DevRel Challenges: Practical Advice from Dev Advocates

Three experienced advocates help you understand novel ways to tackle DevRel.

Developer advocates typically don’t have a job description that is as set in stone as say, a CFO. They need to engage developers in their company’s product without being a pitch person.

It’s kind of a fine line.

We asked three of developer advocates what their biggest challenge is in this area, how they overcame it, and what advice they have.

The three advocates work for big-, small- and medium-size companies. All have great ideas, from live streaming their coding projects to selecting the right KPIs for their Devrel programs.

If some of these names sound familiar, it’s because we featured two of them in our blog post “How Marketers Can Play Nice With Dev Evangelists and Advocates.”

Read on.

Show, Don’t Just Tell

“One of the things I’ve battled with over the years when I’m doing developer advocacy work is having good coding projects or work to talk about,’’ explains Adron Hall, a developer advocate with DataStax. “A lot of companies feed us a bunch of junk slide decks and want us just to have endless face time via talks, meetups, or otherwise.

“I try to mitigate that using solutions such as Twitch to continuously stream or blog projects that I either pick up or create. One great thing to do is to find an open source project to contribute to.

“Of course, some big providers make that next to impossible. But for those companies that open up their advocates to really contribute and build a community around products and technologies, this is a huge benefit for everybody involved. The side benefit of getting on Twitch to stream it or continually blog it is you can set a schedule and hold yourself accountable to getting that project worked on. Whether it’s just pull requests or some other code that is being put together, it provides content to work on for streaming or blogging, all while helping me stay up-to-speed while I’m doing the developer advocate work.’’

Hall says the other benefit of this approach is that he can justify blocking time on his calendar for this dual-purpose work. This keeps him out of meetings. “A huge risk for developer advocates (and really all of us), is getting stuck in meetings and not progressing with what we ought to be working on.’’

Measuring the Value of a Developer Advocate

Max Katz is a program director, developer advocacy at IBM. Before IBM, he worked for Appery.io. He has tackled the issue of measuring the success of dev advocates – a not so easy thing to do.

Here’s how Max explains it.

“One of our KPIs is the number of active developers we can drive to our cloud platform from events. We use a custom URL to track that. One challenge we faced is that some events didn’t get us any new active developers. We looked carefully at the events and came up with the following strategy for events.

“We divided events into two types:

  • Awareness events
  • Active developer events

“Events such as a conference talk, a meetup talk (lecture-style), online meetup, or a lightning talk are categorized as awareness events. This is where developers learn about technology and solutions. We always share resources on how to get started, where developers can learn more, and how to reach us for help.

“For active developers, we host hands-on workshops. At these events, we ask developers to bring their laptops so we can code a solution together. In our hands-on workshops, developers build a solution using many of the services on the platform. I believe this is one of the best ways to learn. We help developers get started. If they liked what they saw and it solves a problem, they can take it back to their work and continue working on it.”

Max goes into more detail here.

Proving Your Worth

John Hammink has been in the dev advocacy business for several years and fought some of the earlier battles – like how writing a blog doesn’t deliver a payoff in the first seven days. He’s currently with Aiven.io where he says there is a bit more appreciation for what he does.

“In the past, one of the hardest things for me has been convincing others in the company (particularly, for example, marketing or HR) of the value of my work. The content I wrote, particularly thought leadership, was the sort of thing that paid off in visibility over time.

“That’s why it’s called long-tail content. This includes applying creativity to the use of the products and showing that to others, something that no one else in the company had time for. Even though my blogs ranked near the top in terms of readership numbers, this wasn’t always seen as valuable to them in the present moment. And, frankly, that was a source of stress and unhappiness in those days.

“Nowadays, I work for a company that’s going places, and they get it. So today’s challenge is more about avoiding unnecessary context shifting, and better time management. Especially when there is a wide range of complicated technologies to master and demystify for others.”

As I’m listening to the dev advocates, a couple of things come to mind. Even if DevRel groups and dev advocates have been around for years, the job description is still fluid. Oftentimes, these critical role players are writing the roles as they are doing them. As much as companies would like to standardize the role, it is more likely that a standard set of best practices will emerge to serve less as a template than a general guide to what a dev advocate can achieve for a company.

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