Three years ago, David Liu was a Salesforce Administrator who wished he had learned to code during college. Driven to learn, he taught himself how to code in six months and landed his first job as a Salesforce Developer. Fast forward two years to today – David is a Salesforce MVP and Salesforce Architect at Google. He believes from the bottom of his heart that Salesforce developer skills are key, and that anyone can do it too! I recently had a conversation with David and wanted to share his story. If you’re interested in building your own developer skills, David will be teaching in an upcoming webinar series beginning May 15th, registration is now open.
LT: When did you learn to code? What do you love most about it?
DL: I started to code in 2011 and I got my first developer job about six months after I began learning how to code. There are so many things I love about it! The biggest thing is having the powers to do anything. Back when I was in marketing I used to always be jealous of the engineers. Whenever we needed websites or applications they could build it. I wanted to have that power myself and the flexibility to build anything.
LT: I’ve met a lot of Salesforce Administrators who are interested in coding, what would you say to them?
DL: It’s easier than you expect, you will be shocked! The hardest part is getting started. The first two months you may have no idea what you are doing, but then after that you are in the matrix! It doesn’t matter where you went to school or what your background is, if you want to do it you can do it. It just takes perseverance.
LT: How did you get started with Force.com?
DL: I used to be a professional email marketer. I was doing a lot of marketing automation and all of the major marketing automation companies integrate with the Salesforce Platform, so I started dabbling in it. There was this moment at one of my companies where we needed to close our books in Salesforce CRM and we couldn’t do what we needed to do with Workflow Rules. A consultant was too expensive for us so I said I would take on this project. I asked my boss to give me a month to build a Force.com application. It was the greatest learning experience of my life, I was so shocked how easy it was to learn to code on the Salesforce Platform. I built the application and they are still using it to this day. I took a lot of classes in the beginning in Java and other languages. There are so many less barriers to entry with the Salesforce Platform. The Salesforce Platform is so different, it’s all done for you.
LT: How was the learning curve for Apex/Visualforce?
DL: The first two months were tough. The first time I wrote something in Apex I spent a whole day wondering why my code didn’t work. Turns out I was using double quotes instead of single quotes. That’s going to happen to everyone. After that first or second month, once you are over the hill, everything else is totally clear. Just hang in there in the beginning.
LT: What was the hardest thing about learning to code?
DL: Knowing where to start. In the very beginning I didn’t know where to start and I didn’t have anyone to mentor me. I had mentors but they didn’t know Salesforce Platform. Now there are so many resources. My site is there, there is a big and well developed community, it shouldn’t be hard to find a mentor.
LT: Are you going to Dreamforce this year?
DL: Yes! I want to speak at Dreamforce this year! I have a great Dreamforce story. Back when I started with the Salesforce Platform in 2010 I was dreaming of becoming a Salesforce Developer and I really, really wanted to go to Dreamforce. At the time I was working for a really small company and we didn’t have the budget to go. So I cold-emailed Marc Benioff, totally out of nowhere, and told him “I have to go to Dreamforce! If you send me tickets to Dreamforce I promise you that one day I will do great things in your community”. He replied! I was shocked. He said “David I will take you up on your promise, here are your tickets.” It was amazing, Dreamforce was amazing. I am so grateful for that chance to attend.
LT: That is such a great story! Does Marc Benioff know about all the amazing work you are doing for the community?
DL: I don’t know! If you could get the message to him that would be great. I want him to know the impact he has had on my career. Some day I would love to meet Marc and tell him how important it was to me.
LT: Who inspired you?
DL: I had the opportunity to meet Jason Venable at my first Dreamforce, he was a real inspiration. I saw him speak on jQuery, and then I made a point to sit next to him at another session to talk to him. I kept bumping into him at Dreamforce and asking him questions on how he became a coder. He was probably sick of me! Here he was, speaking at Dreamforce, he is one of the best in the community, and he comes from a non-coding background! I still visit his site all the time and read his posts.
LT: You have created a really effective Apex learning path on your website, sfdc99.com, tell me where the idea for that originated.
DL: When I first started learning, it wasn’t efficient. There were so many places I had to reference. Back then the community wasn’t as developed as it is today. I could have learned it so much quicker if there was a site to guide me, to inspire me. I didnt really know it was possible to go from a non-coding background to get a job as a Salesforce Developer. I knew Jason Venable did it, but maybe he was just some super genius. Now I know anyone can do it. I wish I had a site like that when I was learning so that’s why I built it. I know there are Admins out there looking to make a similar jump. I want to make it easy for them to learn to code.
LT: Whats next for SFDC99? Any exciting projects?
DL: Yes! I am having a hall of fame challenge based on all the tutorials that are up, I am going to create a challenge for Admins learning to code. I will rate the apps, put their pictures up, broadcast their apps. I also want to add more on Visualforce, I think that’s important. I want to also incorporate tips on how to get a job as a Salesforce Developer.
LT: What are your tips for how to get a job as a Salesforce Developer?
DL: People underestimate how much their non-coding background will help them get a job. Understanding the business side, being creative with solutions – that adds value. Coding is a tool to get things done, but it’s not necessarily your only tool. When hiring devs, we want people with a nice well-rounded background. I highly recommend people get certified. I think three certifications(Admin, Advanced Admin, Force.com Developer) are very doable and people should try and get them if they are looking for a Salesforce Developer job.
LT: Tell me about your current role at Google.
DL: I am a Technical Architect here! Pretty much all technical decisions for Salesforce Platform on my team go through me. I am the only technical person on my team. For example, we just spun up a new instance of Salesforce and being able to provide so much value for such a valuable team at Google is really great. I spend my whole day doing things I love in the Salesforce Platform, whether it’s writing code, Visualforce pages, integrations. Life is pretty good.
LT: What are your next goals?
DL: Getting my Technical Architect certification is at the top of my list! I also want to raise good children. Hopefully I can teach them some code too, but we will wait and see what they want to do.
LT: What resources do you recommend for Force.com newbies?
DL: Definitely the Salesforce Developer Community. If you have any coding problem, I guarantee someone else has solved it before. I also recommend the other community sites like Salesforce Stack Exchange and Success Forums. The book Head First Java changed my life! If I had not read this book I would be email spamming people right now. It is the easiest book to read, super funny and has weird diagrams. You learn really quick. Best $25 you will ever spend. You have to go to my Site! I write at least 2 posts a week, and if you go through all the tutorials you WILL get a job. If you don’t, contact me and we will work it out. The Salesforce Udacity course is super helpful. I also go to at least three different local Salesforce User Groups and Developer Groups. I have recently started to see Linkedin Groups pick up more too.
You definitely have to go to Dreamforce, it changed my life!
LT: Any last words of wisdom?
DL: You cannot be a good developer unless you are a good Admin. There is so much you can do without code on the Salesforce Platform. There are times you can do it with code or without code. When you reach that fork in the road, engineers sometimes over-engineer things and do it all with code. Then you have this beast code base you can’t work with. The platform is really flexible. For example, Visual Workflows are amazing, there is so much you can do.
If you want to be a great coder, never give up.
Your resiliency is your #1 skill.
To hear more from David, join “Apex for Admins” on May 15th