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How I became a developer advocate

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When I meet developers, “How did you become a developer advocate?” is the question that I get asked the most. The short answer is “well, I applied 😄,” and the long answer is this article.

Before I go on, because this is the Internet, this just a recap of how it worked out for me.

From this point on, I’ll use the terms “DevRel” and “developer advocate” interchangeably.

1. Leaving a great job

Before I started applying, I worked at Dow Jones, the company that owns The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch and originally created the stock market index. I was a Lead Engineer on one of the internal editorial tools. For anyone interested in DataViz, working there is huge.

On top of the prestige associated with the organisation, my team, the Editorial Tools team, was incredible. They took a chance on me as a lead. They allowed me to step up and be in charge of a product, and I was the only team member based in Europe. I am so thankful to my manager, and every one of my colleagues.

The WSJ's office in NYC

The entrance to the WSJ’s office in NYC, that unfortunately I never went to. Source

I wholeheartedly recommend Dow Jones as a place to work. As a company that was office-only before the pandemic, they adapted to remote work very well.

How do you leave a job like this? By spring 2022, I really started feeling the toll of the previous 2 years. I knew I had it easy as a remote worker but this didn’t make the news cycle irrelevant either.

I started feeling the first symptoms of burnout, and my team and manager supported me fully. I said that the Editorial Tools team at Dow Jones is amazing and I’ll say it again.

2. The decision to get into DevRel

I wanted to rest after an intense period, so I only looked for part-time jobs. DevRel wasn’t a priority, even if the idea had been brewing in my mind for a while. Then I saw a job ad from a company that I loved.

This company was hiring a Developer Advocate to work remotely from anywhere in the world, and part-time.

I poured my heart and soul into a cover letter. One of my best friends even said something like “I never cared about a job enough to write a letter like this.”

I applied, it didn’t work out, but I decided to continue.

3. Finding suitable companies

Back in the glorious days of 2021, a lot of developer startups had raised a lot of money.

Many companies were thinking “Right, we got $5 million in a seed round, let’s go!” And want to hire a DevRel. There were a lot of jobs, so finding ads for developer advocate positions wasn’t difficult. As someone who never held that job title before, I had to think hard about the right company for me.

I realised that I didn’t want to be the first Developer Advocate at a company.

I didn’t want that for the following reasons:

  1. You have to set up everything. All the metrics, how you measure things, what success looks like to leadership, etc. I had experience on the execution side, not the management side.
  2. Work-life balance. In DevRel, we talk about the 3 Cs: Code, Content, and Community. If you’re the first developer advocate, these 3 things are your job, and they can easily turn into 3 full-time jobs.
  3. Focus. I don’t like juggling tons of things at the same time.

So, I was looking for a company with an established DevRel function.

4. The application process

My job search happened during the fully-remote, post-2020 tech market. The future of work looked bright. The market was hot, nothing like the economic recession we’re in now. With the criteria from step 3 in mind, I applied to a few places.

I did 17 interviews in total with various companies until I accepted the offer from Contentful. The variety of people that I got to meet during these interviews was incredible. My interviewers tuned it from Ireland, Germany, Kenya, France, Canada, the US (including Hawaii) and the UK.

Applying to Contentful started off with a great first impression.

I saw the job on a Saturday morning, didn’t want to apply during the weekend so I applied on Monday. The next morning, Andreea sent me a calendar link to schedule a screening call, less than 24 hours after I applied.

To this day, this is still the fastest HR response I ever received. The rest of the hiring process was smooth sailing. I was hired straight after my panel interview, which had never happened to me before either. Andreea was also the first person from Contentful that I ever met in person.

I did 5 interviews on average per application.

Advice to companies looking for developer advocates

Stop saying “remote” when you mean “US, remote”
There’s a whole world out there.

Don’t ask people to work for free
For one of my applications, I was asked to analyse the current DevRel strategy and propose initiatives/solutions. It felt like working for free and it wasn’t nice.

Ask people to show off
“Show us something you’ve built that you like” is the best way to conduct a panel interview. A few companies did this, and it was great for both parties.