So… what does a Staff Developer Advocate do, and how is it different from the Senior Developer Advocate role you were doing before?
I got this question three times in the last two weeks after my promotion from Senior to Staff (🎉🎉🎉🎉), from various people in my network.
There’s not a unique answer to the question! This blog is a self reflection on the last two and half years in DevRel, the growing paths and challenges and what I (believe) will be doing as a Staff Developer Advocate.
Every DevRel is different
DevRel is an umbrella for many jobs, there’s not one way of doing DevRel and different people in different companies (or even in the same company) work on different personas, objectives and paths to achieve their goals.
Some DevRels might produce content in the shape of videos, some others might be writing blogs, there are the ones that love going to conferences and others more geared towards working with the community and bringing insights back to the company. All these are activities that bring enormous value to the company, and, even within these, there’s a wide spectrum on how you write/talk/present and whom you address with your work.
So, is there one path to seniority? NOPE!
How do you grow?
A lot of the activities mentioned above are consistent within levels in the career ladder, so, how do you grow from “just” DA to Senior to Staff (or other titles)? Again there is no one answer, but, my feeling is that it is tied to the impact, consistency and growth you show and the trust you gain in and outside of the company.
The impact can be direct or indirect: it can be a successful series of blog posts, the completion of a big project, the accurate and useful feedback that you give before/during/after a product development or launch. It can span from small activities like helping write and review a blog to major efforts like owning part of a massive documentation migration project. It can be something you enjoy (like hosting an event) and something more mundane
The consistency is also key. Doing a stellar blog post once and then going radio silence for several weeks will probably shed some light on you but will not help people realize you can perform similar activities continuously.
The trust is something you gain little by little. It’s showing ownership about the projects you get assigned and delivering on them, it’s playing the devil’s advocate in meetings when necessary and speaking up on behalf of the community and customers.
The growth is again a day by day activity of studying and interacting with people. Taking responsibility for bigger, more difficult, and sometimes less exciting opportunities, but that it’s clear will give a huge benefit to the company. An important aspect here: growth is not only about you, it is sharing the lessons you learned and the experiences you have to enable others to grow. My feeling is the more you go up in the ladder, the more you need to move towards a multiplier role where you lend your skills to other people to grow. A related important topic: never stop learning! In our job, learning needs to happen on daily basis and ask and listen the feedback, you can grow a lot by understanding other perspectives.
That all looks cool but…
It all looks cool on paper, but what are the challenges? The problem is that the more senior you become, the more all the activities above start happening at the same time! Creating a talk, writing a long document, assisting others in their growth, supporting the product function with feedback, managing a program are all on today’s TODO list.
As we all know there is a finite amount of working hours per day, and burnout is always hidden under the next “I can take care of this thing quickly”. It’s very important to plan, evaluate, prioritize and also to let stuff go.
Planning is key, and it’s one of the things I struggled with initially. Coming from a consulting world where you had a task per day to a DevRel world where you have multiple tasks you could deliver on can be quite chaotic. It’s very important to set boundaries and to plan a set of activities that fit your schedule.
At Aiven we recently started a quarter planning which includes a set of deliverables that are both not completely fleshed out (it can be “write 3 blogs” without precise titles) and don’t cover the entire amount of time for the 3 months. This helps me have an idea of the big milestones and (as Ian Massingham always reminds us) lets me understand how to fill my time once the little daily activities come around.
Evaluating helps you understand how important a task is (ask for external feedback) and how much time it will burn. My take on evaluating is also that it’s very important to define when a piece of work can be considered as “done”. A piece of content can always be “3 sentences more” but it’s very important to understand when is complete to be able to close an activity and move to the following one.
Prioritizing allows you to select the activity to do next. Priority can be dictated by the company/customer importance or time sensitivity of a task, but also about your personal feelings and willingness to put your head to it. Sometimes it is better to dedicate your time to minor “energy consumption” tasks if your mind can’t be 100% focused and wait a day before you tackle the BIG THING™.
Letting stuff go is one of the key learnings from my DevRel time, and is crucial to avoid burnout. At the beginning of my journey I was “I can help with all the things” and most of the time stretching myself too thin over several activities. Now, when activities don’t have the “Francesco” label on top, I take two steps back, giving others the opportunity to take it and contributing with a supervisor role if necessary. I frequently have a look at other people’s work to learn and I’m not shy to comment if I see space for improvement.
So… what will you do as Staff Developer Advocate?
… That’s a little joke, but not entirely because the future can’t be fully predicted. What I’m sure I’ll do is use my time to work on interesting, challenging, new tasks that are a priority for Aiven, our customers, my colleagues and myself.
I’ll continue growing and learning from some of the best minds and experiences in my world. At the same time I’ll share my inputs, ideas, and comments with others to help them grow. Is it different from a Senior Developer Advocate? Probably on a daily basis not so much, but in the overall picture the impact of the tasks, actions and discussions definitely yes!
What can you expect from me? A lot of content, on various levels, addressing people’s needs with regards to Aiven technology, some overall thinking about the current status and the future of the data space, and, as always, a way to touch these topics with practical examples and maybe some 🍕 references here and there!
I hope this article was useful for you, and please, if you agree (or not), let me know!
P.s. if you want to check about the identity crisis of DevRel, my colleague Dewan wrote an amazing piece about it.