Recruiting your first Developer Advocate: The first email
by Taylor Barnett-Torabi
[In the sense of "digital gardening" this blog post is a work in progress. It might not even turn into a blog post but take a different form. Until then, here are my thoughts as follows. Be kind.]
The messages often have a fairly basic format:
"___ is hiring its first Developer Advocate and I wanted to reach out to you because your background looks great!"
Followed by something about the company, and:
"We'd love to chat with you!"
In the last four months, I get 5+ emails like this each month. Don't get me wrong, it's a privilege to get these emails. On a weekly basis, I think about how grateful I am to get these emails. People are reaching out to me and not vice versa. Also, it is a privilege to even write this blog post. I am both happily employed and can say these things without a fear of negative future impact.
But none of these emails leave me feeling good about the field of Developer Relations. I wish they did. I wish they gave me hope that it is not only expanding, but maturing in all aspects. (Other things do give me that feeling though, just not these recruiter emails.)
As someone who will have been in a full time Developer Relations role, exclusively at startups, for 6 years in June, I expect more from these emails and recruitment. Maybe I am being silly, but I believe that 6 years of DevRel at startups is like 10+ in other roles at larger more established companies. This ain't my first rodeo. (This is my blog so I can say stuff like that.) The first person in a Developer Advocate role (and likely first in anything closely related to Developer Relations) at a company sets the tone of the practice in a BIG way.
In these emails, I want to know that. I want to know that the role is respected and not just a box that needs to be checked because you might be developer facing.
So I want to break down some of the things I think are important in first email contact from a candidate's perspective:
- The "first": You might think it is already special enough to be the "first," but I've been the first before. So why is this first role so special? Why is different than my current role? Will they get to build the team? Or create the Developer Relations strategy (with budget)? How are you setting them up for success? Say it up front!
- Seniority: I am sick of seeing the first Developer Advocate be a more junior role. It's not only bad strategy but harmful to the person who takes the job. Junior advocates often don't have the right support, mentorship, and executive sponsorship to get shit done. You are not setting them up for success. You need someone senior, but rarely is this clear. Also, I've been in this role for a bit, I'm not going to take a title demotion when I am already a very strategic, senior individual contributor (IC). (Added note: To clarify, I believe that juniors definitely have a place on DevRel teams, but on teams where they are not the first.)
- Seniority in titles: I want to dig a bit deeper on seniority in a title, because it matters. As an underrepresented person in tech, I have to care about seniority in titles and so should you. I once asked for a seniority level of some kind to be added to a Developer Advocate title at a startup, and the response was basically, we don't do that here. I'm not going to waste my time with companies that aren't upfront with this, put it in the email.
- Impact: If your first Developer Advocate can't impact the product immediately, then you should revisit why you want the role within your company. This is probably something that can be expanded in a job listing (which I can talk about later), but impact catches my eye and emails with no mention of impact don't make an impression on me.
- Title bait and switch and other messes: I've seen a recruiter reach out with a Developer Advocate role, but the job listing was for a "Community Manager." This is a red flag that the company doesn't actually know what they want, which often is not a great place to be going into unless you want to start a new job with an uphill battle. (Added note: There is a fine line between seeking clarity to what they want and need, which any more senior DevRel person should be able to provide as part of strategy work, and having no idea what the company is doing with DevRel. I don't recommend people taking roles that involve the latter.) I've also seen emails with a mixture of title/roles, which shows a lack of understanding. I've known numerous Developer Advocates accept a job and get into a company to only realize their company isn't ready for their role. Lastly, please, please don't be the person hiring "a DevRel."
I've been a bit negative, so here's an example of something good I've seen (with some summarization):
"I am working directly with our executive management team to hire for a Director of Developer Relations here at ___."
Followed by some of my experience and what leadership team member they would like me to talk with.
Right off the bat, this email shows me that they mean serious business. Not only is the title showing seniority, but that this is something important to leadership and potentially has leadership sponsorship. It's a role that is more than a checkbox.
I want to see more of this. This is what would make me feel like Developer Relations is maturing. I want to see not only a future for Developer Relations, but I want to see that ladders are being created, that upward mobility is possible, and that we aren't just a checkbox that you were told you needed.