Preparing to become a GDE

Aaron Frost
Jul 21, 2017 · 8 min read

Hello web friends. As I drove into work this morning, I realized that I should probably sit down and pen out a piece of advice that I have given repetitively over the last four years. You see, given the number of people who have asked me this for this advice, I am now convinced that it‘s something that people commonly want to know. And it isn’t fair to me or them, that I have the info and the 411, but in order to share it, people have to figure out how to get a hold of me. And let me tell you, people: getting ahold of me is not as easy as it should be.

Listen up! There’s more than one reason that I am hard to get a hold of. First, I am not a very responsible person. It’s true. I look like an adult , and at times, I even act like an adult. I do things, sometimes, that are things that an adult would do. But it’s just a scam. I am just scamming you. All my friends who have thought I am responsible are simply being scammed. I am not a responsible person. Sometimes, when I need to get back to people, I don’t. I don’t know why I don’t get back to them, but I don’t. Some people out there have experienced this. Please know, it wasn’t personal. It is just part of who I am. The second reason is because I am busy AF. This isn’t a great reason, because it kind of implies that I am busier than the next person, and I am not sure that is true. I don’t know if I am busier than the next person. In fact, I know a lot of people who are wicked busy as well. And some of them still manage to call someone back. I need to get better at it. I agree.

Back to the point. I want to share MY answer to the question: What does it take to become a GDE? There are several other forms of this question. Perhaps: What do I need to do to become a GDE? Or even: How did you become a GDE? No matter the flavor of the question, the people asking have a similar goal: They want to know what it takes to become a GDE.

What is a GDE?

I think that most people reading this should understand what a GDE is. For the sake of keeping things sequitur, let me explain it real quick. GDE stands for Google Developer Expert. This means that you are a an expert-of-sorts when it comes to one-to-many distinct Google technologies. If you are a GDE, it means that people (I will explain who later) agreed that you are an expert in at least one Google technology. And there’s a huge variety of GDEs.

When you are officially approved as a GDE, they usually append the technology that you’re an expert in to your GDE title. Let me give you an example: if someone is an expert in Android, and they get approved as a GDE, they are referred to as an “Android GDE”. Me personally, I am an Angular GDE. And beyond Android and Angular, there are many different kinds of GDEs. Chrome or Web GDEs. Flutter GDEs. Google Cloud GDEs. Firebase GDEs. Ads GDEs. Analytics GDEs. And so on. Now, Google takes care to ensure that these GDEs are generally spread throughout the entire globe. So no matter where you are, you’re probably relatively close to at least one GDE.

Some of you are getting impatient at this point. “Tell us already! Quit dragging it out! The nerve of this guy. This guy is something else.” Before I explain what it takes to become a GDE, please let me explain one more thing.

What do GDEs do?

Once people find out you are a GDE, they usually want to know what that means, and what your “duties” are as a GDE (duties, not doodies). I am going to take the liberty to explain my version of what a GDE’s duties are. Over the years, I have heard it explained more than half a dozen ways, yet I have internalized the explanation in a way that makes sense to me. I am going to share that with you now. Get ready!

A GDE is responsible for two things. First, you need to remain current in your discipline. And second, you need to spread the word about your discipline. Allow me to elaborate.

Remaining current in your discipline means that you need to stay up-to-date with the latest version and features in the area you were nominated. For me, this means that I need to stay current with the latest news and features coming out in Angular. I also need to stay current with the latest trends and directions that the Angular community is going in. This really isn’t a daunting task, when you think about it. Naturally, if you were nominated for this technology, chances are that you will remain current in it. So this is really a pretty easy task, in my experience.

Spreading the word about your discipline means that you are one of the people in the community who are taking care to teach and share with others. There are a huge variety of ways that you can do this. Here is an incomplete (but significant) list of ways you can teach and share about your tech.

  • Blog posts
  • Conference talks
  • Books
  • Online training courses
  • StackOverflow answers
  • Organizing events
  • Writing the official documentation
  • Contributing to the project
  • Podcasts and Videocasts

So you can see that there are plenty of things that people can do to fulfill their responsibilities as a GDE. While some GDEs stick to one or two of these tasks, there are many GDEs who are all over the grid, and have likely ticked off almost all of these things and more. Truly, being a GDE has been a humbling experience for me, as I have seen so many of my peers out-and-about, teaching and sharing their craft in so many creative ways.

Now, in exchange for doing this evangelizing for Google, they do a few really cool things to thank you. Over the years, I have really loved the things that they have done to express gratitude for my efforts. And you know, to be honest, I was going to do these things anyways. So it’s nice to get a tip-of-the-hat from them along the way.

At least once a year, Google will hold a GDE summit. Usually this event is held in Mountain View, at the Googleplex. But not always. In September, there will be a GDE Summit in Krakow, Poland, right before the Google Developer Days over there. When Google invites you to these GDE Summit events, they pay for your airfare, your hotel, and your meals.

In addition to the GDE Summit events, they also make sure that the GDEs get a ticket to Google I/O. Usually this ticket is free, but it isn’t guaranteed to be free. The only thing that is for sure, is that you will get a chance to acquire a ticket and be at Google I/O. For some GDEs, they even offer to pay for your flights and hotel. This is usually for GDEs who are far away and have the highest costs to get to the events.

Beyond these two benefits, there are a few more. You get more direct contact with the respective team at Google. In my case, I get some added immediate attention from the Angular team. They have added the GDEs to their slack, and we get to hear news and plans for Angular, sometimes before the internet finds out about them. In addition to getting more direct access to the respective teams at Google, there are occasions that Google will need a speaker at some event to talk about a certain Google tech. If the Google teams can’t go, they may reach out to the GDEs, and arrange for you to go to these events. When this happens, I have seen Google cover your travel costs, but it’s probably not something to bank on 100% of the time.

One final benefit of being a GDE, is that you get to put GDE on your resume and your LinkedIn. And it’s kind of silly, but people will treat you different when that happens. You are still the same person you were before. But when interviewing for jobs and such, that GDE title has been a pretty cool modifier for many of us GDEs.

How do I become a GDE?

If you have made it this far, you have finally arrived at the pay dirt. It is finally time to learn what it takes to become a GDE. And in a twist, I have actually already explained it. In order to become a GDE, you need to do the things that GDEs are responsible for. When Google looks for people to nominate as GDEs, they are looking for people who are speakers at conferences, speaking about the technologies that Google creates. They are looking for the most educational bloggers, podcasts and book-writers on the technologies created by everyone’s favorite ABC subsidiary. Are you one of the top StackOverflow scores for a certain Google tech? Then you might wanna look into the GDE program. Have you organized large events, events with the purpose of evangelizing a Google tech? If you have, and are reading this, you might wanna look into this whole GDE program. It might be for you. It might be your shtick. Your bag, baby. Becoming a GDE requires that you do the exact things that GDEs are responsible for.

When people ask how to become a GDE, they are hoping for something that they can study, or some course they can take. To become a GDE, there is nothing to study. There is no homework, or course to take to prepare you to be a GDE. These experts are nominated for their love-of-the-game, and the game is Teaching. I think that for most GDEs, fulfilling their responsibilities is an effortless task. I say it’s effortless, not because it’s easy, but because these people are natural teachers and community builders, and just by being who they are naturally, their GDE role is magnified.

Many GDEs like to describe how to become a GDE from a different angle. You see, A GDE is something that you already are, not something you become when you decide you want the title. It’s about being a community super-hero by helping out in so very many different ways. The thing inside of you, the thing that drives you, is your desire to help and teach others in the community. The title of “GDE” simply enables you to reach more people.

How do I get nominated?

Some of you now want to know how to get this whole nomination process started. It’s actually pretty simple, anymore. In the past, not so much. But anymore, Google has streamlined it, and it’s not too hard. Not too hard at all. First, you are going to want to reach out to the Google DevRel person for your preferred tech, and explain your qualifications, and ask them if they think you could be a GDE. If they say “Yes”, then they’ll give you the link, where you can start the application process. Don’t forget to include the name of the person who gave you the 👍 as the person who “referred you”. This will make the application go smoother.

Once you have applied, grab a comfy spot to lay down for a while, because it can take upwards of six months to get contacted and find out about the next steps (I am not going to define the next steps, as they may change).

Note: If you submit a GDE application, and haven’t gotten the 👍 from the team’s DevRel, it may never materialize into being nominated. Keep the communications with the DevRels above-board, and the process will go much smoother.

Summary

So if any of you have made it this far, and want to start the process, head over to the Experts Page and find an expert near you. Or find a Googler. And ask them if they think you should apply. If you get the 👍, then let me be the first to wish you the best of luck. Also, let me thank you for all that you do to help the developer community!

Aaron Frost

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