What’s the first skill set you hire for when you realize you need a solution to a business challenge?  Often, companies will hire/contract software developers to build them tools without first understanding the business problem they’re trying to solve.  Or, companies will hire a consultancy specializing in business process to tell them what type of process they need but those consultants won’t actually put (digital) pen to paper and create a working solution.  Over the 20 years I’ve spent in technology, I’ve come to value the “Solution Developer” skill set – one of equal parts affability, business acumen and technical know-how – over pure play roles like “Application Developer”, “Business Analyst”, “Project Manager”.  This blog post is intended for those wishing to become a Solution Developer or for those companies wishing to understand how a Solution Developer help decrease costs and accelerate time-to-market on usable process/software solutions.

Skip this next paragraph if you already know what Learning Management Systems (LMS) are all about.  If you don’t, consider this a tiny primer.  When I started my career in technology, I had no skills and a lot of potential.  I loved math, coded websites in HTML (1.0) and Javascript before CSS was a thing and I typed really, really fast, but…  I decided that Anthropology was a better major than Chemical Engineering and spent 4 years in college learning how to think critically rather than how to best utilize a bubble-sort algorithm or process arrays of data.  I had learned to suffer the joke: q: “What’s the top question an Anthropology graduate asks?” a: “You want fries with that?”.  My favorite books to read came from the classics department.  After graduating, I went up to Wyoming and started working in the field on excavation and survey (in that curious reverse order) and realized that digging in the hard dirt of the high plains is HARD work and is not financially rewarding.  Other things happened that summer and I came back with a desire to put what little technical skills I had to productive use (i.e. $$).  After a stint as an HR scheduler and as an Executive Assistant (both requiring knowledge of software and typing / organization skills), I was sent to build my skills further as a Software Tester.  What I learned about learning on the job in that role was that you should take every opportunity to make yourself more marketable when your company fosters a culture that values learning.  I worked at Level 3 Communications in a very exciting time and there were all these Computer-Based Training (CBTs) available to teach yourself stuff and I was young and hungry.  So I completed courses on SQL, which would lay a foundation for data-driven solutions.  I completed courses on Unix, which ended up serving me well in a Command Line Interface (CLI) future which is the current-day underpinning of SFDX.  The software I used to complete these courses (Cornerstone) was fun to use.  Completing the courses gave me a sense of progress towards a goal.  A percent complete on any course and a progress bar towards competency in a given area.  These courses were simple power-point slides with content and questions.  I used them side-by-side with tools (TOAD, VIM, UltraEdit) to get a foundation in software development.  But what I learned about all this was that one can reinvent themselves and Learning Management environments facilitate that reinvention.  Over the years, as I progressed in the field and began to hire, I started to seek out candidates with the capacity to learn more so than candidates who already had the skills.  I found success: identifying these people (a); providing them guidance about how to proceed on the path to discovery (b); and developing them as employees and consultants (c).  This blog post is about “b”, giving curious minds a path to reinvent themselves.

You know about Salesforce.com, otherwise you wouldn’t be on this site.  Salesforce has grown from a pure Sales Management/Marketing Tool to one extensible enough to solve any business problem in any business function.  But how do you get started?  A little less than 4 years ago, Salesforce rolled out “Trailhead” to help Business Users and Administrators learn more about the platform (developer use of the tool would follow when certifications were rolled in).  I encouraged everyone I influenced to sign up and begin to gain mastery in certain areas.  The trailhead environment has grown substantially since over time and now includes Modules, Projects, Trails and Trailmixes.  There are “tracks” that guide you to explore what is relevant for a particular job function (Business User, Admin, Developer, Architect) and skill level (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced).  But remember that a Solution Developer is a bit of a hybrid, needing to know about how users employ the system as much as how to build the system they’ll employ.  That’s where Trailmixes come in.  It is becoming less relevant to go to a class for 2 days and become ‘certified’ than it is to gain mastery of an area over time.  The attainment levels in Trailhead currently stop with Ranger (achieved with 100 badges).  I like to talk to potential consultants when they have 25 badges.  But not just any 25 badges – ones that are relevant for the Solution Developer hybrid skill set.  So I set up a trailmix to help those folks get started called “Greener Pastures Core“.

When my children are helping me with a job in the backyard like clearing and breaking down tree limbs downed by heavy winds, they’re often daunted by the magnitude of the job.  First they put on their gloves and eye protection (tools) and then they start breaking down the sticks branch-by-branch, chanting the mantra: “The journey of a 1000 miles starts with… a single step”.  That step is signing up for Trailhead and getting started down the path.  Sign up and come help us help our clients.