Understanding the Role of Technology Evangelists
Several years ago, I began speaking at developer conferences. It was a great way to learn new things while meeting lots of people who would go on to become useful connections. Some of these people were professional “technology evangelists.” While relatively unknown outside the tech space, within the industry, the role has been a staple of developer-outreach for a long time.
The word “evangelist” has traditionally been associated with someone who spreads religious gospel. However, this isn’t far from what a technology evangelist does. Instead of inspiring religious converts, a technology evangelist influences individuals and businesses through talks, content, and community engagement. The term is often used interchangeably with developer evangelist.
In this piece, I’ll flesh out the role that technology evangelists play in a tech company, their responsibilities, and how you can hire (or be hired) as one. If you’re an aspiring evangelist looking to get started or a company trying to hire one for the first time, you should find some of these insights useful.
Why Is Technology Evangelism Important?
Marketing to technical people is notoriously hard. They tend to be detail-oriented, impervious to salesy spiels, and generally hard to reach behind popup and ad blockers.
At the same time, developers and other technical professionals are a very valuable market. They’re savvy, well-paid, and invest in resources and learning material to help them do their jobs. Developers are also center-stage when it comes to spending initiatives at their companies. If they recommend buying a tool that makes their job easier, there’s a good chance their companies will do it.
And make no mistake, there are a lot of developer tools out there. It’s a far cry from a decade ago, when all you had was an IDE and a server to run your software. Today, the number of paid services and applications available to help developers code, collaborate, and deploy is nearly endless.
Evangelists help bridge the gap between the companies creating these solutions and the users they’re intended for. They’re often former software developers and technologists themselves who understand these products and can discuss their benefits authoritatively.
“Developer Evangelism is outward facing - it is evangelizing and promoting your offerings to developers.” - Jennifer Hooper, Sr. Director of Developer Marketing at Armory
Deconstructing Developer Relations
Traditionally, developer evangelists have been a part of organizations’ sales and marketing departments as they are often responsible for moving leads through the pipeline. However, the growth of B2D marketing has spawned a host of specialized roles beyond developer evangelism, such as developer advocacy, developer success, developer experience, and more.
In trying to make sense of all these terms, I reached out to my network for their take and got some interesting responses. Caroline Lewko, who wrote Developer Relations: How to build and grow a successful developer program, believes that “Developer Relations is the umbrella” for the wider framework of developer-focused roles.
Jason St-Cyr, the Director of Developer Relations at Sitecore, concurs:
“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.”
Nick Ali says that at Tatum, the department consists of three standout 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.”
The consensus seems to be that developer relations as a space is still evolving, as is the role of a technology evangelist. Companies structure it based on what they need out of it.
Technology Evangelism in Practice
Marketing to developers tends to be a mix of educating, helping, and empathizing with them. As a result, evangelists are often tasked with a broad range of responsibilities to drive results for their employers.
1. Event Marketing
This is one of the most effective ways to reach developers and technologists, provided it’s done right. Attending an event is a great way to get one-on-one time with developers and influencers.
Try to land a speaking opportunity — you can usually do this for free. This will let you address a wider audience, but be wary of being overly sales-y. This is a big turn-off for developers who tend to be a skeptical bunch. If you intend to present or distribute material, consider a whitepaper with detailed research instead of a more promotional case study.
You can also sponsor an event or create your own. The latter is obviously a costly proposition but gives you full control over your attendees as well as how the event is designed and marketed.
2. Content Marketing
There is a range of content types you can leverage to target developers at different stages of the outreach cycle:
Blogs and guest posts: Articles, both on-site and external, let you improve SEO and organic traffic. Engaging, original content can help you establish your brand as an authority within your space and funnel your readers into your pipeline via newsletter sign-ups and strategic CTAs.
White papers: Thought leadership content like white papers and e-books is typically a top-of-the-funnel marketing initiative. These are perfect for syndicating online or presenting at an event to generate leads.
Tutorials and case studies: These help your users understand how your solution works in the real world. Prospects who view them are typically near the end of the pipeline and use the information to decide if they want to buy into your product or not.
Video content: Video streaming is increasing— has been for a while, and developers are in on the trend too. From entry-level tutorials to panel Q&As and live coding sessions, there’s a lot of room for you to ideate and publish video content to interest your prospects.
The key to creating effective technical content is to be authentic and genuinely helpful. Ideally, your content should be written by developers who understand how to communicate its benefits to their peers. This can either be a job for the developer evangelist or you can outsource it.
Finding and recruiting reliable writers is hard work. The best already have full-time jobs. Alternatively, you can work with an agency like Draft.dev. We have over 200 technical writers on our roster, all of them subject-matter experts.
It’s worth bearing in mind that executing a quality content strategy is a long-term play and doesn’t come cheap. On the plus side, it generates far better leads than outbound marketing and creates long-lasting value as well.
3. Community-driven Marketing
Don’t be fooled by the sight of a developer sitting quietly behind a keyboard with headphones on. We tend to be quite active and vocal in forums where we feel comfortable. Companies that can effectively tap into these communities will find a lot of traction for their product.
Slack groups, Discourse forums, and Stack Overflow are all great forums to engage your users, as are social media platforms like Twitter, Reddit, and Hacker News.
As an evangelist, you’ll likely play a prominent role across these initiatives, from writing content to recording videos and speaking at conferences. You’ll often be the face of your company at events and in online communities. Expect to be entrusted with tasks such as introducing new products and features to the public as well as engaging with customers and providing feedback to the product team.
Becoming a Technology 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’re familiar with what entails being an evangelist, let’s take a look at some of the skills you’ll need to become one.
1. Technical Skills
This is a bit of a given. Most technology evangelists are experienced software developers in addition to being strong technology generalists. The latter, in particular, is non-negotiable; it’s why companies are turning to you instead of run-of-the-mill marketers.
The specific skills you’ll need will depend on the company you’d like to work with, although this isn’t likely to be an issue. There are companies selling everything from low-code applications to financial news APIs. Pick an area you’d like to specialize in. If you’re new to development, consider exploring niches like Kubernetes and data warehouses that need technology evangelists.
2. Communication Skills
You need to be able to effectively communicate information to other developers. Start by learning to write technical content and speaking at local meetups. Challenge yourself with tougher assignments in front of bigger audiences. Consider applying to Draft.dev for more writing experience in a professional context.
3. Empathetic Personality
As Medi Madelen Gwosdz and Ritika Puri put it “…the ability to create impact in a DevEv role begins with the right mindset.” Technology evangelism builds on technical knowledge, but the job itself is a mixture of sales, marketing, and support. You’re expected to be helpful and keep a positive attitude amid possible pushback and disinterest from users.
Hiring a Technology Evangelist
If you’ve hired developers before, you’ll know how hard it is to recruit in this space. There aren’t that many candidates available. The best technology evangelists tend to be very good at building their personal brands and are highly sought after.
1. Cast Your Net Wide
Don’t make the mistake of narrowing your search to within the United States and Western Europe. Technologists and developers worldwide tend to be fluent in English and accustomed to collaborating with foreign companies. At Draft, we work with writers from more than 40 countries and counting.
Also consider candidates who aren’t necessarily developers. Product managers, technology salespersons, and consultants are just some of the people who will likely have the combination of technical and interpersonal skills you’re looking for.
2. Be Specific About Deliverables
The role of technology evangelist varies quite a lot and vague job listings will dissuade qualified applicants. Define very clearly what the role entails at your company and what you expect your hires to deliver.
Are you looking for an online community manager or an event representative? Will they be responsible for just marketing initiatives or have sales targets as well? Is it a self-directed role or are you prepared to offer guidance and mentorship?
3. Expect to Pay the Big Bucks
You can’t hire someone with the experience of a developer and expect to pay them a marketing manager’s salary. A specialist role such as this will cost you a pay rate similar to a senior developer or even more. To promote an available Technology Evangelist role in your company, you can post a job listing on DevRel Careers.
If you can’t afford someone full-time, consider outsourcing part of the responsibility to a B2D marketing agency like Draft.dev. We create specialized technical content for developers written by developers.
Evangelism is an integral part of marketing to developers, engineers, and technical users, and you need someone who speaks the same language.
Technical content can help and creating it tends to take up a big chunk of an evangelist’s time. Simplify the process by partnering with us. Schedule a call with us to see how we can help you create authoritative content at scale.
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