Developer Relations: What Would You Say You Do Here?
Developer Relations is still a relatively new discipline in the technology industry. In my opinion, it came from folks stepping up to fill the needs of developer communities in ways companies previously hadn’t put conscious effort into doing. As these industrious folks fought to have the importance of these types of tasks recognized, businesses gradually accepted the value of the work, and turned it into a role – or, several roles even.
At Google, Developer Relations is part of engineering, which helps Developer Relations Engineers be closest to the technologies and communities they support. Google also interestingly splits their DevRel org into 3 primary functions, which I think is a really great way to do it:
Developer Advocates’ primary function is to act as, well, an advocate, for technical communities. That means supporting communities as a member and often as a leader and bringing feedback from those communities back to make the company’s products better.
Developer Programs Engineering
DPEs primarily focus on creating code samples for documentation and demos. As any engineer will know, it’s not really creating something new that’s the hard part – but maintaining something existing. Creating and owning/maintaining code makes a DPE’s job tough!
Selling a product is well and good, but when it comes time to actually use it – those professionals look to the docs. Documentation is business-critical. A product won’t last long if you can’t tell people how to use it. And technical writers are rare and valuable professionals with the ability to learn technical concepts fast, accurately, and often with little help – then to share their knowledge with others with only the clearest and most precise language.
As a Developer Advocate, my job is to advocate for developers. Well, not just developers. Any technical practitioner who might use, or be part of the communities of, the technologies I focus on. And my primary focus area is Kubernetes. So, what does “a day in the life” look like for me?
The daily tasks of Developer Relations professionals, especially Developer Advocates, vary greatly. In the before-times, especially in 2019, my schedule became very busy, so I started using a planner to track my activities on a daily, weekly, and monthly scale. To make it easier and more fun, I also created a sheet of stickers to mark my key activities on my planner!
A “Day in the Life” of a Developer Advocate
Before the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, I would fly all over the world, mostly to speak at conferences. I would mark trips in my planner with a red airplane for flying out, and a blue airplane for flying home.
I don’t know if I’ll ever travel as much for work again, but I still support and speak at events all over the globe, just now mostly virtually!
These days I still attend a good number of conferences, but mostly online.
Most of my pre-pandemic travel was to speak at conferences. Conferences vary in their topics, audiences, size, and so many other aspects. My goal in going to a conference is to connect with the community that conference is serving. To learn from them, and if I’m speaking, hopefully for them to learn from me too!
Conferences aren’t the only places where I interact with communities. There are also other community events like meetups, which I would attend. I use this icon to mark events I’m attending or speaking at which are less formal than a conference.
A good example of this are Coffee Ops Meetups. Coffee Ops groups are great for meeting and collaborating with other DevOps-related professionals across the industry, in a fun guided round-table type format!
Speaking of coffee, part of being a working professional is talking 1:1 with colleagues, mentors, and mentees. I use this coffee icon to help myself remember when I’ve planned one of these 1:1 chats.
I also volunteer as an industry mentor for students at Ada Developers Academy and use this icon to track sessions with mentees. Ada is a program designed to help people from underrepresented minorities transition into tech. I use my expertise as a tech professional to support these students and ensure that they feel tech is a safe place for them to learn and grow.
Another key type of event to track on my calendar is customer meetings. As a professional advocate for technical practitioners, I support both customer and non-customer communities. Customer meetings can take many formats, from small group discussions to 100+ attendee presentations or even hands-on workshops.
Each customer meeting is different. The folks you’re meeting with may have a wealth of expertise and want to give feedback or ask for new features. They may be looking for a solution to a problem. Or they may be engineers who have been commanded to start using your company’s product and are begrudgingly there to learn.
Anything can happen, so a customer meeting means being ready for anything!
Videos and Livestreaming
With the pandemic essentially eliminating in-person forms of communication, video and livestreaming took on a new level of importance during the pandemic.
Content that previously would have been shared in conference talks got switched to livestreams or pre-recorded videos. New systems and processes were developed to lower the barrier for creating content at home, with minimal professional assistance.
In 2020 I started producing a video series for Google Cloud. It was a bit of a rough start, but I think it’s developing into something great. You can see my Google Cloud videos in my Kaslin on Google Cloud playlist. Or check out all the video and livestream content I’ve made over the years (and could find) in the Talks tab.
I generally think of podcasts as audio-only content, but I’ve found over time that’s not necessarily the case. I’ve found, to my surprise, that many video series also call themselves “Podcasts.”
Since many people have generally listened to podcasts during commutes/travel, podcasts as an audio-only medium may have decreased in popularity during the pandemic. They’re still a great and unique form-factor, particularly well-suited for certain audiences and types of content. For example, Google has a podcast called “Google Cloud Reader” where a host reads a blog post to you from Google Cloud. If you prefer to listen rather than read, that might be a good one for you!
As a Developer Advocate, I write things including:
- Blog Posts
- Scripts for videos/podcasts
- Talk and Workshop proposals for Conferences (CFPs)
- Post-event reports
- Planning Documents (useful no matter what your role is)
- Social Media
And of course many Developer Relations professionals, especially Technical Writers, are deeply involved in writing technical documentation.
“Pray to the Demo Gods”
Whether for a conference/event talk, a customer meeting, or a video, DevRel pros often prepare, give, and help create demos. Demonstrations of technology are intimidating to prepare and present. Not only do you have the rule of “anything that can go wrong, will” working against you – demos are also valuable learning and reference material for the technical practitioners we support. Which means there’s a non-zero chance your “eh, just make it work” code will frighteningly end up in production somewhere. So it’s important to put effort into making demos that are as robust as possible, even though their intended use may be limited.
Many Developer Relations professionals, especially those closer to Google’s “Developer Programs Engineer” function, spend a large portion of their time on making and maintaining demo and sample code.
And that’s a look at the day-to-day activities of a Developer Advocate. Want to learn more about Developer Relations, or want to join a community of DevRel professionals? There are a variety of communities out there including the DevRel Collective community. And you can always find me on twitter @kaslinfields!