After signing my offer letter for my dream job as a Developer Advocate at GitHub, I panicked. How could I set myself up for success? The role is still relatively new, and there's no formal training for it, so I didn't feel like I had a concrete plan to do well in the role. Fortunately, after reaching out to a few Developer Advocate Twitter friends, I gained sufficient insight.
Recently, Nikema Prophet hosted a Twitter Space about tips for starting your first tech or DevRel role. While Brian Hogan shared some fantastic advice, I couldn't think of any tips on the spot. After the space ended, I reflected on my 6+ months working as a Developer Advocate, and I thought of some advice I would give myself if I could go back in time.
Many times managers may create a 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month plan. These plans will help you understand if you're learning, growing, and impacting at the pace your manager expected. However, if they didn't create one, prioritize booking time with your manager to create a plan. Figure out what projects they are hoping you can work on and where your expertise can help the team grow. Understanding your manager's expectations can help reduce imposter syndrome and overworking because you have clarity on your goals.
Let them know what you how to accomplish, skills you hope to flex, and skills you want to improve. This way, your manager can help to guide you to enhance those skills. Remember, this is your career; you might not stay at this company forever.
Reach out to your teammates and set a time for a 30 minute 1:1. The goal is to build positive working relationships so that they can help you and you can eventually help them. You can let the conversation flow naturally, but if you're not sure what to ask, here are a few suggested questions:
- What are your responsibilities?
- What are you currently working on?
- How long have you worked here?
- What's your preferred method of communication?
- Do you have any tips for me?
Developer Relations is about building connections with developers and people who influence the creation, marketing, and funding of developer tools, so it's vital to interface with coworkers outside your team.
Take time to meet engineers, product, and marketing, but this can happen over the course of a year. Don't take this action item lightly as Cassidy Williams quoted in one of her newsletters, "The best time to make friends is before you need them." - Ethel Barrymore.
Having a mentor within the company can help you discern if a move is beneficial for your career. They can also help you gain awareness of the true relationships and influencers within the company. I consider Brian Douglas as my mentor. Although he is also my manager, his experience is valuable, and he always gives me actionable tips to accelerate my career.
I believe that because an external mentor has a less vested interest in your organization, they can give you unbiased advice. For me, it's also helped me learn how other companies conduct DevRel strategy. I like to learn about what's going on outside of my bubble for two reasons:
I can leverage their methods in my career and perhaps suggest those methods to my team if necessary.
Perhaps, one day, I will have to work somewhere else, and I can bring knowledge of how my team approached situations AND how other teams solved problems. I feel like it reduces my ignorance and makes me more well-rounded.
I found external mentors through the DevRel Collective slack group by announcing in the #mentorship channel that I was looking for a mentor. I also have a DevRel coach through Forthright to maximize my impact as a Developer Advocate. I use my Learning and Development benefits to pay for the training.
Your job as a Developer Advocate (or Developer Advocate adjacent) is to empower engineers to use your company's product, which means you have to understand how the product works and have some experience using the product. Go through the product documentation or tutorials. Through this exercise, you may gain:
Material for future content (blogs, video tutorials, live streams, or conference talks)
Insight into how users are interacting with the product
Context to answer questions users may ask you
Feedback for engineering and product team's regarding developer experience
In my case, I was already familiar with GitHub since I used it for my day-to-day work in past roles as a software engineer. However, there are other products within GitHub that I'm still learning about, so you don't have to learn it all in one day, but increase your familiarity over time.
Read past slack conversations in your team channels, watch recordings of past meetings, read the company docs, and study the company organization chart. Your value in Developer Relations directly affects the company, and where the company chooses to spend money can directly affect you.
Developer Relations is notorious for its burnout rate between constant context switching, traveling, and interacting with people (especially if you're introverted). Before your schedule gets too busy, create boundaries by blocking off time for you to eat lunch, exercise, log off from work, and anything else that is important to you. Figure out how often your team has meetings and which meetings require your presence. I use Reclaim.ai, which automatically finds times for me to catch up on work, eat lunch, and complete specific tasks. The image below is a screenshot of my calendar. Unfortunately, I have a talk scheduled on one of my vacation days, so as you can see, I'm still earning to balance my career goals with my personal life.
Work life balance is easier to maintain the more you automate manual, trivial tasks and the more you can focus on completing the right tasks at the right time. This is a skill I'm still developing.
- To increase my focus, I use:
- Must/Can/Should to make sure I'm working on the right tasks
- The Focused Browsing Chrome Extension, so that I don't spend too long on social media. If you follow me on Twitter, you can probably tell that I'm not doing the best job at this, but Twitter is part of building my brand and job, right? LOL
- To track my progress, I use:
- And I write all my accomplishments/wins in a private GitHub repository
- To plan my content and my week, I use:
Although I gave all this advice on what you should do, it's okay to take it one step at a time. You're new. No one is expecting you immediately make a huge impact or get a ton of work done. They're expecting you to fumble and ask too many questions, so use your first year to do just that! You have time to observe, grow, and learn, so don't rush the process. However, if you do end up making an impact or doing something that you're proud of – advocate for yourself and let your team know!
Please note that my own growth as a Developer Advocate is still a work in progress, and I've only been doing this for a few months. If you have additional words of advice, comment below!