My First Formula: A New Admin’s Journey to Salesforce Awesomeness

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An ongoing theme from ButtonClick Admin podcast guests is to be tenacious and don’t be afraid to try new things. I’m taking that advice. I’m going to be a Salesforce System Administrator.

I’ve worked at Salesforce for almost 5 years, have taken the ADM 201 course twice, have been an active end-user of Salesforce doing a fair amount of reporting, building dashboards, working with IT to customize objects & workflows, and I live in Chatter to get collaborative work done across teams. In the last year I’ve even started building apps in DE orgs and giving demos of new features to hundreds of people (remember the Admin Keynote?). But, there is still one thing I have never done: administer an actual Salesforce org.

I’ve been representing the Admin community without actually being an Admin! It’s time I get to know the #awesomeadmin community in a real way, by being the part. I want to understand the excitement, frustration, challenges, and opportunities that are part of the Admin journey. I hope that by sharing my story I can provide some inspiration and comfort to anyone who is a new Admin. And for you more experienced Admins, I’d love to get your pointers and advice along the way!

So, I’m becoming an Admin. Where do I start?

The first thing I did was start Trailhead. I started the “Getting Started with the Force.com Platform” trail and figured I could breeze through it since, after all, I did work for Salesforce. That steady breeze lasted until Formulas & Validations, where all of a sudden the wind in my sails completely disappeared and I was marooned trying to create a formula to calculate an expiration date in the challenge. I had done simple formulas in spreadsheets for years, but I could not figure out for the life of me how to put together the right syntax to complete this challenge. After a few failed attempts, I googled my way to figuring it out, and discovered I was making it way more complicated than it needed to be.

The next big challenge was Creating Validation Rules. If Formula Fields marooned my ship, well, then this one broke off my mast and left me lost in the abyss. After first making the mistake of creating all new fields listed in the challenge (more on that later), I created a simple formula that I was pretty sure would work to validate that any new contact for an account had matching zip codes. But then I saw this in parenthesis at the end of the description: “Hint: you can use the ISBLANK function for this check.” How is that a hint? I don’t even know what that means! Oh boy. At that point, I knew my sails were sitting in water and I didn’t have a clue where to begin.

I turned to the community for help. I searched the Trailhead Forum and found some useful tips, but ended up copying & pasting the formula from someone else, still not fully understanding what was going on inside of those parenthesis. Even after I cheated by copying the answer from someone else, I still wasn’t passing the challenge. It must be a bug! I found a bug! So I contacted Sandeep, the person actually in charge of Trailhead, to let him know about my discovery.

Turned out it wasn’t a bug in Trailhead, it was a bug in my logic. After some coaching from Sandeep, I learned how to tell the difference between a custom field and a standard field by looking at the API name: ShippingPostalCode_c is custom because it has a “_c” after the name. I didn’t realize that “MailingPostalCode” and “ShippingPostalCode” are standard fields that already exist, so in my enthusiasm to demonstrate my abilities, I created them as custom fields at the start of the challenge. That’s why my copied formula wasn’t working. Finally, I earned my Formulas & Validations badge and completed the my first trail in Trailhead!

What I Learned

  • Trailhead is fun: I wanted moar points and moar badges!
  • Formulas are more complex than I thought. I need to spend more time learning what the syntax means and how to use it in context.
  • Slow down. By going too fast, I sped past the fact that I didn’t need to create custom fields when there were standard ones that already exist for what I needed.
  • The Salesforce Community really is as awesome as I thought it was. The tips I found in the Forum and from my team were really helpful and explained thoroughly.

Now What?

In the spirit of not being afraid, I’ve taken on a pro bono project helping a local nonprofit implement and customize their Salesforce org. Yikes. I’m excited and scared, and am really thankful that I’ve got a great coach to help me along the way. Stay tuned for my next step in my journey to become an #awesomeadmin…

Have you had problems figuring out formulas? How did you learn? Share your stories, tips, and resources with me on the Success Community or Twitter!

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