Software developer, product manager, designer - all those job titles are usually welcomed with a smile and nod of a head whenever I talk to people, be it technical or not. Everyone has at least a slight understanding of what they entail or at least which industry they come from. If you don’t know what they refer to, ask your niece or nephew, they will tell you.
DevRel however, oh damn, it’s a whole different topic.
Every time someone is kind enough to ask what I currently do, there is no smiling or nodding anymore. Usually they drop their jaw in confusion and stand with their mouth open with an “aaahhh”, ask to repeat the job name again, or, my favourite, throw a very uncomfortable “that’s so interesting”! without any follow up question.
What is actually interesting, is that my conversation buddies react this way regardless if they are technical or not.
They just don’t have a clue what Developer Relations is, exactly as I didn’t have a clue myself still a couple of months ago. Although the role is not new in the industry, it’s only now when it starts to gain more importance and popularity, especially in the web3 space.
So, what is DevRel?
You can think of DevRel as a converted software developer who transitioned to education with a mission to help other devs build cool things.
Or as Wikipedia suggests:
Developer Relations, also known as DevRel, is an umbrella term covering the strategies and tactics for building and nurturing a community of mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and developers (e.g., software developers) as the primary users, and often influencers on purchases, of a product.
Wikipedia, Developer Relations
Let’s use an example to get a better understanding of what the role entails.
You are working at a company which is building an open source solution enabling others to communicate with each other, store and transfer data, and build applications on top of it. This solution is also known as protocol.
Your goal is to expand the reach and impact of the protocol by encouraging, educating and supporting more developers to use and build on top of it. How can you do it?
An essential step in the devrel process is first and foremost educating yourself about the technology.
If we use an analogy of a teacher (DevRel), and their students (developers), it becomes clear that the teacher should know the topic very well and ideally have practical experience with it. Otherwise, how in the world could they teach others? Would they be able to explain complex topics and help solve the issues which students run into?
Let me use this great opportunity to quote Albert:
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
How does it translate to the protocol?
You have to put yourself in the shoes of the devs and try to build something on top of the protocol. Think small - it can even be a simple app with a single functionality. Throughout this process you will be able to gain understanding of how the protocol works and what it enables, identify missing documentation and difficulties that others may run into, and also give feedback to your engineering team.
Once you’ve become comfortable with the protocol, you should have the necessary knowledge to create resources and educational content for the developer community.
There are several areas you can focus on, some of them being:
writing useful documentation,
creating case studies based on the project you have built,
recording tutorials in a video format,
publishing educational content on social media.
Now, the problem is that the content itself will not encourage people to contribute to your protocol. The role of a DevRel is to build relations, as the name suggest, with the external developers and nurture their engagement and collaboration with each other.
Building a thriving developer community requires time and a lot of proactivity from your side. What can you do to achieve that? Possibilities are endless, but the most common initiatives are:
organizing and facilitating hackathons,
doing technical talks and participating in discussion panels,
running workshops on the practical implementation of your technology.
Many DevRels develop comprehensive strategies to educate and engage the external developers, and each strategy can differ from one another. One thing they have in common is a good understanding of the developer profiles and skills which allows to cater to their individual needs and create useful content.
If you’d like to see an example of a 30-60-90 day strategy, you can have a read here:
Do you have coding experience?
Are you passionate about technology?
Do you like to write? And what about technical content?
Are you a good communicator?
Can you switch context quickly? (multitasking does not exists, end of story.)
Do you feel comfortable working across multiple teams?
Do you like public speaking?
Do you enjoy conveying knowledge to others?
Do you have patience for annoying and repetitive questions?
Would you call yourself empathetic?
If you answered “yes” to 8 out of the 10 questions above, then there is a high chance you would enjoy a DevRel job. As you can see the role requires a mixture of hard and soft skills, combining the technical expertise with relationship management and pedagogy, basically making you a bridge between the technology and people who want to build with it.
If you don’t feel comfortable in front of other people, if you prefer working solo and focusing on shipping kick-ass features, if you get overwhelmed with many tasks, then it won’t be the right choice for you. The job can be really complex and demanding at times, and you have to be ready to handle its all different aspects in very short periods of time.
Still confused? I’d then highly recommend to follow some of the experienced DevRel people out there and read about their background, learn how they achieve their goals and what they focus on. You can start with people like Nader (Aave / Lens), Juliette (Aragon), Zakk (Gitcoin) or Steph (Polygon).
If you want to get a taste of the DevRel daily life then you should definitely checkout DevRel Uni - an educational project founded by Bianca (Balancer, another cool DevRel to follow). You will learn about starting a devrel program, content creation, documentation strategies, running events, measuring your own success, and more. All lectures are delivered by stellar teachers with practical experience in the field.
Developer Relations plays a huge role in the development of open source technology, thereby fostering innovation and growth in the industry. While everyday life of a DevRel may differ from one person to another, their goal is the same - grow the adoption of their product and build long lasting relations with the developers and other stakeholders in the community.
If you would like to learn more about specific aspects of the role, or have your own insights you would like to share, then feel free to drop me a message!