What does a developer evangelist/advocate do?

Christian Heilmann
Aug 29, 2016 · 8 min read
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Cross-posted from my blog: https://www.christianheilmann.com/2016/08/29/what-does-a-developer-evangelistadvocate-do/

Today I was asked to define the role of a developer evangelist in my company for a slide deck to be shown at hiring events and university outreach. This was a good opportunity to make a list of all the tasks we have to do in this job and why we do them. It might be useful for you to read through, and a good resource to point people to when they — once again — ask you “but, do you still code?”.

Now, what is a developer evangelist? As defined in my developer evangelist handbook:

A developer evangelist is a spokesperson, mediator and translator between a company and both its technical staff and outside developers.

What do you need to know to be one? First there are the necessary skills:

  • Great development skills — both in creating and explaining software and products
  • Excellent communication skills — this job is about reaching out, listening and distilling information
  • Excellent networking skills — you’re meant to collect contacts and keep them happy

Then there are also important skills to have:

  • Patience of a saint — you will need to have to explain your job over and over and will have to defend your lack of ”not writing code”
  • Strong sense of independence — you’re job is to help communication by aiding with your voice. You’re not in sales.
  • Excellent self-organising skills — you’re on the road a lot and if you don’t take care, you burn out quickly or get buried under an avalanche of requests.

Being a developer evangelist is a role that spans across several departments. Your job is to be a communicator. Whilst you are most likely reporting to engineering, you need to spend a lot of time making different departments talk to another. Therefore internal networking skills are very important. Your job also affects the work of other people (PR, legal, comms, marketing). Be aware of these effects and make sure to communicate them before you reach out.

As a translator, you have both outbound (company to people) and inbound (people to your company) tasks to fulfil. Let’s list most of them:

Outbound tasks

  • Keep up to date with competition and market
  • Create openly available software products
  • Participate in other products
  • Participate in public discussions
  • Participate in other publications
  • Create video tutorials
  • Participate and help with events
  • Act as a “firewall” for internal teams
  • Help dealing with influencers

Be a social media presence

Keep up to date with competition and market

Create openly available software products

Participate in other products

Participate in public discussions

Participate in other publications

Create video tutorials

Participate and help with events

Act as a “firewall” for internal teams

Help dealing with influencers

Inbound tasks

  • Keep product teams and internal engineering up to date
  • Amplify messaging of internal teams
  • Coach and promote internal talent
  • Report on events and success of campaigns
  • Help organising events
  • Work with PR, legal and marketing
  • Give constructive feedback to the product teams and get questions answered
  • Collate outside feedback and convert to constructive feedback

Stay up to date and participate in products

Keep product teams and internal engineering up to date

Amplify messaging of internal teams

Coach and promote internal talent

Report on events and success of campaigns

Help organising events

Work with PR, legal and marketing

Give constructive feedback to the product teams and get questions answered

Collate outside feedback and convert to constructive feedback

Why take on this job?

Why would you want to become a developer evangelist (or developer advocate)?

There are perks to being someone in this role. Mostly that it is a natural progression for a developer who wants to move from a delivery role to one where they can influence more what the company does.

  • It bridges the communication gap — developers have a bad reputation when it comes to communication. Showing that someone technical can help understanding each other is a good move for our market.
  • It helps avoiding frustration — a lot of engineering is not needed, but based on false assumptions or misguided “I want to use this”. Good evangelism helps building what is needed, not what is cool.
  • It bridges age and culture gaps — if you’re not interested in a cutthroat competition in engineering, you have a chance to use your talent otherwise.

Before you jump on the opportunity, there are some very important points to remember:

  • Developer relations is not a starting position — most developer evangelists graduated from being developers in the same company. You need to know the pain to help prevent it.
  • There are part time opportunities though — engineers or people learning in the company can help with Devrel to ease into the job earlier.
  • Always be ready to prove your worth — measuring the impact of a developer evangelist is tough, you need to make sure you’re well organised in recording your successes.

It’s a versatile, morphing and evolving role. And that — to me — makes it really exciting.

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