Tue, 23 March 2021
For this episode of the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we team up with Josh Birk, host of the Salesforce Developer Podcast. We come together about the difference between admins and devs and how you can get more dev skills in your toolbox.
Join us as we talk about why it’s easier than ever to learn to code, and how you can put those skills into action.
You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Josh Birk.
Thinking like a dev.
While Flow and code can feel like two different things, the thought process behind it is the same. “The admin roles are very process-driven,” Josh says, “whereas in the developer role, you’re really trying to figure out what is the appropriate functionality and what is the appropriate tool to bring that functionality forward.”
The important thing to realize is that these skills are totally obtainable if they’re of interest, and Josh has tons of examples of people who have started without a computer science background and gone on to great things. But even more importantly, understanding how everything works is important so you can communicate effectively with your developers and create something that works together.
What happens when an admin learns to code?
One other thing that gets people tripped up is the idea of task versus identity. Just because you’re doing an admin or developer task doesn’t mean that it’s your identity—things aren’t always so black and white. Sometimes you need to developer tasks, even if you’re an admin at heart. As Josh puts it, “having the developer role and role understand their strengths and their weaknesses helps each other do their job better.”
There’s also the fact that you need someone to help you troubleshoot when something goes wrong. Failure is an important part of learning, and having someone over your shoulder can be a big help. If you make the transition to being a dev or acquiring dev skills, there are a lot of options out there for where to go next.
There’s a lot more in the pod about how to get code skills and what to do with them once you acquire them, so be sure to listen in!
Mike: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk about product, community, and career to help you become an awesome admin. This week, we are diving into a really great discussion with fellow podcaster and host of the Salesforce Developer Podcast, Josh Birk. You may also know him for Trailhead.
Josh Birk: Thanks for having me, Mike.
Mike: So, since we last chatted, somebody started their own podcast.
Josh Birk: Oh really? Who was that?
Mike: Yeah. I don't know.
Gillian Bruce: I know. I know.
Gillian Bruce: Josh, it's you.
Josh Birk: Oh, since we last recorded. Oh my God. That was so long ago.
Mike: Yes, it was.
Josh Birk: Well, that was a whole pandemic and a half ago, at least.
Gillian Bruce: Yeah, the way time moves these days, it's like 10 years ago.
Mike: So, you have the Developer Podcast now.
Josh Birk: I have the developer podcast now. We are rounding up towards episode 75. Like y'all, we have gone out weekly since two Dreamforces ago, basically. And, and yeah, no, it's, it's been great. We've got episodes that are, these days lasting somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes, about 30 minutes usually.
Mike: Yeah, no, it's a great podcast. I'm always glad there's more podcasters for our audience to listen to. Well, we're bringing you on. We did a whole bunch of, of course everybody's doing video content these days, and we got some questions in the community and one of them really stood out that I responded to. It was during our release readiness and I know the developer release rain has got this question too, but there's a lot of people out there and they identify as admins, they identify as developers, they identify as architects and so many different identities. And one of them was, "Hey, I'm doing this, but I need some developer content."
Josh Birk: Yeah. Yeah. And it really isn't just a link, I think, would be my answer there. And I'm trying to remember what I actually pointed her to, if it was Trailhead or any of the podcast episodes, do you recall?
Mike: Well, I think it was a combination of both, but your response, because I got you on a hangout because our calendar was free. Your response got me thinking, which was, does she want to learn the skills or she want to learn how to think like a developer?
Josh Birk: Mmm, yes, yes. Yeah. And it's come up on in a lot of different conversations that, for instance, if we start comparing Flow to coding, for instance, and people like to call Flow "low code." But even developers brace at that a little bit, because they're like, "No, Flow is actually more like visual code," and the thought process between putting behind a Flow together versus putting an apex class together is actually really, really similar.
Gillian Bruce: So I think that's interesting, because I think we focus so much on the skills and like you said, Trailhead is very skills focused, but that thinking, that strategy, can you dig into maybe what some of those differences are?
Josh Birk: So, I think the admin roles, they're very process driven. It's very much a getting the right things into the right boxes at the right time for the right people kind of thing. Whereas in the developer role, you're really trying to figure out what's what's the appropriate functionality and what's the appropriate tool to bring that functionality forward.
Gillian Bruce: I think that's interesting Josh, because I know my personality, I would never have the patience to sit there and write a bunch of code and test it and troubleshoot it for hours and hours on end. I just know that that is not something that even appetizes me in the slightest. But there are people that just love that, and it's like tackling a really complex problem and getting in there. And so, I definitely would have a very hard time being a developer, I know that. I could probably learn the stuff, learn the skills, but actually having that kind of mindset and that kind of approach to my work would absolutely not do it for me.
Josh Birk: I want to add though, quickly, I sound like I'm almost diminishing taking time and learning some of the skills and getting a grasp of triggers and things like that. And I think even if you acknowledge that, that adding developer into your role is it's not something for you, getting your eyeballs on it is still very useful. I've had people in workshops admit to me, "I'm not a developer, I'm not a programmer, I'm never going to code the stuff, but I need to know what you're saying so that I can actually talk to my developers."
Gillian Bruce: Yeah. I think 100%, that's the difference between understanding versus building it yourself. And I think I've also, very similarly, I think it's so interesting to understand how the LWC works or understanding how to troubleshoot and use [SOCO] and some of those more complex things, but I would not sit there and come up with that stuff on my own. But I think that that is an important distinction there.
Josh Birk: Yeah. I have an anecdote for my workshop days, where somebody came to me and said that to me. They said, "I'm not a developer, but I need to learn some of this because I think my developers are lying to me."
Gillian Bruce: That's hilarious.
Mike: Josh, I think one of the things that seems to come to mind for me is, task versus identity. And just because, to the point of some of the questions we get, an individual doing a developer or an admin task doesn't necessarily mean that that's their identity.
Josh Birk: Yeah. And I feel like we have a lot of like marketing and organizational cruft, which leans to having those very distinct concepts. But then when you wander around the community, that distinction is never as black and white as sometimes we put it in our organization or our training material.
Gillian Bruce: Yeah, the admin-eloper a really interesting thing that popped up from the community, which I mean, this is always where these... Everything we get is because of what people are actually doing. And I think it is interesting because understanding the language, understanding the skillset and even understanding the different... A developer approach as an admin, can really add a great deal to your abilities, to either help manage your own Salesforce instance, or even work across different teams and up-level your game there, which I think is a really interesting way to think about it. So, even if you're not going to go down the developer path, understanding enough to be dangerous, kind of thing.
Josh Birk: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we've always said, from either side of the spectrums, having the developer role, an admin role, know their strengths and their weaknesses helps each other do their job. And so I always, and this is the classic example, but I remember being in a business requirements gathering meeting, and they were going through this automation process that was going to have to happen. And I get out of the meeting and I turn to my business partner and I'm like, "That's not that bad. I can put it into a trigger. It'll probably take me a couple of days, but I want to have a couple more days just to be able to test it." And he just looked at me blankly, and this will tell you how old this anecdote is, but he's like, "Or I could just put it in a workflow for you and we're done."
Mike: And it would have been native, no code.
Josh Birk: And it would've been native, no code, which, we get that with Flow these days as well. So, you still get that advantage of not having code, but you have a lot of the flexibility too.
Mike: Is some of that just a symptom of systems not having their own configurable backend, front end, prior to Salesforce?
Josh Birk: Yeah, no, absolutely. That's 100% spot on, because I come from a web development background. And so, my world is client server, client asking polite questions, the server thinking about it ponderously and then giving some kind of response. And if there was any automation at that point, that's an integration layer on the server, that's going and kicking something off or handing things over and things like that.
Gillian Bruce: So Josh, let's go back to our original question about an admin actually wanting to learn how to be a developer. You talked about like the difference in the thinking, the strategy. What are some first steps that someone in that category might do, from your perspective?
Gillian Bruce: I mean, nobody goes to the gym if they don't have an accountability buddy, I totally get that.
Mike: And sometimes they don't go to the gym even if they do.
Josh Birk: Right.
Gillian Bruce: Especially when your accountability buddy isn't very accountable. But one of the things, so, I like taking myself back to when I first started at Salesforce and we were all in four floors in the landmark building. And I worked on the floor with all of our product team. A bunch of developers. And they actually did so much of that, I guess they call it partner programming or whatever, where they both sit at the same desk and are looking at the screens together and actually working together. And I think that's immediately what came to my mind when you were describing that process of having somebody to bounce ideas off of and work with, it's really important when you're getting the developer chops.
Josh Birk: Yeah. I think there's two things that are always true if you're really getting into that role of a developer, identifying as developer. One is that you get into that peer programming, and there's a joke amongst developers that, I'm glad I got you to look over my shoulder because that's the only thing I needed to know to see the bug in my code. Weirdly, just having another human being in your cubicle was the one thing that got you to get to the next point. So, there's always, I think, a social aspect to it, or it's easier if there's a social aspect to it.
Gillian Bruce: Wow, writing code from magazines. That's a stamp in time right there.
Josh Birk: Yeah, I'm not young.
Mike: Those things are punch cards [crosstalk].
Josh Birk: It's just after that, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mike: I was saving my box tops and putting them in an envelope, self-addressed and waiting the six to eight weeks.
Josh Birk: Yeah, no, that was the generation right before me. That was, one of my old bosses used to say that I couldn't complain to him until I had to carry my punch cards uphill both ways. Because, that's what he says he had to do.
Gillian Bruce: That's hilarious. Well, I mean, the idea that failure is part of learning and it's very important part of learning, I think is something that is, as you say, it's embedded in the developer experience and developer journey. But from an admin perspective, I could understand how that might be a little like, "Wait, what? I'm going to fail? And that's part of the thing? Because my job is to make everything work and to make my users super happy. And that's why I have Sandbox, that's why I test stuff."
Josh Birk: And I do like that there's a shared experience, and this is probably true across anybody working with the solutions that are for a lot of customers or clients. You are doing your job right when the trains are coming in on time. And it's like, then nobody's complaining. It's like that, if everything's running smoothly, then that's when things were actually going green. I think that's definitely true for both admins and developers.
Gillian Bruce: So Josh, let's talk a little bit about what the options are when an admin does transition into the developer realm. Can you talk to me a little bit about what those career path options look like? What kind of roles would a newly minted developer in the Salesforce ecosystem look for, and what are the different options in that space?
Gillian Bruce: That's great. That's great. It's helpful too, to understand what your developer job would actually look like day-to-day. So, when you described, like you're accepting the business requirements and building thing, that is a shift from a day-to-day admin role. So, that's good. I always like understanding, so if I take this job, what am I actually going to be doing every day? It's a good thing to think about.
Josh Birk: Yeah. And there's another thing that's come up recently a lot, which is you have Flow. How do you unit test Flow? How do you keep Flow in check when you're moving it from Sandbox to production? And the correct answer, there's actually Apex unit testing. Having Apex pull the levers that the Flow is going to do and make sure that it does the right thing at the end. And so, there's a good example of, if you've got that domain knowledge between those two things, whether you started from an admin perspective or a developer perspective, your production is probably going to be a lot more stable that way.
Mike: I thought you just told it, it was a good boy and gave it treats when it went to production correctly.
Josh Birk: That's my usual strategy, but Flow and I have a very strange relationship.
Mike: Good boy, Flow.
Gillian Bruce: Josh, you spent many years cultivating that relationship. So, you've earned that.
Josh Birk: I have. There's been a lot of interesting conversations along the way. This is true.
Gillian Bruce: Well, Josh, thank you so much for taking time.
Josh Birk: Yeah, no, it's a delight and I look forward to talking to you two. And I also, just so you get this in audio, I want to thank both of you. Mike, you were instrumental in me thinking that maybe we should actually do a Salesforce Developer Podcast.
Gillian Bruce: Hey, we love having new awesome Salesforce podcasts, and you have just taken it and rocked it. So, thanks for the kudos, but it's all you Josh. So, nice job.
Josh Birk: All right. Well, thanks for having me. And I look forward to talking to you two, in the future.
Gillian Bruce: Well, huge thanks to Josh for taking the time to chat with us today. It's always great to have another fellow podcaster join us on the pod. It's like metapod action. If you want to learn more about all things, Salesforce Admin, go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources. You can check out Josh's Developer Podcast at developer.salesforce.com.
Josh Birk: Because Paige was like, "I really want to go get a turtle." And we had forgotten about the salmonella scare which made turtles not pets anymore.
Gillian Bruce: Oh yeah.
Josh Birk: Yeah, so.
Gillian Bruce: Yeah, they are huge harbors of nasty salmonella, but the best part about Zippy real quick, is that, tortoises live for 80 plus years. So, my next door neighbor, Bernadette, she's older. She's got to be in her seventies and she's already having to create her retirement plan for Zippy after she passes because no one's going to be around to take care of Zippy. So, she's like, "I've talked to the zoo. The zoo is willing to take him."
Josh Birk: Oh, aw. Aw, Zippy.
Gillian Bruce: So, caution when you, when you invest in animals that live a long time.
Josh Birk: Yes, yes. You might have to consider that they're living well, true.
Mike: I think I read somewhere that there was... One of the oldest tortoises was like 180 some years old.
Gillian Bruce: Yeah, some of those Galapagos tortoises.
Mike: I'm fairly certain he doesn't care. Do you think he remembers his first owner?
Josh Birk: I think your one 180 is probably very similar to year 80, which is probably very similar to year 40 for him.