Is developer relations right for me?

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Software engineering versus developer relations engineering

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Time spent coding

As a product-based software engineer, the majority of your time is spent working on features, fixing bugs, writing tests, eliminating technical debt, writing design documents, and so on. As an engineer in developer relations, there’s simply a lot less time to do all of this.

Size of coding projects

This is not going to always be the case, but generally speaking, the size of the coding projects in DevRel are smaller. You’re building a proof of concept, a demo, a code snippet, or perhaps a client library. These projects are typically smaller in scope, can be owned by one or a small number of individuals, and take less time to execute than working on a core product.

Large DevRel projects look different

A large DevRel project might have very little to do with coding. You might be building a community, overhauling documentation, amplifying knowledge about a product through videos and speaking engagements. These tasks will be on-going multi-quarter efforts, but have less to do with producing code.

Broad versus narrow

As a developer relations engineer, you often wear a lot of hats. It’s often good to be a mile wide and an inch deep, whereas being a mile deep and an inch wide can be really great as a pure software engineer.

Focused on people

DevRel at its’ core is about people, while software engineering is often more about the code you produce. You still need to be a great engineer in order to authentically connect with other engineers and have the respect of the internal teams, but you need to care about people and want to make them successful.

Evaluation of contributions is different

With both a pure software engineering and developer relations engineering role your impact will likely be evaluated based on the difficulty and complexity of the problems you work on. However, while a software engineer’s impact is likely focused largely on technical contributions, a developer relations engineer’s impact will be in part based on technical contributions, but also take into account several additional categories of contributions such as

  • community growth/support
  • growth of product awareness
  • product influence
  • communication regarding product launches
  • delivery of technical content

Pros and cons of moving into DevRel

Be prepared to answer this question if you move into DevRel.

Pros:

  • Requires being good at a different set of skills, which might be a better fit for you than pure engineering, creating a higher ceiling for your career than you may have with traditional software engineering.
  • You have a chance to see the world. Most DevRel jobs involve travel and if you like to travel, it’s one of the best parts of the job.
  • You’ll be closer to the people who use the product and be able to see the immediate impact of your work, which can be very rewarding.
  • There are less DevRel jobs than software engineering jobs, so picking this path may close off future opportunities.
  • Most people understand the value a software engineer brings to a company, it’s not as clear in developer relations. You might not be seen as core to a company’s success and you may have to battle misconceptions about the role to prove your value.
  • You will have to explain what you do.

DevRel signals

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  • Actively participated in or organized programming events, contests, hackathons, or workshops.
  • Spoke at technical conferences or meetups.
  • Founded a company.
  • Have a mixed background of engineering and product or project management.
  • Academic background or teaching experience of technical subjects.
  • Created an open source project or make contributions to open source.

DevRel mindset

The DevRel mindset is different than that of traditional software engineering. Since DevRel is about people, our mindset has to be one of empathy. We need to care deeply about people, namely developer’s success. Their success is our success.

Finals thoughts

I feel lucky to have found developer relations or to have it have found me (check out my personal journey here). For me, it’s the best job in the world. It has allowed me to use and expand my breadth of skills well beyond what I would have been able to do in a traditional software engineering role.

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Sean Falconer

Sean Falconer

Google Developer Relations — BizComms — All opinions are mine and mine alone.