The Case for Developer Relations

Ryan Seys
Ryan Seys
Jan 16, 2016 · 5 min read

A story about my weird and wonderful role at Google.

When I flew home for the holidays this year, back to the cold, maple syrup flavoured mothership, I was greeted by my loving family with a violent onslaught of questions about my shiny new job at Google. Questions like “So, what exactly do you do?”, “How do you like your job?”, and my favourite question coming straight from my dear ol’ mum, “When are you going to invent the next big thing?”. Thanks for having faith in me, mom. This shiny new job can be difficult to explain sometimes, so in the process of bringing sanity to my family, I used this shiny job thing like a mirror and reflected (see what I did there?) on what it means to do what I do, and why I think it matters.

Let me give you The Case for Developer Relations.

“So, what exactly do you do?”

I work at Google under a group called Developer Relations (DevRel).

This is my story. *law & order sound*

The official job title on my nametag is Developer Programs Engineer or DPE. We are not technically “Software Engineers” (SWEs), but don’t tell the recruiters. The Software Engineer role at Google is something different and makes up the majority of the working force behind many consumer products released by Google. Things like the software component of GMail, Google Photos, and Google Play Music are the product of SWEs, among all the infrastructure that keeps these Google services afloat every day. [1].

Developer Programs Engineers, with the help of the rest of DevRel, are responsible for creating a lot of the resources that developers use on a daily basis to create amazing things. The product of DPEs includes offerings such as the googlesamples GitHub org that contains a large swath of code samples covering a broad range of developer technologies and topics. We are also responsible for most of the Google API client libraries such as google-api-nodejs-client (spoiler: this was my intern project) and Codelabs that act like focused tutorials, ramping developers up quickly with specific new technologies. DevRel is also a large part of the brains behind Google Developers, and developer events like Google I/O, Chrome Dev Summit, and Android Dev Summit, just to name a few.

[1] Let me take a moment to clarify that SWEs still very much make developer-related things on many teams across Google. There are SWEs working on products like Angular.js, TensorFlow, and Android, for example. You could pick apart the differences between these two roles all day, so let’s not and say we did. Carrying on…

Alongside the DPEs in DevRel, are roles such as Developer Advocates (DAs), Tech Writers, not to mention a Ben & Jerry’s worth of different flavours of Program/Product/Plain Managers. There are even additional roles that fit niche parts of the DevRel group, but overall day-to-day the people mentioned above make up the large majority of who I work with.

Together, we represent and stand for developers, ensuring they’re always productive using Google’s developer offering.

What do I do on a normal day? Well I’m glad you asked! On a typical California drought-ridden day, between moments of deep contemplation of moving far away from the Bay Area to escape the steep rent prices, you can find me anywhere from writing a code sample for Android TV or the Nest API, to designing/writing a new tool for [REDACTED] that will blow developers’ minds, or manually stress testing some code changes to our Internet-connected foosball table, built on technologies yet to be released.

Basically, we like to make developers happier by offering them easier tools, services, and content that will help them be more productive.

Happy developers = happy us.


“How do you like your job?”

In the 7 and 1/2 months that I have been a member of Developer Relations team (not counting my previous 3 month internship + 10 month remote contract gig) I can quite confidently say that working in Developer Relations has been the #1 best full-time, real-world job I’ve ever had since graduating 7 and 1/2 months ago. But in all seriousness, accepting an offer straight out of school to hack on cool shit at one of the biggest tech companies with some of the brightest people in the world is probably one of the better choices I’ve made in my life. Coming in closely behind is that time I decided to make and consume a two pound burrito. Go big or go home, right?

Being a Developer Programs Engineer allows me to build legit, useful things for developers (❤ you all) and sometimes even play around with the latest, greatest, buggiest garbage you’ll hopefully never have to lay your eyes on before we improve it. If you’re a developer and you want us in DevRel to start doing something that we currently aren’t doing (or help us kill our bad ideas earlier), let me know your thoughts! We have enough reorgs I think I could squeeze some fresh ideas into the next one.

All said, I really like my job. Google treats me well ⇔ I treat Google Developers well. It’s a good system we have going.

“When are you going to invent the next big thing?”

Thanks for always believing in me, mom. Now statistically, DevRel is probably not pumping out patents as much as the Self-Driving Car team, but that’s not to say we aren’t inventing, because apparently you can patent APIs.

All legal shenanigans aside, I think we’re doing valuable work here in DevRel, and I believe all our hearts are in the right place. We’re constantly building new things, which means a lot of our old work goes out of commission quickly. You have to have a high pain tolerance to work in DevRel, especially as a DPE. You’ll have to kill your own project at some point or crash & burn with it. We always suggest you opt for the former.

I think the best part about building a thing in DevRel is not the thing I create, it’s seeing the things that developers create with it. So when am I going to invent the next big thing? I already am. All the time. And you’re my surrogate developers.

So go on and build amazing things! And keep using Google’s stuff to do it so I can keep my job. Because I like my job, here in Developer Relations.

Follow my mom on Twitter (jk it’s me).

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