Moving from Salesforce Administrator to Salesforce Developer

One of Our Own Describes What it Takes

In the world of Salesforce, Administrators and Developers have very different roles. We interviewed Christian Coelho, one of our Certified Salesforce Developers, who has gone through the journey from Admin to Developer. With Christian’s help, we’re going to tell you the differences between the two and how you can make the move from Salesforce Admin to Salesforce Developer.

Get to Know Christian

Christian graduated college with a computer engineering degree from San Luis Obispo. In May of 2019, he was an apprentice in the first Salesforce Admin Apprenticeship at Bitwise Industries. By the spring of 2020, Christian was a full-time employee with Bitwise. Since being with Bitwise, Christian has worked primarily on our internal Salesforce Org, as well as great projects like Onward and Unity Property Management.

So Christian, in your words what is a Salesforce Admin?

I’d define a Salesforce admin as the front line of customization. They are the person who gets the initial requests which are typically, “can we add this field or change this setting?” They run the declarative side of clicking, changing settings, and implementing the automation tools. Admins are the first line of defense. Also, being an Admin is a great way to get some exposure to all of the things possible in Salesforce. 

What are the primary tools that Admins use?

Mainly, admins use the Setup in Salesforce to make Fields and Objects. For Automations they use Process Builder (which is being retired) and Flows.

How would you define a Salesforce Developer?

Basically, a Salesforce Developer’s primary role is coding. The Dev adds functionality to a Salesforce Org that’s beyond the typical request that can be handled at the Admin level on the declarative side. A lot of the Salesforce Developer’s job is “grab the data and do something with it.” Usually, we’re asked to display it a certain way or manipulate it in a way that is impactful to the end user. 

What are the tools used?

Let’s see. The coding language is Apex. It’s similar to Java. Visualforce is the frontend tool that we use for website pages like you would with HTML. The special part about the frontend development of Visualforce is it allows you to pull in Salesforce data. These are the traditional pillars of Salesforce. The more modern tools include Lightning Web Components. Think of it as a UI-based component that uses more Javascript than the others. Those are the main things a Dev will use each day. I’d say we go between Apex for the logic, Visualforce for the frontend UI stuff, and Lightning Components for the high-end, fancy needs. And then there’s Salesforce’s database language SOQL which calls to the database to fulfill reports and data loads.

What’s the practical difference between an Admin and a Developer?

One point I make with the Bitwise Salesforce team is understanding the importance of having your Admin skills because we try to do things with clicks and not code. That’s the Salesforce way! As a Salesforce Developer, it’s helpful to know what can be done with clicks on the Admin side because it keeps us out of any technical debt that can pile up.

When we have to code something, only a few people can do it. If it’s an Admin-level request, there might be 15 people in the ecosystem who can handle that task easily. You have to have that mindset. That’s the biggest difference in Salesforce development versus traditional development. A traditional Dev will code everything and hold that “I’ll do it myself” mentality. A Salesforce Developer understands the overall accessibility of Salesforce and looks for the established plugins that are provided already to help save time and allow an Admin to handle the task.

What’s the natural path to move from Admin to Dev?

There are multiple paths to becoming a Salesforce Developer. I would tell anyone interested in Salesforce to jump in at the Admin level to get those basic skills under their belt. Get familiar with formulas, flows, and process builder so you get the thought process behind coding.

When an Admin is good with Dataloader and reports, they can pick up SOQL pretty quickly, which will help them get into Apex and some of the other tools to use that data knowledge in their transition to a Dev. The hard part is sorting through ALL of the tools that Salesforce provides. It can be overwhelming. It will take some time to figure out what the standard tools are that come “right out of the box.” It’s a challenge and it’ll take some time to grasp it all.

What does someone need to transition successfully?

The right personality and a comfort level with the available tools. I have a couple of things that I look at when someone is ready to make the move from Admin to Dev. The first thing is their personality. This person has to be good at solving puzzles without getting too frustrated. I’d say a good Dev gets excited about those hard problems. The solution is there, but it’s not always that obvious. You might find yourself staring at the screen for a while. 

On the technical side, an Admin needs to be good at Salesforce formulas. They’re like Excel formulas, just basic syntax coding to produce simple operations. If they understand those, it indicates that they are grasping the step-by-step process logically and getting comfortable. From there get to know your Process Builders and Flows. Especially Flows. To make a good Flow, you have to think through it like a coder would. It’s the same process, except you’re using clicks instead of writing the code. If an Admin can master those three things, it gives me confidence that they are thinking like a coder. After that, it’s just teaching that person how to do it in code instead of clicks.

You know, even if a person has a lot of Dev experience outside of Salesforce, I’d still recommend that they get as much Admin experience as they can so they fully understand what Salesforce has to offer. It will help them and their clients in the long run. Don’t add technical debt to the Org. Coders want to code everything, and they won’t have to if they understand the tools. They should focus their coding time on customizing components that Salesforce doesn’t provide a tool for. 

And finally, to be successful as a Salesforce Dev, you have to stay up to date. Salesforce is great about all of the things they add at each release, but you have to keep up with all of those new features. Don’t get left behind. 

How long will it take to go from an Admin to a Dev?

If you have zero dev experience, get into the Admin role, plan on one year of work in that position to get familiar with what’s required. Check yourself by taking the Admin Cert. Once you have that, and you’re feeling good about the Admin processes, it’s time to consider a Dev role if you’re interested. Then give yourself another six months to a year to work the Dev process. That’s the path I’d take.

If you have Dev experience and want to be a Salesforce Dev, I’d still get the Admin Cert, but you can probably pull it off in half the time depending on your previous dev experience. Either way, the time it takes will depend on the person and the projects available to work on.

What about the Salesforce Certifications?

It depends. Some employers put more weight into the certs than others. I view them as a confirmation of what you know, but not the practical end to the story. You need that hands-on experience that comes from project-based client work. When you have to ask the interview questions to uncover how the client thinks to get insight on a project, you’re putting your skills into action. The certs that I look for in a Dev candidate are the Admin Cert, the Developer Cert (Platform Developer 1 and 2), and the Javascript Cert. Another great one to help with that transition from Admin to Dev is the Platform App Builder Cert that emphasizes the Flows, Process Builders, and Automations. 

If you could give your past self advice about the move or journey from Admin to Dev, what would that advice be?

Just get started. Look for ways to get hands-on experience. Once an Admin has been in the Salesforce ecosystem for some time, they’ll be comfortable with the tools. When they move to that dev role, they’ll realize that they did these “code things” already. They might not have written it in code, but they will have thought that way. Look into the Salesforce User Groups and Forums. They are great for exposure to the ecosystem. Oftentimes, it’s local people sharing thoughts on projects and it’s a great place to get new ideas and meet other users. 

Check out Trailhead to see what modules Salesforce recommends. That’s a great resource. If I had to do it again, I would have leaned into my Javascript knowledge because I want to use the Lightning components even more. That’s an area I want to level up in my career now. The Bitwise apprenticeship that I did focused on the Admin role. That process of starting there and working your way to a dev role makes perfect sense. Of course, I’m sure there are other ways, but that has worked great for me. 

What’s Your Journey?

It’s not hard to move from SFDC Admin to Developer, but it does take planning. Make sure you have a game plan in place to dip your foot in the pool of development. Be sure to adjust your mindset from clicks to code, learn and soak up all you can with practice or hands-on experience, study up, join a few user groups, get those certifications, and get to work! 

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This post was written by Jeff Rickels, Technical Writer for Bitwise Industries. When he’s not writing, he’s thinking about all of the talented people at Bitwise. Take Christian Coelho for instance. He likes video games, sports (Go Giants!), and travel. But his unique skill is line dancing–a rhythmic passion he picked up in college at SLO and pursues with his friends whenever he can. You might ask him how to do the Texas Two-Step, the West Coast Shuffle, or the Tush Push.

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