Considering Developer Relations as a Career Move

Photo by Michail Sapiton on Unsplash

I think that Developer Relations is a fabulous career, and I’m often asked how I got started, or how someone else could get started. There are a lot of people hiring for Developer Relations roles just now (including me!) so here are my tips.

There are so many different Developer Relations roles (called “DevRel”) that I am definitely going to fall short of covering them all in any sort of detail! My own background is in Software Engineering, and I’ve mostly worked as a Developer Advocate since making the move into DevRel, so that’s my context here.

Are you Interested in People?

I am not sure why there’s a stereotype that technical people aren’t interested in other people. Sure, some people fit that description, but many don’t. In DevRel, it’s really all about other people. Trying to understand what someone else would find useful that they don’t already know — and what they do already know so they don’t get bored and wander off before you get to the point!

Signs you may be interested in people include:

  • Having a blog where you write stuff down for others to use
  • Posting answers on StackOverflow for questions on topics you konw
  • Speaking at a usergroup to share your knowledge, or helping to organise one
  • Sharing your knowledge at work through presentations or written resources
  • Helping out with open source projects, especially getting people onboarded
  • Teaching classes to help others learn technical subjects

None of us has unlimited free time, but if you’ve done a little bit of some of these activities, and you’d like to do more, then I would consider you to be a good candidate for DevRel. My most frequent response to a CV is “why does this person think they want to do DevRel?” — if I can spot any two of: writing, speaking, teaching, or open source? Then that’s a great indicator that this could be a good fit.

The other big thing about all these items is that they are all within reach of all of us. So if you’re considering a job in DevRel, then writing a blog post, giving a talk, or making open source contributions are all really good ways for you to work out if you like those things enough to have to do them often! They also make excellent portfolio pieces, but that’s less important than giving yourself a chance to figure out what works for you, or what you’d like to get better at.

Empathy, and the Other Requirements

Empathy and acting in the interests of (mostly unknown) others is the basic requirement for Developer Relations. However there are some other traits that I see in successful DevRel types (and isn’t that the point? To choose a job you’ll enjoy and succeed in?).

Proactive: The number one piece of advice I give to all new DevRel types is: we’re all just making it up.

There’s no magic spell, no perfect approach, no one true strategy. Every product is different, every community is different, and sometimes you’ll be far from home with a problem to overcome (or at least hundreds of strangers to make a good impression on). If you’re the sort of person that can think of three possible options and pick one, in any scenario, you’ll be fine.

Organised: I always talk about how creative DevRel is as a career, and it is, but if you are that rare combination of very creative and fiendishly well-organised, then I think you’ve found your place! The whole idea that a person can only be logical or creative, and you have to choose, has never made sense to me — and now I have a job that allows both brain-halves to be busy.

On a more serious note, DevRel is often a very large number of small things all in flight at the same time. Even just keeping track of conference deadlines, acceptances, dates, preparation time …. you get the idea! Add in all the demo apps, blog posts, documentation/tutorials and whatever else it is we do (videos? podcasts? digital communities?) and there is a lot to keep track of. If you’ve ever been camping and not forgotten anything then consider yourself qualified :)

Communicative: Most DevRel roles are remote anyway, since most teams want to have people spread out to get to know more communities. Even if you are office based, the communities that you serve will probably not be very local! So being able to communicate in a friendly manner, in person and in writing and on video, more or less all the time, is key. Keeping people updated and getting conversations going are important skills, but most of all it’s about being prepared to put in the time to nurture the connections and build on them.

Taking the First Steps

So now you’re convinced, how do you get started? Take a look at the skills that you have already and the job postings that are open. DevRel roles are very much about following your interests — the job is made much easier when your are advocating for something you actually like and use yourself :) Remember that DevRel is typically much more mixed than other technical teams in terms of the obvious, visible diversities — but it’s also an excellent choice for career changers or anyone else with an unusual skill combination. You might feel that having started “late” in a tech career is a disadvantage but I have almost always found that the opposite is true.

Are you thinking of moving into a DevRel career? What sorts of things get in your way? And if you’re already there, what advice would you give someone following the same path?

Originally published at https://lornajane.net on May 24, 2021.

Polyglot programmer, technology addict, open source fanatic and incurable blogger (see http://lornajane.net)

Polyglot programmer, technology addict, open source fanatic and incurable blogger (see http://lornajane.net)