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Reddit Recap: Ask A Developer Evangelist With Rob Spectre


Rob Spectre took to reddit on Thursday to answer questions from the community about what it takes to be a self professed “punk rock technolologist having a barrel of monkeys on the Internet,” aka a Developer Evangelist.

The wonderful folks of reddit had a ton of questions for Rob during his AMA ranging from “what exactly is a Developer Evangelist” to “what’s the craziest part of the job” and everything in between. Here are few choice selections. You can check out the full thread here on reddit.


Question From mechazirra:

I was considering pitching the idea of a developer evangelist to my current employer, as we interact with the community a lot. I was told by a friend that used to work here that he decided not to because it isn’t a monetizable position, and there’s no gauge for success or failure.

How do you gauge success in your position?

Rob’s Answer:

The million dollar question for this profession. It’s an elusive answer and requires accumulating data from a number of different sources. Measuring awareness (unique visitorship/pageviews), engagement (depth of visit, time on page), lifecycle (signups, upgrades) and API adoption (usage) on a geographic basis tends to provide insight into whether or not a particular devangelism execution was successful. Audience segmentation can be helpful as well to distinguish success from the background noise of a particular area.

Ultimately, if I am able to move the needle in two or three of these areas for a particular metro area where I visit or for a particular community for a piece of content I write, it’s reasonable to believe it was successful.

I will say once the difficult work of establishing the needles that need to be moved is identified, it is a huge benefit for the crew. Seeing the impact of this often times intangible work is crucial for keeping the role rewarding.

Question From froinlaven

Hi Rob, I found your first AMA really insightful and I’m glad you’re doing another one!

A few weeks ago I read a blog post about developer evangelism burnout. It seems the role usually really demands all of a person’s time and doesn’t leave much room for anything else. It sounds like lasting a whole year is somewhat uncommon.

Do you think there are ways to make the job more sustainable, or is burnout just a foregone conclusion to anyone who takes on the responsibility?

Does developer evangelism need to be a full time gig (taking 100% of one’s time), or can it be done effectively as a part of one’s job?

Rob’s Answer:

Thanks for swinging by again – really appreciate it.

There is a lot of talk among the small community of folks who do this for a living about the burnout problem and it is very real. Truthfully, it remains a top of mind concern while serving the team at Twilio. There a few important things that can be done to make the gig a sustainable career:

  • Direct flights. A connection is what turns a half day of travel into a full day of travel. Setting up the program so event attendance can be achieved mostly through direct flights makes a huge difference in the amount of time that can be spent sleeping in one’s own bed and made a marked difference in my personal threshold for the role.

  • Strategic projects. Finding a way to move the ball forward individually for the company is pretty important to keep the gig from feeling like Groundhog’s Day. This can manifest itself in a number of different ways – maintaining a helper library, building an internal tool, running a college outreach program. Having one project a devangelist can contribute to on an ongoing basis is a big help.

  • Knowing the signs. Identifying burnout symptoms early and switching up the event schedule to accommodate is really important. Fortunately these are pretty obvious to the team (if not to oneself) and can help keep folks from hitting the wall.
    Having done developer evangelism both part-time and full-time, I do firmly believe now that if you want to do the job at a level of excellence it does require one’s full attention. Programmers splitting time between staff engineering and devangelism have a very difficult time excelling at both.

    Question From BoBo016:

    What tips would you give someone that wants to become a developer evangelist?

    Rob’s Answer:

    I’ve definitely shifted on this over the course of my time at Twilio. I think the best way to embark on this career path is to ask oneself why you want to be a developer evangelist in the first place.

    If the answer is to increase one’s personal brand in the developer community or get publicity, there are a lot faster and ridiculously easier ways of going about it. If the answer is to travel the world, I suspect consulting for Accenture or a similar firm will give you more time in more foreign locales in far posher hotels. If the answer is to give talks, just keep an eye out for Calls for Presenters (CFPs) for the conferences you care about and just submit – most of the good conferences keep slots open for first-time or part-time speakers.

    But if the answer is to serve a developer community, I can’t think of another role where you can do more to achieve that end.

    With that question answered, gain as much diverse technical knowledge as you can, find a developer product you love, and go talk to them about an evangelism role. Worked for me for my last two employers.

    Question From markoooooo:

    How important is previous community involvement in hiring a developer evangelist? Is it something that you look for first or is the hacker/hustler skillset more important in potential candidates?

    Rob’s Answer:

    We haven’t found that to be a significant predictor of success in the role. The characteristics we’ve found that correlate most to strong devangelism are:

  • Technical credibility – Developers want to talk to other developers. There’s no replacement for strong programming fundamentals.
  • Empathy – The ability to put oneself in the developers’ shoes.

  • Patience – The capacity to hear everyone through entirely.

  • Hustle – The X Factor. You kind of just know it when you see it.
  • Sometimes those come with a track record of success in a particular community, sometimes not. It’s not a positive or negative either way.

    Question From aain:

    What was the craziest thing that happened on the job?

    Rob’s Answer:

    I got to play guitar once for a couple hundred Python developers in a circus tent in Warsaw last year. That was craaaaazy fun.

    Read Rob’s full AMAA “Ask A Developer Evangelist” on Reddit right here, and catch up on his previous AMA here.

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