Our First Advice Column: Developer Relations and Personal Integrity

From the desk of Leslie Hawthorn (LH) and Laura Czajkowski (LC)

Courtesy of Jason Dean

LH — So, we got our first advice column question and I have to say it’s an incredible question. Like so incredible I don’t know if we’ll ever top it. Mind you, that’s not to say you shouldn’t tell us what you’d like to read in a future Dear Leslie & Laura, Live.

LC — For our European readers, it really is a fantastic question. In this case, Leslie is not using the exaggeration that our American friends — particularly Californians — are known for.

Onto our first advice column:

Dear Leslie and Laura, Live:

As a dedicated Developer Relations professional, how can I maintain my personal integrity while lending it to my employer?

Cheers,

Matthew Revell

LH — So, dear readers, as you can see, that’s an incredible question. And, honestly, too much to answer in a single blog post. I think we’re going to do a short series on this one.

LC — Yes, we’re going to have to do just that. There’s so much to unpack, like what do we mean by personal integrity, how is it lent to an employer, and why is that problematic sometimes. And that’s before we even talk about how to maintain it.

Plus, we’re hoping to make our content relevant to newbie and experienced DevRel folk alike, so we can’t assume a baseline of knowledge on any of the above.

LH — True that. Ok, let’s talk how we lend our employers integrity.

Integrity etched into stone, courtesy of Chris Evans

The perspectives in this post don’t necessarily apply to everyone, but given what we know of our friends and colleagues who work in DevRel, we feel the generalizations we make are largely true and generally useful.

Personal integrity means different things to different people, and our thoughts about what we do and do not consider to be behavior that reflects our high moral standards change over time. We are human, we evolve. Frequently, questions of personal integrity as a DevRel human — well, heck, any human — come up in the context of being asked to do work for our employers that we don’t like for some reason.

LC — For example, you may feel a particular email campaign is too pushy or spammy. Or you may think its not appropriate for your sales people to give blatant product pitches at a meetup. Or you could be quite sure that it’s not OK to trawl GitHub for contact details of contributors to your project and then use those in a marketing campaign or to generate sales leads.

LH — By the way, if you felt like you didn’t like any of those ideas, Laura and I are with you.

LC — But, your employer may think those ideas are fantastic and may look to you to support taking action on said example ideas.

So Here’s Why #ItsComplicated

LH — If you are new to Developer Relations, you may not realize that any of those ideas are considered harmful to your community building efforts, not to mention your own personal reputation. But you probably do realize that these ideas sound … not good … if you’ve chosen DevRel as your profession. The trouble remains, though, that you may not have enough experience or developed a strong enough network to have information, even anecdata, to help you persuade management against these ideas.

If you are new to a particular company, you may not feel like you’ve accrued enough social capital to push back against making missteps in your developer outreach strategy. You have to choose when to raise a fuss about a bad idea and when to just let it go. Some ideas highly imperfect but not the worst thing that could happen in community land — like the suboptimal email campaign — and some really should just never happen, like the harvesting contributor details from GitHub. It’s better to make sure that you’ve built up enough trust with your management and colleagues that they’re ready to listen to you when you tell them “no.”

Obviously, obtaining experience takes time, as does building trust and rapport. But even if you’re quite experienced and feel comfortable pushing back and you do so, you may fail to persuade your management that taking a particular action is a bad idea.

LC — And this is where it gets quite complicated, because as a DevRel human, your perfessional¹ reputation — which is deeply tied to your personal integrity — will be impacted by your employer’s actions whether or not you agreed with the action in the first place.

That’s what we take “lending your personal reputation to your employer” to mean. People choose to trust a company, and provide it with their attention in the form of using their software, etc., because they trust your judgement and your interactions with them. When your company does something that sucks, your credibility takes a hit, too.

Don’t forget it’s your perfessionalism that is often sought out or relied upon by others when you submit talks to conferences or are asked for your expert opinion in an interview. You have to balance this with your organisation’s goals and how they are executed.

LH — Laura, I totally agree with you, but I think that’s veering into another blog post entirely.

LC — Probably right. Back to integrity.

LH — Right. Integrity. It’s an integral part of your perfessional brand.

You’ve worked berry hard to build your perfessional brand! Photo courtesy reynermedia

LH — You’ve put some very hard work into building your up your portfolio, both socially and skills-wise. You put time, effort, and likely money into learning how to program. You have to spend time as a junior person to build up experience and gain knowledge. Over time as a DevRel human, you spend countless hours on the road making real connections with actual people. You do the same online when you answer questions or otherwise help one of your community members succeed in their quest.

LC — And it is the fruit of all that hard work² that makes you a highly valuable asset to your company as a Developer Relations professional. Companies need developers to be aware of their product, and if they’ve hired you, they know that those personal connections matter a great deal to building up their business.

LH — In fact, I find the most important part of Developer Relations to be the so-called soft skills. Listening well. Making people feel welcome at your events. Ensuring your community contributors feel appreciated by thanking them, getting them swag, or buying them a nice coffee when you Helping people succeed and genuinely enjoying doing it. Whether or not they end up using your company’s product.

And that last bit is perhaps the best way to both earn perfessional kudos and maintain your personal integrity on the DevRel job.

LC — And it’s also that last bit that can be highly problematic to your employer, because of course they employ you to make sure people use their software, write extensions for it, and otherwise act to further their business interests.

LH — Phew. That’s a lot for now. I’m tired. I think we should wrap up here and continue in a later post.

LC — Agreed! Tune in next time for our continuation of this advice column, where we’ll focus on making sure you’re building up your perfessional brand internally to your company. Doing that means less strain on your integrity because it’s more likely people as your company will not do things you suggest are a bad idea. And isn’t that nice!

Stay tuned for a future installment in this series, and in the meantime let us know what you’d like to hear from us on Leslie & Laura, Live! Comments on Medium are good, Twitter is great!

[1] Perfessionalism isn’t a typo. We’ve seen a blending of our personal and professional lives since even before the advent of social media, but in Developer Relations especially, our personal brand is our professional brand. We’re perfessionals. We also are too lazy to add this definition to the Urban Dictionary, and consider their entry incorrect. (OMG, someone is wrong on the internet. Again.) — LH

[2] We make no promises to continue using or to stop using bad puns. You’ve been warned. — LC