3 Important Tips for (Newbie) Developer Advocates: The Show Must Go On
From the desk of Leslie Hawthorn
One of Laura’s most important duties at Couchbase, where she’s their Community Manager, is training new developer advocates. She’s had two new hires come in this past year, and we’ve talked a lot about how to create effective training programs, particularly for those who are not experienced attending conferences & staffing a booth. We’ve also shared a laugh or two over all the things we’ve forgotten to think about because they’re so deeply ingrained in our processes as experienced DevRel humans.¹
So, without further ado, here are the top 3 important conference related tips we have for new Developer Advocates. (Plus, we hope some of this advice may be useful to those of you who are old hands at the art.)
Arrive at the Conference Early
If you’re fortunate enough to have an events manager or other human doing conference wrangling for you, you’ll likely get a schedule for when to arrive at the booth for set up, tear down,² and your shifts to give demos or talk to interested people. If you’ve been given a schedule, make sure to arrive on time!
In fact, try to make it 15 minutes early if you’re brand new to exhibiting at conferences. Little things pop up all the time that require hands-on person power to handle, and it never hurts to show your colleagues that you’re there to be helpful to them and to learn as much as you can. You may arrive and discover that you have more people than are needed to set up the booth, and that’s OK. It’s an excellent opportunity to:
- Catch up with your colleagues, especially since DevRel teams tend to be distributed
- Discuss what key points you want to make to booth visitors
- Find the restrooms closest to your booth
- Scout out where the beverage stations or on-site cafe is for refreshments
- Figure out where you can charge your laptop and mobile
And on that last point, read on ….
Keep Your Laptop Fully Charged
It’s easy to stay up late attending conference functions, then crash as soon as you head back to your hotel room. Remember to plug in your laptop before you go to bed! You may not be the person assigned to give demos, but things come up — another colleague may fall ill, have an equipment failure, or be called into an impromptu customer meeting. Before you know it, your laptop may be commandeered for use in the booth, and if it’s not fully charged that can be problematic depending on how many power outlets your booth actually has.³
Even better, take the extra time to head back to your room to ditch your heavy bag and plug in your laptop before you depart for the evening’s festivities. Your back will thank you!
And, for those of us unused to travel outside of the United States, another word to the wise: make sure that there’s actually power going to your laptop! Some outlets do not work unless switched on at the outlet, and many hotel rooms disconnect all power to the room once you remove your keycard from the slot just inside the door. You may think you’ll wake up to a fully charged laptop, mobile phone, and portable battery but … you’ll be wrong. (Not that this has ever happened to me. Or even happened to me more than once. Ahem.)
Office Hours are Your Friend
Even if you’ve been with the company for a long time, no one knows everything about your product. If you’re new to Developer Relations or new to a particular organization, it’s great to shadow your more experienced colleagues for as much of the day as possible. Still, everyone needs a break and you will likely find yourself in the booth on the receiving end of questions you cannot answer. And that is totally OK ….
If you’ve set up an office hours roster, you can let folks know when to come back and whom to speak with when they return, e.g. “I’m not our resident Python expert, but please come back at 14:00 when Sarah will be here. I am sure she can help you.” You should still collect the person’s contact details so you can do follow up after the event, as your visitor may not have time to return to the booth later.
Bonus tip: Having a sign at the booth with office hours listed on it is incredibly useful,⁴ even if you have to print it out at the conference’s business center because you create it on the fly. Attendees can just snap a picture of it as a reminder to come back to talk to Sarah at 14:00, or to plan the best time for their return visit when lines at the booth are long. If you have a conference wrangler on your team, they’ve probably already thought about this matter and will bring an office hours roster with them, but if you don’t see one suggest it may be a useful option! It never hurts to suggest process improvements in a kind way.
Other Great Ideas
Any other advice you’d give to newbie DevRel folks? We’d love to hear about it. Get in touch in the comments or on Twitter.
 Aside: you might enjoy this piece I wrote for new open source contributors, You’ll Eventually Remember Everything They’ve Forgotten from the excellent book with advice for FLOSS newbies, Open Advice; Available as a cost-free, Creative Commons licensed download, or you can order from Amazon. (Disclosure: the authors of this blog receive no compensation for book sales. We just really like the work!)
 Tear down is industry lingo for packing up the booth & your marketing materials after the show concludes. Often, the conference will continue after booth tear down, so book travel arrangements accordingly. (Ed note — Laura: Whoops, that makes this 4 tips.)
 Not all exhibit spaces have extra power outlets, so you may find your booth only has space to plug in the lights and the monitor for your demo. Often getting additional power drops costs quite a bit, so your conference wrangler likely will try to save funds by not ordering more power than you really need at the booth.
 Ed note — Laura: Now you’re at 5 tips. Really? Leslie, you need to learn how to write better listicles. 😜 😆