9 Ways To Survive The Shit Storm of Developer Evangelism

I started to write a blog entry a few months ago about my time doing developer evangelism. First in practice, along with product management and team leadership and then as a full time developer evangelist with Basho. Then I felt many different things, nothing which translated into a very useful blog entry. Well past any motivation to write up where and what I was doing at the time and why I decided it wasn’t something I wanted to keep pursuing, I ran into this blog entry titled “Developer Evangelism The Whole Story“. At that point I thought, “alright, I’m going to add my two cents after all”.

For one of the same reasons Keith Casey wrote his entry. People have asked me numerous times about becoming an evangelist or advocate. Be sure to read Casey’s write up, and here’s mine to throw more into that fire.

Positives:

  • You’ll be able to go to all sorts of cities and meet a whole bunch of different people.
  • You’ll be on display and actually able to do something to improve the industry. Not just technologically but to help resolve sexism, discrimination and other issues and treat people well.
  • Do right by people as an evangelist and you’re set for a plethora of possibilities when you finally get burned out.
  • You get to play with all sorts of tech.
  • You get to travel a lot, which makes you really start to respect your home base, wherever that may be.

Negatives:

  • You’re barely ever home, usually you’re on the road with familiarity often becoming the stink of a plane or the confused expression as the TSA security circus actually recognizes you and just starts ignoring you.
  • Even though you can help improve the industry, you’re ability to make a home, make a difference where you live is dramatically reduced to basically nothing. For most people, considering civic involvement in the United States, this probably doesn’t even matter. For some, it’s destructively depressing.
  • If you get mis-portrayed, say something dumb out of jest, or the media mis-quotes you it can be anywhere from annoying to career limiting or ending. If you make the mistake of pissing of someone that has a lot of pull then it could also be super destructive – even if that person is a total jack ass and everyone routinely knows it and admits to it.
  • You get to play with all sorts of tech, but you lose a lot of credibility because you don’t actually build anything real anymore. This is a huge problem, and I’d even suggest most evangelists go work on an actual dev team every other year or so. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will start to be perceived as a shill of some sort by a reasonable amount of people, even though they could be extremely wrong in that perception.
  • Your home base, you often don’t get to have a real home base. You are a vagabond. For a musical definition, listen to Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam”.

Now if you still think this is a great gig for you. Thicken up that skin, get some callouses and get ready for a bad ass trip that’ll teach you about all sorts of human interactions and more. But be prepared and keep a solid look out for burn out, the degradation of any of the situations mentioned above and you’ll likely do well. If you’re still interested, here’s a few things to get your kick start in developer evangelism:

  1. Get a social media presence, get it fast, and get a nick that you can use in almost all contexts. Don’t even pretend you can skip this step. The most successful evangelists have a huge social media presence and manage it. They manage it hard core, work it into a system, and learn efficient and positive ways to interact with that social media presence. Shut up, don’t even try to skip it, just go out there and manage it.
  2. Make sure to spend at least an hour a day doing something technical. Hacking on Docker, writing some scripts or heaven forbid writing some actual code. This is massively important because you’ll find yourself losing direction all the time from the task switching and not getting to do these little technical things that will help you keep your edge.
  3. Learn to speak. I don’t mean read a little book and think you know how to speak in front of a crowd. Likely, you really suck at it. I’m talking about practicing in the mirror, talk to yourself, record yourself and watch it and do all of these things without becoming nihilistic or pompous. Most of us tech speakers are so bad we’re lucky that the people in the industry are actually focused on the tech and not our stuttering horror of speaking abilities.
  4. Drop all fear to speak with people in positions of power. Remember, everybody is human, don’t get intimidated and don’t intimidate.
  5. Not that anybody in the software industry or tech industry or any industry needs told this but I’ll say it. Don’t overdo the drink. We’re all dangerously close all the time to being worthless drunkards. Some of us stay pretty functional on a drink or two, but that only lasts for a short time before you do indeed go downhill. Don’t deny yourself, you are NOT part of the one percent that can stay sharp and rot your brain. So keep the drink in check.
  6. Find a way, anyway, to stay physically healthy. If you don’t the travel can very likely kill you. I don’t mean like “I’m tired and want to go to bed” killed but more like “hmmm, Tory Joe McQuerty here sure did see like they were fine, too bad we’re putting them six feet under” killed. Oh, the “I’m tired and want to go to bed” will happen all the time too, just make sure you keep that as the only killed you get.
  7. Attain a huge amount of apathy for the extra overdose of everyone’s opinions about how everything sucks in the world. Many programmers are notoriously negative, especially if they work in the enterprise. It’s part of the daily war story if you get sucked in. Remember to stay focused on what’s important, your health and your loved ones, the job comes second. Anybody that tells you different, put them in that apathy category.
  8. Never feel like you have to explain yourself when you need to take some family time or personal time. Just say you need to and do it. Even if you’re pretty close to people on your team, they need to respect that and let you get some time in. This is extremely important.
  9. Don’t give to many fucks. Learn that at some point you gotta call it a day and turn in. Just drop it all and get a good night of sleep.

Summary: Think really hard about what you want when signing up for a dev evangelist or advocacy gig. It will wreck hell on your life, but it could be immensely rewarding too. But please, if you go into evangelism, practice at it and be prepared. I hate the idea of seeing more people burn themselves right out of the industry.

If you have anymore survival suggestions, please do comment!

7 thoughts on “9 Ways To Survive The Shit Storm of Developer Evangelism

  1. Never take an action item, was my bosses advice, I travelled for 5 years as consultant implementer. In between consulting engagements sales ran my ass off scheduling product demos. Eventually I worked up to product evangelist and bridged to working with dev team scaling product massively. I experienced many of the above, the burnout from travel and constantly being-on stage is brutal. I’d only recommend doing it as stepping stone to transition into a product team.

  2. Carving out time to code is essential. We Developer Advocates/Evangelists are often accused of being technology magpies — attracted to the bright shiny new stuff, and move on to the next toy before gaining any depth. Spend a significant amount of time on *one* thing. Gain experience, if not expertise. Keep up on trends, but recognize that you *will not* know everything about everything, and that’s okay.

    That time to code is the first thing to go when you have a conference/customer meeting/nervous breakdown. Body check anyone who gets in the way of it.

    Travel is fun, exciting, and the miles don’t suck. Don’t kid yourself that it’s not taking a huge toll. Even if you don’t get jet lag, you’re likely not spending time with friends, your significant other, and/or your miniature replicas because of it. Use it wisely. Yes, you could save time by hopping five cities back-to-back, but you probably sacrifice a lot. If you have to travel, try limiting your hops to two destinations at a time, and go home after.

    Excellent points, all. I could go on and on.

  3. Excellent article, but one nit to pick. In 9., you say “Don’t give to many fucks.” Good advice, but do you mean do not donate to a wide variety of fucks, or did you leave off an “o” and meant “too many fucks”? Either way — not donating to fuckery or not giving too much of a damn — is good advice. 🙂

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