Developer Relations - well-paid & fancy job that involves lots of traveling, speaking at conferences, interacting with developers regularly, and creating content. What's not to like? Why would anyone go back to coding?
You'll see why in this article.
A short note on DevRel
In the last 2 years, I worked in the Developer Relations (DevRel) field as a Developer Advocate (DA).
I don't think there is an official definition for a "Developer Advocate", but you can think of it as the bridge between the company and the community. A DA represents the company to the community and the community to the company. But that's not all. The DA must balance the interests and needs of both and make sure they are both happy.
Some of the day-to-day activities of a developer advocate are as follows:
- create demo applications to showcase the company's product
- produce written, video, and social media content to educate users about the company's product
- engage with the community
- pass the feedback from the community to the company
- provide support to the community
These are just a couple of examples (rather than an exhaustive list) so you get a brief idea of what a DA might do in a day. Also, there are DA roles focusing on different tasks from that list (DA focusing on video creation, DA focusing on social media management, and so on). It's really challenging and not advisable for one DA to do all those tasks.
How did I become a Developer Advocate
Now that you briefly understand what a DA is and what it involves, let's talk about how I became one.
To do that, we need to rewind to the beginning of my developer career. I was preparing to enter the field during my last university year and knew it would be tough. So, I thought of how to differentiate myself from the other candidates.
One idea that popped into my mind was to start a technical blog. Writing is my biggest passion, and I had (non-technical) blogs since my teenage years. So, it made sense. I decided to write about:
- programming concepts and other related stuff I learn
- issues, bugs, and errors I solve
- my existing knowledge
- my experiences
Ok, enough talk about how I started my blog. What has that to do with me being a developer advocate? That blog kickstarted my content creation journey, which got me into DevRel. I went from writing blog articles to creating videos and being active on social media.
And now, let's dive into why I wanted to switch back.
Why I went back to engineering
A little disclaimer before going further. This article might feel a tad negative because I'm talking only about what I didn't like about DevRel. Working in DevRel can also be great, and many people enjoy it. Also, I will probably work in DevRel again in the future, but my main focus now is growing my engineering skills.
Lastly, this article is not a dig at the companies I worked at. They were great, and I enjoyed working at both companies. In this article, I talk about what I don't like about DevRel in general.
With that out of the way, let's continue.
Lack of coding
The main reason was the lack of coding. In these 2 years as a DA, I did little to no coding. Even on the rare occasions when I coded, I built super basic applications.
It still sounds weird to me that, as a DA, you might not code at all. The title literally contains "developer", yet you don't code at all or minimally. Also, how can you relate to developers and advocate for them if you don't code yourself?
As a result, not only that I wasn't progressing. But even worse, my skills were regressing! The more time I spent in DevRel, the worse my coding skills became.
I knew that if I didn't do something about it quickly, it would eventually be nearly impossible to transition back to an engineering role.
It took me 6-7 months, but I eventually I did it.
High demands and no clear expectations
Another important reason was that many companies have high demands and expect one person to do the work of an entire department.
You'll often see job ads looking for a person who creates videos, who also writes articles, who also manages social media, who also does sales calls, who also travels to conferences, who also manages the community. And the list goes on and on and on.
That's a lot of work, and whoever takes such a job will most likely end up super burnt out.
Moreover, most companies don't have clear expectations, personal metrics, and a progression track. You don't know what's expected of you. You don't know how to measure your performance. And lastly, you don't know what are the next career levels and how to reach them.
For someone like me, who likes clarity, that's too much ambiguity. I prefer clear goals, objects, and a progression ladder.
Difficult to measure results
DevRel work is a head-scratcher when measuring its impact. The work done by developer advocates often takes time to show results, and there's no clear formula for measuring success.
DevRel folks wear many hats, from event organizing to content creation, and it's not like everything contributes equally to the big picture. Plus, the impact is usually visible immediately; it's more about keeping developers happy and loyal, which can be hard to put numbers on.
As a result, it's complicated to measure its impact.
To me, the ideal DevRel role involves:
- Working on the product as a developer
- Building cool things
- Showcasing that through video & written content
Unfortunately, I spent too much time managing social media accounts, writing listicles, and doing straight marketing.
While those activities are fine and required in a company, they do not fulfill me. And they are not the activities I envision myself doing as a developer advocate.
No future for me
I didn't see a future for myself in this type of role. Whenever I asked myself questions such as "where do I want to be in 5 years as a DA?", "how can I progress in this field?" or "what's the next step for me in DevRel?" I couldn't answer.
The only 2 questions I could answer were:
- do I want to continue in this field? Not in the short-term, because it would mean losing my coding skills altogether.
- what do I want to do next? To work as a software developer.
It was clear what I wanted, so I worked towards that. And here I am, working as an engineer again.
Working in Developer Relations (DevRel) can be a great experience for many people, and my article is not meant to deter you from pursuing a career in DevRel. If I find the appropriate role, I'll probably give it a go in a few years again.
In my case, the lack of coding was the main reason that led me to switch back to engineering. I realized that I missed building things and that my skills were regressing fast.
The transition was challenging because my experience led me to receive mostly DevRel job opportunities and little to no engineering positions. Nonetheless, I managed to transition back to a developer role and am now focused on growing my technical skills.