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In a special two-part series, Salesforce certification enthusiast Michael Drzewiecki takes us through his incredible journey from certification newbie to knocking on the Certified Technical Architect door in less than six months!

Part 1: My First Certification at Dreamforce 2016

My certification journey started innocently enough. When registering for Dreamforce '16 (my 2nd, as I had attended in 2015 as a Salesforce newbie), I noted there were certification exam options. Knowing that certification was on my to-do list, I decided that this was my line in the sand, and registered to take the Salesforce Administrator exam on October 3rd, the day before Dreamforce kicked off.

Having completed some Trailhead modules, and attending the Administrator Essentials for New Admins class—together with a lot of self-taught experience—I felt my chances were reasonable. I planned to arrive in San Francisco on Sunday, so I could have all day Monday to prepare, then sit for the exam in the afternoon. The day came. The atmosphere in the waiting lines and in the room itself was tense with nervous energy. I took a deep breath and started. I felt pretty good about it until I hit that submit button. And there was that word no one wants to see: FAIL.

However, this is the last time you will hear me say that word. I really didn't fail—I simply did not succeed. Anyone who prepares for and then sits for an exam is simply not a failure. Valuable lessons are learned. As this was my first time, I learned what the exam process really feels like. That was a HUGE win, and I highly recommend to anyone who's on the fence about attempting an exam to simply just do it! With every subsequent attempt in my certification journey, I either passed, or learned more about the process and the topic, revealing where I needed to go back and study some more.

Back to Dreamforce '16. I still wanted to meet my goal of leaving the event as a certified Administrator. I returned to my hotel room to review my section-level feedback (it was in beta back then). Now, here is an important exam tip: Section- level feedback is a powerful tool, if leveraged correctly.

Section-Level Feedback is KEY

Here is my actual feedback from that day:

Now at first glance, you'd think Activity Management and Chatter would be an area of concern, right? Well, the reality is no, actually it's not. Without leveraging this feedback against the weighting from the official study guide, you will not get an accurate picture of where you stand.

In reality, Activity Management accounts for 3% of the grade, whereas Chatter is only 1%—which likely equates to about one question. This goes both ways, however, so don't get too excited about that 100% on Organization Setup, as that's only 1% as well—which again, is just one question! So let's apply that weighting and see where the real impact is:

First off, I was so close! When you reorganize the topics by the weighting, you can easily see that I was quite comfortable with the top topic—Standard & Custom Objects. The next two, however, I really needed to work on. I was actually not surprised, as I had not yet hit on these topics in my real-world experience.

If at first you don't succeed, try and try again!
So now, I had a plan. Study all night, concentrating on the Security & Access and Analytics, Reports & Dashboards topics, and then retake the exam in the morning. Aggressive? Maybe. But I was hungry for success! Morning came. I sat for the exam, completed it, and clicked that final button—this time, with some trepidation—and it was a PASS. I had moved those two key categories to 88% and 83% respectively, also bumping up the top topic to 90%; therefore, easily passing.

That feeling of passing your first certification is amazing. Now I was hooked. And I thought, as I still had three days, could I complete another certification? I had not prepared at all, but decided that I would go for it anyway. I made a pact with myself: I would sit for an exam every morning that was left of Dreamforce. Again, emboldened by my success, I studied all night, this time for Salesforce Platform App Builder.

And again, morning came, I sat for the exam...and learned some valuable lessons about the areas I needed to work on. I leveraged that section-level feedback against the weighting and, in this case, it revealed three areas I needed to work on. Study, morning, test...more lessons learned. I had improved on those three areas, but slipped in another, so I just missed it. I did not succeed by ONE question. “Game on, App Builder exam!” I thought. This just got personal, and I had one attempt left.

The embodiment of Salesforce Ohana
By Friday morning, I had hit the “books” again and crammed all night. I was determined to succeed. I headed over to the Salesforce University Lodge... only to find all the exam spaces were full! Gutted. But this is when I really learned what #Ohana means at Salesforce. The Salesforce University crew stepped up. They easily could have turned away the extra people. They'd had a long, hard week too (one even lost her voice!) and they likely just wanted to get home.

But no, they stepped up BIG time. They magicked up another testing location at the local Salesforce offices. Now, I have no idea what this took, but I assume it was no small feat. They offered transport to anyone who needed it, and even brought over “Certified” swag for those successful candidates (again, #Ohana!).

This time it was a PASS. I was ecstatic. I achieved more than my goal and left Dreamforce 2x certified! Little did I know then what was to come next...

If you’ve been inspired by Michael's story, learn more about how you, too, can become a Salesforce Certified Professional. Watch out for Part 2, where we discover how Michael trailblazed his way through his Certified Technical Architect journey!