What does it take to become a Salesforce Architect? Salesforce certifications prove that you are a capable professional with a certain level of knowledge, however, they can give certain individuals a false boost in credibility (and ego!)
Certifications vs. experience is a question we raise in each of our role-specific salary guides on Salesforceben.com. I’ve summarized this in the past by saying: “you can’t build a castle on sand” — in other words, you can’t build a successful career on certifications alone without the solid foundation of experience.
While certifications will help you get your foot in the door for a job interview, without experience, you’re unlikely to pass your first challenges as a Salesforce Architect (in fact, true for any Salesforce role). But why is experience so critical for Architects, especially? Architects will make thousands of decisions on how to design system architecture to be scalable and performant – a series of trade-offs that only experience will guide you on. It’s not a clear cut ‘if this, then that’ job, instead, involves lateral thinking (taking a multitude of factors into consideration).
Some people will disagree with me. Some people would say that studying for a certification has given them a structured way to upskill, covering off topics one by one. Also, some say that certifications enabled them to find a job as a Salesforce ‘Architect’ (quotes deliberate), and so would argue that you can become an architect with only certifications.
Salesforce Architect Certifications vs. Experience
You can see it’s something I was thinking about, which is why one poll posted by Salesforce Architect, Amit Bhardwaj, caught my eye. It asked:
“If a person has no experience with SFDC can they be an architect by just doing the certifications?”
Surely, the community would vote ‘no’ because they value experience over certifications? It surprised my that after 612 votes, only 64% voted in favour of experience — which left 36% advocating that certifications alone would get you on the fast track to becoming a Salesforce Architect.
The poll result was surprising, however, it is a single number without context. The comments after were the most interesting part. I was looking forward to seeing how people justified their vote.
Why Architect Certifications are Considered Valuable
Let’s start with the surprising result – a third of respondents that voted in favour of certifications. Why?
Self-study proves a lot
“[A lot] can be gained during self study. I have seen many experienced people who used to consider themselves expert technologists (because they were amazingly brilliant at their job); however, these experts failed, then were afraid when running against younger people for job roles. Those younger people had practiced and learned many scenarios during self study. So-called experience is limited to what a client considers the right experience, and what expectations they have for the person. Many young people explore beyond those limitations.”
How Architect Role Experience Trumps Certifications Alone
As I mentioned, our salary guides on Salesforceben.com mention the certifications vs. experience question – however, we ultimately end up favouring experience.
You already know my sentiments on why experience is fundamental – more importantly, here is what the community say:
“Practical experience can’t be replaced by any classroom, online class, or self-study.”
“Certifications only say that you know the answers to exam questions – but can you implement, is the big question?”
“Personally, I have interviewed people who have architect level certifications and have failed to answer simple questions, for example, ‘can we perform DML inside a constructor of a class?’ – their answer was, yes, we can 😅😅”
“I have interviewed many experienced people who failed to explain basic Lightning Web Components and Salesforce DX methodology.”
“The more I learn about the platform and more experience I gain makes me realise weekly why the answer is NOOOO”
5 years of experience and 1 certification, or 1 year of experience and 5 certifications – which would you prefer?
“As a general rule, if I have a question about the solution I’m building, I’m more likely to seek advice from someone with 5 years of experience in the area and 1 certificate, than from someone with 1 year of experience and 5 certificates.”
Thoughts from the ‘front line’
“I have been on one project so far, and I have one certification. The hands-on experience is priceless. Studying is great but it doesn’t prepare you for the real life scenario. I wouldn’t expect to become an architect without confidence from my experience. When in the project environment, I saw the areas where I lack expertise, and worked to solve them.”
Certifications have a growing skepticism
“Too many certs on a CV makes me nervous mostly. We all know our balance, everyone is not the same.”
“I have never chased any certifications. I was always looking to solve problems, which leads to real experience. I have seen people who have many certificates but do not have knowledge – it’s the same as you graduate with a gold medal but you don’t know how to code.”
“Certifications have become a joke these days. Dumps are easily available, even up to the Architect level! It’s time that Salesforce restructure the certification process and companies should start encouraging employees to get hands-on training and rather than just being certified.”
“The way certification dumps are being shared, we should not blindly believe the answers on the dumps. If you lead the interview, you can immediately judge the candidate.”
The Powerpoint Architect
An inside joke that has been circulating around technology industries, not only the Salesforce ecosystem. It means that Architects who have passed certifications just by learning to answer exam questions will be so far removed from the technology and will spend their careers on vanities (like Powerpoint slides) rather than making the action happen.
“We know that PPT is the one which brings in the projects and clients 😜”
Why there’s no simple answer
If your head is spinning (or you are beginning to think philosophically), you are not alone. This question doesn’t have a clear-cut answer – the reality is far more complicated. I think it can all be summarised with this line:
“Certifications should not be linked to experience, however certifications are no replacement to experience.”
So, how else is the answer neither a straightforward ‘no’, nor complete ‘yes’?
Technology is a level playing field
“Technology is a level playing field. Experience doesn’t hold much value many times. The right balance is needed but without any biases to more experience or more certifications; both can be waste if they are not able to give a good solution. If (and only if) an architect’s statements are based on facts and real life experience then we may find people with less experience can give better and more relevant solutions, which are more advanced and compatible with the latest technology.”
What if you’ve had a lack of opportunities to shadow?
“Sometimes certifications are the only way to enter. Some may have the privilege to shadow a Senior Architect [others won’t]”
Passing certifications requires experience
“Certifications are the way to show relevant experience & skills. Architect certifications without practical experience is like an artificial statue without a soul.”
“Without experience it’s not possible to pass architect certifications, except if they are using certification exam dumps. But in real projects and interviews, the person’s true capabilities will be revealed.”
“I believe in positivity. If a person has certifications then they must have a good foundation of knowledge too.”
“In my experience, there are no candidates that have architect certifications without the knowledge – whether young or old. Recently, I read how some experienced professionals develop an ego, and so, they can’t cope up with a younger crowd ramping up, at speed. Their ego makes them believe that something is wrong with the system. The world has gone agile but people have not.”
The hiring process has made it that way
“The sad irony is that organizations look for certifications during the hiring process.”
“I believe the person evaluating the resource must understand the requirements. I have also seen that the client expects that all the resources working on the project be certified. This requirement causes these issues. In order to win a deal the organisation goes with those resources who are certified than the one who is worth.”
“This is a big problem. Sometimes recruiters ask for certifications and ignore the work experience; because of this, good experienced candidates miss out.”
“It’s tough to discard an impressive resume with multiple certifications.”
How do you define experience?
I have been a great believer that time does not equal experience. Sometimes, seizing the opportunities available, rather than sitting at a desk for a number of years, enables professionals to slingshot their careers. This respondent echos this, from an extreme perspective:
“I have seen graduates who are more experienced with technology and have practiced a variety of scenarios that even people at a high level and with many years of experience have never come across. We cannot make a mathematical formula to answer the question “how do you define experience?“, so this debate does not have a strong base.”
What’s the solution?
“Are you saying that you will prefer the resume with less certifications and more experience than the one with multiple certifications and less experience?”
How can we find the balance between certifications and experience? Here are a couple of suggestions to keep the two in line:
“I think there needs to a process which should monitor that x number of projects or x number years experience needs to be as a prerequisite for certifications”
“My general rule of thumb is 1-2 certification for every year of experience. Anything outside of that range is worth questioning. Certs are important to validate that you are willing to do extra work and that you know the way things should be done rather than the way you’ve just always done them.”
Or, is the recruitment process the source to target? Do we need to pass the responsibility to those hiring architects?
“The interviewer must understand why they are hiring an architect resource. If a person can answer all the random scenarios asked in the interview, then they have the skill for that position.”
From writing this article, I can appreciate both sides of the coin here. I see the solution being part education for hiring managers (are you looking for the right items on a resume? And do you need an architect in the first place?!), and part enablement that stretches beyond basic exam formats to encourage lateral thinking in terms of real-life use cases. Take what the Salesforce Architect Success Program at Salesforce aims to do; they embarked on this fully aware that Salesforce Architect know-how is very hard to teach, but have crafted enablement pathways for architects, written by architects.
“Learning with use cases means that, as an architect, you will be equipped to sort through the jumbled mess a real human consumer makes in their customer journey.” – taken from How Do I Become a Salesforce Solution Architect? Take the First Steps!
Of course, this is a collection of opinions from a small fraction of the Salesforce community. Over to you – do you think study for certifications can prepare you for life as a real architect? Or is there no substitute for experience? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.