In a previous post, I shared my thoughts on what is developer evangelism. Now I’d like to delve into the work of developer evangelists and developer advocates.
Let’s address one question you might have. Is there a difference between an evangelist and an advocate? There has been some debate in the devrel community about the titles developer evangelist vs. developer advocate. Some folks don’t like the religious connotation of “evangelist”, but it’s never bothered me. I think the title matters a lot less than what we do day to day. So, call yourself an evangelist, advocate, or avocado. For this post, I’ll use the titles interchangeably.
What your devrel team does, starts with your company mission. From there, you determine the goals to support the mission. This means developer evangelism will vary greatly from company to company. Your product may be a technology who’s end user is developers, and driving awareness of your solution is a goal. Perhaps your product is a platform play with end users who may or may not be developers and the goal is fostering an ecosystem of developers who innovate on and extend your product. Your goal may be engaging the developer community around open source software that in itself is not sold, but your company offers services to those using the open source software.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list of activities developer evangelists engage in and as I said above, what you do is informed by your team’s goals.
Notorious criminal Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks responded “Because that's where the money is.“ If you want to raise awareness, you need to go where the developers are.
All conferences are not created equal. Your product may appeal to a large audience or a narrow segment. By understanding the persona of the developer(s) you wish to reach, you can identify conferences and events that attract your ideal developer audience.
Speaking at a conference is a great way to share information with a large number of developers. Many conferences have open calls for papers that can be found on sites like papercall.io. Alternatively, you could sponsor and potentially get a booth, your logo plastered everywhere and even an opportunity to speak.
Developer evangelists create and deliver talks at conferences. They are tasked with responding to open “call for proposals” with abstracts for talks that will appeal to conference organizers and steering committees in charge of speaker selection.
Once selected, developer evangelists spend a good deal of time creating slide decks, demo code and other supporting materials for their talk. Hours are spent practicing and refining a talk in preparation for the conference. Beyond speaking, you’ll find evangelists chatting with developers during breaks and after parties.
Meetup.com is the juggernaut for organizing like-minded developers for monthly events to network, learn from each other and often share a beverage. These events vary in topic, frequency and format determined by the organizer.
Developer advocates can build an engagement strategy that includes speaking at meetups. This would involve identifying the right meetups and contacting organizers about speaking at an upcoming event. Developer advocates sometimes run their own meetups or get involved coordinating with developers who want to start meetups that focus on their company’s technology.
Hackathons are time bound events, often 36 to 48 hours long, where developers form teams and build creative projects together. While there is a competitive element often with judging at the end and prizes awarded, these are an opportunity for developers to have fun, explore new technology and learn.
Companies can organize their own hackathon or join forces with other companies to create a larger event. Another way to participate in hackathons is through sponsorship and prizes. There are both community hackathons and ones run by for profit companies, like Major League Hacking or AngelHack. Large sponsorships can increase your visibility and include opportunities to run workshops or pitch your technology during the event.
Evangelists are the front line at hackathons. They might spend a few minutes explaining their technology and the associated prizes, conduct workshops and will definitely spend time sitting with teams helping them get up to speed with their technology.
You can reach a global audience of developers without leaving your desk. Offering beginner or getting started content can attract developers who are new to your technology and want to spend 45 minutes with an expert.
Developer advocates might create and present content at webinars targeting a developer audience. At the conclusion of the presentation, a question and answer time is a great way to engage with developers and capture common questions they have about your product.
Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook are common platforms to communicate with developers. Developer evangelists teams can use a company or their own personal accounts to evangelize technology.
Social media channels are how evangelists share developer-centric content from blogs and tutorials or news of upcoming events. Live tweeting other speakers key points at a conference and sharing pictures with followers.
Content for developers includes API documentation, quickstart guides, online courses, and more. These might originate from engineering, education or dedicated developer content teams. Developer evangelists also contribute to content creation as well. Here are a few types of content an evangelists might create.
I’m starting with “code” as the first type of content developer advocates create because it is the language of developers. I find through code you can establish credibility with developers and communicate in meaningful ways. Code can come in many forms. Developer advocates might create snippets, a few lines of code, to illustrate a concept or full blown apps that can be downloaded and run by developers to demonstrate complex use cases. Also, code can be the foundation for tutorials, blogs, presentations, webinars and videos.
Through their connection with developers, evangelists can identify common uses for a technology. Armed with this knowledge, they can code examples and break them down into a step by step tutorial. This can be highly effective in communicating complex concepts beyond “hello world”.
Posts written by developer evangelists can be technical in nature and include code samples. The topic is often about their company's product but can be about other technology their developer audience would find valuable. Evangelists also blog about product releases, industry trends, and event recaps.
Videos can have some production behind it, like Xero’s DevTV, or as simple as screencast and a microphone. Video can show developers how to use a technology and is a very effective medium in helping developers to connect the dots. Evangelists can turn sample code, blog posts and presentations into screencasts to get more mileage out of existing content.
Many companies have a role of community manager who engage with groups of developers with the goal of building a community around their technology . Developer evangelists might be called upon to support the company community building activities or engage with existing developer communities through different platforms.
GitHub is one of the largest communities of developers building software together. You’ll find owners, maintainers, contributors and users of open source software on the platform. Developer evangelists often share code they’ve written as repositories on GitHub. These are typically packages developers can download, configure, and either run or include in their codebase.
Engineering teams within companies can also open source code through GitHub. If these are SDKs or other tools for using the company’s technology, then developer evangelists might contribute code, respond to issues or review and merge pull requests from developers.
Stackoverflow is where developers go looking for answers. Plugging error codes into Google often leads to a stackoverflow page with developers discussing the same issue and ways to solve it.
Through tagging you can find all the questions being asked about your company’s products and join the conversation. At Xero, new stackoverflow questions about our APIs are pulled into a Slack channel dedicated to supporting the community. Developer advocates can jump in and answer questions alongside dedicated support teams.
Support forums hosted by your company are very similar to stackoverflow where developers can ask questions and the community can engage in conversation. Unlike stackoverflow, you have more control over forums you own. Going beyond questions and issues to offer developers a place to share feedback and feature requests. Developer advocates can contribute to frequently asked questions and knowledge base articles explaining how to solve more complex issues.
Partnerships can have a technology component. Conversations might start with a business development or partnerships team but when engineers join the conversation a developer evangelists might be called up to share their expertise.
Your company might engage in hundreds of partnerships that include some level of technical integration. Even with a scalable partner program and solid documentation, select partners may be deemed strategic. Going above and beyond for these partners may involve the developer evangelists meeting with their engineering team to field questions. Developer evangelists may be the technical point of contact for these relationships so strategic partners have an escalation path if standard support channels are not sufficient.
Reviewing partner integrations is something the developer evangelists team does at Xero. Knowledge of Xero API capability and how our customers use Xero is used to verify the quality of the integration. Xero may be outliers by including this among the things developer evangelists do, but they see app partners is an extension of their brand. Advising developers on how to build a best in class integration is key to Xero’s developer evangelist strategy.
It may be potentially controversial to include account management but what I’m referring to is the relationship with a partner. As the number of partnerships grow, developer evangelists may become the point of contact for dozens of smaller partners. The demands don’t tend to be very high from these partnerships and having a personal contact at your company is can be important to partners.
Is that all?
I’m being facetious when I say “is that all”? The above list is not inclusive of everything that a developer evangelists may be asked to do. Also, I’m not advocating they do everything listed above. From personal experience, when you pile on competing priorities teams will end up prioritizing some work over others. If you find your developer evangelist teams in this situation, it might be time to develop specializations within the team or split the team into groups like developer evangelists, solution engineers and community managers.
Did I miss anything? Let me know if there is work you do as a developer evangelist that I did not include in this post.