Salesforce Painful Certification Practices - No Feedback

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This post is an open complaint towards Salesforce's certification process. This is quite a long post, and you may thing that it is a rant. Well, it very well may be a rant, but these are opinions that must be expressed, and I will gladly take the podium at this time because I haven't heard anyone else complain. I need to discuss a few of Salesforce's terrible certification practices: inconsistent terminology and poor feedback.

The first area of fault that I want to point out is Salesforce's inconsistent terminology. I'm sure you know what I mean if you've studied for or taken any certification exams. I've taken a few Salesforce certification multiple choice exams, the Developer Certification and the Advanced Developer Certification exam. Both of these multiple choice exams were filled with questions that were trickily worded and had choices that were equally as tricky worded. Rather than testing the candidates knowledge and understanding of concepts, these exams seemed to be testing the candidates ability to remember key Salesforce terminology. Salesforce often uses multiple words to describe the same thing, and uses the same words to describe other things as well, and on top of this, they are inconsistent with the usage of this terminology. To test candidates on this inconsistent terminology is a terrible practice.

To move onto the main complaint of this post, I want to discuss Salesforce's feedback on their certification exams. In short, there is none. If you fail an exam, you are not told how close you were to passing, nor were you told in what areas you did poorly. This is key information! It encourages more studying for the next time, and it provides a foothold for that candidate to use to attempt to pass the test next time. Without feedback, taking these tests is like running full speed into a wall. The wall either busts and you pass through, or you fall flat on your backside. You may start to feel insane after feeling the pain of failure three times in a row.

To continue on this point, I want to extend this complaint from written exams to hand-graded exams. If you fail a multiple choice exam, you will certainly remember some of the questions from the exam. Some may intrigue or confuse you and inspire you to research and remember them later. But consider the case of submitting a programming assignment for human review, or giving a presentation before a panel of judges, which are situations one will encounter when attempting Advanced Developer or Salesforce Architect certification. I've failed the Advanced Developer Certification programming assignment once before now, and they did provide feedback to me. However, this feedback seemed to have been computer-generated or mistaken, because when I read the feedback, I have no idea about what part of my code they are marking as a mistake. Moreover, their feedback does not help me to improve!

To provide specific details about the poor feedback Salesforce provides, I'll provide a few excerpts from my last programming assignment results.

"The design approach taken is suboptimal and does not demonstrate an understanding of triggers, order of execution, and platform design principles on the platform." - I'm sorry, but I believe that I am a very pragmatic programmer and that I am *very* familiar with the Salesforce platform. When I read this, I think back on much of the example code I read in Salesforce documentation, and how inefficient and poor they are. So these same Salesforce experts think that my code is very poor? I care a great deal about writing maintainable and efficient code! If they think my code is terrible, point out my mistakes! I would love to fix them and improve the code I write on your platform! Seriously! what code are they looking at?

"Areas for Improvement: Use of aggregate queries" - I am well aware of SOQL's aggregate query functionality, but I found not a single place in the application where it makes sense to use aggregate queries. If they told me that I as required to use an aggregate query, just to demonstrate my knowledge of them, instead of using a single query to get the records I need and looping over them, I could have easily added a second (precious) query just to use an aggregate. I didn't even consider this, however, since Salesforce's governor limits force developers to minimize the number of SOQL queries.

"Areas for Improvement: Conforming to governor limits" - Uh... what? What actionable item or lesson learned can I take away from this? Every single one of my methods were "bulkified", and accept only collections as parameters! What code are YOU looking at!

"Strengths: Developing scalable code to handle bulk operations" - What! You just told me that my code is inefficient and doesn't conform to governor limits! Now you tell me that my code is wonderfully scalable?

In this final paragraph, I want to give a voice to the feedback process of the Salesforce Architect certification. My co-worker, not I, took this exam, so I'm reporting second-hand information. He paid thousands of dollars and took time off of work to fly to San Francisco to give a presentation before a panel of judges. They gave him a book of backstory and requirements for integrating an external system with Salesforce and allowed ~60 minutes to architect his solution and prepare his solution for presentation. 60 minutes is hardly a practical amount of time to solidly architect a thing of that scale! To add insult to injury, when he received the results via email the following week, which informed him of his failure, they provided no explanation, justification, or areas of improvement. How can he prepare to take this exam again the next time? How can he justify spending thousands of dollars again and not be able to promise improved odds of success? It is quite hard to justify attempting this exam again, no matter how important it is.

For consulting companies like my own, certifications are a necessary way to prove to new and existing clients that we legitimately understand the technology. Therefore, to improve our position relative to competitors, we strongly encouraging our employees to obtain as many Salesforce certifications as possible. I don't mind getting certified, because it makes me a more employable person, and I also personally want to be awesome at my profession. So, even though a certification process is incredible painful, people like me will be forced to continue banging our heads into walls.

How to Implement my Theoretical UpdateContentRequest

Friday, February 10, 2012

Continuation from previous post. It was written on a caffeine high, so I thought I was saving the world, and this post would be the roadmap to salvation.

Alright, problem: the user clicked the "next" button/link, now our Javascript app needs to load new content.
Link the button to a Javascript function called UpdateContentRequest. What does this function do? We want this function to do everything necessary to update the page to show this new content. This requires a few steps.
First, it has to request the new content from the server. This isn't too difficult if we use jQuery's snack function. A more flexible solution is to make the content available via a REST interface and use a Javascript REST framework. What do we do after we get it? We can either store it locally, either in a variable or in the HTML5 LocalStore. The other option is to immediately render it to the page without storing it long-term.

This brings us to the next step. Once we have the data, how do we render it to the page easily and appropriately? This also shouldn't be too difficult if we use the right tools. It's easy to know where to place this new data using Javascript if we use an id attribute to mark the parent element of the content - call it "blogContentWrapper" or something. The other tool to use is a Javascript templating language. There are many of these out there, such as jQuery templates, handlebars, or mustache, so just pick your favorite. These tools allow you to write an HTML template with a few holes, then inject data into this template to dynamically produce the marked-up content. Just take this marked-up content and replace the current child of the "blogContentWrapper" with it.

Wow, this sounds so easy. The hard part is to make this library flexible so it can be used for a number of types of websites while keeping it easy to use and powerful. I'll need to consider the use cases for this library and then reconsider the level of abstraction to use. Also, Google supports crawling Ajax websites like this, so I'll need to consider their requirements to keep this library compatible.

The Appeal of Single Page Web Apps

Single page web apps. I am very happy when I visit a site that subscribes to this philosophy because they at very responsive. A philosophy? Yes, I think it is a philosophy. Can we call it a philosophy if its followers advocate it as a way to avoid wastefulness? While single page web sites are a wonderful solution when creating a few types of web sites, it isn't the best choice for others types. Ignore that while we discuss the wastefulness that single page web sites solve.

Website wastefulness? What waste, exactly? What I am thinking about is the site's entire HTML markup, Javascript, and CSS styling must be resent to the browser for each request. Sure, client-side browser caching may help reduce the wasteful resource requests here, but we shouldn't depend on the client to optimize this when the website developer has the power to optimize the user's experience.

How can the website developer optimize this? Make the web site a Javascript app! Send this Javascript app on the initial page load, then delegate each subsequent page request to the Javascript app. How will the Javascript app do this? It will request just the new content from the server and place it on the page. Using this method, we are only grabbing the new content that the user wants, not all the resources and markup for the page. Efficient! And fast!

I haven't figured out how to architect this Javascript framework, but I'm sure it would be worth the time investment. Maybe there is an existing framework that does most of this, or even some of it.