The Developer Evangelist

A few weeks ago, at Librato home base, there was a sort of state of the union meeting, wherein the marketing team gave a small presentation to let everyone know what they were up to. Well, really, it was more like it explained itself. We’ve only actually had a marketing team for a week or two you see, and many of the engineers were, unsurprisingly unsure what to make of it.

Anyway afterwards, everyone seemed, if not convinced, then resigned to the efforts described in that presentation, but I sensed some lingering confusion. A palatable sense of “Ok, but so what is this developer evangelist guy doing here?” seemed to hang in the air. So probably unwisely, I offered to give a spur-of-the-moment 5 minute rundown of just exactly wtf I thought I was doing there. What follows is a somewhat fleshed-out version of what I said.

The problem is, you can’t market to dev.

It doesn’t matter how awesome your tool is, or how much you think developers will appreciate it. Really, it has nothing to do with you or your tool in general; the rules were set in motion by those who preceded you, and the nature of those rules is that engineers especially hate marketing. Like… viscerally. Just accept it.

It isn’t just that marketing and engineering are different, rather, they are deeply orthogonal by nature. Engineering is pedantic, analytical and introverted. It doesn’t talk about itself, and when it does, it does so in an academic and intentionally hostile setting, and so it naturally tends to evolve in a meritocratic way. It wants to be vetted more than it wants to be purchased.

Marketing is rarely incentivized in healthy ways, and so naturally tends to devolve no matter how good it’s intentions. It starts communicating and devolves to spam, it starts to be data driven and devolves to SEO, coercion and thought control. In marketing there is no difference between being vetted and being purchased.

Marketing has only ever discovered one truly successful technique to sell things to Dev, namely: infiltration. Developer evangelism is marketing by infiltration, and I have no illusions about that. But an interesting thing happens when you attempt to infiltrate dev, and as far as I can tell, it happens pretty much every time if you are doing it right, which is the only way to be successful at it.

In order to be successful, it turns out you need to make engineers happy. This mostly means being effective at creating extra value for people who aren’t necessarily paying customers. You need to make a bigger splash for the general good of everyone. Usually, this means improving related, open-source tools that you probably weren’t focused on before. It means investing in tools that you were already getting for free.

For example, at Librato, in order to carry out effective developer evangelism as a marketing strategy, you need to create value in the community by improving the monitoring tools that surround Librato. Tools like Statsd, and collectd that might very well help out our competition. But the more value you create – the awesomer you become within the community of your potential customers – the more effective will be your marketing efforts. Unlike marketing/charity undertakings in other industries, you can’t fake it. Perception doesn’t matter. Github graphs don’t lie. Developer evangelism is probably one of very few ways to positively incentivize marketing.

When you …do(?) developer evangelism correctly, Dev gets drawn out of it’s echo-chamber before it’s ready. It benefits from peer review earlier and more often, and it creates more value and makes a wider impact than it would have normally. Marketing meanwhile gets to sell to developers without resorting to tactics that are annoying and coercive. The two, when combined in this particular way, seem to make each other better.

As far as I can tell, my job as the developer evangelist breaks down into four general areas:

  • write code
  • generate content
  • give talks
  • close the loop

Write code

The code I write at Librato will mostly not be focused on Librato core API and etc.. but rather on the periphery of tools that we don’t own that sort of orbit us. That’s good, because hacking on open-source monitoring tools is super interesting to me – it’s totally what I’ve wanted to focus on for years. If you look at my github graph right now, it’s mostly empty because I’ve spent my career in private code repositories improving things for individual companies, and I’ve wanted that to change for a long time. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I find it ironic in the extreme, that after 20 years of engineering I’m moving to the marketing side because it’ll enable me to do the kind of engineering I’m really interested in.

Generate content

Like this blog post and posts on the Librato blog, as well as articles and documentation – maybe even a screen-cast or two. This also aligns very well with my natural inclination to write stuff, an inclination that has almost always been distracting and worrisome to my employers. As a developer evangelist I will be encouraged to write about the cool stuff that’s going on around me. I find it hard to articulate the extent to which this is a relief to me, but I imagine it’s the same sort of feeling you’d get if you went into one of those catholic confessional booths to confess your sins only to be told to eat more bacon.

Give talks

Go to conferences, write abstracts and papers to get us speaking slots, speak sometimes and help to push the engineers into the spotlight. Sounds rough I know but someone has to do it.

Close the loop

This is probably the most important part of being a developer evangelist, because it boils down to keeping Librato sane as it gets bigger. Closing the loop means collecting, packaging and bringing back all the feedback I can get my hands on. It means being the bearer of bad news when we’ve done something silly that the community is having a hard time wrapping it’s head around, and following up with the community as we fix it. It means being the guy you can rage at one engineer to another without having to worry about signal-to-noise and whether your gripe will actually go somewhere. It also means fielding emotionally agnostic questions, and passing back good news and kudos obviously.

Anyway that’s what I think going in to this. I’ll let you know how it actually turns out.