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Developer Advocates: How Did You Get There?

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Developer advocacy and relations seems like a pretty new industry, and something I'm becoming more and more interested in.

Since it's so new, the skills in each employee, the path they take, and the expectations from position to company vary. I've been wondering lately about how people make the jump into advocacy and relations, and where they come from.

Developer advocates of

  • What's your background?
  • What was your education or career path
  • How did you transition from that role into developer advocacy or relations?
  • How do you explain what you do to someone outside the industry?
  • What particular skills might suit someone for the role? Someone who is naturally outgoing, or more technical minded?

Devs, what do you want from an advocate?

Top comments (7)

jeancarl profile image
JeanCarl • Edited

I came from a Computer Science, developer role at a startup. I used to participate in lots and lots of hackathons. I discovered an interest in taking whatever APIs were available that weekend and combining them together quickly into a demo, in a sense, tinkering all the time.

At one hackathon, I was talking with the IBM team and it just so happened the team was hiring. I joined the team of advocates and began supporting hackathons from the other side of the table (among many other things).

To overly simplify it, advocates can have many different backgrounds, it depends on what you're doing day to day and the team you're on. There are experienced engineers that need to understand specifics of the tech they are advocating for and answer the hard questions, or at least be well connected to the answer. There are more broad advocates who need to be able to connect things together and understand the ecosystem as a whole. And then there's the people/business advocates who are there to have conversations and make network connections.

Some skills that are helpful:

  • Outgoing: be human...introverts can do this absolutely have to engage people everyday, be friendly, and available for whatever questions come up. You want to become that friendly neighbor someone can stop you on the street (I've had many people recognize me "off the clock" and want to chat) and talk with.
  • Have a network: you should be able to find answers quickly, either resolving a question yourself or knowing exactly who can help
  • Brand: establish a personal brand, whether it be via YouTube videos, blogs, Github, that represents what projects you're interested in, what you can help with, and a way for "fans" to follow you.
  • Patience: you're gonna get a lot of simple questions that you think are easy to find. Remember that many people are just beginning, just like you were at one time, and just need that little nudge.
  • Work/life balance: it's really easy to become an advocate all day, everyday and never clock out. It's important to manage your time and understand you should clock out. I know many advocates who live on the adrenaline and they "hide" in the corner to regenerate energy. Conferences are especially tough as traveling is fun and glorious, but some days you really appreciate sitting on your sofa at home and doing absolutely nothing. You might think an advocate speaks for 50 minutes and that's it...but there's a lot of prep, travel, and other things that need to happen.

It's such a fun and rewarding role that you wonder how you get paid to do it.

mary_grace profile image
Mary Thengvall

I've been involved in Developer Relations and technical community management for 10+ years but have never held a full-time Developer/SWE job. I've also never held a Developer Advocate title, but there's more to Developer Relations (DevRel) than just the Dev Advocate job :)

I have a journalism background and wound up in Public Relations at O'Reilly Media, working on press releases for new books. I wanted to know more about how the topics fit into the larger technology landscape, and so began researching each topic. What programming languages worked best for each new tool? Which frameworks were used by which audiences? What was the new hot topic in the larger tech community?

As I asked these questions, I also realized that we needed to be talking to our audience more. How did we know what the tech community was looking for? What topics they were interested in? Whether we were actually meeting their needs?

I left PR behind and joined the ranks of "Community Managers" -- a new term to me, and to many others. I asked lots of questions and listened far more than I talked. I sat down with influencers, authors, conference speakers -- people who were full-time developers and who understood the topics at hand far better than I ever would -- and simply asked them what they were struggling with over coffee, lunch, breakfast, or drinks.

And as I learned more about their pain points and the resources that would be helpful to them, I took that information back to my company, explaining where the true needs were and making introductions where I could -- to our editors and conference chairs as well as our marketing team, who were working on webinars -- so that the feedback could influence the content we were releasing.

As I fumbled my way through learning about community management, the DevRel industry started to emerge -- community management for technical communities. These teams are now made up of Developer Advocates, who tend to be on the more technical side, giving demos and digging into code with community members, Community Managers, who tend to handle the online community as well as help facilitate the feedback loop to Engineering, Product, and Marketing, and other roles like Technical Evangelist, DevRel Operations Manager, Technical Writer, and more.

karaluton profile image
Kara Luton • Edited

Love seeing someone who used to do PR working in tech now! I used to be a publicist and am now an engineer. My goal is to one day be a developer advocate since it combines my PR skills with my engineering ones!

mary_grace profile image
Mary Thengvall

I think that's a fantastic idea! There are so many of us in DevRel from interesting backgrounds (theater, journalism, science, etc.) and I think it just adds to our ability to tackle all of the various ins and outs of DevRel.

desi profile image

Ahh, hello Music City Lady! I lived there for two years, but moved a few years ago. I also worked in the music industry for a long time (still kind of do) - it's nice to see another!

lakatos88 profile image
Alex Lakatos 🥑

I've been a lot of things in this world. I started out as a Test Developer for a while, doing manual testing for about 5 months. And then automation testing for 2 years. I've been a performance enginner for the next 2 uears, optimizing websites before it was cool. Did a short stint in management and decided I didn't really like the flavour. Went back to being a JavaScript developer bouncing around companies whenever I ran out of vacation days. I was taking too much vacation days to go speak at conferences. The only constant amongs all this was I did JavaScript for about 7 years.

After a burnout I woke up one morning realizing I liked going to conferences more than going to the office. So I starte looking for jobs that would allow me to go to conferences more. And that's how I saw the Nexmo job ad that was looking for a JavaScript Developer Advocate. It basically was everything I wanted in a job and nothing I hated.

I applied thinking I wasn't going to get it, cause only rock stars get to be Developer Advocates. The competition was fierce, some people I know & admire in the community were up for the same role. But as I went through the interview process the hiring manager kept pointing out that I did most of the requirements in my free time, if not during my previous jobs. And that's how I explain what I do to other people:

  • I'm the feedback mechanism between developers using our APIs and the engineers and product managers building the APIs
  • I write blog posts and demos using our APIs either on their own or in conjunction with other popular technologies
  • I speak at conferences about topics I'm passionate about
  • I help staff the booth whenever Nexmo sponsors a conference, getting feedback from people and handing out T-shirts and stickers 😅

There is this current misconception that you have to be an architect level developer before you can join the DevRel industry. And I think that's totally wrong. I used to work on software that reached hundreds of milions of people daily, but that doesn't really help me in my role today. The thing that helps me most is being able to understand developers pain points. And I think that's the most important skill you need to have for a role in Developer Relations. Empathy. That's why all the Nexmo Developer Relations job posts have the first requirement listed as "Empathy".

xngwng profile image
Xing Wang

My company is looking to hire our first Developer Advocate. If you don't mind, a brief blurb about us. Moesif ( is the mostly advancted API analytics tool used by thousands of organizations. We are backed by some of the same investors behind Amplitude, CircleCI, Cruise Automation, Iterable, etc. contact us at