Admin2Architect: From Salesforce Admin to Becoming a Salesforce Architect
Many Salesforce Admins are making the transition to Salesforce Architect roles. Architect roles come with more pay, an opportunity to solve problems that are larger in scale and scope, and the authority to define vision and strategy.
Salesforce Administrators are in an excellent position to transition into an Architecture role because lots of #AwesomeAdmins already possess many of the skills required to be an Architect. The trick is not creating totally new areas of skills but rather deepening and scaling the skills they already possess.
What is a Salesforce Architect?
Let’s start by defining what a Salesforce Architect does. A Salesforce Architect is generally working on projects or enterprise-level initiatives, rather than more narrowly focused features, enhancements or support requests. Architects are responsible for:
- Understanding the big picture business goals (both near term and long term) of project or program,
- Knowing Salesforce capabilities and best practices related to the given domain,
- Creating a system design for the project,
- Implementing the design (although Architects on larger teams may not be doing as much hands-on implementation, but rather will delegate implementation tasks to other team members),
- Taking a Leadership role in an initiative with the ability to communicate to stakeholders across the organization,
- Helping to define roadmaps for a program, and scope for individual projects,
You can see Salesforce’s definition on their excellent Salesforce Architect page.
An Architect is a valuable resource on a project because they possess a depth of knowledge in a number of areas: they’re technical and also business savvy; they can speak to people across the org chart, including executive-level communication, they have the ability to see the big picture, while also having the ability to implement the details.
This post lays out the primary skills areas that Salesforce Architects possess, and how a Salesforce Admin can deepen their existing skills in these areas.
The Architect Skillset
1. Requirements and Communication Skills
The first rule of any Salesforce project is that it needs to address a business need. And a Salesforce Architect needs to be the leader that helps the organization to define its business objectives, develop consensus around priorities and communicate those priorities across the organization in a manner that everyone can understand.
Salesforce Architect Charly Prinsloo has a great quote about Architects and communication. She says that Salesforce Architects “like speaking to people. They’ve got good communication skills. You can put them in front of a Developer or an Admin or a CIO or a CEO. You can put them at every level and they’ll be able to tell the story. They’re storytellers, they can weave a solution together by telling a story.” (here’s the full interview with Charly)
One of the best ways for Admins to strengthen their ability to communicate across the organization is to be able to define clear business requirements. A few resources that I really like on the topic of requirements are the Complete Guide to Gathering Salesforce Requirements and a fantastic (and hilarious) Dreamforce presentation called Writing Good Salesforce Requirements: A Dramedy In Two Acts.
Ways to Grow:
- Get into the habit of documenting business requirements (the “Who, What, Why” User Story format described in Writing Good Salesforce Requirements is a great place to start).
- Stretch yourself by leading Discovery sessions or by leading Discovery sessions on larger initiatives than you’re used to.
2. Knowledge of Salesforce Best Practices
An Architect is responsible for deeply understanding Salesforce capabilities and best practices. This skill is all about being able to identify the relevant tools/features on the Salesforce platform and the best practices for implementing them.
The great news about learning best practices is that the resources are available in the Salesforce Community and on Trailhead. And those are resources that #AwesomeAdmins are already using extensively. For Salesforce Admins that are interested in transitioning to an Architect role, the Salesforce Architect certification track is a great way to build and showcase your knowledge.
Ways to Grow:
- Deepen your knowledge of Salesforce best practices using Trailhead
- Connect with other Salesforce Architect in the Community: the Architect Trailblazer Community is a great place to start.
- Consider the Salesforce Architect certification track
3. System Design Skills
Salesforce system design skills are all about taking Salesforce best practices and applying them to a particular environment with its own particular constraints. While the best practices you learn in step #2 are like classroom learning, design skills are about applying those principles in practice. A few core principles:
- An effective Salesforce system design is a blueprint that can be used to implement an effective Salesforce org.
- There’s not necessarily one right answer to addressing a complex business case. There will be tradeoffs between different designs, which must account for a number of different factors: budget, timeline, organizational culture, the existing enterprise architecture
- Good system design should be able to scale and adapt to future changes. A good design will be maintainable for the client.
In light of the concepts above, one of the key skills for a Salesforce Architect is the ability to not just come up with a solid design, but to also be able to document the design, communicate it to others and get feedback on it.
Ways to Grow:
- Document your designs. A few industry standard documentation formats: Entity Relationship Diagrams (ERD), Business Process Diagrams, Data Flow Diagrams, Unified Modeling Language (UML).
- Present your designs to technical team members and power users on your project. Also, consider presenting some of the other options/designs that you considered and the tradeoffs between them. Get feedback.
- Get into the Habit of Doing Retrospectives. Architecture isn’t just measured by the immediate success of a particular project, but how the architecture supports future initiatives in the organization. Check back in on previous projects that you worked on: how did the designs hold up over time? What features worked as you had intended? What features didn’t?
Salesforce Architects aren’t just responsible for designing effective systems, they’re also responsible for designing effective projects. That means developing project management skills. While a Salesforce Architect probably won’t be the person managing the project schedule or tracking project team members’ work, an Architect should be one of the key players who determine the scope of the project. Salesforce Architects are best suited to know what is feasible within a particular budget and time frame and to identify risks and mitigation strategies.
Ways to Grow:
- Build your knowledge of a few core project management concepts like scope, risk, critical path, the iron triangle (time/budget/scope).
- Create a scope document (or project charter) for your projects, which should include the following: the business objective of the project, the resources involved, items in scope (and out of scope), constraints, risks and any relevant contextual information.
5. Technical Skills (Advanced Admin Skills and Developer Skills)
Of all the skills on the Salesforce Architect path, the one that is often the most intimidating for some Salesforce Admins is the technical skills, particularly the developer and coding skills. Many Salesforce Admins come from an operations background rather than a technical background, and as an #AccidentalAdmin they’ve developed deep skills using clicks but may be less familiar with code.
The good news is that the resources available to learn Apex and APIs and all the other developer tools are available through the Community and through Trailhead. In addition, it’s also important to remember that there are many Salesforce orgs that don’t require complex code bases. Furthermore, there are Salesforce Architects that would characterize themselves as being able “understand code, but not write code.” So for Salesforce Admins that are interested in pursuing an Architecture path, it may not be necessary to become the world’s greatest Apex developer. It might be just right to understand the capabilities of the Salesforce Developer tools, understand the best practices and common object-oriented design patterns.
For any Admins who are interested in the Architecture path but who are concerned about learning the developer side of the platform, a great place to look is the Platform Developer I certification topics. The Platform Developer I certification is a requirement of the Application Architect and System Architect sides of the Certified Architect triangle. Beginning to understand the developer topics that you’re familiar with (and not familiar with) is a great way to begin planning your Architecture path and the skills you’ll need.
Ways to Grow:
- Self-study on Trailhead, particularly the Trailmixes for the Architecture certifications.
- Review the Certified Platform Developer I topics to see areas where you are strong and where you have room to grow.
- Try solving a real business problem with code. For instance, if you encounter a business problem that requires a trigger, try building it yourself. You can use Community resources and Trailhead as a guide. And while It may take you longer to build than an experienced Apex developer you’ll be developing new skills, learning Apex capabilities and building confidence.
Summary: It’s a Process
Making the transition from a Salesforce Admin to a Salesforce Architecture is a process of building skills in a number of different areas. And as an #AwesomeAdmin you’re probably well on your way to having many of the skills you need to take on an Architecture role; you may even be playing the Architect role in one or more of the skill areas described above. I hope this guide helps you to move forward in your learning and career path.