It’s no secret that Salesforce Solution Architects hold a key role to deliver a quality, successful Salesforce implementation. But what does it actually take to become a ‘Solution Architect’ on the Salesforce platform? And what does it involve once you are?
I’m Luke, and I have been working with Salesforce for just over 6 and a half years. I am going to share with you my journey to becoming a Solution Architect along with some things I have learnt along the way.
What is a Salesforce Solution Architect?
If you are not familiar with the ‘Solution Architect’ role then it can be explained relatively simply. Solution Architects are ultimately responsible for the ‘Solution’ to the given business requirements. As opposed to an Enterprise Architect who would look at a whole system landscape and multiple technologies, Salesforce Solution Architects mainly focus their efforts on, you guessed it, Salesforce. Although, this does not necessarily mean it is a simpler role.
Solution Architects Vs Technical Architects
You will often hear a Solution Architect working alongside a Technical Architect, and a lot of the time the lines are blurred when it comes to roles and responsibilities. Technical Architects usually go a lot deeper into the architecture of the solution and understand the implementation from a technical level, whilst a Solution Architect sits at a higher level, but still with an understanding of the solution. Ultimately the size of the implementation usually decides which level of architecture role you would need. For smaller implementations, it is easy to get away with a single Solution Architect, whilst the larger and enterprise projects usually demand multiple Technical/Solution/Enterprise architects because of the complexity.
Can anyone become a Solution Architect?
Short answer, yes, but it is by no means an easy role to fill. When first working with Salesforce, I thought Solution Architects came up with the solution then the delivery team delivered it and that was it. I will admit now that I was wrong. There are many skills which a Salesforce Solution Architect must possess to be successful, and these are not just limited to Salesforce skills which we will cover below.
I had always been technically focused, and this was my plan when I first started my Salesforce career to become the coveted ‘CTA’ (Certified Technical Architect). I wanted to become the youngest CTA within the Salesforce ecosystem. I will admit, this was ambitious, but setting goals is important. Now, as my career has progressed, this focus shifted and I found myself being less interested technically and more interested in the solution as a whole, which has naturally progressed me into the Solution Architect role and I love my job.
What skills do I need?
Having both technical Salesforce skills, alongside soft skills, is imperative in fulfilling the Solution Architect role. Here is a list of skills which I think are important:
1. Love Salesforce
First up, you must love Salesforce. You are designing and responsible for delivering the best possible solution for your clients. You must be certain that what you are proposing is bulletproof and to do that, you need to know exactly what Salesforce is capable of and what it is not capable of. This comes with experience, but you must be prepared to put in the time and effort of learning Salesforce inside out and keeping up with all the releases.
2. Understand Best Practice
Whilst it is relatively easy to come up with a solution, you need to be following best practice. You do not want to design and implement something which is going to break as soon as your team leaves (your customer will not be happy with you or your company). All your solutions need to be scalable and designed with the client requirements in mind.
Working as a team is imperative, especially for bigger projects. It is likely you will be working alongside Business Analysts/Consultants/Architects and you must be able to communicate and work well, otherwise it is not going to be an enjoyable or successful project.
As a Solution Architect you are one of the more senior people in the project team. As I mentioned, you are ultimately responsible for whether that project succeeds or fails based upon your decisions and solution. You must be able to lead your team but allow them the freedom to do their jobs and grow in their own careers.
Clear and concise communication is key. If your team/client does not understand what you are trying to achieve, then your project is going to fail. There is an art to communication, and that includes understanding your audience. If you explain something which is technical to someone who has just started using Salesforce, you are going to see some very confused faces.
You will not often see Solution Architects which are not personable. This goes hand in hand with the three points above. Building a good rapport with both your client and team are essential in a successful project delivery. We sometimes work in stressful environments, and enjoying yourself along the way does not harm anyone as long as you are delivering quality work.
Instilling trust, again, with both your team and client is essential. Your client wants to know that if you have agreed to deliver something, then it will be delivered on time and it will be of the quality which is expected. If you lose this trust, then projects can quickly turn from being good, to bad.
8. Problem Solving
Problems can arise at any time on any project. It is how you deal and overcome those problems which are important. Being able to communicate effectively what the problem is, and what are the proposed solutions. This ties in with the trust point above, do not be afraid to admit mistakes or problems to your clients, they will be more appreciative than if you do not.
It is easy to focus on yourself. But what makes a great team player and great architect in my opinion, is someone who mentors and brings their whole team up with them. Sharing your wealth of knowledge with more junior people in your team is not only rewarding for you, but also greatly beneficial for the people you are mentoring.
10. Keep Calm
There is a lot of pressure on Solution Architects to deliver quality work. Your client, your team, your company, they are all looking at you. There will be times where it can be overwhelming but leading by example is key. If everyone else sees you stressing, they are likely to start getting stressed themselves.
I could write all day about other skills, but these are ones which I personally feel, are essential to a successful Solution Architect. Notice these are mostly not Salesforce based? Do not forget your soft skills.
Can I become a ‘Certified’ Salesforce Solution Architect?
The certification world of the Salesforce Solution Architect has recently become a lot more vast. When I first started using Salesforce, the only certification you could get down the architect route was ‘Certified Technical Architect’. This certification was, and still is, an exceedingly difficult one to pass. Because of this, there was a gap for the ‘Solution Architects’ who were not so technically focused to be able to show their knowledge of the Salesforce platform. Now this has changed. Let us look at this below:
We now have three ‘certified’ architects. Technical, Application and System. This pyramid is the recommended route and prerequisites in order to achieve the coveted Certified Technical Architect exam. These designer exams are slightly trickier and come with a higher price tag and higher pass mark as opposed to your certified admin for example.
Check out the full certification suite in this handy Infographic.
This side of the pyramid is the less technical aspect and more around the fundamentals and basics of any Salesforce implementation, and what I personally am working towards currently.
Data Architecture and Management Designer – understanding your data model, understanding how you build scalable and enterprise level data management solutions.
Sharing and Visibility Designer – is all about understanding our sharing model, who sees what within our Salesforce environments.
Platform Developer and Platform App Builder – Putting everything into practice, again focusing on the fundamentals of any Salesforce implementation.
You can read more on each individual exam via the exam guide on Trailhead if you are interested. Once you have passed these four exams, you are classified as an ‘Application Architect’ which I think is great for Salesforce Solution Architects to achieve.
The more technically focused side of the pyramid.
Development Lifecycle and Deployment Designer – all about the process of doing any development work, from build through to packaging that up and then deploying and following best practice when doing so.
Identity and Access Management Designer – understanding who is accessing your Salesforce environment both internally and externally and what level of access they have.
Integration Architecture Designer – How do you design integrations in the best possible way. Using the correct integration patterns and correct tools to achieve it.
Platform Developer 1 – As covered above, putting everything into practice as a developer.
Once you have passed these 4 exams, you are classified as a ‘System Architect’. Usually this side is more for the technically focused, but still great to have regardless if you wish to go down the Technical Architect route. Then once you have both ‘System Architect’ and ‘Application Architect’ you are ready to tackle the famous ‘Certified Technical Architect’ exam.
Getting these certifications are a great way of showing others you have the knowledge and are definitely worthwhile, but not the be all and end all of a Solution Architect. I know some amazing architects, both Solution and Technical which do not have any of these certifications.
While it is not confirmed, there is also a rumoured Salesforce Solution Architect exam that is due to come out in 2020.
Salesforce Solution Architect Challenges
Stepping into a Solution Architect role has its challenges, but it is a very rewarding position. If this is your career path choice, then here are some challenges which I personally have faced moving from a Consultant role into a Solution Architect.
There is a lot more pressure – As you step into more senior roles there is a lot more pressure from everyone for you to deliver, and deliver well. If you are someone who does not deal well with pressure, then the role is probably not best suited.
Keeping on top of everything Salesforce – Salesforce is a constantly evolving piece of technology. With three yearly releases it is extremely easy to fall out of the loop with what is possible vs what is not. Especially when all your time is devoted to project delivery. Make sure you are reading release notes, blogs, videos, anything you must so that you remain on top.
Not building anything – I love doing Salesforce config. Unfortunately, as you progress into the more senior roles you take a step back and are no longer doing much configuration. This ties with the challenge above, I learn a lot faster when doing something, so it’s been difficult for me to adapt to a new way of working. Trailhead is a great way to remain up to date and keep your configuration skills relevant.
Confidence – Something I always struggled with when I first started my career. It’s very easy when you’re in less senior roles to sit in a room and not say anything (as long as you’re taking it all in), but when you’re a Solution Architect, the client is paying a lot of money and they expect to get their money’s worth. Coming across confident in what you are saying is key. Everything that you are saying should be adding value, and this is a skill which just comes with experience.
Time Management – Again, something I struggle with. You are delivering projects to tight timescales and promising the client it will be done. Not only do you need to manage your own time, but also your teams to ensure you can hit your delivery. This can be dependent on your project (agile vs waterfall) but you always need to keep your time management on point.
This is by no means a definitive list of challenges you will face, and so much is dependent on your environment. Solution Architects delivering enterprise level projects will face much different challenges to those delivering small/medium sized projects. The ones listed above could apply to any project size.
How do I know if the Solution Architect role would be good for me?
Hopefully, this post has enlightened you as to the world of a Salesforce Solution Architect, and even inspired you. As I mentioned, it was accidental for me to fall into this role, but I thoroughly enjoy what I do. So how do you know if this role is right for you?
You must be willing to put the time and effort in. I worked my way from an apprentice, fresh out of college, through to administrator, consultant and now Solution Architect. Experience is everything in this space. I am continuing to learn every single day and no two days are the same, which is one of the things which I enjoy.
You must be adaptable. Consulting is a whirlwind. One day you could be up north delivering a demo, the next down south assisting on a sales pitch. If you do not enjoy a constantly changing environment, then there are other roles which would be better suited.
You must love what you do. Being a Solution Architect is not a 9-5 role. If you do not enjoy it, you’re going to be demotivated and it’s going to impact you delivering to the best of your ability. Be ready for overtime, be ready for the challenges, be ready for the blame if something goes wrong! but it is all a part of the job description.
You need to be thrown in at the deep end. I have been there many times during my career, in a sink or swim scenario. This is what allows us to work on our soft skills. If someone had said to me go and demo to 20 people I would have respectfully declined, except I had no choice. Take any opportunity which is thrown your way.
Lastly, you need to enjoy yourself. I have met some great people and had some great memories during my career. If you can be a great Solution Architect and enjoy yourself along the way, it will not even feel like you are working.
This has been my guide to becoming a Salesforce Solution Architect. It is not an easy journey but a very rewarding one, not just financially but also personally. It will open you up to a whole world of opportunities which you did not even know were possible. If you’re interested in learning a little bit more about me or you want to get in touch, you can check my Blog out where I make posts on similar topics as well as inspiring the new generation of admins. You can also check out my Youtube channel where I’ve got lots of exciting stuff planned. Best of luck on your Solution Architect journey.