In this article, our specialist DevRel recruiter Ollie Whelan-Hall discusses the role of developer advocate, what recruiters and employers are looking for in a candidate, and gives his top interview tips!
It’s a funny thing that one of the most talked about – and in my opinion, one of the most interesting – jobs in tech right now is also perhaps the most misunderstood: the developer relations professional.
Even the name itself can confuse people. You might hear the role referred to as DevRel specialist, developer advocate, or even developer evangelist. In truth, the reason it’s tricky to come up with a name that sticks is because none of these terms really do justice to the many hats that DevRel professionals wear. The role sits somewhere in the gap between engineering, product, marketing and sales, and can look very different depending on the company or niche. What’s more, the dynamic nature of the role means it’s continuously evolving, making it even more challenging to properly understand.
What do developer advocates actually do, anyway?
In a world driven by technology where innovation happens at breakneck speed, developer relations professionals are the unsung heroes who bridge the gap between developers, companies, and the broader tech community. Their main goal is to help developers be successful when using the company’s products, services, or technology, and to develop and maintain positive relationships with the developer community as a whole. For example, if you’re a developer advocate for Google, your role might involve working with cloud products to understand how developers use the products, what they think could be improved, how easy they find it, and to feed this information back to the product team. Then you can communicate any upgrades back to the developer community and talk about how this can benefit their work, and so on.
If you’re looking into DevRel as a career, perhaps the most important thing to understand is that simply having good technical knowledge isn’t enough. You’ll also need credibility with developer audiences, empathy for developers and their work, and to be an exceptionally skilled communicator with demonstrable experience.
Let’s take a deeper dive into this!
What do DevRel recruiters look for in an ideal candidate?
As a specialist DevRel recruiter, I receive a huge amount of submissions from people looking to break into the sector. Few actually make the cut, but it’s not for lack of enthusiasm – it’s because they don’t have an understanding of what employers are looking for in a developer advocate. So, I thought it would be useful to sum up a few of the thing I make a point of checking out before speaking with a candidate.
Whether it’s blogs, podcasts, speaking engagements or simply being really active on LinkedIn, I’m looking to see that you’re able to discuss technical topics in detail with the aim of educating and engaging developers and decision makers. Remember, one of the most important aspects of working in DevRel is the ability to build trust and be seen as someone who knows their stuff, so if I can see you’re adding value to discussions and adding to public discourse in an insightful way, that’s a big plus point. I’ll also be looking to see how well you communicate – being able to talk about niche topics in an engaging and concise way is vital.
You’re much likelier to get your foot in the door with decision-makers if you’re a respected developer, researcher or engineer with proven experience. There’s a few reasons for this. One, this gives you instant credibility among your target audience – fellow developers. They are more likely to trust and engage with someone who speaks their language and understands the challenges they face. Two, your past experience allows you to empathise with the struggles of your audience, helping you connect on a deeper level and offer more relevant support and guidance. And finally, you’ll be better equipped to clearly communicate product updates, perform workshops and webinars, answering complex questions as they arise. In some instances, you might even find yourself contributing to the codebases that make a product successful.
I’m always looking to see whether potential DevRel candidates are active members of current community projects or discussions, or helping to organise events and programmes. On top of this, you need to be a team player and cross-functional in order to succeed. For example, if you can demonstrate experience collaborating across departments like marketing, sales, product and engineering, it shows you can bridge the gap between competing priorities and handle a lot of complex moving parts. If a candidate has previous experience in positions like solutions architecture, partner integrations or other customer or developer facing roles and can discuss instances in which they’ve championed the developer community, that also shows they might have a strong foundation for success in a DevRel role.
Tips for succeeding in a DevRel interview
Of course, making it through as a shortlisted candidate is only half the battle – you’ll also need to be fully prepared for what can often be quite an intense interview process. Let’s run through some tips.
- Be prepared for an employer to check your social media presence. You don’t need to have a massive following, but at the minimum, you need GitHub and LinkedIn profiles with some relevant posts on them.
- Create a list of projects, speaking engagements, articles, workshops, live coding sessions – anything that can help demonstrate your competency. Don’t wait to talk about these in the interview, submit them in advance. This will provide better opportunities for discussion and help your interviewers understand your strengths.
- If you’re asked about your most successful project, don’t start talking about something you worked on five or 10 years ago. You need to demonstrate that you keep up with market trends by having recent successful initiatives to refer to.
- Try not to ramble! Speaking concisely doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it’s important to remember that a vital part of any DevRel role is being able to communicate well. If you seem like you start babbling under pressure, it’ll raise red flags about how you’ll handle speaking in front or hundreds or thousands of people as the face of the company.
- This might be a bit of an obvious one, but use the product. Any company needing developer advocates has a developer-centric product such as APIs or platform SDKs, so if they have a free trial or free tier to use, sign up and give it a test drive. If not, consider reaching out to your interviewer or recruiter to see if they can arrange a trial for you.
Are you looking to kickstart your DevRel career, or a DevRel specialist looking for a new challenge? At GR4, we work with some of the most exciting and innovative tech companies across Europe and the US, and are always looking to expand our network. For a confidential chat, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Ollie on firstname.lastname@example.org or drop us a note via our contact form.