When Grace Francisco stepped into Developer Relations, it was owned by big tech companies, and the role was still called Developer Evangelists:
I loved having that very rare opportunity to get into such a unique role at the time. It was amusing, people would ask me what I do, and I would tell them I was a Developer Evangelist and had to explain – no, not the Bible kind!
After almost a decade in the industry, Grace is now Cisco’s VP of Developer Relations Strategy. Developer Evangelists have, in the meantime, been rebranded to Developer Advocates. She no longer has to explain the biblical reference, but since the word advocate is synonymous with “lawyer” in many languages, dev advocates are all too often explaining they don’t practice law.
Connecting devs who create a product and devs who use it
Developer Advocate acts as a bridge between a company, its technology/product/platform, and the developers that use it. Their job is to be those developers’ helping hand and best friend.
The most significant part of their job is teaching developers how to use their product and helping them whenever they need it. And they usually do it by public speaking at conferences and meetups and creating content – blog posts, presentations, podcasts, or documentation.
And yes, to be a good Developer Advocate, you have to have at least a basic understanding of underlying technologies, but the best dev advocates have always been software engineers themselves.
Or, as Nic Jackson from HashiCorp puts it:
Essentially, a developer advocate is nothing more than an expert user of the tool they represent. Their core role is to share that knowledge enabling others to find success and to feedback on issues and improvements to the product and engineering teams.
So, contrary to stereotypes on tech Twitter, developer advocates are not lousy developers who prefer public speaking and giving out company swag to coding or just salespeople in dev disguise. Contrary to stereotypes, “real devs” do not necessarily have to be wary of social media.
Engineers turned advocates
Francesco Ciulla is a great example – he’s been an engineer for seven years and has despised social media, but that has changed during the pandemic:
In 2020, I started using social media massively! Because of the pandemic, I had so much time to focus on having a social media presence and creating videos on YouTube. I also became a Docker Captain, an ambassador for the Docker Company.
A newly discovered passion for social media and creating content led Francesco to switch his career to developer advocacy and start daily.dev.
daily.dev is a platform for developers, by developers. It helps to stay up to date, and it selects the best articles from over 400 sources that you can put in a personalized feed!
Being a Developer Advocate is just awesome. You are connected with so many different people from all over the world, and you interact with them daily, making calls, and finding collaborations,
Developers and the dev community are the best ever! The way they collaborate and interact with each other is unique in the world.
Dev Advocates are not salespeople in devs’ clothing
And the secret of being a good developer advocate is precisely not to be a salesman in disguise. Nic from HashiCorp swears never to market his company’s tools but:
I will explain how they are used in a practical way and how I feel they benefit a particular task; you can decide if they are helpful. You also have to stand by the tools you represent personally; if you would not personally use a tool, you should not really be representing it. I think honesty and authenticity are incredibly important.
To be a good developer advocate, you have to understand the user’s problems, and ideally, you will have, at some point, done their job to a high level. You have to empathize with the problems folks face with the tools and also the product team producing the tools.
From Francesco’s perspective, yes, developers will run away from whatever seems to them as too salesy or smells like marketing but:
Developers want to get engaged from a technical perspective, but not only that! They are also attracted by great stories and being involved in big open-source projects.
As for Nic, he still considers himself a developer:
Ultimately, I am just a developer and never want that to change. I am just happy to be able to share what little I know, and hopefully, folks find that useful.
I saw developer advocacy as the perfect way to get paid to help others. Creating content and public speaking are definitely skills and not something everyone enjoys doing. Doing this well and enjoying it is essential for the job.