I have been an active member of the Salesforce StackExchange community now for over 10 months. Although recently I haven’t been able to contribute as much to the site as I would like, I am still one of the top contributors there. The Salesforce StackExchange is a question and answer community where users come with technical questions, typically Apex, Visualforce, or other questions on extreme customization and the community works together to provide the best answer. This community is extremely important and fits in perfectly with the overall Salesforce community. In my opnion, this is why.
There are at times a negative connotation associated to working on the Force.com platform from traditional web developers (Java, PHP, Ruby, etc). From my personal experience, several of these people see the “point and click” functionality and assume the customizations peak there. They don’t understand the intricacies behind Apex and Visualforce. They don’t understand how truly customizable the platform can be, even extending out into the Java and Ruby world when utilized with Heroku.
Will Salesforce ever be as customizable as Java, Ruby, PHP, etc? No, honestly it won’t. However, that doesn’t need to be a negative. Salesforce provides such a large set of functionality that makes standing up a simple app exponentially faster than using a traditional language. Features like dependent picklists, email fields, phone fields, number fields, lookup fields, etc, etc, etc are what make the Force.com platform so powerful. These are things that most web apps use, yet in the traditional environment all of that functionality has to be coded over and over and over again. Salesforce takes the tediousness out of creating these base web apps. I don’t need to worry about setting up a regular expression to make sure my email fields validate. I don’t need to worry about adding jQuery and writing custom functionality to get a dependent picklist to work. The functionality simply exists.
With all that said, there are positives and negatives to both approaches. I have personally grown to love the way Salesforce works. The reason I brought all of this up is due to the fact that until you get heavily involved in the Force.com platform, you truly have no idea how complex it can be. If you look at the Salesforce Answers community, you won’t find many highly technical questions. When you first glance at Force.com, specifically a book like the Force.com Fundamentals, all you really get to see is the “point and click” functionality. So when users finally start getting into Apex, Visualforce, and other complex functionality, there is a lack of great places to really go for information. Java, Ruby, PHP, etc have a multitude of sites and forums dedicated to helping developers through discussion and questions/answers.
Salesforce has the Salesforce StackExchange. The Salesforce StackExchange provides traditional developers with an even better way to find information. Sure, there is the Force.com Discussion Boards, but coming from a Java background, I know the StackExchange platform relatively well. StackOverflow has helped me on more than one occasion.
Other users have commented on the platform as well. Matt Lacey spoke with Mike Gerholdt not too long ago about how the Salesforce StackExchange has been working. Andrew Fawcett also has a decent article on his perception of the platform.
So, take some time and become involved in the community. It is quickly growing. You can learn and find so much useful information it is astonishing. Enjoy!
Important Note: It is important to remember that this is my personal opinion. As with any opinion, it may or may not reflect the opinion of any organization I am associated with.