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Developer advocate vs developer relations leader — who to hire first

Tessa Kriesel
Head of DevRel @ Fast • Founder @ Devocate • Alum: Twitter, Pantheon & General Mills • Keynote Speaker • OSS Developer • Women in Tech Advocate • Developer Relations Leader • Dog 💜 & Archer
Originally published at devocate.com on ・4 min read

Developer advocate vs developer relations leader — who to hire first

Do a search for developer advocacy roles—they're on fire. Many founders & leaders are currently working through this very decision. Unfortunately, I see a lot of early stage startups hire a developer advocate first—and fail. And then wonder what they did wrong, or why developer relations doesn't work for them. Don't let this be you.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Similar to ole' question which came first, the chicken or the egg, there is no black and white answer on who to hire first. The way we approach this question really breaks down to one simple question.

Do you have the right strategy and processes in place for your developer advocate to succeed?

If you have answers for most of the following questions, you're likely ready for a developer advocate

  • Have you defined your developer audiences?
  • Do you know what they are motivated by?
  • Do you know where they spend their time?
  • Do you know what resources they need?
  • Have you defined how you fit into the wider developer ecosystem vs your competitors?
  • What languages, tools & libraries do they care about?
  • Do you know what they care about as it relates to your product?
  • Do you understand where and how to best serve them?
  • If you had to spend $10k by the end of the day, could you confidently decide where to spend it?

If you do not have the answers for the following questions, you're not ready for a developer advocate. The more questions you can't answer, the more prep work you have before you can bring on a developer advocate.

One caveat we should share is that there are developer advocates who have done this job—they've been the first hire and they're had to work through finding the answers to all of these questions, sometimes without even realizing it. You may be able to find a developer advocate who can define the answers to these questions for you, but your search is going to be lengthy and difficult, or require you to find a unicorn. 🦄 Hint! This unicorn is going to be someone who understands business & dev, look for someone experienced in product management, community, entrepreneurship or other roles that require business strategy.

If you're adamant about hiring a developer advocate first, break down the above mentioned questions in the interview process and ensure you or they can help you define strategy around your developer audiences.

Developer advocate's example skill sets

  • Relate to your developer audience
  • Knack for problem-solving and customer service
  • Desire to help other developers
  • Ability to be able to present & solve complex problems easily
  • Willingness to speak publicly or a comfort level with presenting technical topics
  • Solid technical writer — or ability to identify the details needed for an insightful documentation piece
  • Experienced developer in the areas that matter to your users
  • Enjoys networking and building solid relationships that matter

Did you notice how none of these exposed hard skill sets, like "needs to have a deep understanding of React." Your developer relations leader or strategist will be able to drive deeper into these bullet points and associate more details around your developer advocacy hire, who they are, and what they need to feel supported.

Developer Relations leader's example skill sets

  • Understands the wider developer ecosystem and how your product aligns
  • Strategizes your business & product goals alongside their developer audiences goals to define the best results
  • Understands developers, and not just because they are one, but because they know how they think & operate—they've "attracted" them before
  • Clearly defines developer audiences & their motivation
  • Builds strategy for scaled developer adoption through developer advocacy
  • Leads teams of developer advocates, community managers and developer support contributors
  • Understands when a goal needs a developer advocate, vs a tech writer, vs a community manager (or all)
  • Understands business & technology, not just one or the other
  • Understands how to best leverage user feedback to improve your product

We're not saying that you can't bring in a developer advocate without having all the answers, we just want you to be prepared. If your developer advocate hire can't define the answers to the early questions we outlined, then you or someone on your current team will need to work alongside your developer advocate to define strategy & approach before they can find success.

Do what is best for your team

At the end of the day, you should do what is best for your team. If your team is ready and prepared to work alongside a developer advocate hire, great! If your team is scrappy but already over-committed, you may want to double think your hiring decision.

If you need the skill set of a developer advocate immediately—maybe you're an API and you need code samples out yesterday—then bring in a developer relations strategist to help you define your strategy and provide early support for your new developer advocate hire.

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