Welcome to the Golden Age of Developer Advocacy
7 min read
Summary: The displacement of in-person developer events has vaulted Developer Advocacy forward by years. The momentum of self-forming communities, better streaming capabilities, and the rise of scaled developer experiences are a peek into the direction of our field of work.
Advocate is an action verb
A quick google search for
Developer Advocate will present over 42 million results with the top results clearly showing a trend:
- "What the heck is a Developer Advocate?"
- "What is Developer Advocacy?"
- "What exactly is the job of a developer advocate?"
At the end of this search, you will discover there's no singular answer. The shape of work depends on the organization's goals, the product offering, and existing expectations of the community. For many Advocates, the answer comes into focus through the context of an individual role.
New tools of the trade
Consider for a moment every available resource for developers, then map the value for developer advocacy:
From this mental model, the common characteristics of a developer advocate are:
- Dev Advocates interact with developers as they are building applications
- Dev Advocates champion developer products through speaking, writing, and code
- Dev Advocates gather insights from the community to improve the product/platform
After a decade in developer relations roles, I find these qualities worth contemplating:
- Dev Advocates are the first line of defense in protecting the developer experience
- Dev Advocates answer to the community as the true arbiter of their performance
- Dev Advocates must fully support the top-line business goals through action
Dev Advocacy is a perfect role for lifelong learners who remain adaptable to change.
Known challenges for in-person dev advocacy
In a vulnerable moment, fellow Developer Advocates will commiserate in the shifting nature of measuring the effectiveness of our craft. When public speaking on developer advocacy topics, there are common hurdles to overcome.
For example, say you have the opportunity to present a technical topic to ~1k attendees at a top-tier conference. You hope at least ~300 attendees connect with your topic in the first 5 minutes and possibly tweet about the talk if they are engaged. Throughout the talk, you provide shortened URLs for the audience to remember and ~150 folks follow through to the site. Afterwards, potentially ~50 attendees remember the link and check out your sample code. From evaluating the sample, almost 20 developers end up running the sample end-to-end.
Practically, you're lucky to have a 2% to 5% activation rate from the stage presentation.
Global access to developer education
On top of challenges when measuring a presentation's ROI, there's another factor which deserves acknowledgement: The need for equitable access to developer advocacy.
Specifically, if you're presenting a developer keynote to a paid Bay Area conference, there are inherent gate-keeping factors at play:
- Attendees work/live in the San Francisco OR they are flown by their business with travel expenses covered ($$$)
- Conference tickets are on average over $800 and this cost is also expensed or the fee is waived by friends of the conference organizers (both $$ and privileged access)
- The talk content is either exclusive to the paid attendees or is uploaded at some later point
- Attendees are able to spend days away from home without the caretaking duties other developers may have in the moment
Since Developer Advocates tend to enjoy the perks that come with a travel-heavy lifestyle, the structural downsides of exclusive events are rarely discussed. It's time to rethink how we approach our jobs to better serve the primary consumers of our work: the developer community.
🍿 'Video-first' approach: Developer engagement is now measurable at scale
During the pandemic, our team at Stripe launched a developer-focused video channel (distinct from our company's main brand account) and began posting weekly how-to topics covering the fundamentals of our API, SDKs, and sample code. We put an emphasis on presenting as if we were directly talking with developers in person at a local meetup. Our team avoids the "Webinar"-style presentation and strives to maintain a Q&A dialog when teaching concepts through live streaming and YouTube Premiere.
Since last year, our community engagement now vastly exceeds our measurable goals:
- Developers now ask hundreds of questions live and click through to our docs on a weekly basis
- We are reaching millions of developers annually with over 25% of the traffic coming from YouTube recommending our content
- Each month, we have tens of thousands of unique views accounting for thousands of hours watched
- Our audience is now spread across the world and evenly distributed between ages 18 to 64
- Analytics reveal which developer topics are the most captivating and where viewers drop off
You may ask "Why are you spouting these viewership stats?" and that is the central point:
As a developer advocate, the level of insights for who is consuming your technical content through video is a metrics goldmine.
More pointedly, these insights and feedback were previously impossible to fully gather from conference post-talk surveys. Beyond improved metrics, the increase in developer activity leads to an attributable rise in new product adoption. The more product launches we can support through developer livestreams and office hours, the more central our work is to the core business.
In addition, we're now connecting at scale directly with our subscribers: Developers with laptops following along as we step through code line-by-line. This new connection is lightyears beyond what we could ever expect at in-person conferences with multiple tracks.
Hybrid approach: Present anywhere then edit & re-purpose for subscribers
Unless your product is exclusively geo-fenced to the Bay Area (😑), as a Developer Advocate you should fight to have your content made available to the widest addressable target audience of builders to benefit from the topics.
Some basic suggestions for repurposing technical talks include:
- Ask event organizers for permission to repost the talk for your developer audience channels
- Re-present the content in a livestream format and field questions as a team
- Edit the content for your long tail developer audience. Example: The "June developer meetup" with 3 speakers could get edited down to 3 compelling specific topics uploaded to YouTube
- Combine video and written content to support both styles of learning
- Participate in global online developer events where anyone can access
Main point: If you're making great developer content, don't limit who gets to consume and utilize your work.
Developer Advocates are the new "On-screen talent"
What do YouTube influencers, Peloton fitness instructors, political commentators, and developer advocates have in common?
Our effectiveness correlates to our video fidelity. When we break down barriers to communicate clearly through broadcasting, we deliver the best version of ourselves and our work.
Step up your Dev Advocacy game:
- For bootstrapped startups and indie hackers: My colleague Suz and I wrote a guide to up-leveling your remote work setup on a budget. Read on dev.to.
- To all global developer platforms: Professional-grade video gear for public-facing engineers is the new standard. If your team or role is presenting technical topics on behalf of a profitable developer offering, a single business trip's worth of expenses will cover a decent setup. High quality content deserves a high quality presentation layer.
🥂 Join the party: Industry growth and the sheer volume of new developer advocacy job openings
Developer Advocates are no longer disadvantaged when outside of US coastal cities. Prior requirements for an advocate's physical location are rapidly fading away. If you are an engineer looking to help thousands of developers at scale, it's time to join our field of work. As mentioned earlier, global developer programs have seen the reach that comes with scaling beyond the traditional keynotes and straight into developers computers.
Here are several globally-distributed Developer Advocacy programs hiring this year:
- Martin Woodward (based in N. Ireland) is leading GitHub's efforts to hire new developer advocates
- Ali Spittel (based in the Midwest) is hiring developer advocates to join the AWS amplify team
- Lee Robinson (based in Iowa) is building a new dev relations team at Vercel working on Next.js
- Tessa Kriesel (based in Texas) is tracking new advocacy roles over in the Devocate Slack community
- Not to mention the countless developer advocate openings at Zoom, Cloudflare, Plaid, Wix, Rasa, LaunchDarkly, Airtable, and many additional new roles
New ways to reach developers at scale, a growing audience of builders around the world, and a mission to measurably support builders makes this a perfect time to join our field of work. We are in the Golden Age of Developer Advocacy and it's just getting started.
🔌 Quick plug: Join our team at Stripe!
If this vision for scaled Developer Advocacy is appealing and you're comfortable with integrating APIs in web and/or mobile applications, please choose our Dev Advocacy team!
In the next few months, our team is tripling in size across Latin America, Europe, Asia, and North America. We're excited to support the community and meet developers wherever they are based.
👉 For more details, check out our jobs site: Dev Advocacy roles at Stripe
What makes for great Developer Advocacy? You'll know when you see it.