There are some excellent articles around about what a Developer Advocate does, but have you ever wondered WHY we do what we do? I tried to articulate this when chatting with another developer lately, and I’m still thinking about it! So I thought I’d write it down to share a little more widely why I love this strange, misshapen career as much as I do.
It’s Alarmingly Varied
Sometimes when I’m doing career development talks or outreach (I’m a STEM Ambassador ) people will ask “Can you describe a typical day?” and the answer is … not really! Advocacy requires a lot of different skillsets and you can expect in any given week to be planning, writing, speaking, recording, coding, fixing, and attending as many meetings as anyone else. Even when I think my schedule is pretty much under control, there’s always someone with a technical question, a new issue or pull request, something that needs my review, or a request from another department.
Honestly? I love it. I cannot at all imagine going back to doing a fairly steady engineering job and reliably delivering applications. Even when I last did that sort of role, I was part-time and doing advocacy/consulting/training for the rest of the time — mostly because I enjoy the variety! Being able to handle interruptions and handle the context-switching are both very key skills for a job like this. Deep work does require blocks of time and I still write and code fairly in-depth things, but it’s all in maximum 90 minute blocks! I will always be convinced that the years of doing open source projects with whatever time I had was the best possible training for this working style.
It’s Surprisingly Technical
Developer Advocacy has been an incredible way to pick up a broad swathe of new technical skills in a way that I simply didn’t get the opportunity to do in a full time engineering role. When I took my first Developer Advocacy job, I knew one programming language very well. I’m now baseline competent in four tech stacks and I can wrangle the dependency managers and code from another few. There is much less gatekeeping of what you’re “qualified” to do so if you can produce some content or a plugin that could help a developer: then you just do it. It’s also made me absolutely fearless with new technology because I meet a new codebase at least every week and I greatly value this confidence now that I’ve found it.
Just like tech support, the DevRel roles put you on the spot with any of your employer’s products, combined with any tech stack the user might have picked, at more or less any time. This should be horrifying but in fact I find it fascinating and refreshing. The different tech communities have different approaches to so many different things, and finding the familiar reference points for someone to understand your explanation is challenging. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to help many different people with their questions and feel like you’re making a positive impact.
It’s a Helping Profession
This part might be too sappy but bear with me, if you can. As a Developer Advocate, I help people and I empower them to reach greater achievements. I love being a multiplier — as an engineer I can only build so many things myself. But as a writer and a speaker, I can aid and abet a whole community of developers who are all making awesome things themselves. It’s an amazing privilege to choose a profession where I so regularly feel like I’m making a difference to others.
It’s Deeply Creative
Developer Advocacy is incredibly creative. Software engineering by itself is already very creative, by definition you’re creating things. But Developer Advocacy, to me at least, is like being asked to write at least one very geeky fairy tale every day of the week. Thinking of examples, ways to explain things, concepts to inspire and stories to help humans digest big technical ideas — then putting together a strategy to tie it all together … Developer Advocates are ideas people because that’s the job!
Creating content is all about educating and informing, and helping your audience to take away something of value from the time they spent with you and/or your content. As a day job, this can be slightly stressful “Quick! Be inspiring!” but having the freedom to think about how to present the idea or demonstrate the feature is something that I’ll always value.
It’s Not Forever
Developer Advocacy improves the not-just-code skills that are so valuable in very senior engineers: the ability to communicate well in written form, the ability to present complex ideas to others, the ability to handle multiple incompatible tasks all at once. I’m generalising for engineers when Developer Advocates are also Data Analysts, Ops people, consultants, and all sorts — but the point still stands.
Doing a role or two in DevRel makes well-rounded technical employees and it’s more approachable than people realise. On a very personal level, this has been the career that found me and made me realise I could be good at something, and I don’t think we share the joys widely enough! What do you love about your job? Tell me :)