Matthew: Tell me about your role at IBM.
Max: I joined IBM about a year and a half ago and work in the Developer Advocacy organization. I lead a wonderful team of Developer Advocates and we cover the North America West region. The majority of our time we spend in the San Francisco Bay Area. The team provides developer education and covers technologies such as Watson AI, Containers, Serverless, Blockchain, Node.js and Machine Learning.
We run weekly in-person and online developer education events in the San Francisco Bay Area. We love to partner with other companies and organizations such as Women Who Code, Hacker Dojo, and others to host joint events. This works extremely well for us. We also attend and speak at local conferences and publish content such as tutorial, how-to’s, and videos.
Matthew: What brought you to this point in your career?
Max: I studied computer science in college and started as a Java developer after graduation.
It started slowly, but I first transitioned into more of a sales engineering role. I was working with a number of open source tools and frameworks that my company built. I was doing technical demos, going to conferences and helping developers with questions. Looks very much like a Developer Advocate today, right?
I then joined a startup that had a low code tool to build mobile applications and also provided an MBaaS (Mobile Backend as a Service). There I changed my title to Developer Advocate. I was speaking at conferences (in the US and abroad), at meetups across the country, building sample apps, publishing a lot of content, and creating videos. I also did a lot of support and answering questions on the forum or via email. I enjoyed this very much. It feels good when you can help someone with their problem.
And now I’m with IBM, working with amazing Developer Advocates. Being in a leadership role, I have a lot less time to code. But I still try to find time to try technologies such as Serverless and publish articles on my blog.
Matthew: How does dev rel work at IBM?
Max: IBM is one of the few companies where Developer Advocacy is a standalone organization. In other words, we are not part of Marketing, Product, Engineering or Sales.
Now, we of course work very closely with Developer Marketing, various technology and product BUs (Business Units) and the Open Source organization. We also have a group that works on Code Patterns. A Code Pattern is a unique asset, it’s a complete working application with code on GitHub, architecture diagram, tutorial, video, process diagram and other assets. It’s one of the best ways to get started learning and building. I lead the NA West team and work very closely with NA East team. We have similar teams in South America, Europe and Asia.
One of the huge perks of working at IBM is that you work with very talented engineers who are not in the Developer Advocacy organization. They can be in the Open Source organization or other groups. They help us with advocacy a lot –– we can ask them to host a workshop with us or give a talk at a conference.
Matthew: What’s you dev rel philosophy?
Max: My philosophy is simple and this is what I share with my team:
Matthew: What do you see as the big challenges for dev rel right now?
Max: I think the biggest challenge is still metrics, how do we measure success?
This is as old as the space itself. For example, let’s say you gave a talk in front of 50 people. Only 1-2 people signed up for your service after the talk. Number-wise that doesn’t look good. It might look like this wasn’t a good value event. Now, the other 48 people learned for the first time about your service and how it can help them, so that’s good. They also know now know you, the speaker, and can reach out to you with questions.
Some people who attended might sign up for your service in six months or reach out with questions. But how do you show this as a metric to your manager?
Matthew: What are you hopeful about?
Max: I’m hopeful that more and more companies will understand the value of Developer Advocacy and this space will continue to grow. A big thanks to Mary Thengvall’s book on The Business Value of Developer Relations, which helps a lot. It’s an excellent resource for companies and organizations that are just launching their developer advocacy programs. It’s also a great resources for companies that have been doing this for some time.
I’m also curious to see how Developer Advocacy and Developer Marketing will co-exist and work together. I think many companies today (and especially start-ups) practice a flavor of marketing where they help customers/developers solve problems, show them solutions (not features), and provide education.
I know that Developer Advocates hesitate to be associated with marketing but I believe there is a good amount of overlap. It will be interesting to see how it works out.
Ana Bahr shares the history and strategy of Target’s engineer community building program in this talk from DevRelCon San Francisco 2019.
Dev rel and community management often come together. But does that mean they’re the same thing?
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