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JP Hwang
JP Hwang

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The joy of finding your (inclusive) tribe - a newbie’s reflections on DevRelCon 2022

I am pretty new at my job. It’s been just over two months since I joined the Developer Relations (DevRel) team for Weaviate, and there’s been no shortage of stuff to learn in that time. Not only about our own technology, but also about the vast universe of all things DevRel. Not only that, I had never met many other people who do this sort of work.

So when my boss, Sebastian, asked if I wanted to go to DevRelCon to hang out with some of the other folks in the field and hang out with Zain from our team - I was very excited.

Well, hold up. "Excited" might be too ambiguous a term. If I was to be more precise, I would say that it was a mix of enthusiasm as well as… maybe anxious trepidation? I wondered what a conference of 🥑s (i.e. advocates - look at me, I’m already au fait with the lingo!) would be like, and whether I might feel completely out of depth.

Now that it’s all done, I can report that my experience could not have been any better, and in an unexpected way. So I tried to capture my reflections and share them while it was fresh. It might be useful for anyone thinking about exploring this path, and who knows - I might find it useful myself in a few months or years.

Throughout the two-day conference in Prague, I met many people from all sorts of different locations, companies, and backgrounds. I heard great stories about where they came from, their journey into tech, and how they came to work in DevRel. The most common theme was that they were developers who liked talking to people. More than that, most people that I spoke to genuinely liked and appreciated people.

Whenever I look back to DevRelCon 2022, the most lasting impression will be of meeting these generous, interesting, kind people. It’s difficult to convey exactly what was great about it. Instead, let me tell you about two memorable talks, bookended by two rituals that started and ended the conference.

The talks began with a suggestion to welcome each speaker with a standing ovation before their talk. And the (un)official end of the second day was marked with a karaoke night. Both of these are what I would call high-variance moves. Under some circumstances, these might have ended with a half-hearted audience adding to the speakers’ nerves, or a night with strangers awkwardly making do at the party. I can report that the DevRel crowd embraced both, and excelled at it - constantly keeping a high energy level throughout the conference and just having the best time out as well.

And of the many talks that we stood up and cheered for, I found myself thinking about two in particular. This wasn’t just based on the quality of these two talks; the days were packed with excellent talks on a variety of topics, given by brilliant presenters. What made these two talks memorable to me was just how different they were from the kinds of talks that I had expected.

The first was Don Goodman-Wilson’s talk on the neuroscience of developer relations.

Don spoke about what is happening in our brains when we engage in DevRel activities. How is it that relationships with our users and customers are “built”? What does that mean, exactly? How is it that communities come together, and what is the implication of building these relationships and bonds? How are these relationships similar, or different, from friendships, familial relationships, or romantic relationships?

The answer, as Don tells us, is that all relationship building is related to oxytocin release - the “love drug” if you will. And DevRel is no exception. That means that our relationships with our users are more or less susceptible to the same dangers as any other relationships; whether it be the highs of belonging or the pitfalls of things like groupthink and mob mentality.

Don giving his talk

It sounds obvious in some ways. DevRel, as the name suggests, is about relationships. But Don empowers us to apply learnings from neuroscience and tribal behaviour directly to what we do. To understand why what we can do can potentially cause harm, and why, just like in other relationships, we must be responsible and respectful.

The other talk that stuck with me was a lightning talk by Marc Duiker on using your non-IT skills to draw an audience. It was a talk short in length but not short of impressions.

For those who don’t know, Marc is responsible for many of the cute critters in the incomparable vscode-pets extension. This extension brings our DevRel team at SeMI tiny morsels of joy and respite on a regular basis, and I couldn’t have been more excited to find out one of the wizards behind the curtain. In his talk, Marc shared his own experiences of how he turned his interests and skill sets to create fun, meaningful connections with his tech communities. For example, he built a game, and created 8-bit art and avatars for himself, others, and his clients. He also shared examples of how others combine their own unique hobbies and skills like music, comedy, art, cross-stitching, and sewing to do the same.

In other words, Marc reminded us that each of us brings more to the table than our narrow tech domain expertise. I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t expect topics like these at a tech conference.

For all of us, work is just a part of what we do. It’s a larger part of our existence and self-identification for some than others, but nobody is just their job. Yet people bring their whole selves to work, including all of their past experiences, and knowledge from other domains. If Don hadn’t studied neuroscience before turning to tech or DevRel work, we don’t benefit from his expertise on this topic. If Marc (or the numerous others he shared the works of) doesn’t feel empowered to bring his other skills to his work, then we never experience the joy of his VS Code pets, or those communities don’t get to reap the joy of sharing their expertise and interests.

But even after just a short time spent with this group of people, it occurs to me that these types of “unusual” talks may not be very unusual at all in DevRel. The conference was one of the most diverse that I’d attended, and I would posit that these cross-disciplinary inputs and insights are direct benefits of this diversity.

The attendees of this conference were diverse in many different ways, and it was clearly one that was embraced by the community. People came from all sorts of different educational and cultural backgrounds and brought with them unique hobbies, skills, perspectives, and experiences. Differences were clearly assets that added to their technical expertise, not something to be hidden away while presenting their one-dimensional “work self”. As a newbie who came through something of (read: definitely) a non-traditional path into tech, seeing this was energising and encouraging.

These were experts in their own tech domains who were comfortable in their own skin and brought their whole selves to work and encouraged others to do so in a supportive manner.

There are lots of things to be done at work - and lots for me to learn in a DevRel role. But I am very happy to have begun my journey on this path, and I couldn’t imagine a better, more interesting group of people to learn from and figure this stuff out with.

I didn’t know anyone outside of work before this conference, but some people have generously offered to work together or offered help and advice, and I’ve swapped notes about the next conferences to go to. I have so many ideas and inspirations from these interactions, and can’t wait to start to put them into place. Thank you everyone, especially Matthew Revell and the team at DevRelCon who put this remarkable event together. I feel very grateful and I look forward to seeing you all again very soon.

In the meantime - you can find me at on Mastodon, and also on Twitter at @_jphwang (maybe).

Top comments (1)

marcduiker profile image
Marc Duiker

This is great write-up JP! We are definitely more than our work, and this conference really showed that. Thanks for your kind words!