Architects / Career

Do You Need a Degree to Become a Salesforce Architect?

By Tom Bassett

Salesforce Architects come in a variety of different shapes and sizes; Data, Enterprise, Technical, and Solution are some of the different types you will come across in the Salesforce ecosystem.

Architects act as trusted advisors that inform ‘to-be architecture’ how to be robust and sustainable. To get to this level, some employers require a degree, while others value experience more. This article will explore the reasons you don’t necessarily need a degree to be a successful Salesforce Architect!

My Journey From Admin to Architect

I’ve climbed the ranks from admin to consultant to lead consultant on the way to reaching the role of solution architect. This journey has taught me a lot and the experience has made me the architect I am today.

Inspired by the Salesforce resources available on the Architect Career Path, every architect needs to have the following technical skills: 

  • Architecture understanding
  • Release management
  • Connecting Salesforce Clouds and other systems
  • Software design considerations

An architect is both a leader and an advisor – roles that also require ‘soft’ skills, such as: 

  • Communication skills
  • Strong business acumen
  • Executive presence
  • Risk management
  • Governance strategies

Technical Skills

First up is Architecture Understanding, which covers PaaS (Platform as a Service), SaaS (Software as a Service), and Application Servers. 

While studying towards a degree may teach you generic principles, the reality is that you are only going to pick up how Salesforce deals with things like Multi Tenant Architecture when you come up against Governor Limits in real life. 

Release Management goes into subjects such as Source Control, CI/CD Pipelines, and Metadata API. The theory behind something like Source Control is not just applicable to Salesforce. A computer degree will likely teach you this, but there are valuable Trailhead modules in this area which can help get you up to speed if you are new to this concept.

In reality, an organization is likely to have a number of different systems, so an architect may be expected to connect Salesforce clouds and other systems. This could involve other cloud systems, on premises systems, or Salesforce products. Within a Salesforce context you can do this in many different ways, with variations for Heroku and MuleSoft too. A degree may teach you foundational knowledge, but it’s not going to teach you when to use Bulk API 1.0 vs. Bulk API 2.0!

As an architect, you’d be expected to understand Salesforce and Software Design Considerations, spanning areas such as data skew, limits, and data migration. You might learn about software design principles as part of your studies, but personally I’ve learnt about this ‘on the job’.

READ MORE: Data Skew in Salesforce – Why it Matters

Soft Skills

As an architect, you need communication skills when working with both technical and non-technical stakeholders. These skills are crucial to convey what you are trying to achieve and how you are planning to achieve it. By the time you’ve finished your education, you’ll have some of these skills already, but the real test is finetuning these skills for different types of stakeholders to convey your message in the real world.

A crucial soft skill is strong business acumen. While a business degree is likely to give you a headstart, I’ve managed to build this up over time by working with different customers in specific industries. I’ve also found that some of the challenges are the same.

Architects are considered ‘Trusted Advisors’ and may require an executive presence. This means making confident decisions that then filter down throughout the organization. If you are an Architect for a Salesforce Partner, you must align with the C-Suite team and build a trusting partnership. This skill leans on other soft skills too, which also have to be fine tuned for the customer or business you are working with.

Risk management is an important skill for different types of architects to have. You need to be able to identify risks and communicate these to teams so you can work together to mitigate or reduce any risk. While the theory of risk management would help here, no two risks are ever the same, and there is always some variation with mitigation strategies.

READ MORE: Top 10 Salesforce Project Risks – and How to Prevent Them (+ RAID Log Template)

Governance is an overarching theme here too, with an architect likely being involved or responsible for implementing governance strategies. This could vary from governance and the use of ‘clicks, not code’, to prioritizing the intake of new requirements or a release management process. You’d be on a strong footing if you studied this as part of a degree, but these skills would need to be tweaked and refined in line with how Salesforce works and evolves over time.

Thoughts From the Community

I’m privileged to have some amazing people in my direct network on social media. When I requested insights about this topic, here’s what they had to say:

Quratulain Tariq

  • Expertise: Senior Solution Engineer
  • Connect with Quratulain on LinkedIn

“In the Salesforce ecosystem, degrees take a backseat. You can build your Solution Architect skill-set through curiosity, creating innovative solutions, thinking of ways to make your solutions future-proof, keeping users at the center of your designs, and building solutions that truly make an impact while accelerating the adoption of Salesforce.”

Joey Chan

  • Expertise: Founder of Cloud Jedi Solutions
  • Connect with Joey on LinkedIn

“As a Technical Architect, my IT Degree is only worth around 3-6 months work experience. There are many subjects that will not be relevant to a successful Salesforce career. I got the opportunity to start Cloud Jedi Solutions working with people that didn’t even ask if I even graduated college. What mattered is if I can help them solve their problems.

I believe the best way to learn is to teach. If I were to start all over again in 2023, I would focus on getting mentorship, deeply learning Salesforce and teaching others along the way. I’d also encourage you to follow all of our Trailblazer Community Leaders and Salesforce MVPs on social media. Observe what they do and figure out what you can also do wherever you are!”

Emily McCowan

  • Expertise: Lead Technical Architect
  • Connect with Emily on LinkedIn

“While my Business Degree gives me a good understanding on how businesses work, I didn’t study technology prior to entering the industry – instead, I’ve learned from real life experience and self-guidance. Architects need to stay at the forefront of the constant changes in technology, so you must have the drive and ability to keep learning on the job throughout your career, regardless of whether or not you obtained a degree earlier in your life.”

Brian Shea

  • Expertise: Salesforce Architect
  • Connect with Brian on LinkedIn

“I’m a big believer that architecture is a craft. Becoming an effective architect is all about building your skills through experience over the long term, oftentimes by learning from seasoned architects that are further along in their architecture path.

In my role as a consultant I play a number of different architect roles (primarily Solution, Data and Integration). Being a successful architect in these areas is much more about learning on the job than about any formal training. A degree is not required to become an architect. Anyone who is interested in becoming an architect (degree or not) should focus on building their skills through self-study and experience.”

Evelyn Grizzle

  • Expertise: Salesforce Developer and Architect
  • Connect with Evelyn on LinkedIn

“I don’t believe that a technical degree is necessary to succeed in the Salesforce ecosystem. I started my Salesforce career at aged 27 while my unrelated degree (network and systems management) was still in progress. While finishing a degree has opened doors for me, companies have been less interested in my major and more interested in the soft skills and business acumen that I developed through a decade of customer service roles and the “soft-skill” oriented classes I took in the course of going back to school. 

The biggest thing that I have learned throughout this process is that the desire to make a change,focusing on soft-skills, and striving to upskill is the way to go to succeed in the Salesforce ecosystem.”

Brenda Glasser

  • Expertise: Salesforce Architect
  • Connect with Brenda on LinkedIn

“Anybody can become an architect, no matter your background or education. Being an architect is based on your skills, your experience, and your mindset. Whether you studied CS in college, got an English degree (like me!), went to a boot camp or even if you have no degree, there is an architect path open to you. As architects, we should embrace diversity of thinking and background as it helps us all provide better solutions to our customers.”

Summary

I spoke to many superstars from the Salesforce ecosystem to put together this post. This has led me to the conclusion that, although it’s not mandatory to have a degree to be a  Salesforce Architect, it can help depending on what you studied.

I’m living proof that you can be an architect without a degree, so if you are reading this as an aspiring architect without this qualification, keep working toward your dreams! 

Trailhead Resources

The Author

Tom Bassett

#AllStarArchitect working in the UK as a Solution Architect. 30x Trailhead Certified, 11x Accredited Professional, 2x Slack Certified with 6+ years experience of working on the platform.

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