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Liz Acosta
Liz Acosta

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The DevRel Digest February 2024: The DevRel Renaissance

The DevRel Renaissance: A Star is (Re)born

The subject line of the latest issue of Avocado Bytes definitely got my attention when it hit my inbox: “The Death of DevRel (Again?)” In it, Daniel Bryant describes conversations that echo many of the discussions I’ve been hearing about the current state of Developer Relations, how to adapt, and what the future of DevRel might look like. He writes about how during the beginning of the pandemic, in a frenzy of “ZIRP”-induced growth, finding experienced DevRel was challenging and salaries reflected that.

Well, we all know how that story turned out.

With layoffs still sweeping across tech, it may be difficult to remain hopeful, but while The Tower in tarot indicates a complete upheaval, it also signals that new beginnings are just around the corner under the light of The Star. In the Major Arcana, The Star succeeds The Tower. The Star represents hope, renewal, and purpose in the wake of collapse. It makes me think of the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake in Southern California in 1994. I had just turned nine. I remember looking at the sky while the power was still out and in that dangerous darkness, the stars seemed so bright.

Daniel Bryant calls it a DevRel “Renaissance.”

The Star card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck featuring senior pug Gary Photoshopped as the maiden pouring the jugs.

The Star card from the Rider-Waite tarot deck featuring senior pug Gary Photoshopped as the maiden pouring the jugs

AI, Sales, and Trust

A DevRel Renaissance certainly aligns with the notion of Developer Relations as “the liberal arts of tech.” That’s how Katie Miller, Developer Marketing Advisor, describes the field, drawing on the fact that DevRel lies at the intersection of multiple functions across an organization. I got to see Miller speak on a panel at Developer Week in Oakland in late February. Along with Kevin White (Head of Marketing at Common Room), Marisa Smith (Developer Advocate at Tobiko Data), and Budhaditya Bhattacharya (Developer Advocate at Tyk), the panel was moderated by Rob Zazueta (Technical Advisor at DevNetwork) and addressed developer engagement in a tech landscape in flux.

It’s not tech in 2024 unless artificial intelligence is mentioned, and, quite appropriately, the panel opened with a question about AI. I appreciated Zazueta’s unabashed wariness of AI which was countered by Bhattacharya’s refreshingly optimistic take that AI is a tool that can augment humanity by taking care of the mundane and leaving us free to pursue more creative endeavors. They all agreed that one thing AI can’t replicate is trust – an aspect that Marisa Smith named pivotal to Developer Relations. Miller commented on how it feels like every tech company is just trying to “put a GPT on it,” and how, because of that, one responsibility of a Developer Advocate is, well, advocacy, which includes pushing back on hype-driven initiatives that might erode the trust of users.

And because trust is so central to Developer Relations, Smith suggested that might be where the line lies between DevRel and sales engineering … or is it? She said that while she may help out on a sales call, she will never close one because the minute she tries to pitch a product, she knows she’s lost the trust of the user. On the other hand, Kevin White described being routinely impressed by the work of sales engineers, who expertly navigate tech, product, and closing a deal for compensation that does not seem commensurate with the talent and skill required to do the job. In fact, Zazueta suggested that sales engineering is often a good place to find Developer Advocates.

That’s something it seems like Daniel Bryant would agree with. In his Substack, Bryant offers the evolution of Developer Advocate into a Product Advocate, a role that seems to merge some of the funnel focus of sales development representatives with the technical perspective of Developer Relations. In other words, finding a way to embrace some aspects of sales – at least when it comes to understanding the journey of the buyer. Bryant also has some cool ideas about metrics and community – I recommend subscribing to his Substack if you haven’t already.

The Magic of “Why?”

With all this talk of layoffs, and Towers, and AI, and sales pipelines, it can be hard to answer the question, “What should someone who wants to get into DevRel do?”

Maybe Budhaditya Bhattacharya would ask, “Why?”

Preceding the panel, Bhattacharya gave a talk called, “The Future of Careers in DevRel and Dev Marketing.” In it, he shared his journey from the moment he fell in love with computers, to his disillusionment with them in university, to his rediscovery of the magic of tech. For him, Developer Relations is about the curiosity software sparked in him, and at the heart of curiosity is the art of asking questions.

He emphasized the need to employ curiosity to determine how to proceed in his work. What does the user need? What does the company need? What does the team need? Learning how to see things from different perspectives is a core DevRel skill and asking questions helps us gain that insight.

An image with a purple gradient background and an illustration of a pug with the quote from Budhaditya Bhattacharya that says: I think we will see a lot more focus on creating learning paths for developers in 2024. Given the vast amount of information out there today, it is easy for developers to feel lost or overwhelmed. A learning path with a focused outcome will cut down on the noise and help developers build things better, and faster and progress in their careers too. For DevRels, this will serve as content pillars that can branch into a variety of articles, videos, podcasts, discussion topics and conference talks. There is room to use AI-based tools to design these learning paths and transcribe the videos for more related content.

For Bhattacharya, the “Why?” of DevRel is in the magic. For him, Developer Relations is about sharing the excitement he felt when he discovered computers. I don’t know if that’s something AI could ever replace without being inherently untrustworthy.

Developer Relations isn’t going anywhere, it’s just that where we’re going might be a little bit different than what we expected. When trying to figure out where to go next, it seems the best strategy might be asking, “Why?” and putting a little trust in the stars to guide us.

Events and Resources and Other Notable Things

  • If you’re thinking of creating video content and you don’t know where to start – and even if you’re already a video content expert – check out fellow DevRel Kevin Blanco and his new YouTube series on video creation.
  • Don’t miss the Developer Marketing Summit on March 6th! Registration is free and the agenda looks full of helpful talks and topics.
  • The PyCon 2024 schedule just dropped and guess who’s on it! It’s me!
  • If you’re local to the Bay Area, I’ll be speaking at BayPIGgies on March 21st with a preview of my PyCon talk. Check out the link for details.

Top comments (2)

kiselitza profile image

Huh, some interesting sum-ups you got here.

All parts of the industry change to some extent, and fairly often.
It's only fair for devrel to go through that phase as well.

We're quite an adaptable bunch tho.
So yep, DevRel isn’t going anywhere. :)

lizzzzz profile image
Liz Acosta

Totally agree! DevRel are some of the most resourceful, clever, creative, and adaptable people I know -- especially since so many of us have such diverse professional backgrounds. I actually think that some of these changes are going to help us mature more and solidify what this role is and how to measure success. I love being in Developer Relations and I know I'm not going anywhere!