First, let’s get over the title — developer evangelist. It has seemingly become the prevailing label for the person who could also be called developer advocate, technical evangelist, and/or community something or other. I’m not here to weigh in on that, but I wanted to acknowledge its … awkwardness? And let you know that this article is referring to all those titles and their kin as one and the same.
In any event lots of companies employ one or more of these evangelist/advocate-type folks, and countless additional companies would like to hire one or more of them.
It’s a growing profession that requires a special kind of person: a natural community-builder and instant friend to everyone they meet; who can admirably represent a brand while intelligently and eloquently espousing a technical product to a similarly technical audience.
The recent rise in demand for this unicorn-ish human has not been met with adequate supply. I talk with a different company each week who has included developer evangelism as an integral part of their business strategy. Those who have a great strategy in place are wondering where they’ll find the people to execute on it. Others are looking for support with both strategy creation and execution. On the other hand, I know a lot of great talent in the field, but they’re all happily busy with their respective gigs.
I have a theory.
I don’t believe there is a shortage of developer evangelists. They’re out there and don’t yet know it.
I believe there’s a bunch of people who consider themselves full stack devs or data scientists or product managers or dev ops all day err day; a plethora of professionals who possess not only the super powers to be a technical evangelist but a desire to apply their aptitudes in new ways and grow to greater heights.
Here’s a list of common character traits that have shined most brightly from the wonderful developer evangelists with whom I’ve had the honor to work (in no particular order):
- an entrepreneurial spirit
- self-driven / autonomous / independent
- personable, social (not necessarily super extroverted)
- responsible, reliable
- energetic — in the moment and over time
- good communicator — written, spoken, verbal/non-verbal
- fast learner
- positive, optimistic
- problem solver
- empathetic / compassionate / kind
- inclusive and collaborative
- a generalist with specialties
☝️these words leapt to mind when recalling the things I appreciate and respect in the most effective developer community builders I know.
Of course, there are a lot of other things one might look for when searching for their future developer relations team member:
- a killer network
- amazing references
- an active blog
- a strong social following
- tech talks on the youtubes
- a portfolio of side projects
- an established (👍) reputation on Stack Overflow, Hacker News, Product Hunt
- many hues of green on their Github profile
- years working behind the keyboard on a full stack
- backend, frontend, web, mobile…at least one, if not all
- speaks multiple programming languages
- respected open source contributor
Yes, these are all the things that an ideal candidate has listed on her resume.
My theory, cont’d:
Experience is great. It can set one candidate apart from another in a major way.
But one thing about experience is, everyone lacks it at some point — including the greatest developer evangelist ever, who (by the way) hasn’t been discovered due to existing in the future.
And another thing about experience? Anyone can get it, given the right opportunities (and corresponding effort).
Contrast experience with character traits and skills like those listed above — arguably, the traits/skills are less readily attainable than “experience.” At the same time, they’re often either (a) naturally present in or (b) consciously developed by a lot of humans.
Moral of the story.
If you’re a technologist, a hobbyist, a builder, a tinkerer, an engineer, a developer, a software person, a hardware person, a hacker, a designer/developer, a solutions architect, sales engineer, or anything in that realm, and you enjoy hanging out and collaborating with people who share these monikers, and you’d like to get paid to do so, then you should consider a career in developer evangelism.
If you’re a company who’s looking to hire your first or next developer evangelist, absolutely look for experience. But consider looking even more intently for personalities that signal the makings of the next great evangelist.
Focus on the person they are and who they intend to be, over the set of experiences they’ve yet to amass.
When you can’t find the person that matches your job description exactly, look for the person with the vision, ambition, and confidence to build a resume that will (eventually) mirror said description. Then, give them the opportunity to do so.