My journey to Evangelism — DevRel

This blog post is about my transition to evangelism role from software engineering. My goal is to give some insights to the folks who consider moving to a similar position.

Disclaimer: This is my experience at OpsGenie before Atlassian’s Opsgenie acquisition.

I was working at Opsgenie as a software engineer. I felt like we were doing a great job on the product side but couldn’t tell the world enough. So, I wanted to help instead of complaining. That is why I started the engineering blog, giving talks, organizing a meetup, and talking with potential partners additional to my day to day job as a developer. So, I was doing some evangelism before it was my full-time job.

After almost two years working as a software engineer, I made a big decision. I decided that it was time for me to move back to İstanbul where I was born and raised, from Ankara where I lived over seven years for college education and work.

I talked with our founder about my intention. After some discussion around what I want and what our company needs, it was clear that me working as a fulltime evangelist would be the best way moving forward.

As OpsGenie didn’t have an office in İstanbul, I started working remotely from home — with a new title “Technical Evangelist” in October 2017.

Now, you know the short story of my time in Opsgenie. Let’s start!

Who do you report? What do you do?

I report to our VP of Marketing, but I often talk with other teams and our CEO.

Marketing was an informed decision. We were building a new team with our new VP of Marketing. The team needed some technical help. Also, I was already remote and not doing any feature development in the core codebase. It made a lot of sense at the time.

I see people in similar positions reporting to different teams such as engineering, product or marketing. Company size may have an effect on this, too. Opsgenie was relatively small (~50 people) when I became an evangelist. So, I was going to be the only one in my position. DevRel and Evangelism tend to have separate divisions within big companies like Atlassian, Amazon or Microsoft.

I believe that if your manager understands what role is and what it requires, it doesn’t matter that much. Though I also have an official job description. The job description was more like 3/10 coding sample apps and integrations, 4/10 content, 3/10 community and speaking. Of course, It doesn’t work like these percentages in the real world. My job changes every three months. But, having this written help me gain my focus from time to time.

My primary goal is to promote DevOps and bring awareness on what we do at Opsgenie. I try to put my best work every day to do exactly that, so the rest doesn’t matter. I’m lucky that my leaders empower me to work autonomously and help me determine my priorities when I need help.

Which department do you think evangelism role belongs to?

Like many things in software, the answer is: it depends.

It depends on your company culture, it depends on what your job description is, it depends on what you want to do, and it depends on what your company needs.

Technical evangelist or developer relations or developer advocacy are still new roles. They can change drastically between companies. For example, while some companies would love you to create code samples and tutorials, some would prefer you to speak at events and build a community.

What we have in common is our love for our communities. It is hard to put our role into traditional divisions like marketing, engineering, or product.

We aren’t marketing folks, but we (should) do some marketing. We aren’t full-time developers, but we (should) do some coding. We don’t own the product, we (should) know it well.

I think this role requires a little bit of everything + a big empathy and love for the community.

Why “evangelist” instead of “developer relations” or “developer advocate”?

The correct version should be developer avocado 🥑

Joking aside, I find this discussion a bit blurry and often unnecessary.

The common understanding is that evangelism, as the name implies, focuses on putting the word out there while developer advocacy focuses on being the voice of developers who use your platform. There is, of course, some overlap. I recommend reading this blog post on this discussion.

I realize that some people don’t like the word “evangelist” because it is associated with Christian faith or seems like we are promoting our tools no matter what. To me, it is not a big deal as long as I know that I’m on the developers’ side.

What kind of experience is necessary for this role?

I’m 26 years old. I feel older though. I’ve been writing code since high-school and worked part-time in software after my first year in college. I’ve some experience developing mobile apps, frontend apps, backend apps, and doing some ops work. I was a “full-stack” software engineer (yes! it is not a thing :D). I also did spend some time on teaching, SEO and marketing. In total, I have over 7+ years of experience but only two years as a full-time engineer. I have also never worked at a big corp.

To me, being part of such different teams means that I’m not an expert on a particular topic, at least the way I would like to be. This has some advantages and disadvantages. I’d like to think that the advantages are more significant if you would like to be an evangelist. Seeing all these different areas helped me understand how things work and appreciate everyone’s job, really appreciate. On the other hand, my audience is mostly people with ops skill set, and I could have used more deep knowledge on some specific parts. Now it is the right place to remind that some areas like security might take more time to get in and even understand the basics.

To summarize, you don’t need to have a decade of experience, but many evangelists do have decades of experience. The job isn’t simple or doesn’t have a low barrier to entry. In the end, like many jobs in tech, if you are curious and a lifelong learner, you are going to be great at it!

Should I organize meetups and conferences?

In my case, Opsgenie doesn’t have a lot of business in Turkey, where I live. Still, I do organize events in Ankara and İstanbul. It helped both Opsgenie and me in many ways.

You know what is better: taking community work to scale. I get to attend a lot of Devopsdays events and organize one in İstanbul. In time, I started helping other Devopsdays when I’m present. Last month, after a year, I got the opportunity to join the Devopsdays core team! Being a core organizer helps me scale my efforts all around the world. It is a great feeling.

I think organizing events is not a job requirement, but I firmly believe that it helps you become better at your job. You meet with new people, that is by itself is a good reason to do some community work.

What about social media and being online all the time?

I think social media and being online all the time is messing up with my head and affects my concentration a lot. So, I’m not a fan.

Twitter and LinkedIn are quite important because many tech folks love it. If we want to reach out to them, we need to be where they are. I see some people are also on Facebook and Instagram. I like to think that I can limit myself with two options.

How can I learn more about this role?

Short answer: visit DevRel Collective and join the devrelcollective Slack channel. Almost everyone is there. Ask questions and engage with the awesome folks.

I also recommend listening to the Community Pulse podcast. It is a good one. And there are some books on DevRel. Mary recently published the book “The Business Value of Developer Relations.” I heard great things about the book and looking forward to reading it.

Thanks for reading this far, hope you enjoyed it!

You can reach out to me on Twitter and Linkedin :)

Special thanks to Erkan for the review.


Originally published at serhat.io on November 15, 2018.