Advocate: one word, two directions

I recently was able to rename the team that I lead at DataStax. You can read more about that in a blog post I did on DataStax Academy. That post focuses mostly on my team and the things that we do.

For this post, I’d like to expand on the terminology aspect of this name change. I’m sharing this because I’ve heard from others in this Developer Relations world that they’ve already made this change, or are trying to talk their management into it. Here’s some rationale that might help your argument.

I’ve always been a tiny bit uncomfortable with the job title of “evangelist”. Not greatly uncomfortable — I’ve worked with that title for a year and a half — but a bit uncomfortable.

My discomfort doesn’t have anything to do with the religious background of the word. In case you weren’t aware of the etymology, evangelist shares the same Greek root as “gospel” — literally “good news” aka “evangelion”. I’m down with sharing good news of all kinds, so no problem there. Neither have I experienced any backlash on the term — my church friends have been amused at my title, not offended.

No, my issue is really about the fact that the term evangelist doesn’t adequately cover what I do. You see, evangelist is a one-way word: I have good news to share with you. Simple transaction, message delivered, done.

I’m looking for a two-way word.

So, when I heard of other teams beginning to use the term “advocate”, I was immediately drawn to it.

What is an advocate? It’s the person that’s on your side. In your corner. Looking out for you. That’s my job — taking the side of the developer.

To take the developer’s side, a couple of things must be true:

  1. I must be a developer — that is, the “0th customer” of the products I’m representing, to be familiar with their glorious features as well as the rough edges we all know are there.
  2. I must engage with developers — I have to have relationships with the people who have to use our products every day. They have to trust me in order to tell me what works and what doesn’t, and I have to be a good steward of that trust.

If I’m doing these things, and only if I’m doing these things, I can represent the viewpoint of developers to the rest of my organization, which is the #1 thing that being an advocate is about.

As an advocate, I can use my influence to help make our products better, and influence what features get built to make developers lives easier and help them and their companies find success.

In summary, I love having “developer advocate” as my job title, because it captures why I go to work each day and what I hope to be the best at.

A final note: I’m actually still ok with “evangelist” as a job title. I think it’s entirely appropriate for a person whose job is focused in the main on raising awareness and excitement around an emerging technology. And evangelism is still part of my job. It’s just not all of it.