Christian Heilmann

Developer Relations revelations: not all is glamour and fun

Monday, June 25th, 2018 at 4:21 pm

I spent this morning at a photoshoot. A photographer dragged me all over Berlin Mitte to take photos of me holding my phone and pretending to communicate. The reason is an essay about “Jobs of the Future” for a German finance magazine. Me, I am a “Developer Relations Person/Developer Evangelist/Developer Advocate” and this is baffling to people with “normal” jobs. I’ve done this for a long time and quite some time ago I wrote the Developer Evangelism handbook.

Don't fall in love, fall in coffee...

It is flattering to see how something that niche gets mainstream attention. It is also frightening to me. The explosion of DevRel opportunities in the last years is amazing. But often I am disappointed. The idea of companies hiring DevRel people in junior positions is odd. People with no company history or product involvement being DevRel is against everything I described.

DevRel is a great opportunity for engineers to move from delivering the product to helping it to become a bigger success. We’re not sales people and we’re not marketing. We’re communicators inside and outside the company and our main task is to make it easy for developers to do their job. That needs in-depth technical knowledge and company experience. That means dealing with the needs of marketing, management and recruiting and translating those to events and team communication. It also means – to a much larger degree – to ensure that the developer’s needs inside and outside the company are communicated in an understandable and actionable manner to the company.

What annoys me a lot more though is that by painting DevRel as a job disconnected from engineering, developers lose respect. And often people don’t get just how much stress, effort and unsatisfactory agreements working in DevRel is.

On the surface, DevRel sounds like a great job. Other people do the work, all you need to do is to present it in social media, at conferences and in blog posts. It also looks incredibly glamorous. You travel all over the world. You stay in hotels all the time. You get paid to go to conferences other people have to beg their managers to get tickets for. You hang out with higher-ups in the company. You always have the coolest new swag and inside information.

Now, I have been doing this job for quite some years now, and it is important to also explain the problems with this job. I don’t want to discourage people from pursuing this idea. But I also want to talk a bit about the things that frustrate, depress and endanger you when you work in DevRel . And I want to explain how some of these things that looks shiny and great can turn exhausting and drain a lot of energy. I’ve encountered burnout and frustration and depression and with every high comes a massive low. So, maybe this will help some of you avoid these.

Over the next few days I will cover a few of the concepts of DevRel and what dark and annoying things you should be prepared for:

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