Salesforce lessons for everyone: An interview with David Liu

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Self-taught programmer David Liu is a Salesforce Technical Architect at Google—and just so happens to be a Pluralsight author, too. We thought we’d take a little time to pick David’s brain about all things Salesforce, authoring Pluralsight courses, and what it’s like to bring Salesforce coding to the masses.  

PS: How did you first get involved with Salesforce?

David: I first got involved in Salesforce when I graduated from college. I got my first job as a professional email spammer, literally sending out thousands and thousands of spam mails and I needed to get these leads to sales people, and they happened to be using Salesforce—I totally lucked into it. At that time I had no idea how to code, didn't know how to write a single line. But just through marketing and making HTML emails, I got to dabble a little bit in code and I loved it. I fell in love instantly and I remember telling myself that I wish I could make a career out of it.

PS: How did you learn to program?

David: I was learning to code specifically on the Salesforce platform and at the time there weren't many resources, so I was learning through a variety of mediums; books, classes on Java and other programming languages. I remember begging my friends and begging my coworkers for tips and just hacking along, making small projects. Eventually I was in a meeting with my CEO, it was a small company at the time, and he needed something to be coded in Salesforce. We didn't have any Salesforce programmers at the time, I was still learning and he was looking at buying or hiring a consultant to do this project, and it was going to cost us.

So, I remember I stood up during that meeting and I put my hand down on the table, I was like, Dave let me have a shot at coding this, I'll do this at night, I'll do this on the weekends—give me a month, give me two months to do this. If I code this you get it for free, if not, then go ahead hire the consultant. And sure enough, that forced me to successfully learn to code—and they still use that program today.

PS: That sounds like a big commitment, spending nights, weekends learning it. How do you make that a habit? How do you fully commit to learning?

David: The most difficult part of learning is fully committing yourself to it, and I remember one thing I told myself I had to do, and this is something I recommend for everyone else: Every day, even if you're just learning for five or 10 minutes, just force yourself to do it. Every day I'd read, even if it was just five pages of a Java book, and eventually it became a habit.

PS: You talked a bit about your first job out of college, can you tell us about the evolution of your career and what you do today?

David: I've had a very weird career. I started off as a professional email spammer, learned to code at my first company, was fortunate enough to get my first job as a programmer after less than a year. From then on, I just completely dedicated myself to coding in Salesforce and eventually I got a job at Google—that wasn't easy. I applied probably 10 times already and I was rejected every single time, then got lucky on number 11, and now I'm fortunate, I manage a team of Salesforce developers at Google.

PS: What do you think it was about number 11 that got you in that door?

David: I got into Google on try 11 because of what I learned from professional email spamming; everyone's personal information is online and you can buy it. So I bought the personal information of Google Salesforce managers—instead of sending my resume online or through friends, I just emailed the manager directly. Luckily he responded to me and I got the interview and, sure enough, I got the job.

PS: And now you're a Pluralsight author. What led you to choose Pluralsight as a place to create courses?

David: … ultimately, I wanted total creative freedom—I didn't want to just say what a company wanted me to say. I wanted the price point for my watchers to be very low and, at the current price point around $29 a month, it's very, very low … it's low enough that it's considerable for people and also, even in the worst case scenario, I can just pay for it for them.

PS: What has been your experience working with Pluralsight so far?

David: It has been amazing so far. I really feel like I have a world-class team behind me. For example, editors; I proofread and I look at all my work and there are so many things I miss, it's embarrassing. Just having a team of editors helping me with that and making sure that the content I put out is very professional, that means a lot to me. Also, my peer reviewers are some of the best people in the industry, they know code much better than I do and it's just awesome having that kind of support.

PS: Can you talk about the course development process, what are some challenges you face? What do you enjoy about it?

David: Basically, you have a lot of creative freedom to do what you want. I have my own studio in my home; I have sound panels, a microphone, I feel like a professional working on it. I'm doing some of the basic editing myself, coming up with all the content by myself and that's what I like … I wanted to make a course that's completely mine and Pluralsight gives me the tools to do that.

... I had made the decision that I was going to learn to code or die trying

PS: If someone is thinking about authoring for Pluralsight but they’re a little hesitant, what would you tell them?

David: If you are lucky enough to be in a position where you can author for Pluralsight, and you don't do it, I honestly think you have to be crazy. My mentors, people I look up to, people who taught me how to code and people I dreamed of becoming like one day are authors on Pluralsight. And we work together—like you can join me, make a course and I will help promote your course, you can help promote my course. People will be watching all the Salesforce content on Pluralsight and we have the opportunity to make this landing page, this one-stop shop for people to get the best Salesforce content from the strongest Salesforce people in the world. My only regret is I didn't start earlier, and so if you have the opportunity I highly, highly recommend it.

PS: A lot of people who are familiar with Salesforce know about Trailhead. How does the Pluralsight curriculum compliment Trailhead?

David: Pluralsight and Trailhead are a match made in heaven. I work very closely with the Trailhead team, actually. Trailhead is awesome because it has so much breadth, it covers so many topics, and it really introduces you to concepts very nicely and gets you excited about it. And then once you find the path that you want, Pluralsight really goes deep into each topic. So you can really learn with the real world examples and hands-on examples how to, for example, code in Salesforce.

PS: What makes you passionate about teaching?

David: I wouldn't say I'm necessarily passionate about teaching. I really started because I was frustrated with the current curriculum that was out there. I wanted to learn to code and I had made the decision that I was going to learn to code or die trying. And so I searched to the ends of the earth for whatever Salesforce content I could find and there was really nothing out there. I had to learn it the hard way and, now, looking back, it could have been so much easier if it was just presented in a nice package all in one place. I honestly feel like I haven't really accomplished that much in my career, like everything I've done is very repeatable and anyone else can do it, too, if only they knew how—and that's what drives me to teach. I want people to be able to have the same opportunities that I did without all the frustration.

PS: You say you're not very accomplished, but you have a very popular blog. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

David: Thank you, it's called sfdc99.com, the tagline is “Salesforce coding lessons for the 99 percent.” It’s for people like me who didn't know how to code but dream of coding. That blog I started one day out of frustration. I didn't really have any goals for it, I just wanted to put out some tutorials and hopefully some people could learn from it. And then, sure enough, it just sky rocketed in popularity. Now I'm getting comments from people all over the world who are learning and most importantly they're dreaming, just like I did.

PS: What do you think are the top skills developers should be learning this year?

David: In Salesforce you must learn JavaScript. I think if you're a developer in Salesforce you really need to focus on learning the non-coding things too. A good developer knows when to use power and when not to use power. I think that's important. Also, I think there's a premium in the market right now for people who not only code but understand how to make good business decisions; good UIs, people who are quite well rounded. So I recommend developers round themselves out, work on their weaknesses.

PS: If you were speaking to someone who was starting from scratch learning about Salesforce, what advice would you give them?

David: Five minutes a day. Start making it part of your daily habits to learn something new. Force yourself to do it, no matter how tired you are, just do it for five minutes. It's going to be tough, but you have to force yourself to love it and force yourself to do it, and then eventually over time all these little things compound and you're going to achieve your dreams.

PS: When someone opens up a David Liu course for the first time, what can they expect?

David: When I make my courses I focus on making it very accessible. I remember when I was learning to code, usually you're learning from a book or something and you're crawling along and it's manageable—and suddenly you hit this cliff and it's so hard to learn. The approach I take is just baby steps all the way. Like, let's get some code—it's not perfect, but you wrote the code and that's the key and you're starting to have fun and you're learning. And, eventually, over time we tighten it up, we teach you best practices and we teach you enterprise stuff and then suddenly you're writing some really, really nice stuff.

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Pluralsight is the technology skills platform. We enable individuals and teams to grow their skills, accelerate their careers and create the future.