Developer Evangelists Build Community, Engagement for Software Firms

If you're looking for a career that combines your passion for software development with your communications skills, becoming a developer advocate may be the job for you. And if you're a software development manager, you may want to consider adding an evangelist to your team to spread the word about your tools and services.

If you're looking for a way to keep developer communities informed, involved, engaged and excited about your product offerings, adding a developer advocate (also called a developer evangelist to your IT team is a great way to do it. And if you're a tech pro who loves software development and people, a career as an advocate may be your team job.

Developer Evangelists

Finding Your Software Religion

Put simply, a developer evangelist, acts as a liaison between third-party, independent software developers and users and a company's software and product development teams. But there's a lot more to it than that, says Terry Ryan, whose official title is Educational Evangelist for Adobe.

"We are the people responsible for bridging the gap between when a product is sold and when people actually have to use it," Ryan says. "There are 20 of us at Adobe who talk about the products with the users and developers, and we aren't involved in either production or sales of the software and the products," he says.

While a sales force works from the top of an organization down, developer evangelists work from the bottom up -- with the people using the products, regardless of whether there's a deal to be done, Ryan says.

How Google Advocates Spread Developer Information

It's a completely different approach, says Seth Ladd, a developer advocate with Google, which encourages a free, two-way information flow between software companies and the developers and users of their products and services. That can lead to more reliable, user-friendly products and reinforce a trustworthy, dependable brand identity.

"This is so different from, say, a traditional product-development cycle where companies [form a] focus group, come out with a product and essentially tell users how to use it," Ladd says.

"Developers are savvy. They can see through all of the hype and the sales pitch, and they know when they're being 'sold.' As advocates, we can be frankand walk developers through all the features and any issues,to help them get productive,creative and successful with our products and our development environment," Ladd says.

"The value of developer advocates to an organization is that we are credible users of the products and solutions," says Adobe's Ryan. "We can bear witness to the community that 'this is good.' We sometimes get in trouble for being too brutally honest about the products, but that's part of what makes us valuable to the developer community - our credibility, our 'bona fides' with them. And we bring back very nuanced, technical feedback from customers that's outside of the normal chain of support and interaction," he says.

Talking to current and potential customers every day allows advocates like Ryan and Ladd to deliver real-world, real-time feedback to their product development teams and that allows for more secure, reliable, easy-to-use software and products.

The Developer Ecosystem

Advocates like Ryan and Ladd aren't just engaging with professional developers and tech workers; they work with users all over the spectrum, from beginners to hackers to startups to large enterprises, says Ladd. For Google, the effort to engage developers and users is global and spans the entire solution set and product lifecycle. Google Developer Groups exist in nearly every country worldwide, Ladd says.

"In Germany, for example, we have advocates on the ground working with Google Developer Groups to sponsor events, conferences, hack-a-thons and other types of interactions with the entire developer ecosystem," he says.

That kind of global, large-scale interaction requires a unique skillset and an ability to understand the nuances of the technology, the myriad ways in which developers and consumers use it, and an understanding that all users' feedback is valuable, Ladd and Ryan say.

"We work with and for all kinds of people -- from the weekend hackers to developers at startups to Fortune 500 companies," Ladd says. Ryan adds that "just because someone's not a 'pro user' of the tool or the solution doesn't mean that their feedback isn't useful or wouldn't add value for everyone. If you make solutions that are accessible for the lower-level user, then it becomes more valuable and more accessible for everyone."

Developer Advocates Add Value

There's no point in continuing to invest in, develop and sell products if developers and users can't easily create viable, useful, engaging products on a software company's application programming interface (API), says Ryan. That's the inherent value in having developer advocates on staff, and why positions like Ladd's and Ryan's are becoming more common.

"As more and more software companies realize the value in creating a developer ecosystem to make sure developers' needs are being met, I think there will be increased traction with and demand for these types of positions," Ladd says.

Any type of software company that offers an API on which they want developers to build,create and innovate new ways to use the products and solutions can benefit from having developer advocates on staff, he says.

"Software companies are most successful when you they can keep their developer communities happy, engaged, excited and involved," Ladd says.

How to Land a Developer Advocate Job

Becoming a developer advocate or evangelist requires a wide variety of skills, especially development experience and some knowledge of sales and use cases, says Adobe's Ryan. He has a development background, and started independently evangelizing Adobe products before he landed a job with the company, he says.

"The first requirement is having very deep and broad expertise with at least one product or solution, and the second part is being able to communicate those ideas out to other developers," Ryan says.

As an independent evangelist, he began writing about Adobe's products. He also spoke at conferences and built a reputation within the software industry as an expert, all without being paid by Adobe to evangelize on its behalf, he says.

Then he made connections with developers at Adobe who were working on the products and solutions. He made his interest in a full-time position at the company well-known. And then, he waited for an opportunity to become available. When it did, he applied for and landed the job, thanks to his perseverance and his established expertise.

"You not only have to be technically knowledgeable, but you have to understand the business," Ryan says. "There's a lot of marketing and sales knowledge you should have -- experience with messaging, and being able to tailor your information to your audience, whether you're talking to Fortune 500 executives, students [or] power users," Ryan said.

Being a developer advocate is an incredibly rewarding and valuable position, Ryan and Ladd agree.

"We get to play with the latest products, we're on the cutting edge of technology and we get to encourage others to create some really cool stuff with it," Ladd says.

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at sflorentine@cio.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

To comment on this article and other CIO content, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Download the CIO October 2016 Digital Magazine
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.