So You Want To Land a Developer Relations Role
Ever read some technical documentation that leaves you scratching your head? Or the opposite — admire the friction-less experience of using a new tool or library? In both cases, you probably had some DevRel professionals to blame/thank for that!
Developer Relations, often abbreviated as DevRel, is a discipline which exists to make it easy for a company to communicate to its users, when those users are actually programmers i.e. developers. Unlike normal sales roles, this requires a tight integration with the company’s internal engineering teams so that the external feedback and pain points can be quickly addressed. It’s basically about creating a smooth and productive relationship between a company and the software developer community.
DevRel is thus a combination of skills and interests ranging from software engineering, product management, technical writing and community engagement. Depending on the tech and the company involved, there may be zero to entire teams of DevRel professionals at any given company.
Table of Contents
DevRel in a nutshell
Whenever a tech company creates tools or platforms (such as an API) that are useful to developers or coders, they need to make sure they market it appropriately to those communities and actively take their feedback and fix the problems. Some companies take a more relaxed approach by distributing this job among senior managers and so forth, while others recognize the importance of hiring specifically for this role.
Joe Nash, who currently works as the Principal Developer Educator at Twilio, said in a 2022 interview that DevRel professionals are usually “trying to help that company reach and build relationships with developers”. He then elaborated that this involves a few stages, such as:
- Making sure potential users of a company’s tools and APIs know about its existence, i.e sales
- Making it clear to those potential users what they can actually achieve with those tools
- Taking feedback from the community and incorporating it into the product development process for the next version
DevRel mindset and actual day-to-day tasks
DevRel is this connected to many aspects of a tech company, including product development, customer support, engineering, marketing, and communications. Creating a two-way communication channel between a company and its user community is not only about promoting products or services. It involves fostering an enviable network of developers who believe in your products and are willing to exploit and share the same within their ecosystem. They are those passionate individuals who not only communicate the value of a company’s products or services to developers but also strive to ensure that developers have everything they need to be successful.
A Developer Advocate is much like a bridge between the company and the developer community. They listen, interact, share, and facilitate open communication channels between all parties. The developer community can include internal developers, independent developers, partner network developers, and community developers.
Their responsibilities typically involve advocacy, community growth, education, technical support, and even contributing code. They bring the voices and needs of developers into their organizations, helping to navigate product direction and assisting with bug fixes. Simultaneously, they educate and empower developers by creating relevant content, providing effective tools, answering queries, or even guiding developers through code contributions.
And when in doubt, remember that the best victories come after the longest struggles 😛
Activities to engage in as a DevRel professional
Developer Relations professionals often take up the following activities:
- Creating and maintaining documentation, tutorials and sample code – documentation is usually the first thing that a developer looks for once they decide to use a tool, library or package. Having good onboarding steps and getting started guides and example code for typical use cases helps them vet the product for their purposes and make the decisions for next stages, such as whether to pitch their boss on buying a subscription. If the docs are poorly written, or there are too many confusing errors, they make give up and use another solution.
- Creating content such as blog posts, videos, webinars, demo apps – this is the next step after creating useful documentation. Blog posts should be written in a way that they are easy to skim-read, and they should not contain fluff. Videos and webinars should also aim to be as concise as possible because no one has the time to watch a 2 hour demo to figure out how to call an API.
- Speaking at conferences, meetups or webinars – a great way to spread awareness and create evangelists for your company’s products is to give short presentations that showcase the capabilities at tech conferences. One caveat is that in these events everyone is showcasing awesome tools and products so your presentation needs to be at the same level so as to not elicit a “meh” reaction! In a conference, a large fraction of the audience may also be from non-tech backgrounds so it becomes important to balance the nitty gritty details and the high level takeaways.
- Monitoring and participating in online forums and social media – social media like Hacker News and Reddit are the usual places developers like to complain about coding tools, practices and so on. GitHub issues for your product are also a great way to attract feedback.
- Providing direct support to developers – this is obviously the go-to tool for any audience, not just developers. However answering help tickets and showing the first 10 users how to get things done can be a surprisingly effectively tool for learning what is working and what needs change.
- Collecting feedback from developers to inform product development – this is perhaps the most crucial step in ensuring that the product you are advocating for actually survives long term. If the users don’t think that their needs are being met, they will stop using it (usually). So while the other steps are building up the feedback from the external sources, this is where you actually make use of it and ensure that the feedback is heard by the right people inside your company.
What is it like to interview or hire for a DevRel role?
While hiring for any generalist role is tricky, DevRel may be even more so due to the inherent flux of opinions and emotions that often collide in high-stakes coding teams. Thus, when hiring people who would interact with such teams and yet be the public spokesperson of the company, it is important to hire people with the right mindset.
Developer relations roles tend to be described with a few common soft skills or requirements, such as:
- Keen interest for technology and computers
- Awareness of the vibes and informal norms of social channels e.g. discord servers and programming specific subreddits
- Awareness of basic principles of modern software engineering tools and practices such as QA (quality assurance) and product life-cycle
- Familiarity with the company specific products and tools, e.g. for Canonical that may be the common Linux distros such as Ubuntu
- Enthusiasm about communicating complex concepts lucidly
- Adaptive and responsive mindset, especially about feedback
DevRel examples in famous tech companies
Most well established tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Shopify, Twilio etc. have large DevRel groups. These professionals create and maintain the developer community around these companies products. For instance,
- Google: Google’s Developer Relations team is very active in sharing information about Google APIs, hosting developer events, creating tutorials, and keeping in touch with Google’s wide developer community. They also manage Google’s Developer Expert program, a global network of experienced developers.
- Microsoft: The developer relations team at Microsoft regularly conducts developer-centric events known as Microsoft Build and Microsoft Ignite. Besides, they offer direct support through their dev forums.
- Twilio: Twilio’s developer evangelists actively participate in developer events around the world, manage an ambassador program, and continuously release new tutorials and blog posts to keep the developer community engaged.
- Shopify: Shopify’s DevRel team help app developers build on Shopify’s platform by offering comprehensive documentation, API libraries and SDKs, online tutorials, and direct support.
- Facebook: Facebook’s Developer Circles is a community-driven program that’s free to join and helps developers build products using Facebook’s technologies. They offer a variety of programs and resources, including F8, their annual developer conference.
Who is a good fit for a DevRel role?
Based on the information so far, the answer seems to be “anyone who loves technology and loves talking to people”.
While that is certainly true, here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering a career in DevRel:
- Be empathetic and immune to negativity: this is one of those things which is ‘simple but not easy’. By now you should have figured out that about half the job as a DevRel person is to listen to folks tell you why your company’s product is awful. It helps to have a thick skin and not take such things personally!
- Care deeply about developer experience: the easiest way to do this is to be a developer first, for at least a few years. There is no shortcut in understanding the pain points and cognitive loads and daily life of a developer. Once you have that experience, it will be a lot easier to understand where your customers are coming from when they point out problems or subtle bugs in the product your are in charge of marketing.
- Know the fundamentals of modern tech landscape: do you know the difference between a blocking and non-blocking function call? Do you find it easy to articulate the pros and cons of choosing the MEAN tech stack over the LAMP stack? Can you explain the terms SaaS, IaaS, BaaS and Paas to a layperson and/or an extremely busy manager? If you answered “yes” to any of these, and have a love for communication and writing, you may be a good fit for a DevRel role!
- Be able to juggle different priorities and perspectives: your boss, typically a product manager, may want you to do one thing. The internal developer team building the product may have other ideas. And the external developers (a.k.a customers) may ask for yet another thing. It is important to recognize that each of these angles represent valid and important concerns, so your day may frequently involve juggling these objectives and deciding which order to tackle them in.
We hope we didn’t paint too bleak a picture of DevRel roles! Despite the challenges, it can be fun, as the tweets can testify:
While it can be daunting and overwhelming to juggle so many different aspects of the software landscape, as a succesful DevRel professional you can take pride in knowing you were the critical link behind the widespread adoption of a game-changing service or product.
Here are some resources to peruse on this topic:
- https://devrelresourc.es/ – a large collection of resources, organized across “getting started”, “career”, “business value” and “devrel activities”
- 18 Ideas to Help You Better Incorporate Community Feedback into Your Product
- DevRel for Beginners: What to Know and How to Get Started
- DevRel Engineer – Roles and Responsibilties
- Developer relations jobs 101: what they are and the skills you need