So you want to work in information technology? There are several paths you can take: You can go the Zuckerberg route and be a natural genius who learned to develop his own apps without earning a college degree. You can attend a university and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a degree, and then an advanced degree, in order to get started. Or you can study your butt off and pay hundreds of dollars to earn an IT certification.
Unfortunately, most of us aren't geniuses and few of us have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on school. For people outside of the US, even spending hundreds of dollars on an IT certification can be a heavy investment. Salesforce wants to level the IT education playing field with Trailhead, the company's free online learning platform devoted entirely to teaching people to use Salesforce.
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Trailhead is designed to introduce new users to Salesforce, to help novice users develop their skills, and to help advanced users become Salesforce experts. They can use Trails, or guided learning paths, that are quick, easy, and fun ways to learn about Salesforce, or they can use Modules, which are smaller, bite-sized lessons to learn about a specific task. Today, Salesforce added to that learning arsenal by unveiling Trailmixes, a new way for users to interact with Trailhead and promote their learning experiences with others. As users improve their knowledge of the Salesforce app ecosystem, they earn badges. When they reach credential-level expertise, they earn Superbades, which Sarah Franklin, SVP of Developer Relations and GM of Trailhead, said can be used in the same way as any other IT certification.
Show and Prove
In 2001, Cheryl Feldman, a New York-based hairstylist tore her rotator cuff. The repetitive motion of blow drying hair made it impossible for her to continue doing her job without experiencing excruciating pain and causing further damage. She began working as an administrative assistant, and eventually began responding to helpdesk tickets in Salesforce.
"I spent hours each night reading about Salesforce and convinced my IT department to give me admin access. With that new authority, I created my first formula field that allowed us to drill further down into our contacts for info that we needed," Feldman wrote on her Trailhead testimonial. "That is the moment that opened my eyes to the power of what someone with few technology skills could do with Salesforce. I knew this is what I wanted to do: I wanted to play with Salesforce all day and all night. But how could I make Salesforce my career? I searched Monster that night for Salesforce and there it was, my dream job. A startup was looking for a sales and field operations manager to do reporting and manage their Salesforce org. Bingo! I applied, and I got the job."
Today, Cheryl is an Assistant Vice President at Allianz Global Investors, an investment management firm in charge of more than $585 billion worth of assets. But where would Cheryl's career be now without that initial opportunity? What if her employer hadn't given her access to Salesforce to handle those helpdesk tickets? For many, that opportunity never comes, especially if you live outside of the US, or if you don't have the money to take a course or go to college.
"People are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and graduating with nothing but a diploma and debt, and they can't find jobs as a barista," said Franklin. "We're reinventing the resume for the digital economy."
Franklin thinks Trailhead can also help to bridge the gap between some of the marginalized communities we find in the US. For example: Although women make up 57 percent of the professional workforce in the U.S., according to the National Center for Women in Information Technology, only 25 percent of professional computing jobs are held by women. Black and Hispanic workers hold only 5 and 7 percent of jobs at large tech companies, according to Fortune Magazine. By diversifying the ways people receive their information about Salesforce, Salesforce hopes to diversify the people who learn to use Salesforce.
Salesforce isn't only interested in diversifying the workforce, the company also wants to diversify how users interact with its educational materials. When you think of the new Trailmixes feature, think of Spotify playlists. The way you'd compose a playlist of your favorite songs to share with the Spotify community, you'd compose a Trailmix of your favorite Trailhead activities to share with other Trailhead users.
Any Trailhead content can be added to a new or existing Trailmix. For example: Check out the "Build Your Developer Career on Salesforce" mix to start from scratch as a Salesforce developer, or the "Build Your Admin Career on Salesforce" mix, which will get you started on your journey to helping companies implement Salesforce. The courses aren't slimy Salesforce ads: The Developer course alone includes 49 hours and 50 minutes of learning material.
So What's In It for Salesforce?
Salesforce doesn't charge anyone to use Trailhead, and it doesn't cost anything to create a Trailmix. That's because in addition to "making the world a better place" through democratization of education and diversity of talent, Franklin said Salesforce is hoping that Trailhead helps Salesforce clients take better advantage of Salesforce tools and services.
"Employers need to help employees learn from day one," she said. "As companies hire, what we see is that managers are able to create their own 'Things to Know' mixes, which helps with onboarding." So, rather than sitting over the shoulder of a new staffer, Salesforce is hoping managers delegate the educating to Trailhead.
Additionally, Trailhead usage can be extended to staffers who wish to go outside of their purviews. A customer relationship management (CRM) expert who wants to learn how to build apps with no code can take a course about Salesforce App Cloud. As employees learn more about the Salesforce ecosystem, they become better Salesforce users, as they become better Salesforce users, they work quicker, they work smarter, and the company benefits.
Which brings us back to our initial question. Can a learning tool can help to overcome Silicon Valley's diversity issues and rising education costs? Today, more than 450,000 people use Trailhead. Users have earned more than 3 million badges (or skills) since the product was first demoed at Dreamforce 2014. Franklin thinks it can do even more. "Trailhead can empower everybody to skill up for this industry."