How I got into developer advocacy

Last week, I traded emails with an engineer who loves speaking and she asked me a few questions about being a developer advocate: how did I get into it, what do I do, and how I like it. I’m always interested to hear the stories of other advocates, so I thought I’d share my story too.

How did I first get into advocacy?

Unofficially in my previous job at Keen IO.

In my first 18 months at Keen I mostly wrote code. 9 months after I joined we hired our first developer advocate, Justin Johnson, and I started accompanying him on trips to conferences, meetups, and startup events in the US and Europe. I enjoyed giving talks, meeting developers using Keen and building relationships with others who were building APIs and developer tools. After the analytics platform I was building went into production, I started to spend most of my time on growing our developer community.

An illustration of Justin and I by an incredibly talented friend we met in Amsterdam, Parin Heidari

What do I do?

Day to day my time is spent writing, coding, presenting and talking to developers both online and at events. I do a lot of community building so that Algolia can keep growing strongly through word-of-mouth, which is I think is a must for developer tools.

I work with our marketing team to help craft messages that will resonate with developers and work with our engineering team to bring feedback about our documentation, API and SDKs in from the field so we can continuously improve our developer experience.

I rely on our solutions engineering team to understand the most complex uses of our API. I help create opportunities for our sales team when I meet developers who want to bring Algolia into their company but need help navigating their organization’s buying process.

How do I like it?

It’s highly intersectional in that you work with every area of the company — engineering, marketing, sales, customer success — and also the community — ambassadors, partners, and other people in developer relations. This can be challenging if you’re used to writing code or working inside engineering-only teams. The immediate satisfaction that you get with making tests pass and shipping code isn’t there every day, so you need to reorient your self-evaluation (and possibly your manager’s expectations) around longer-term goals.

One hard part of advocacy for me is trying to build trust with both the company and the community at the moments when they want different things. A classic example is with something like pricing—the community wants lower pricing so they can experiment more, which can in turn help the company find new uses for their technology. But the company needs to make money to cover its costs and grow, otherwise the service wouldn’t exist. So a balance must be struck. Part of an advocate’s job is to make sure each side understands the constraints and motivations of the other in order to make intelligent comprises.

When things are going well — when you see high quality connections being made at a meetup or a developer release an awesome new project that uses your company’s API — it’s a tremendous high.

The thing I like most about being an advocate is that it pushes me to improve in areas that I hadn’t considered when I was just an engineer and that those skills transfer well to all kinds of situations.

You?

From what I’ve seen, no two journeys to developer advocacy look the same. Successful advocates come from engineering, community building and other disciplines too. If you’re interested in how your experience might translate to this role, I’m happy to have a conversation, just send me an email and let’s chat.

If you’re already an advocate or know that you want to head that way, Algolia is hiring in SF, Paris and potentially remote. Check out our open positions to learn more.