after those five, if you still haven't got your major settled, then you might just be a generalist — a Consultant. But at that point, you probably have a good idea like, ‘Well, I really want to go deeper on development.’ ‘ Now, I really want to go deeper on Marketing.’ ‘I really want to go deeper where my job requires me to go deeper on these things.’ And then you can look into the certifications. So Admin, App Builder, Advanced Admin; Sales and Service would not be a bad path for someone who's not sure what's next.

Martin: Right. Yeah, I think that's a really good point. Obviously, Salesforce started as a CRM and so Sales Cloud is the foundation on the Functional side, for everything. So just understanding all about how accounts and contacts and opportunities and leads and all those foundational objects — how that actually works is really important because everything else has kind of been built on top of that. So that's a really good point of just including — you know, considering doing Sales and Service as in that sort of foundation level. 

Roy: Yeah, you might even think of those as ‘general education requirements.’

Best to start with Admin

Which Certification should I do first icon

Martin: Our suggestion is everyone should start with Admin. Roy has also mentioned that you could start at App Builder, but we really recommend you start with Admin. 

Roy: And this was something we called out earlier saying that even if you don't want to do those — you're a developer who's been doing code for a long time. Well, take note of this key line from the Trailhead description of the Platform Dev 1 Certification.

Declarative versus programmatic methods

Roy: A Salesforce Developer knows when to use declarative versus programmatic methods. How do you know that if you don't know the declaration capabilities of Salesforce? 

Martin: And I think it's becoming even more important because, in every single release, Salesforce is expanding the capabilities of the declarative tools. And if you're jumping straight into PD1, you're missing out on all of that. One particular example is Flow. In every release, Flow becomes more and more powerful. And that doesn't require coding ability. And so you're missing out on all of that if you jump straight into PD1. Roy: Yeah, and just because you know Java — sure, that means you can read Apex and you can maybe even figure out how to write it with the nuances that are different, but that doesn't mean you know how to set up a validation rule or a permission set. I mean, there are all these things that you can do declaratively that coding does not cover. We've really beat this horse to death, I think. (Laughter) 

Martin: It's a really important one though because one of the things that you really want to avoid is to come up with a solution that's programmatic when it doesn't need to be.

Author: Martin Gessner

Martin Gessner is the Founder of Focus on Force. 

He has spent over 10 years working in various Salesforce roles including business analyst, project manager, consultant and solutions architect. Along the way he has earned twelve certifications, published "The Salesforce Career Playbook", and helps Salesforce professionals learn more about Salesforce, develop their career and prepare for certifications.

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