Developer Evangelism: The Whole Story

Developer evangelism has been both the best and worst job in my career.

Before I go any further, let me state that I loved working for Twilio. It’s cool technology but more importantly the passion, intelligence, and the ability of the senior leadership and just about everyone else is amazing. I walked in and felt like everything we did sharpened my skills and abilities every step of the way.

I write this post for a couple reasons.. First, I’ve been out of Twilio for a couple months, so I’ve finally organized my thoughts. ┬áSecond, and more importantly, a number of people have asked me about becoming an evangelist and what the job is like.

First, what does a Developer Evangelist do?

This will vary from company to company and even as the company grows and matures, but here’s what I did:

  • Attended hackathons, gave demos, and helped people solve problems, Twilio-related or not.. an average of 2-3 hackathons/month for 2.5 years;
  • Update: It’s also worth noting that I co-organized 25-30% of those hackathons;
  • Spoke at an average of 15 conferences per year, usually a 1 hour presentation, sometimes a 3 hour workshop;
  • Wrote ┬áblog posts ranging from technical coverage of clever applications and good API usage to event writeups;
  • For my first year, I ran customer support every Tuesday, then one weekend day/month, then not at all once the Support team grew;
  • Acted as a sherpa to help customers navigate the organization to find the right person to talk to for whatever;
  • Kept an eye out for good employee candidates, made recommendations where appropriate;
  • Tested and reviewed projects, tools, and concepts coming out of the Product team;
  • Introduced and promoted partners when their products/services fit the needs of other partners & customers;
  • Introduced customers to Sales, helped Sales by visiting customers and helping them get started;
  • Made myself available at random coffee shops both in Austin and during travels;
  • Served as the point of contact for numerous community organizations and (inadvertently) a number of F500 customers;
  • Traveled 140 days during 2011;
  • Traveled 120 days during 2012;
  • Traveled 115 days during 2013 (but over 9 months, instead of 12).

Next, let me cover the high points of Developer Evangelism..

The job is like nothing else. In fact, in the right company, it will be exactly what you make it. At Twilio, we reported through Marketing but we interacted with Support, Sales, Product, Recruiting, and just about every other group in the organization. My personal passion was helping people get started, figure out where Twilio made sense for them, and getting their first project online. But on any given day, if I was tired of doing X, there was plenty of Y and Z to do also. Unfortunately, at other companies, the evangelists may report through Sales which likely means quotas. Or through Product which means installs or downloads are probable goals. Regardless, measurement is good, but it has to be the right measurements and things you can actually influence.

The opportunity is like nothing else. Finding smart people doing cool things was my job. I got to meet, hang out with, help, and work with some of the best and brightest across North America. There are people literally saving lives with Twilio and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. When you can go to sleep at night knowing the world is changing in a positive way due to your work.. amazing.

The community is like nothing else. I don’t just mean the individual tech communities as those are awesome too. I mean the growing network of evangelists. No one gets the job without being smart, passionate, friendly, and being well-connected. When you get to hang out with this crew, you learn about some of the best and brightest out there and get to play with the best technology, concepts, etc.

Now, let’s cover the dark side..

First, the job is prone to burnout. I was the first evangelist to make it past the 12 month mark and I’d wager I really only made it to 18 months before burnout started to set in and 24 months before it fully reared its ugly head. Now before you think Twilio is exceptional in that way, know that it’s a common situation across many companies. I know of one company where evangelists consistently leave at 18 months.

Next, the job wreaks havoc on your personal life. If you’re single with no kids, no pets, no mortgage, no blah, blah, blah, the flexibility is awesome. You can be in a different city every single weekend and never come to your “home” city. I know of at least two evangelists who gave up their apartments for just that reason. But if you do have any of those personal commitments, it’s another story.. being in a different city every weekend can be a curse. You always have to make arrangements, make apologies, and figure out how to juggle.

The killer for me was when TripIt started reminding me of upcoming “visits” to Austin between actual trips.. for the record, I live there.

Finally, you are never off the clock. This is the big one.. and I can think of one friend and colleague who was nearly destroyed by it. When you’re at an event, you’re representing the company. When you’re speaking, you’re representing the company. When you tweet, you’re representing the company. Everything you write, say, do, or whatever represents the company. You can use those “doesn’t represent the views” lines all you want but they don’t mean anything.

Think about that.. from the time you wake up until you go to sleep, you’re on the clock.

So there it is. That’s the full story on Developer Evangelism. If you can do it for the right company and team, it is one of the best jobs you can ever have. At the same time, it’s challenging, exhausting, and ripe for getting yourself in trouble.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to drop me a note:

4 thoughts on “Developer Evangelism: The Whole Story

  1. Quite a work-out, wasn’t it? Yup, evangelizing has required an “all-in” commitment ever since the year 0000 BC. Of course, starting back then, evangelizing was done to avoid burn-out (quite literally), while today’s commercial version of evangelizing seems to cause burn-out. Maybe it’s time to re-think how to get this done without tearing people up. Well written, Keith!

  2. Finding an evangelist for your brand that fits this profile is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow with a giant white unicorn sitting on it.

    I’m blessed to have partnered with just this guy. Hats off you guys and girls for how you do what you do!!!

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