February 12 2024
Author Jonathan Harryman

The Free Salesforce Development Revolution

It can be a difficult thing to be open to change in a business. Change is often only accepted when something goes wrong. After all, when everything is going well, why rock the boat? The flaws in a system or process may be obvious, but at least they are known – they are predictable. Adopting change, even with the best risk mitigation plan, can bring on unforeseen issues.  

The DevOps process is one example of how we often resist change, preferring rather to maintain the status-quo. Many consultants and admins still utilise Change Sets, offline code editors and ad hoc release processes. The result of this is many hours of troubleshooting, failed Change Set validations and forgotten components sat waiting in the development sandbox until they are reported missing. 

To combat this, many leverage third-party tools such as Gearset to provide a Version Control System for organised deployment processes. However, amongst the announcements of Data Cloud and the Einstein 1 platform, you may have missed the suite of products Salesforce has been releasing to solve these problems without having to resort to measures outside the CRM. 

Salesforce DevOps Products 

The need for a new suite of DevOps products has been shouted from the rooftops for some time now. Every Salesforce user is well aware of the dreaded Change Set process and its flaws – being irreversible, difficult to maintain without version control and with little way to track who is responsible for components.  

We all develop internal processes to manage this. Perhaps you have a pipeline of sandboxes, Change Sets owned by individual contributors or a third-party project management system. But now, with the suite of products offered by Salesforce, you can migrate that all into your Salesforce org and manage everything in (almost) one place. 

So how has Salesforce managed this feat? With a combination of a few new products:  

  • DevOps Centre aims to centralise development & deployment pipelines with the introduction of Work Items to manage individual tasks, and GitHub to track the changes throughout the process. 
  • Code Builder brings Visual Studio Code to your browser. With it, you can protect yourself from code loss and work from anywhere by migrating to the cloud. 
  • Einstein for Developers continues Salesforce’s push to bring generative AI to the masses, allowing you to quickly start your development by converting requirements to code so you can spend less time worrying about formatting and more time providing solutions.

 

DevOps Centre 

DevOps centre has been around for longer than you may think, with it becoming Generally Available (GA) back in Spring ’23. It has since received relatively little airtime in the Salesforce ecosystem, perhaps due to its flaws at roll-out. However, Salesforce has done a lot of work since then to make it a viable product and best of all, it’s free! 

The benefits of the DevOps Centre for most users are huge, with it filling a middle ground in the DevOps field that is still underserved. Generally, no-code changes made on Salesforce don’t utilise DevOps procedures, they focus on pro-code development instead. This is partly due to the products on the market being confusing or overwhelming to new, no-code users.  

This is where Salesforce DevOps Centre excels, using their trademark Lightning UI together with visual paths to track work item progress, and activity history to track changes and deployments. You also can connect a project to an external instance, great news for consultancies managing many projects across many client instances.  

Salesforce have recently made large steps to ensuring you deploy all the dependencies you need, without giving you a list of random metadata that your components reference. They have also released great new features such as dependency highlighting and work item merging to ensure you no longer have missing dependency errors. Now DevOps centre can handle your SSO, change tracking and deployment, all without leaving your org! 

Although Salesforce has made great steps forward, there is still some way to go to win over everyone in the industry. The simplicity of these new tools is also one of their major drawbacks. For example, the source repository can only be written to GitHub. For those moving from Change Sets or package-based deployments, this is probably not a problem. But for those with a solid grasp on version control systems, this can be a daunting move from the repository system you know and love. It also doesn’t have any connectors or plug-and-play integrations yet.

With most consultants writing and managing their User Stories on a third-party application; managing this on both the existing Project Management System and now on the Work Items within DevOps centre can make it feel like a bit of chore to use. Salesforce could do more to make it easier to manage and integrate the project from one place. 

Code Builder 

Code Builder is a new tool on the market and aims to bring development tools to those who need it. This is a god send for new developers and still provides some great features for experienced developers. It is a web-based version of the Visual Studio Code (VSC) that Salesforce has set up, with all the required extensions and CLI you need when working on Salesforce developments. 

For new developers, this means they can log in to their org, open code builder and begin working. There’s no longer any need to spend an hour or two setting up VSC before you start learning “Hello World.” For existing developers, it brings a level of flexibility they may not be used to. Now there is no need to worry about system requirements – Salesforce handles all the processing for them. With their work now on the cloud and automatically saving, you can pick up where you left off on any machine. Could this be the future replacement to developer console in the making? 

All of this is great, but it’s not to say it will be for everyone. If you’re a very experienced developer or working on software other than Salesforce, you likely have your VSC set up exactly how you like and with all the extra extensions you need. That level of flexibility and customisation is something Code Builder lacks and may turn away a more tech-savvy audience.  

Einstein for Developers 

Now I am sure this is the most controversial new Salesforce product – half of the world worries that generative AI will take over all our jobs and the other half rejoices at how much easier it has made their lives.  

Salesforce has not been quiet about its love for generative AI, I am sure you have all heard of the Einstein 1 platform, the Trust Layer and the almost uncountable number of generative AI products leveraging the Salesforce LLM. One such product is Einstein for Developers, a free, and now GA product, available for Visual Studio Code and baked into Code Builder. It allows developers to generate code from plain text prompts. Whether you love it or hate it, generative AI has made an irreversible impact. For those happy to lean into that, Einstein for Developers can get you from a blank project directory into the thick of it in record time.  

Of course, this can never be a full replacement for a developer. If you think you can write APEX for any business need without really understanding the code being written for you, then your hand will be shown very quickly. But for those experienced in the use of AI tools, this can speed up the process by fleshing out customised snippets of code with nothing but a plain text prompt. As it is built into your org, it can make suggestions based on your existing metadata and code to produce personalised and functional code for you. 

Summary 

These products show the push from Salesforce to bring all your development into a single hub while following best practices, meaning you can get up and running with your projects quicker than ever without not sacrificing the tools and functionality you are used to.  

While these products may seem lacklustre for those of us with established version control systems and development pipelines, for those who don’t, it makes the transition to them much easier and less daunting.  

Change can be tough, but with benefits like these for yourself, your projects and your clients, you should consider it. 

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