Wednesday 5 November 2014

Musings of a Trailheader

Screen Shot 2014 11 02 at 16 09 03


Trailhead is a new interactive learning initiative for Salesforce developers - you can read more about it at my introductory post, or on any of what seems like hundreds of write ups in the developer community blogosphere. Having been through all of the available exercises and had a couple of days to reflect, here are a few of my thoughts on the system and some ideas for maximising the awesomeness.


Challenges and automated checking are going to be key factors in the success of this program. The Salesforce developer community are a competitive bunch, and anything involving badges and points gets a lot of interest.  With 1.8 million developers already using the platform and more signing up on a daily basis, there’s no way a manual system would be able to scale, and any delays would likely lead to user frustration.  I’d like to find out more about how this works - it looks like it purely relies on API access to the developer edition rather than any Salesforce-only under the hood stuff, but I’d also be interested to know if there’s a package or framework that allows pure configuration, or if each challenge requires coding from scratch. Maybe a topic for a future Developerforce blog post.

Challenges that rely on having completed the follow-along exercises in the unit would make sure that even experienced developers had been through all of the details, rather than skipping straight ahead to the challenge.

A leaderboard would be a cool addition to this. I’d be inclined to avoid a lifetime top 10 type of board, as once a couple of months have passed it would become all but impossible for new Trailheaders to appear on it.  Instead, something that shows the top scorers for the last month, or biggest increase in points in the last week etc would give everyone a chance to see their name up in lights. An awesome spin on this would be to segment based on developer group membership, which would allow us to recognise the top performers in our groups each time we get together.

Another idea, which I’m still in two minds about myself, is timed challenges.  In this scenario, accessing the detail of a challenge starts a timer and the number of points available drops down over time. This should encourage Trailheaders to read all of the related material to ensure they are fully prepared for the challenge before attempting it, although if the points drop too quickly it might be off-putting.

Build a Complete Application by Following a Trail

A trail whose units/modules combined to leave the Trailheader with a complete and functional application would be amazing.  I’m well aware that the amount of effort and attention to detail involved would be enormous. It would also need to cover a wide range of topics, although judicious use of code shares/unmanaged packages could get the basics in place quickly.

Organised Trailhead Events

This covers a couple of scenarios:

  • Trailhead content and challenges specifically (or initially) produced for Developer Group Events. For example, last year we had Salesforce1 Developer Week across the globe, with mini-hacks for participants. Tying this into a new trail would help to drive interest and attendance.
  • Elevate/Hands On Workshops run via Trailhead - having run one of the Hands On Workshops at Dreamforce, it seems to me that this would be a good fit for the format.
I also think the existing content would be great for “Intro to” type events and I’m thinking about how we can leverage this in the London Salesforce Developer Group.

Get the Community (More) Involved

Judging by the number of tweets/blog posts/Facebook shares, the developer community are already pretty taken with Trailhead, but that’s purely from a consumer standpoint. Rather than just suggesting topics it would be great if we could build trails/modules/units (most likely the latter, as it looks like there’s a huge amount of effort involved in a trail!). With attribution for the author on the item, I’m sure there would be a deluge of submissions! This would also allow related technologies to be introduced, such as working with JavaScript frameworks or Responsive Design.

To be fair, I’d be amazed if this wasn’t already being considered at some level. It probably won’t happen for a little while, as Trailhead is shiny and new and I’m sure that the Salesforce developer relations team are learning as much from this as the Trailheaders. 

That’s my thinking for now - I’m sure other ideas will occur to me, in which case I’ll update this post if and when then do.

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