As part of my role, I field questions about Trailhead day in and day out, so, naturally, I hear a lot of feedback. After seeing the positive response to some ideas I recently tweeted, I thought I’d cover, in more detail, my top tips for getting the most out of the amazing learning platform that is Trailhead.

Trailhead is designed as a way to learn and practice the skills you need to succeed with Salesforce. It also helps you develop the soft skills you need to be a well-rounded professional. Like any educational opportunity, you’ll only get out of Trailhead what you put in.

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The more seriously you take your learning, and the more you treat it like you would your day-to-day job, the better.

What do I mean by that? Put simply, points and badges should NOT be the goal.

Yes, earning them is fun and gamification is proven to be an effective way to incentivize learning, but your main objective needs to be growing your knowledge and understanding.

In other words, focus on the goal (learning) and not just the symbol of the goal (badges).

And I get it. Like many of you, I’ve experienced wanting just one… more… badge. At one point, increasing my badge count seemed more important than remembering the content well.

But here’s the thing: The content is the gift, the knowledge is the value, and the badge – well, that’s just a fun marker along the way. Simply “getting” a badge is not a great investment in yourself. Your time is better spent learning the concept and earning the badge.

I cannot stress this point enough. We’ve all been there – that feeling of getting stuck. You think you’ve nailed it but the hands-on challenge doesn’t pass. It’s easy to just think, “Well, something must be broken in Trailhead!”

Very occasionally, it can be, but the majority of the time (now take a deep breath) it’s because you made a mistake somewhere along the line. But guess what? That’s real life.

There are all kinds of things in your day-to-day job that you now know how to do because you made a few mistakes and learned from them. Another way of looking at it is that you had the opportunity to create a strategy around overcoming that particular obstacle.

Trailhead is exactly like that. If it doesn’t work the first (or second, or third, or 10th) time, go back and work on your strategy. Because when you do finally crack it, the sense of achievement is epic.

For me, there are two beliefs at the core of any good troubleshooting and problem-solving strategy.

Firstly, you have to believe that being stuck is not the unpredictable behavior of an unfair universe that has suddenly singled you out for misery.

Secondly, you have to believe that you (yes, you!) can get unstuck. It’s natural and comfortable to assume that problems are out of your control.

It’s a Trailhead bug. It’s a Salesforce bug.

Aliens flew their UFO too close to a data center and disrupted the flux capacitor in the middle of the Earth, which changed the tides and made the dolphins angry, whose high-pitched squeals disrupted your WIFI signal…

Some of these things can happen, sure, but they’re pretty rare.

The top two reasons for hands-on challenge errors, as diagnosed by the Trailhead Support team, are:

  1. Typos.
    Yes, really! It’s always best practice to copy and paste rather than type.
  2. Playground launch issues.
    Not surprising, given that most of you have several playgrounds for a browser to capture, causing issues when you then try to launch a different playground. The fix here is to clear your browser cache/cookies or try to log in via a private browser window (in Google Chrome it’s called “Incognito mode“).

So we’ve accepted that we’re all human and can make mistakes. Great! Now, let’s fix them. My troubleshooting process for Trailhead mirrors what I do as a developer. Firstly, and this may come as a bit of a shock, I READ the instructions. I know – mind blown.

But seriously, the instructions for a hands-on challenge in a module and project are given step-by-step, but you still need to read and follow each one carefully. This is even more important for a superbadge which, by design, is modeled after the real world and can, at first glance, seem more ambiguous.

I then reread the instructions (as 99 percent of the time, this is where my mistakes are), break the problem down into smaller pieces (this finds most of the problems when it comes to my code), and perform incremental tests exercising what seems to work and only changing one small thing at a time (which helps find issues in my clicks config).

Finally, I talk through the issue out loud with myself or an inanimate object like a rubber duck. No, really. I love rubber duck debugging. You should try it.

My advice is to always have a bias toward starting with a brand-spankin’ new playground rather than re-using an existing one. This will help you focus on the module, project, or superbadge at hand.

If you’re working in an existing well-used playground but become stuck, and all of your troubleshooting techniques point to those malevolent dolphins as the problem, spin up a new Trailhead Playground to work in.

Why? A well-used playground can contain conflicting metadata that’s difficult to account for in our automated assessment checking.

In other words, we might not be able to verify that your solution works because of all your other successful solutions.

Always, always test your hands-on challenge manually, in the app, or by yourself to know it works before clicking “Verify Step.” Sound counterintuitive? It’s not. Doing it this way helps you understand not only the app but also the setup.

Clicking “Verify Step” without knowing your solution works is the workplace equivalent of doing some task, not checking your work, and throwing it over the cubicle wall to your boss while shouting, “DONE!”, crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best. Not a great plan!

I always check my work manually. For example, when I worked on the Apex Specialist superbadge, I did it the way I normally work and not the way the steps are written. I would Test. Code. Test. Code. Rinse, repeat… You get the idea.

I was delighted when steps 4, 5, and 6 (which are all about tests) were already done. Completing them was my way of coding. I knew my solution would pass because I’d done – and double-checked – the work.

Trailhead Help is an invaluable tool for all things Trailhead. This self-service help center is a great first port of call if you get stuck. There are a host of useful articles like:

This is also the place where specific help articles are published if (very occasionally!) there is a known bug within a hands-on challenge.

There’s a big Trailblazer Community out there and YOU are an important part of it. If you just can’t get past a certain part of a challenge, or need another pair of eyes for a different viewpoint to help you get over the final hurdle, the community is the place to go.

It’s also reassuring to know you’re not the only one finding a particular topic tricky!

Then, when you’ve succeeded, shout out about it over all the social channels your peeps are on. If you feel like you don’t have peeps, you’re wrong. Post a question or something fun to Twitter and mention @ReidCarlberg or @Trailhead and you’ll see.

I love seeing and retweeting badge successes, especially ones that include some personal detail. And, seriously, I’ve chosen to do relatively random badges based on those shout-outs. Your tweets are motivating to SOMEONE.

I remember doing Collaborative Forecasting not because I needed that skill in my day-to-day life but because I saw a tweet from @Sarahmcapps, noting that she had just done it, and thought, “Wow! I’ve never looked at this.” So I did it. And it was fun!

If you only take one thing away from my top tips, let it be this. You WILL get out of Trailhead what you put in. If you focus on gaining knowledge, truly learn the skills, and participate in the Trailblazer Community, there’s really no limit to what you can accomplish.

See you on the trails!

Want to learn more? There’s a trailmix for that! Check out Get Started with Trailhead.

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