Clarifai Champions
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Clarifai Champions

My Dive into Developer Evangelism: Clarifai Champions in Review

Last November marked my official “graduation” from Clarifai Champions, a remote developer evangelist training program in its second iteration. When I excitedly told this to friends, professors, and even some of my software engineering interviewers, they often asked some variation of “What is this ‘developer evangelism’ thing?”

The profession of developer evangelism (or developer advocacy) is notoriously tricky to define, and not just for newcomers like myself. To me, it means some combination of building developer-facing APIs and their corresponding documentation; mentoring developers in utilizing said APIs online and offline (i.e. at hackathons and developer events); and speaking at developer conferences, meetups, and other events.

Each of the words that I have italicized — building, mentoring, and speaking — embody my experiences in studying computer science and creating a women in technology community at my university. Unsurprisingly, I jumped head first at the opportunity to be a Clarifai Champion way back in August, and was fortunate enough to be selected.

The Champions

During its second iteration, the Clarifai Champions program was led by Cassidy Williams, former developer evangelist and engineer at Clarifai, and Shirley Wang, another developer evangelist at Clarifai. The lovely Maxcell (Prince) Wilson, intern and future developer evangelist at Clarifai (!!), also played a substantial role in organizing this program.

I entered Clarifai Champions along with forty-some other university students and full-time professionals from around the world. I know that young people can be prone to over-hyping online communities, but the Clarifai Champions Slack was seriously lit.

And by lit, I mean both fun and informative. (How nerdy can I be?) Outside of having charming conversations about memes and the warmest winter socks, I learned about many things beyond the Clarifai API: cryptocurrency, mechanical keyboards, containerization, and open source, to name a few.

Best of all, I got to meet my fellow Clarifai Champions at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, at a stealth Silicon Valley event, and at the Clarifai office itself. I dropped my inhibitions and even tweeted about how rad it was to meet these Internet friends in real life.

Besides the fun stuff, the Champions formed a tight-knit community of mentors and number one fans; at times, I felt that the Champions (well, at least a handful of them) had become a part of my support system. Cassidy, one of the Champions’ fearless leaders, bestowed upon me some truly unforgettable advice. Prince and Shirley greeted me at Wildhacks with open arms, as did the countless Champions I met at #GHC16. Other Champions proofread my blog posts, embarked on an open-source challenge with me, and discussed in depth the perils of being a woman in technology.

As a senior who holds (or has held) leadership roles in most technical communities on campus, it was refreshing to not have to act as the one with all the answers. This was the most humbling part of belonging to a community like the Clarifai Champions.

The Tasks

Each Clarifai Champion was given four projects to complete over a three-month period (for my iteration, early September through late November). These projects corresponded to four main categories:

  1. Public speaking
  2. Technical demo
  3. Technical writing
  4. Community/event organizing

At least a few weeks before the deadline for each project, Champions were invited to attend virtual lectures about its corresponding category. Weekly office hours were also held in order to answer lingering questions… and, of course, to video chat about a variety of random topics for fun.

The first project — public speaking — had three major deliverables: submit a talk idea to any conference’s call for proposals (CFP), write a speaker bio, and give a technical talk. During the lecture, we learned how to come up with ideas for talks, how to craft a well-written conference proposal, and how to tweak talks with listener feedback.

I found the first lecture and project most useful because I yearn to master the art of creating engaging, informative tech talks for a professional audience as I transition from university to the workplace. Though my first CFP was ultimately rejected, I’ve since received mentorship from more seasoned speakers about how to improve my proposals and better target them to relevant conferences. I even wrote a Clarifai blog post with some wisdom of my own: if you are afraid or nervous about giving a tech talk, it’s time to rethink what “technical” really means.

On an even happier note, I am proud to say that I live-streamed my first-ever technical tutorial on APIs and Twitter bots, and that listeners have voiced so much positive feedback that I recently released a second tech talk on YouTube about the essentials of Git.

In early October, the Champions moved on to tackle our next project: the technical demo. I discovered that the words “technical demo” were a bit misleading: Shirley and Cassidy sought to teach us that even though developer evangelism is not software engineering, it still requires technical aptitude and ample persistence. This time, our deliverables were two or more major technical contributions, be they projects, open source pull requests, or actual demos of Clarifai API features.

Despite escalating homework and impending midterms, I stepped out of my comfort zone and made four contributions to open source repositories as a part of Hacktoberfest. Electrified by this small technical victory, I sought to show beginners that they too could play a part in — not to mention learn a lot from — the open source community. I penned yet another lengthy blog post about this epiphany.

In our third lecture, the Champions learned how to create technical writing pieces that inform, convince, and/or establish the author’s credibility. I conveniently used the aforementioned open source blog post as my deliverable. Word got around about my post (thanks in part to the Clarifai community!) and I received my first-ever shout-out from Technically Speaking, a newsletter that I read religiously.

In our fourth and final lecture, the Champions were tasked with hosting a live Clarifai-centric meetup. As a final hurrah, the Champions got even more collaborative and creative for this task: two New York City residents even hosted an artificial intelligence workshop for high school students. I loved seeing Champions take initiative on this project because it epitomized the personal and professional growth that each Champion had experienced by participating in the Champions program.

The Outcome

I’ll start with the obvious: being a Clarifai Champion opened my eyes to technical careers outside of software engineering, and suggested to me that I could be a successful developer evangelist. As someone who found her home at the intersection of code and community, working as a developer evangelist or advocate feels like a must at some point during my career.

Professional path aside, Clarifai Champions gave me the push that I needed to share my voice to the “world of tech” beyond Chicago. I have never been so active on websites like GitHub, Medium, and YouTube, as well as in online communities like Ladies Storm Hackathons, as I was during the months that I was a Clarifai Champion. Most notably, Clarifai Champions helped me actualize my passion for retaining new coders into public blog posts, videos, and other content that can be disseminated worldwide. I believe that this has been an essential part of my ongoing transition from the university “bubble” to the vast “real world” — whatever that may mean.

All in all, I walked away from the Champions program with new friends and mentors (some of which will probably be future tech superstars), and as a computer science student confident in her abilities to contribute to the communities, causes, and codebases that matter to her. I highly recommend Clarifai Champions to any and all technologists, regardless of their passion for the nebulous field of “developer evangelism.” Who knows, you may very well fall in love with it… just as I did.

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Musings of the world’s next generation of developer evangelists

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