Understanding the Role of a Developer Evangelist
I started speaking at conferences several years ago. As I met more speakers and sponsors at events, I started to hear about developer evangelists a lot. While my goal at these conferences was to meet people, learn new things, and improve my public speaking skills, developer evangelists were being sent to these events to spread the word about their employers’ products and services.
“Developer Evangelism is outward facing - it is evangelizing and promoting your offerings to developers.” - Jennifer Hooper, Sr. Director of Developer Marketing at Armory
As the number of B2D-focused companies grows, specialized roles like Developer Evangelist, Developer Advocate, and Developer Relations are all growing in demand. But, if you’re new to this world, understanding these roles and the subtle differences between them can be tough.
In this piece, I will help shed some light on the role of developer evangelists in a company trying to reach software developers. I’ll share some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a developer evangelist, insights on how you can become one, and finally, some tips for hiring developer evangelists.
Where Does a Developer Evangelist Fit In?
Before we dig into what developer evangelists do, let’s look at where they typically fit in an org chart.
Traditionally, developer evangelism has been a sales or marketing function. Evangelists were often responsible for driving leads and pushing people down the marketing funnel.
But, more recently (and I’d argue, more appropriately), developer evangelism is put under a broader developer relations organizational unit. So, we’re seeing highly specialized teams of developer evangelists working in parallel with support and experience teams:
There’s a lot of variety in how organizations use developer evangelists and whether they even use that term at all. When I asked him about this, Chris Riley, Sr. Manager of DevRel at HubSpot told me that “Evangelism was the original title,” but that it’s being replaced with Advocacy “to be more clear and welcoming.”
So this leads to the question, what is the difference between Developer Evangelism, Advocacy, and Relations?
Developer Evangelist vs. Advocate vs. Relations
Because there are so many new terms popping up, I decided to ask my network what they thought the differences were between these three roles. I got some good responses in Slack and on Twitter, but they did vary quite a bit.
While some said the terms were just semantic differences and rarely mattered in practice, the majority of people see these roles as distinct. Caroline Lewko, who wrote Developer Relations: How to build and grow a successful developer program, answered it this way:
Developer Relations is the umbrella. It's all about the relationship with the developer! Different areas/roles support that. pic.twitter.com/xPGUln0NSD— Caroline Lewko (@CarolineLewko) April 21, 2022
Nick Ali of Tatum said that they break the whole department into three roles:
“Evangelists who do conferences, meetups, basically anything requiring physical presence (or Zoom), Advocates who support various online channels, writing tutorials, guides, and starter templates, collect feedback for our developers, and Community Managers who make sure everything is running smoothly and organize online events.”
Jason St-Cyr, the Director of Developer Relations at Sitecore shared his company’s structure this way:
“In our organization, we are using different terms for different types of roles…We use Developer Relations to encompass the whole group of folks working with the developer audience. We use Developer/Technical/Product evangelism to refer to the type of work that is closer to product marketing (benefits, use cases, sales enablement, FAQs). We use Developer Advocacy to refer to people specifically focused on connecting 1:1 with the community, gathering feedback, being the first customer, building out helpful content.”
There are a lot of ways that developer evangelists can be worked into an organizational chart. This might be confusing, but it makes sense given the broad range of responsibilities developer evangelists are often tasked with. For employers, the job titles don’t matter as much as getting the work done.
In the next few sections, we’ll look at some of these responsibilities and the skills you’ll need if you want to become or hire a new developer evangelist.
Responsibilities of a Developer Evangelist
“Specific tactics, like webinars and interacting with developers using your product, are only part of a successful DevEv experience…the ability to create impact in a DevEv role begins with the right mindset.” - Medi Madelen Gwosdz and Ritika Puri
Much like Developer Advocates and Relations professionals, the day-to-day work involved in Developer Evangelism varies widely. Some of the responsibilities most commonly given to evangelists include:
- Speaking at conferences
- Attending and running events
- Writing blog posts
- Recording videos
- Overseeing developer social media presence
- Helping announce new features to the public (often with product marketers)
- Listening to customers and providing feedback to the product team
As you’ll note, many of these responsibilities overlap with those of developer advocates. Because this role is still relatively new and every organization treats it differently, there’s no way to avoid some crossover, but I tend to see developer evangelists being more focused on outward, public-facing efforts.
While their role might sound more like marketing or communications, developer evangelists still need to be technical.
The key to building trust with developers is being able to understand their needs and be part of their communities. It’s possible to learn a lot of this, but the most successful evangelists have usually been software developers in the past.
Becoming a Developer Evangelist
“A developer evangelist is first and foremost a translator. Someone who can explain technology to different audiences to get their support for a certain product or technology. It needs to be someone who is technical but also capable to find the story in a technical message…A good developer evangelist can get techies excited about a product by pointing out the benefits for developers who use the product on an eye-to-eye level.” - Christian Heilmann, Principal Technical Evangelist at Mozilla
Now that you know what kind of activities you’ll need to take part in, let’s take a look at some of the skills you must have in order to get into developer evangelism.
1. Technical Experience
Most developer evangelists are strong generalists in technology who have worked for at least 5 years in software development. While you can break into the field without a ton of experience writing code, the more you’re able to empathize and understand the mind of a developer, the better you’ll be.
As far as which technical skills you should pick up, it depends.
The range of companies selling tools to software developers is huge—everything from CI/CD platforms to low-code data visualization tools—but if you specialize, you might have an edge in certain areas. If you’re brand new to development, I’d encourage you to explore Kubernetes and data warehouses as there seems to be a huge need for developer evangelists in these niches.
2. Communication Skills
Learn to write technical content and speak in front of developers. You can start by writing on your personal blog and speaking at local meetups, but eventually you’ll need to step it up. If you’re looking for more experience writing, be sure to apply to Draft.dev as we pay software engineers to write content while keeping a byline.
3. Positive/Helpful Attitude
Finally, you need the right can-do mentality to succeed in developer evangelism. You’re going to face pushback from users, but you have to keep your attitude positive and just focus on providing whatever help you can. Because this role edges on sales, marketing, and support at times, you can’t use the “not my job” excuse if you want to be a good developer evangelist.
Hiring a Developer Evangelist
Now for the really hard part, hiring.
Like many roles in this field, the number of qualified candidates available is low. Because the best developer evangelists tend to be good at building their own personal brands as well, they’re often highly sought after by big companies who can pay good salaries for them.
I will share a few tips though as it’s an important role to get right:
1. Broaden Your Search
The world is a big place, but a lot of companies still focus their search on the United States and (maybe) Western Europe. In programming though, developers all over the world are fluent in English and very comfortable working with foreign companies. Our writers at Draft.dev hail from more than 40 countries and it’s only increasing.
You may also have to look for non-traditional candidates to build a good funnel. People who have previously worked in product management, engineering management, or consulting often have the blend of interpersonal and technical skills that developer evangelists need.
2. Set Expectations for the Hire
Because the role of a developer evangelist can vary so widely, good candidates are wary about vague job listings.
Is it really a sales or marketing role? How much autonomy will they get? Will they get guidance and mentorship or do they need to be self-directed?
The more specific you can get in your job listings, the more likely you will be to find the right evangelist for your stage of company.
3. Expect to Pay Senior-Level Developer Rates…or More
Another common issue is that companies sometimes think they can hire developer evangelists for the pay rate of a marketing professional. But, because these individuals are so highly specialized, they usually command a similar pay rate to senior developers or even higher.
If you don’t have the budget to hire someone full-time, you could work with a B2D marketing agency like Draft.dev to help augment your team. We’re solely focused on creating technical content for developer tools companies, and typically cost much less than a full-time developer evangelist.
Developer evangelism is an important part of marketing to developers. Whether you call it “evangelism” (or advocacy or relations) or not, you need people in your company who are focused on building awareness and advocating for your product.
If technical content writing is part of your evangelism plan, be sure to book a call. I’d love to share what we’re seeing work and if we can help you scale up your content efforts.
Build a Blog that Software Developers Will Read
The Technical Content Manager’s Playbook is a collection of resources you can use to manage a high-quality, technical blog:
- A template for creating content briefs
- An Airtable publishing calendar
- A technical blogging style guide