• Sarah Lean

How to be an Advocate in DevRel

What is Developer Relations?


Back in June, I wrote an article explaining what I thought Developer Relations was, having been in that world for over 3 years I have some experience. 😉 You can find the full article here but here’s a brief excerpt of my definition of Developer Relations:

"Developer Relations or DevRel as you'll sometimes hear it referred to is the department or umbrella term within a company that is responsible for helping to build a community and help that community. Under this department you'll find Advocacy, Events, Community Management, Content, Documentation and a lot more... And every company will define their Developer Relations department to suit their needs, so it might not include all those things. 😉

Developer Relations is something that's relatively new, but when we think of technical community engagement it's been around since like the 50s or 60s. Developer Relations isn't trying to reinvent the wheel in that space, it's trying to make it better. And as things evolve, the terminology has changed as well."



Advocacy


Each department or organisation may have a different definition of what an Advocate should do. But, for me, an Advocate should be the link between the community and the company. Advocating for and on behalf of the community.


Advocacy is often the most visible part of a company’s Developer Relations department. The Advocates are often the ones that are active on Social Media, speaking at events, creating videos, etc.


But, every Advocate is different.


I know some Advocates that focus on video content only. They love engaging with the community through that format and enjoy creating it.


While others prefer to focus more on the written word. Blogging weekly, writing technical documentation and improving that or authoring books.


And then there are some that interact on social media and forums collecting product feedback and ideas. Then passing that information back to the product team.


For me, there is no right or wrong way to be an Advocate. It’s all about using your strengths, your passion, finding your niche. Finding the best way for you to be a part of the community and advocate for and on behalf of them.


You’ve got to be authentic.


Take inspiration by all means from others, but be yourself. That’s the most important thing to remember as an Advocate.


A good manager, a good Developer Relations department will allow their advocates to do their work without specifying how they should do their work.


That’s not to say Advocates should have completely free rein. They should still be accountable. They should still contribute to the department and companies goals and objectives.



My successes and lessons as an Advocate


Over the years I’ve had many successes and many things that have taught me something. Everything can teach you something, and you should be learning from them.


Success is relative and I think that’s the one thing we always have to remember. For example, someone starting out on their YouTube journey might view 5 likes of their video as success. Whereas someone who has been doing it for years might view success as 2000 likes.

For me, success has been my YouTube channel. Stats will say I posted my first technical video on the 4th of January 2018. But I really started investing in the channel in August 2019. I started doing a weekly update video, where I gathered some tech news and shared it and my thoughts on it with the audience.


I’ve created 120 of those weekly update videos. I’ve also created a whole host of other videos. Ranging from walkthroughs of my desk, quick question and answer videos to live streams interacting with the audience. I’ve grown the 176 subscribers I had in 2019 to over 1,600.


Some videos I never thought would be popular, like my “Run a Kahoot Quiz within a Microsoft Teams Meeting” is short of 40,000 views! While my video about “Azure Traffic Manager and Network Latency” hasn’t been that popular with a little over 100 views.


My channel might not be the biggest on YouTube but looking at the stats it’s consistently growing. And I’m learning with every video. And that’s why I count it as a success story for me. I’ve got comments, private messages and statistics that tell me I am helping people, I am making an impact. So I’ll keep doing it until the data tells me otherwise.


One of my biggest lessons came in 2020, I decided that I wanted to deliver more talks. I wanted to speak at my conferences and user groups. I delivered 44 talks. Some were multiples at the same event and some were the same talk at different events.


The majority were delivered from my home office virtually, without being in the same room as the audience. Looking back at the stats (I keep a record using PowerBI and an Azure SQL database) I spoke to over 24,000 people.


My social media following grew, but what real impact did I make? I have no real idea as my goal was only to “deliver more talks”. Which I achieved but it’s quite a vain metric.


I never thought about what the purpose of delivering more talks had, how it was helping my team, how it was helping my community. I never stopped to set a proper goal or objective.


Whenever you set out on a project remember to understand why you are doing it. Set a goal or objective that can be measured.


The other aspect that made this a lesson for me was the fact that it really impacted my mental health. What I’ve come to realise is that public speaking can take a lot of energy, mentally. And can often be physically draining. I never want to give a talk and only give 50% of what I can to the audience. I always go into a talk wanting to give my best, giving it my all. And that can take its toll. It’s okay to work hard, to have the drive and want to give it your all. But it’s not okay to burn yourself out for a vain metric.


Be mindful to measure your successes and failures against important metrics. And metrics that are relative to where you are on your journey. Not against someone else’s journey.



Growing as an Advocate


I’ve been reading Michael Caine’s autobiography “Blowing the Bloody Doors Off” lately and in it, he said the following about acting:


“You are going to need stamina, flexibility, the ability to focus completely and the ability (at the same time) to relax and have fun”.


And it struck me that that is exactly the same attitude you need as an Advocate.


Advocacy is full of challenges, successes, tough times and fun. As I said before, being authentic will go a long way to building up your audience, your brand, being successful and it will help you get through the tough times.


If you would like to hear more from me on Developer Relations and Advocacy, check out my ebook - DevRel for Beginners: What to Know and How to Get Started, or if you are looking to discover how big companies run their developer marketing, check out “Developer Marketing & Relations: The Essential Guide”.



Sarah Lean

With a diverse career that spans over fifteen years, Sarah has been a part of every aspect of the IT world. Sarah is a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) and ex-Microsoft employee.


Sarah is proud to give back to her community. As a STEM Ambassador, Sarah helps others learn how IT can impact and change their lives for the better. She enjoys teaching the next generation of young women how they too can rise in a male-oriented field and succeed in their own careers. In 2017 Sarah founded the Glasgow Azure User Group, a community that meets bi-monthly, to network and discuss the latest in technology.


Sarah’s enthusiasm in the field of technology has given her the opportunity to speak at public events, most notably, Microsoft Ignite.