A while ago, I took the time to kind of sort some of my thoughts about how I have experienced the DevRel scenery in general and the "mission" of developer advocates in particular over the last 3-4 years.
Spoiler: it changed and made me personally struggle
But before pointing out why, let me take one step back and briefly reflect on my very own journey about engaging with developer communities.
Disclaimer: No reader is supposed to take anything of the following personal. Also keep in mind that as a non-native speaker I might not be able to express myself in the best possible way 🙃
Over the last couple of years I tried to become ever more active in two vastly growing developer communities. 2015-2017, it began with various activities within MongoDB territories. A little later, starting with 2018, my focus shifted a bit towards the Apache Kafka ecosystem and its community. It basically stayed like this until today and being an active member in both these communities gave me lots of opportunities to learn from others and thereby personally grow in various areas. While the public image might be a different one, my self-perception combined with anecdotal evidence is, that along the way, I managed to become not only a passionate but recognized community member. Adding to that, I would even go one step further and characterize myself as a "self-taught and independent developer advocate", for both these tech stacks today. Whether this makes some readers laugh or just smile is not really relevant at this point.
Coming back to developer relations, it's clear that a large part of professional advocates' work is of course to engage with the developer community across various different touch points. First and foremost, at on-site or virtual events, which might be differentiated as follows:
1) There are big stage events run by vendors which are largely focused on their very own tech stack and ecosystem
2) Then there are big stage events with a rather broad technology mix, typically independent of specific vendors, apart from sponsorship of course.
Both these types of conferences can be considered to be mostly revenue driven at least from the point of the organizers which is why I would call them "industry events".
3) There are small(er) stage events which are also featuring a nice technology mix.
4) Finally, there are little community events / meetups which are usually the only "free for participants" on-site events and these are at best "cost-covering" but are definitely not profit-oriented.
Your mileage may vary on this "categorization" and I admit that it could have been done in a more nuanced way. Still it's not completely wrong or useless - at least sufficient or good enough to better understand the point I'm trying to make.
The thing is, developer advocates, technology evangelists or however you want to call these folks, originally focused on the two big stage conference types that I mentioned above. In fact, this makes a lot of sense since after all, this is where vendors are likely to generate the most impact business-wise, provided their people are doing a good job during said events. So besides sending out people from their very own DevRel team to engage with the audience at vendor conferences, they are also expected to be seen at big stage multi-tech events. This is totally understandable and perfectly fine.
Over time, however, I've experienced that more and more companies are trying to "flood" - sorry for this unintended negative connotation - smaller, community-driven events with their advocates, too. And herein lies the problem: this is a pain point for me, thus, it gives me a bit of frustration in terms of my very own devrel activities. After all, it's very hard to "prevail over professional advocates" for individuals like myself, especially at smaller to medium-sized community events featuring a mixed technology content. The reasons for this are clear: first, there are typically only one or at best two talks for any given technology at such events and second, given two equally good abstracts, organizers would almost certainly decide for "official advocates" representing the company behind a specific tech rather than for "someone just doing stuff" in the community. It attracts more people and helps them sell tickets which is again understandable from an economic perspective. At the same time, the probabilities to get speaking engagements for folks like me are vastly decreasing, as ever more professional developer advocates are hired and sent out to talk at smaller events, all the way down to meetups.
The thing is, I'm not even trying to change this situation because, as it stands today, I couldn't do much about it anyway. Basically all I can do is "fight and push harder" to still be able to speak here and there, despite the challenges mentioned above. I think you can well imagine that continuing to do so is very exhausting to say the least. The other strategy is to stop doing it and invest the "saved" time & effort for other things. The latter would mean that I'm personally not affected any longer but it would still remain the same, unsatisfactory situation for other community passionates like myself who are "suffering similar pain".
I'm very looking forward to receiving any input on that matter. If you think I'm crazy or an idiot fair enough, but at least please bring something constructive to "my table".