AWS Training and Certification Blog

3 ways Salesforce transforms skills to cloud-native with AWS Training

With over 150,000 enterprise customers worldwide, Salesforce is one of the largest and most recognized customer relationship management providers. But what truly sets Salesforce apart is how the company continually invests in its workforce to keep pace with the latest technologies. One such technology is Amazon Web Services (AWS), which underpins the redesign of Hyperforce — an updated version of the Salesforce infrastructure designed for the cloud.

Paul Eldridge, Director of Technical Learning Programs, spoke to AWS about Salesforce’s three-tier approach to building AWS and cloud-native skills across the organization. By taking a multimodal approach to training and scaling its workforce development through digital, classroom, and experiential learning, Salesforce helps its engineering workforce gain the AWS skills and cloud-native confidence that they need to succeed.

What are the business factors that drive your AWS Training program?

Paul Eldridge: Salesforce’s technology organization has about 12,000 technical employees who design, build, and operate Salesforce’s entire portfolio of cloud products.

In 2020, we announced Hyperforce, a cloud-native redesign of Salesforce’s infrastructure on several cloud providers, including AWS. Hyperforce helps us deliver new capabilities to our customers, like in-region data residency, and launching in new regions faster than ever.

Let’s say you have a hypothetical potential customer in Norway, and they want to store their data there. How did the industry formerly approach this? We would have to build a first-party data center inside Norway’s national borders. But because AWS already has a presence there, we can deploy infrastructure rapidly and launch our products to that market faster than ever before. We’ve got customers who’ve wanted Salesforce for years, that now finally can. Compliant, secure, ready to go. Out of the box.

We had to transform our infrastructure for this, fast. In the highly competitive software-as-a-service market, velocity is key and stillness is death. Our competitive advantage is directly tied to being faster, better, and happier. How did we force-multiply our engineering skillsets and rapidly bring as many teams as possible to skills readiness?

Working with AWS Training has helped us develop a simultaneously targeted, yet scalable, training approach to serve the needs of our fast-moving business and our people.

We all know that training resources are precious. In today’s economic climate, every one of us is being asked to do more with less—sometimes impossibly so. Force multiplying and empowering our folks to do more than they could yesterday is vital to success.

What’s Salesforce’s training strategy?

PE: Our approach to training and cloud-native skills readiness is three-tiered.

The first tier is foundational learning, which helps us skill our staff in basic AWS knowledge. For this, we use on-demand learning platforms with digital courses, videos, and self-paced labs that scale quickly to thousands of people. Our internal team (personally!) curated over 80+ custom technical learning paths in 18 months.

The second tier is where AWS comes in. We invested heavily in AWS Classroom Training courses at the intermediate and advanced levels only. We saved precious, limited budgets for courses that are laser-focused on addressing and accelerating the needs of the business. Foundational stuff can be taken care of in the self-paced platforms.

To support the Hyperforce redesign, we targeted approximately 5,000–8,000 people across the Technology organization to participate in the Running Containers on Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS) course, which helps participants develop practical, in-depth skills for managing containers on AWS. Just this last year, we’ve done 50 Amazon EKS courses with 800–1,000 participants.

During tier three, we invest in completely experiential learning workshops where our learners practice implementing end-to-end cloud infrastructures that simulate a small vertical slice of what Hyperforce looks like under the hood. For general audiences needing industry-standard learning in the cloud substrate layer, we leverage pure AWS. For teams building and releasing services to eventual production, we train them on our own custom internal tooling ecosystem and platform.

The approach is simple: we begin with a picture of a completed architecture and have the learner meet construction milestones along the way.

To succeed, participants might search through internal or external docs, google things, watch our curated learning paths, and do whatever it takes to build it (just like real life). They jump headlong into the “Pit of Success”, get lost, and practice getting un-lost. More important than cognitive regurgitation is exercising and demonstrating synthesis of that knowledge. Far more powerful than showcasing a certification, our learners demonstrate a hands-on technical capability that did not provably exist before!

The validation design principle is just as simple: everybody builds, everybody demos. Show off the built architecture, and teach-back one new thing learned to the team (also reinforcing it for the learner).

So, what’s it like learning from AWS instructors?

PE: Under our contract, we have a dedicated virtual trainer. This instructor stays with us for all 50+ of these classes, listens, and gradually learns about our technology and use cases. The instructors take regular pulses of how class participants are feeling and turn the real-time knob of information density up or down. Our amazing instructors also do demos that are not in the standard scope of the class to answer our specialized questions on additional open-source cloud-native technologies we use, like Terraform for example.

I’ve sat in on classes to observe, and just been in awe of these expert communicators. It’s way above and beyond other training programs and provides a new level of human connectedness and learner satisfaction. And ultimately, program success.

Not everyone takes that step to connect with their audience as a human being. AWS is willing to work with us and embed these dedicated instructors with us. We’ve done long calls to carefully look through each course module line by line and micro-tune to our audience’s needs. That level of customization and customer obsession is truly special.

How do expert AWS instructors help Salesforce employees build their skills?

PE: The paradigm shift that the cloud industry has made in the last five years can be difficult for folks who have spent 15+ years somewhere else. I’m an example of this! I was a network engineer for years, working on big Cisco/Juniper core routers in an ISP’s backbone network, interacting directly with device command lines. That’s not how it is anymore! The whole industry is moving to “Cloud-Native”.

“Cloud-native”, means GitOps-managed microservices, Service Mesh networking, Kubernetes knowledge primitives, immutable infrastructure, “everything-as-code” declarative infrastructure and app structure with Helm, etc. It’s a massive mindset shift and a whole different way of thinking! That’s scary for someone staring at that massive knowledge gap chasm. One can’t help but wonder, “Am I working on the steam engine while the world moves to solar power?”

AWS Classroom Training makes it much easier to transform how you think about technology at a fundamental level. I’ve personally seen people leave classes less afraid of the future than before, and seeing their role in it rather than left behind.

We do a small scoring exercise before and after each class. After 50 classes and hundreds of learners going through these AWS Classroom Trainings, those scoring exercises measure our engineering intellectual confidence gain of over 20% on average. That is the actual human impact. When our engineers gain confidence in working with AWS technologies, it translates into enhanced speed, efficiency, increased quality, less rework, higher confidence in project estimation or chances of hitting a deadline, and increased overall satisfaction within our workforce. This heightened expertise & confidence empowers us to deliver novel and innovative solutions, such as Hyperforce, to our customers with speed and excellence.

What closing advice do you have?

PE: Consider skills readiness as a critical part of business transformation and large-scale technical initiatives. Weave this approach intimately into your initiative as a critically integrated workstream, from the very beginning. Don’t do it after the fact. That misses the window of highest acceleration. Engineering leaders, I suggest involving your technical learning teams as key enablement partners. Technical learning teams, I suggest getting tightly interwoven with your engineering initiatives.

To executives and leaders, increasingly invest in your people early, and often. This investment builds their confidence and belief in their own capabilities. With AWS Training, we’ve transformed mindsets to cloud-native, accelerated continued growth and innovation, and cemented our place as market leaders for years to come.

Interested in learning more? Contact us to get started.