The DevRel Digest September 2023: Developer Relations and The Abyss

The DevRel Digest
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7 min readSep 30, 2023
DevRel Digest September 2023

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The Abyss: The Death and Rebirth of Developer Relations

Since apparently I cannot write a DevRel Digest without mentioning the hero’s journey, let me just go ahead and get this out of the way right now: Developer Relations is experiencing a death and rebirth. If you need a pop culture reference, then Developer Relations is currently Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, entering the cave on Dagobah, facing his shadows as he trains to become a Jedi Knight under the guidance of Master Yoda. If Developer Relations pulled a card from a tarot deck, it would be The Tower. In other words, in the hero’s journey, this is the part where our hero is deep in The Unknown and at the lowest and most vulnerable point of their transformation. There is fear and doubt and despair and — most importantly — the opportunity to gain insight and become something new.

The Tower tarot card from the Rider-Waite deck with Gary the pug Photoshopped poorly into it.
The Tower card represents sudden, disruptive revelation, and potentially destructive change. And Gary.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the heart of a boom-and-bust industry like tech beats in the chest of a boom-and-bust city like San Francisco. I make my home in San Francisco, and like many of my colleagues in Developer Relations right now, I am still looking for a job in a market that feels turned upside down.

With so many companies eliminating their Developer Relations programs in order to save money, it feels like the days when a developer evangelist was a “punk rock technologist having a barrel of monkeys on the Internet” are over. It might be time for Developer Relations to — as Jeremy Meiss wrote in his 5-part series — “grow the fuck up” and start focusing on moving the profession forward.

But how?

Developer Experience and The Abyss

I think this post from the GitHub blog can offer us some ideas about where Developer Relations needs to focus next:

“Over the past few decades, developers have witnessed an explosion of technologies, open source libraries, package managers, languages, and services — with more tools, APIs, and integrations arriving by the day. The result is an ecosystem where nearly everything developers could want or need is at their fingertips.”

There is an API or SaaS platform for almost everything and this puts “pressure on developers to constantly learn about the latest products.”

So what happens if your product is locked behind a demo request that requires developers to speak with a salesperson? Or if your documentation is outdated? Or if the last communication in your Slack community was over six months ago? Or if the product is riddled with esoteric errors? Or if a pull request goes unreviewed too long?

The developer gives up and there is one less Jedi — or product champion — in the world.

In the hero’s journey of the developer, The Abyss of The Unknown is where Developer Experience (under the umbrella of Developer Relations) can act as a guide and a mentor — updating documentation, writing relevant real-world use case tutorials, answering questions, and nurturing community. For Developer Relations to get out of its own DevRel Abyss, it might be time to shift our focus to the middle part of the developer-product lifecycle and start asking ourselves, “How can I make developers champions of my product?” rather than, “How can I make developers aware of my product?”

According to Eirini Kalliamvakou, staff researcher at GitHub, a successful Developer Experience is when developers “have the info they need and can pivot between focus and collaboration. They can complete tasks with minimal delay.”

Gated demos, inaccurate documentation, neglected communities, bugs, and ignored contributions are all friction that eventually grinds developers — and potentially a sale — to a halt.

The hero’s journey of the developer, with the Abyss circled in red with an arrow pointing to it reading, “You are here.”
You are here.

So I Mean It When I Say, “Don’t Neglect Community”

I mentioned this in my last DevRel Digest and it bears repeating: Don’t neglect community.

Community is the collaboration part of Developer Experience. Community is where mentorship and peer-to-peer troubleshooting occur. Community is where you can gain important insights into how developers are using your product, what their needs are, and how the developer experience can be improved. Community is where connection happens. And with so many different flavors of the same solution available to developers, connection is the feature that can make or break a sale.

But nurturing community — much less starting a community — is not easy! Fortunately, I’ve got a couple of resources for you.

I attended the August Dublin DevRel Meetup with speakers Omotola Omotayo, who is Community Manager at Outreachy, and Carla Gaggini, Head of Content, Events, and Community at Container Solutions. You can check out their talks at the link, but some highlights for me included learning about the “Pac-Man circle” which is the strategy of forming groups with an opening so people can easily join the conversation.

I also came across this newsletter from David Spinks, the author of The Business of Belonging, which details practical advice for starting a Slack community from scratch and nurturing it through growth by “scaling intimacy.”

A Culture of Documentation

One method of community-building Sprinks points out is turning “conversations into content.” He discusses finding ways to archive and organize helpful conversations for others to find later in the future. In other words, he espouses the importance of documentation.

As someone who is, at her core, a writer (a failed one, perhaps, but that’s a story for another time), documentation is something I try to bring to every project I am a part of. Documentation reduces friction and fosters collaboration. And, as Alanna Burke, Community Manager, Developer Relations, and Documentation at, points out, bad documentation culture is when “documentation is everybody’s problem and nobody’s job.”

So how do we correct that? Burke’s article goes into strategies for developing a good culture of documentation, which includes starting from the top: “Start with standardization, and empower your contributors by establishing that clear, concise writing is the expectation from everyone. To do this, ensure that your higher-ups and your stakeholders lead by example, with quality writing.”

And make it someone’s job. Namely, the job of Developer Experience and, by extension, Developer Relations.

… And Speaking of the Top

While, as Jeremy Meiss writes in his series, Developer Relations needs to do its part to prove its worth within organizations, Brandon West, who leads DevRel at Datadog, points out that organizations — and especially those at the top — need to meet DevRel halfway by making sure we are set up for success by answering questions such as, “Do you have product market fit?” and “Do you have foundational marketing in place?” If the answer is “No,” then West writes, “DevRel is probably not going to be what you think it is.”

If the answer is affirmative, then Emily Freeman, who does DevRel and product marketing at AWS, suggests that “DevRel is much more effective when it’s treated as special operations” because “DevRel at scale is its own animal and requires extraordinary trust and autonomy.”

And if you need help figuring that part out, Daniel Bryant over at Avocado Bytes, has a really great post with really practical advice for managing DevRel teams effectively.

The Future of DevRel

Lots of us are out of work right now and it is time to adapt. With so many different solutions available to companies, Developer Relations is more critical than ever, but both DevRel and organizations need to reconsider where to focus their efforts. I think we are about to see a shift in Developer Relations, and the companies who continue to invest in and adapt their DevRel programs are the ones who are going to benefit the most from the next inevitable boom.

Events and Resources and Other Notable Things

  • So part of the reason I am publishing September’s DevRel Digest just under the wire is because I have a talk coming up at PyBay in San Francisco! PyBay is in-person Sunday, October 8th and I will be giving a talk on “Testing Strategies for Python.” I have been diligently working on my presentation and it will include the following chart, so if you can make it, please do!
The software testing alignment chart.
  • DevRelX Summit is online on October 25th and 26th. The theme for this year is, “Driving Impact in the Age of AI.” Sounds a little foreboding, right? Perfect for Halloween!
  • I got the chance to meet the lovely Louise Ogilvy in person while she was in San Francisco. She recently recorded a video on how to boost your LinkedIn visibility. Since I know a lot of you are job seeking right now, definitely go check it out!
  • And shoutout to Dan Moore for being a light in the DevRel community. I met Dan in Vegas at re:Invent while working my first Developer Advocate role and he instantly made me feel welcomed. Dan, please don’t stop tagging me in interesting DevRel stuff for the Digest. It means a lot to me and it is deeply appreciated.
  • Oh and for something completely not tech-related, I finally updated my Etsy shop. It’s just a little hobby, but it gives me great pleasure!

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The DevRel Digest

Relentless optimist | Artist turned software developer turned developer advocate