The Who, What, Where, When, and Whys of Developer Relations

In September 2018, I was sitting on a park bench in Paris, when a nice old lady sat next to me. The problem is, I don’t speak French, and she didn’t speak English. We attempted to have a conversation anyway. As she was talking about what I could only assume was how great her grandchildren are, I ask myself: how did I get here?

Today I am a Developer Advocate. In what feels like a past life already, I was a software engineer. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned these past few months and share some info that may be helpful to you.

Who is Developer Relations?

You! Me! Everyone! That’s the thing about Developer Relations that caught me off guard. Anyone can be involved in the process of advocating for a community. In fact, if you have aspirations of becoming an official Developer Advocate, I’d say the best time to start is…now! Find projects that you’re passionate about, and/or an audience you’re interested in reaching out to, and interact!

What is Developer Relations?

This is a question I’ve asked myself and asked others, and everyone comes back with a different answer. The thing is, Developer Relations means a lot of different things to different people. The role is very dependent on the product or project you work with, the atmosphere of your team, the initiatives of the company, and most importantly, the dynamic of the community that you serve.

In other words, I’d say Developer advocacy/relations/evangelism is discovering and delivering the most effective methods to bolster the developer community.

Where is Developer Relations?

So where does Developer Relations lie in the greater tech ecosystem? Broadly speaking, developer advocates are engineers who sit closer to marketing than traditional engineers. A way to visualize Developer Advocate responsibilities looks a little like this:

For developers who have interests in public speaking, writing content (like this blog!) and are more interested in supporting developers than being one consider moving out of Engineeringville and into the Marketing Forest, where their skills can be better realized. Another good analogy for Developer Relations is similar to the relationship between Superman and Clark Kent. A Developer Advocate can live the life of an engineer, but is often called upon to switch into Superman mode and go to a conference or have broader creative responsibilities.

When is Developer Relations?

As far as I can find out, developer evangelism started in the 1980’s at Apple with Mike Boich. The career has evolved since then, and continues to move as fast as the pace of technology does since you’re advocating for technology! It’s a very exciting field to be in today, because Developer Relations gives you any number of opportunities to learn about new tools, meet new people, and flex your creativity through public speaking, writing, reading, and of course, coding.

Brandon West has a great talk about the history of DevRel here.

Why is Developer Relations?

The most important question of all is why. Why Developer Relations? The thing about “why” is that it’s extremely dynamic. No two people will have the same “why” because no two people share the same inputs and motivations. At the organizational level, this gets even more complicated. So, allow me to tell you my own “why,” which can hopefully help you find yours.

Let’s go back to that bench I was on a few months ago. I’d never been to Paris before and had been feeling unfulfilled as a software engineer. I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the job, but I felt that something was missing. I wanted a role that would allow me to be versatile, to try many different things and meet many different people from all over the world. I wanted to have a career that would allow me to teach a lot and to learn even more. In the time since I was sitting on that bench, I:

  • Went to a conference in London and learned about empathy in documentation
  • Sat with three different engineering teams and contributed to the GitHub issues they face every day to make the best product they can
  • Attended partnership meetings with other organizations, brainstorming creative ways to enhance developer experience
  • Learned a lot about marketing, specifically about the subtleties of storytelling to different audiences and the importance of consistent branding, and helped to come up with taglines for a developer event in Paris
  • Saw Skrillex perform at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas
  • Coded any number of demo applications using and learning the Algolia API
  • Edited blogs from community contributors, having conversations about what value we’re trying to convey to their readers
  • Learned about open source from lifelong contributors
  • Made numerous connections with highly talented individuals that have inspired me to learn new ideas
  • Formed a framework for engineers in our office to connect with others in the city
  • Built out a Discourse channel for people within the company to communicate ideas internally
  • Have helped people build out their Algolia implementations
  • Been to multiple meetups where I got to interact with other developers first hand

And a whole lot more! Becoming a Developer Advocate has been fun, but by no means has it been easy. I’m very grateful for what I’ve been able to do these past few months and I’m even more excited for the next ones.

  • Molly Meissner

    DevRel is such an important role — Thank you for sharing your experience and talent with us at Algolia, Bram! Very inspiring.