Interview with our own Platform Developer I book authors

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After a post from Jan Vandevelde went viral on the Belgium User Group for Salesforce he decided to write a book to help people with passing the Platform Developer I exam with support of Gunther. In this interview we will talk about their journey, the challenges, and of course the result!

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PART I THE START

Jan, you’ve just published a book called ‘Salesforce Platform Developer I Certification Guide’. How did that happen?

Well, as some of you may know I’m pretty active in the Salesforce community for years now. I’m a Community leader of the Belgium User Group, Salesforce MVP and one of the organizers of this awesome community-led event called YeurDreamin’ hosted in the Benelux. On my blog I sometimes post summaries on certification exams I took, tips on how to pass them and links to resources to study for them. One of those posts was on the Platform Developer I exam and went a bit viral within the community. I guess the main reason for that is that a lot of people have no programming knowledge and are a bit afraid of that exam. Also this exam is the only exam that is a pre-requisite to attain either Application Architect or Systems Architect certified. So it’s very high in demand. One day, somewhere in October 2018, I received an email from someone at Packt publishing asking me if I would be open to write a book to help people pass that exam.

Jan, what went through your head when you got that email from Packt?

My first tought was: “What? Me writing a book? Okay, I can manage a blogpost or two, but a book? That’s of a whole other level of writing!” On the other hand I thought: “This feels like an honor that they ask me to do that. And a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Let me think about this for a moment…”

So I answered the email, mostly with questions, like how long would it take? How do I approach this? What’s the deadline? How are you guys going to help me?

They rapidly answered all my questions. We had a call to go over the work schedule and Packt was very open to adapt the planning in any way so it would fit in between my full time job here at 4C, my Community engagements and the little private life I still have ;-) And we established a deadline of June 2019 to have the book published. So challenge accepted, and I started to work on the outline of the chapters and contents. But then I soon realized I would need help….

Help with what Jan? You are a certified Platform Developer right?

Yes I am, but for me it was really important that everything in the book would be explained in a very simple way, so that people, like myself, without any prior programming knowledge nor experience would be able to understand every single concept and pass the exam. And there is a big difference in understanding it yourself, being able to apply the concepts and explaining it to someone else in a simple manner. On top of that, I didn’t want to say things that would not be correct ;-) So yes I needed help. So, I reached out to one of my more experienced developer colleagues, of whom I knew he also has a passion for the Platform and sharing his knowledge and is happy to do some extra work in the evening and weekends… That’s when I emailed Gunther.

Gunther, how did you come in the picture creating this awesome book?

28 October 2018, It’s a rainy Sunday morning. The Friday before, I passed the ‘Sharing and Visibility Designer ’ certification and was studying for the next one: ‘Data Architecture and Management Designer’. My phone was lying next to me and did … Bzzz… Hmm, an email message on the phone. As usual, I look into it, even on a Sunday. Is there an emergency at a customer ? Ha no, It’s Jan. Apparently he’s also doing some work stuff. That’s just like me ;-) Why are we not surprised about that ? :)

I’m reading his email. Hmm, there is a document attached. What ?? Jan has been invited by Packt Publishing to write a book about the ‘Salesforce Platform Developer 1 certification’ ? Now that’s a great opportunity for Jan to share his incredible knowledge!!

Gunther, what did you think when you read that email ?

Well, I assumed Jan was looking for someone who could support him and help him out with the technical pieces of the Salesforce Developer 1 certification. Object Oriented programming, Interfaces, Virtual and Abstract classes, Web Service callouts,… Those are the harder concepts in programming and I assumed he would want help from a more experienced developer on that. Jan can write code, but this stuff is hard to comprehend and even harder to explain ;-) Maybe, I could help him out to write these chapters. A great opportunity for us and probably a once in a lifetime one! The only problem I had, I had never read a book. I hate reading. At school, when I needed to write a small resume about a book, I copy pasted the rear end of the book and wrote it in my own words :) But still I love challenges and love working with Jan, so I immediately offered my help.

And now you ‘re gonna write a book ? Com’ on Gunther, really? Yeah, I talked to my wife: “What do you think, me and writing a book. Does it fit together ?” She was laughing…, but she asked what kind of book I’m gonna write. I said: a technical thriller :) (laughing)

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PART II STARTING TO WRITE

How did the idea to write the contents of the book come about ?

Jan: First of all I started with the official study guide Salesforce provides that gives an overview of all the topics that need to be covered. Second, I had the idea to create a custom application on the Platform that would become the thin red line throughout the book and the reader would be building out that application leveraging the concepts as they are explained to them, through exercises. I find it very valuable to not only learn the theory, but also put it in practice before taking the exam. Also having our application as an example I could leverage this to explain concepts in an easier way. Then I sat down with Gunther explaining what I had in mind, what I tough was important and he filled in the gaps with his experience.

Gunther: I gave Jan some advice on which parts would be interesting. A year ago, I created a developer training plan, together with the HR department with a lot of content for our developer team. Maybe the trails on Salesforce Trailhead (always having fun with these trails) Some good tips for Jan, in the meantime, I was thinking: Should I … be writing some chapters on the book of Jan ? Two days later, Jan signs the contract with Packt and he was on holiday. He uses his holidays to write a book :) I know Jan like that. Breathing Salesforce, evenings, weekend and holiday :)

And I decided my plans for the next couple of months: I will help Jan out with the technical parts of the book. First meeting in the agenda, talked about the subjects and divided the workload. Jan took the ‘point and click’ chapters, I took the technical Apex code parts, which Jan would review for simplicity and clarity. Setting up everything in a developer environment, created a Chatter channel to collaborate, gave write access to the different documents and there we go. We were all ready, set to go! And I kept thinking: ‘Gunther, you are actually going to be writing a book… Are you insane ?!’

What about the audience of this book ? Do you need some technical expertise before you start to read this book ?

Gunther: The public of this book are people which are not actually a developer or people who have a developer background, but no Salesforce knowledge. This book will help people out to get started with development, even if they don’t have any experience, but they are looking forward to be creative and extend their knowledge and possibilities in Salesforce.

Jan: Look, I come from a non programming background and learned by doing, copy/pasting code snippets from blogs and tweaking them until they worked out for my use cases. I understand how challenging and scary it can be to learn to program on your own. My main priority has been, from the beginning, that EVERYONE without any prior coding experience should be able to understand everything in the book and be able to pass the exam. So every chapter, concept, exercise and tutorial has been made, reviewed and tested with THAT in mind. I even had one of our reviewers Marie-Anne Wouters, as guiney pig to challenge us throughout the book. Marie-Anne is a highly motivated analyst in my team, that started working with Salesforce a bit more than a year ago, straight out of school, with no programming experience whatsoever. And she accepted the challenge and absolutely came through on it! Oh yeah, she challenged us to rewrite a lot of our explanations ;-)

Gunther, you are a senior developer, so it isn’t a challenge to write these technical parts ?

Yes, indeed. I’m a senior Salesforce developer, but I could not use my own expertise in that stadium. In this book, I needed to explain everything about basic development and (especially) Salesforce development on a dummy level. I can tell you, that’s a challenge. We had an analyst on our team challenging us on our explanations and I also thought I could use my wife as a testsubject: “Do you understand what I mean with this ?” Ok, I’ve got the level of ‘Dummyproof’ :)

But first of all, Jan tried by himself to write the technical parts ?

Gunther: Yes. The initial plan was, he writes the parts until it will be to technical, I review his part and write the fully technical stuff. Sometimes, we had some discussions like the definitions about what’s a class or an instance. Jan tried to explain me. I said: ‘Hmm, that’s not 100% correct.’ But, at that moment I was in a furniture store (enjoying a one day holiday), I didn’t have my developers laptop in the neighborhood. I could not test anything… The same evening, the first part ‘dummyproof’ explanation of ‘What is a class, an instance and the difference between these 2 words, were a fact. And that was when I made the decision to write the full technical chapters of the book and have Jan and the colleagues review it on clarity and simplicity of the explanation. Besides that, I was thinking: ‘Gunther, you just wrote 1 part of a chapter of a book. How exiting is that for someone who has never read a book before? And you actually enjoyed it!’

Jan: Yes, that was the plan, but I have to admit I’m not a Advanced Developer….yet ;-) So, although I understand the concepts, only experienced developers, with real world practice, know the little small details of some stuff and also when to use what better. So it became clear to me I would need Gunther’s help much more than I anticipated. Luckily, Gunther just offered to write the programming parts himself and have me review them afterwards if they passed the dummyproof test ;-) That’s exactly how I know Gunther, always ready to help out, being a bit of a control freak, but also challenges himself to do things he has never done before! Great guy and I knew I could absolutely count on him 1000%!

I assume you are more or less the same character as Jan ? Doing Salesforce stuff during the weekends and holidays ?

Gunther: You need to know, Jan and I are very busy people and sometimes more than fully booked on customer projects. And most of my spare time, I’m creating a small application, gathering extra knowledge, and now i can add ‘writing books’ books to my extra-curricular activities list :) And during this journey, there were times we could not write any sentence, due to our workload. During the last month of the year, it was a really busy period for me, no time at all to write anything. But Christmas holidays were coming, so time enough to speedup the number of words with a factor of 500. After the holidays, 1st chapter was ready, 2nd chapter (and a very technical one) ready a bit over half of it… But we were thinking about involving some reviewers, to give some inspiration about the different subjects, challenge us and to check how we described everything. We also needed some extra technical review and eliminate some typo’s. So, we did a call to our colleagues to have a technical reviewer and a typo reviewer. After 2 weeks, we decided to have Maarten and Marie-Anne on board to review all the chapters. Best part was that Marie-Anne could combine 2 aspects: reviewing for grammatical errors and act as guiney pig as a non programmer ;-)

And then, Gunther ? Jan asked you to become the co-writer of his book. How did you feel about that ?

Gunther: I know Jan as a fair guy and I think he was a bit ashamed about the time I had actually put in his book. It was quit a lot. But my opinion is not: give a little, take a little. I saw contributing to this book as an opportunity to share my knowledge with more people than only the developer and consulting teams of 4C. With this book, I can share a bit of my knowledge with all the trailblazers all over the world. And it’s always a pleasure to work with Jan. He’s a guy that motivates you to do that something extra and deliver a great experience. So, I said: Yes, let’s do this together :-)

Jan: To be totally honest, Chapters were being written and reviewed, we were collaborating intensively trying to keep up with the deadlines and almost half through out the book it became very clear to me that I would have never made it without Gunther. The time and effort he put in the book without asking anything in return, was tremendous. And I know I’m quite a stuborn guy, so I can be very high demanding and I’ve asked him several times to rewrite things, add things remove stuff etc… He didn’t complain once ;-) When I realized this I reached out to Packt and asked if there was a way to make Gunther an official co-author of the book. Fair is fair, it was a joint collaboration, and they accepted and had Gunther sign the contract with them too.

PART III THE CHALLENGER

Did you have any challenges during the conception of the book ? Did you struggle with deadlines or anything?

Gunther: hmm, not really with deadlines, because they were under control (I think we released only 1 week later than expected, due to the delivery of the video content), but during the draft of chapter 5 and 6, we created a great exercise, which is a little bit the thread of the book. In the book, we will teach the readers to create a lightning component to import movies into Salesforce through an API. After the user searches (which is an API call to a movie database) a movie and gets results for his search, he can insert the movie immediately with all the correct data from an external database, only with one click. The publisher Packt was checking usage conditions and copyrights of the API and said: “You cannot use this API in the book, because we use the API for Commercial purposes”. That was a challenge, because each API has the same kind of copyright conditions. So, Jan reached out to the guys behind the API, and we received an official confirmation to use their API in our book. That was a relief, because all the exercises were created and tested in our org based on that API. If we were not allowed to use this API, we would have had to create our own API and rewrite all the exercises. But since we had the approval, I could finish off Chapters 5 and 6.

Jan: Honestly, in my case, time management was a big issue, luckily I had not taken any holidays yet, so I took some holidays to be able to create the necessary time to write ;-) Another surprise was that I just had finished the declarative automation chapter inlcuding Visual Flow, and then suddenly Salesforce announced a whole revamp of this feature coming with the Spring Release! That meant I had to find a way to get my hands on a Salesforce Org in which this preview was available and rebuild/rewrite all content, screenshots and video’s based upon the new and improved Flow Builder ;-) That set me back a couple of days in my planning ;-)

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PART IV THE RESULT

And than, the release of the book. I heard, you guys did more than only writing a book ? I heard you created video content, code repositories, etc… ?

Gunther: Yeah, that’s correct :) We did deliver all the content for the book (more than 500 pages) and reproduced all the examples in the book as code snippets in a repository and also delivered a video for each and every exercise in the book. With these videos, the readers can follow step by step the full exercise and the result, instead of just reading about it and looking at static screenshots. But I had a problem with the sound of my PC, so I asked Jan to do the voice-overs of my videos. Together, we created (I think) more than 5 hours video :). You can find the repository at https://github.com/PacktPublishing/Salesforce-Platform-Developer-I-Certification-Guide For the videos however…i’m sorry, you’ll have to buy the book to get access to those :-)

Jan: Yes, so the original demand from Packt was the content with example questions and a mock exam. Through the creation of the book and creating the exercises I thought it would be awesome to have all the exercises also recorded on video. Everybody has his/her own learning strategy: I myself, I love watching video tutorials, others however like to have a hard copy of a book to read and highlight stuff in. Everybody is different, and I wanted to accommodate all audiences. I’m still proud of the fact that we did this, but I totally underestimated the hours of work these video’s added to the project ;-) But it was worth it ;-)

Where can I buy your book (and would you sign it for me please :-) ) ?

You can get your copies here:

Gunther: And if you read the book, please leave a review on the site of Amazon (see link above). It’s great to see how many people already bought this book (and not only cause they know and like Jan or myself), but people who want to start with Salesforce development or to store in their offices to share the knowledge in several teams. And especially for you, we will create a personal message and sign it :-)

Oh great. Very nice. Jan, Gunther, Congratulations with the release of this book. Is there anything else that you would want to say or mention ? Gunther: Ah yes. Maybe a word of ‘Thank you’ to a lot of people who supported us during this journey. Starting with the management, team leads and colleagues of 4C. Without their support, this story would never have ended with a “happy end”. Especially Maarten Devos and Marie-Anne Wouters, our internal reviewers, who made this book a little less boring. All the guys and girls of Packt. A brilliant team that delivered a great support from, how to write a book, to giving tips and advice on how to give your book a good commercial start. My wife and children, with whom I have spent less time with while I was writing the book (I still cannot believe that I wrote a book :-) ) And of course, I want to thank Jan for getting me out of my comfort zone. Without a little ‘push’ of Jan, I would never have written a book in my whole life :-) Jan, Thanks for this great opportunity. I’m already thinking about a second one,… but maybe not right now :-) And of course ‘THANK YOU’ to all our readers right now and in the future. I hope a lot of trailblazers will make the change from an admin to a Salesforce developer with this book. I want to wish everyone who wants to certify themselves as a Salesforce Developer all the best and good luck! (And thanks to David Liu for the publicity and shout out while he was presenting at YeurDreamin ‘19, Admins: you can code too! )

Jan: Ah yes, of course also a THANK YOU to all of my colleagues and Salesforce OHANA for their support through this journey. Our CEO Pascal Borremans, who immediately responded with “Jan, this is a great and exceptional opportunity and we will support you in every way we can. Are you sure you have the time for it though?!”, when I asked him in October if I contractually COULD take on this opportunity offered to me ;-) This only reflects the values of 4C and reconfirms why I chose to work for 4C in the first place! It’s a loving, caring and supporting family and not a workplace ;-) And last, but not least, THANK YOU Gunther for all the effort, passion, willingness and support you gave me from the beginning until the end and far beyond! Lastly, I can only encourage Admins, Functional Consultants, Analysts, people looking for a career change or graduates to look into all the opportunities Salesforce has to offer! It’s a great ecosphere with challenges for anyone and to quote one of my idols David Liu: “Anyone can learn to code, so you can too!”

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