To Be, or Not To Be: A Developer Advocate

Over the last couple of months with extra time on my hands (re: currently unemployed) I’ve been looking at job posting and applying to web development jobs like crazy. I’ve been more active in some online dev communities, and browsing job boards multiple times a day. This led me to discover a role called a “developer advocate” or “developer relations”.

I initially had no idea what a developer advocate was, what their role meant, or what they contributed. Do they write code? Do they advocate for their team and push back on project managers or other teams that make scope creep the thing of nightmares? Who are they?

I did some digging, and I realized the confusion I was experiencing of reading a job posting that seemed to be requiring such disjointed skill sets such as writing blogs and writing code were, for this role, completely logical. And then I let some folks educate me. I reached out to a small handful of complete strangers on LinkedIn who had the job title of developer advocate, and asked to start a conversation. These individuals were able to provide context for the confusing and seemingly massive job description of a developer advocate.

The first thing I learned is that the role of a developer advocate, or those in “DevRel” (developer relations) is currently changing. While the primary role of many developer advocates at tech companies has been to attend conferences and give presentations (sometimes referred to as a “road warriors”), conferences are cancelled and presenters are grounded due to the current Covid-19 situation. Many companies are shifting to digital engagement via blogs, live-streaming, webinars, and third-party social media platforms as the primary means of communication and user support. What this also means is that each tweet or blog post had a new, increased value. I also learned that developer advocates are typically communicating regularly with other developers — not customers — who use the platform or services that the developer advocate represents and supports. Developer advocates work for companies like Google, Facebook, IBM, and these companies all have products or platforms that the developer advocate must be an expert in the functionality of the code base, road maps, features vs. bugs, all while being fluent in the development language and the language of developers.

A developer advocate may need to write a snippet of code to troubleshoot a Twitter question one minute, and then transition into a larger body of work such as a series of digital learning lessons the next minute. They need exceptionally strong written and verbal communication skills. It seems as though a developer advocate is an individual who is an intermediary between the primary platform development team, the developers who use the platform, shareholders who make decisions on feature builds and resource costs, and the casual developer by-standard who gets to watch things that don’t directly concern them unfold. They get to meet and talk to a lot of different kinds of people, and ideally, they should enjoy doing just that.

So, I’m going to do something wildly uncharacteristic and tell you why I think I’d make a great developer advocate.

Those of you who know me, know this already — I don’t have a traditional background in computer science. I have a Liberal Arts background with Bachelor’s degrees in English and Philosophy, and a Master’s degree in English Literature. “So, what?” my potential future employer may be asking themselves, while reading this blog post. What this means is that I’m capable of writing. And not just writing, but writing and finishing major bodies of work (like a graduate thesis), in addition to smaller pieces. It’s one thing to start a project, but it’s another to finish it.

From the information I’ve gathered on developer advocates, at the heart of what they do is content creation. Whether it’s content like a step-by-step guide to setting up a new sandbox, to troubleshooting and documenting developer issues, or writing blog posts, the developer advocates themselves are responsible for that content creation.

Why else would I be a great developer advocate? I can talk. When the topic of conversation is something I really enjoy and feel passionate about, I can talk your ear off. A developer advocate needs to be someone who can have engaging conversations with people about shared interests and keep the conversation going, and match the technical (or non-technical) level of the dialogue.

And what about traveling for conferences and writing papers and presentations when the pandemic is over? I attended conferences as both a presenter and attendee during graduate school. I even chaired a panel once.

If those reasons weren’t enough to convince anyone and everyone (and even myself) that I’d be a great developer advocate, my six years of development experiences working for a variety of companies should be a strong consideration. I’ve worked for Fortune 500 companies as well as small start-ups and digital agencies, and have had all kinds of experiences. Many of these companies I’ve worked for have offered me the opportunity to work on internal documentation for our dev teams, in addition to working on SOWs with project managers. I once presented slide decks to Directors and SVPs on technical recommendations. While putting together a PowerPoint presentation left me exhausted and burned out, it was great to see the project to completion and maybe even implementation.

So, to all the companies that have rejected me so far for developer advocate roles I’ve applied for — that’s alright. I know the landscape of developer relations is changing right now, and a lot of companies are screaming, “pivot!” and the top of their lungs.

To all the companies that might be seeking out my Medium posts to judge my blogging ability — I hope you’ve made it down this far, and thank you. In a nutshell: recognize my value, pay me what I’m worth, and let me write for you.

Web developer, photographer, music lover.

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