Trailhead from Salesforce: free learning but no cheating please

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks November 12, 2015
Helping staff learn new skills, Trailhead from Salesforce is a free self-directed online education service to open the door on the world of apps development

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After having it in beta for a year, Salesforce has now launched its free online applications development training programme, Trailhead, to the world at large. And in so doing, it has given everyone — from current users looking to add to their skills through to the unemployed looking for a break — an equal chance to get on board.

The new version 2 of Trailhead is now available in four languages: German, French, Japanese and, unsurprisingly perhaps, English. That should give it pretty good traction in many places around the globe, which is a sensible move if what Guillaume Roques, the VP of developer relations at Salesforce, says is also true in the rest of the world:

There is research from Wanted Analytics which suggests that having skills at using Salesforce can lead to a $20,000 salary premium for staff in the USA.

If the same does prove true in other locations, at least on a percentage upshift basis, it could be even more financially beneficial to users in emerging economies that are particularly active.

Leg up for the unemployed

And if such skills are in that level of demand, then having Trailhead freely available online means that students, those looking for a career change and the unemployed looking for a start, all get the chance to benefit and obtain some proof that they have a basis of skill that can be exploited by employers.

That proof comes in the form of `badges' awarded following the attainment of challenges set at the end of each module an individual opts to go through. These do not represent a qualification as such, and there is no official validation by an independent body, but they are intended to be a guide to employers as well as a personal milestone of an individual's personal development.

Against that background, Roques can see no real advantage in anyone cheating at the process, even though he acknowledged that it is possible.

We see no real point in anyone cheating to obtain a badge, for they would soon get found out anyway. And Trailhead is in no way a replacement for our existing Salesforce Certification program, which is still the real testing ground, so badges are not based on judging or certifying people. Trailhead is aimed at helping people develop their knowledge and skills. It can be used to help teams get everyone up to the same basic level, or to help an individual get up to speed in an application area new to them. It is aimed at anyone looking for a place to start with Salesforce.

To that extent, the company has already made the beta version available with the specialist applications development college in France, Ecole 42. And as it is free, it is likely to become a tool for other schools and colleges specialising in applications development and/or business studies.

Three-stage model

Trailhead follows a three-stage model to help people develop their knowledge and skills. The first is the `trail' itself.

The idea is to give them a trail to follow to learn something about the applications cloud.

Second is a range of modules which allow individuals to select those areas of the Salesforce world about which they want to learn more. Each module is a sub-set of the cloud services available in Salesforce and means that they can learn what they need to help with career change or development, and learn it at a pace that suits them and their specific needs.

The third stage is trying their acquired knowledge in undertaking challenges that demonstrate their level of understanding. Completing this stage is how they win badges. These challenges can go as far as undertaking practical, hands-on projects where they are expected to build and use the functionality they have learned about.

They can turn to the Salesforce community for help here so, yes, it is theoretically possible for someone to cheat and effectively get the community to build it for them, but there is little learning in that and they will get found out soon enough. It is just not in their interest to do it.

One other addition made with version 2 of Trailhead is that it will now be possible for badge winners to expose them on LinkedIn, which should add to the winners personal marketability both within their companies, and in the wider market.

Roques is expecting to see a significant take up of Trailhead now it is past beta.

In the year in beta there some one million Challenges undertaken, and so far around 250,000 badges have been issued.

My take

Though it may appear counter-intuitive, making Trailhead both free and non-validated could be an advantage. It could increase the value of individual staff at little investment cost in training, and could also increase the `stickiness' of Salesforce as a skillset of choice for long term — something the company itself would no doubt desire. And last of all, it has an altruistic component in providing a vehicle where those not in the jobs marketplace yet — such as students and the unemployed — can hitch a ride and get a chance.

Image credits: Silhouette cowboy with horse against sunset © vencav -

Disclosure: Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner.

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