A Shift in the Industry
Our small slice of the tech industry, developer relations, seems on the cusp of a significant shift. For a while now, I've found that the majority of developer relations professionals have been at startups. Many startups now try to make their first developer relations hire—almost always a developer advocate—before they reach 100 employees, and they view that hire as a key component of their future. However, many startups don't quite know what to do with this first (or second or third) hire. They don't quite understand the strategy of community and can't quite put their fingers on the metrics that help them understand the value.
There are many resources now to help define those metrics, but much of the art of metrics and strategy is still experience gained or shared in DevRel communities plus a willingness to experiment. New developer advocates who have their first role as a startup's first hire often find themselves in the same scenario as the junior engineer tossed into their first project at that startup: scouring the internet, asking anyone and everyone they can, and generally relying on their own intelligence and instinct to figure it out. Many do! However, the need to tell the business story—how your role and actions roll up to the company's bottom line—is the hardest part to master. It often leads to companies attempting to define the various roles based on what is needed at the time rather than hiring for the roles they're missing and using DevRel role definitions from the industry. A company does not tell an ops engineer that they will be doing cold calls or a sales development representative that they will be managing the company's books. While it is true that at a startup you may be called to wear other hats, they generally are temporary and related. If your product marketing manager leaves, you as a developer advocate may be asked to own the messaging for a month while they hire a new person. If the engineering team loses an ops engineer, you may be asked to help with on-call for a rotation or two while they find someone new. However, many startups ask developer relations professionals to own more than the industry-defined roles because they can't explain why those roles impact their bottom line.
This leaves us at a crossroads. I suspect that, for a little while, at least, we will be experiencing a move of developer relations to larger, established companies who have more defined roles and a better understanding of how developer relations can bridge the company and the community. Yes, there still will be startup DevRel roles. However, founders sharing stories may point to these misconceptions and dissuade new founders from hiring so early. And until we as an industry teach one another how to tell the business story of impact (which I hope to do with this newsletter!), we will continue to be pulled in opposite directions and find ourselves in a cycle of job motion that has nothing to do with the current economic situation.
What do you think? Either tweet at me at @nimbinatus or post to me on Mastodon at @email@example.com. I want to hear your thoughts so we can share knowledge and help our industry grow (and maybe help some founders understand community and us along the way).
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