Introduction to DevRel: Pachi Parra, Associate Developer Relations, New Relic
Written by Pachi Parra
Hi and welcome. I’m Pachi, and today I’m here to talk to you about what DevRel is. You might have heard about DevRel, but you’re not sure what it is, or all you know is that it’s related to dev and as programmers, you’re probably curious. So today I’m going to tell you what DevRel is, how it feeds the developer community, and help you decide if you might want to do that as a career.
I’m Pachi, people know me as Pachi Codes on the web. I worked as a DevRel engineer for New Relic. I am a streamer, and the cofounder of Feministtech, a Brazilian community of women and non-binary people that create technical content. I’m also a mother and a community lover. Community is how I started programming, and it’s communities that make it worth waking up every morning.
What I’m going to go over today is the route I took, how I found out about it, how I started down that path, as well as what people in that role do, and the different tasks that they have to undertake. Then I’m going to give you some tips to get started if you’re interested.
So first, what is DevRel? In short, DevRel is an area within technology where we focus on developer relations and the relationship between the tech community and the company that we work for and the service we offer. There are some types of DevRel that work externally, for example, I work at New Relic, and part of my job is to let people know I exist, but that’s not the only focus of DevRel. Really our job is to work with the developers inside the company to make sure that they are happy.
DevRel is a bridge between the community and the company you work for. For the community, I represent the company, and for the company, I represent the community. So, we are always in between, but at the end of the day you have to be biased. If you need to choose a side you’re going to be on the developer’s side.
DevRel is a huge umbrella with a lot of roles that you may have heard of, community manager, developer experience, developer advocate, technical evangelist, technical writer, developer relations engineer. DevRel as a field can be kind of tricky to define because the titles used don’t always clearly indicate what the role is. However, you can still get a feel for them by understanding that they’re under the umbrella of DevRel.
People often think of DevRel as something new, but it’s not. The name DevRel has only been around for 5 or 6 years, but what people in DevRel do as far as work is as old as the web. When I was studying researchers I found out that the first DevRel team was at Apple in the ’90s, at the same time that the web was born.
In this survey, you can see that most people in this role have been working for 4–7 years, but over 5% have been there for over 15 years. Generally, that’s not that long, but tech-wise it is a long, long time. You always want to be able to capture everybody, and this is largely US-based which leaves out South America, Africa, and many other places.
DevRel is everywhere, especially after COVID, when we got more mobile and used to remote and doing things asynchronously. That’s probably why you hear more about this route lately because it became clearer that we needed it, that we needed relationship management because we couldn’t go to the office anymore.
Why does a company start a DevRel team? A DevRel team is expensive, and it’s hard to have clear metrics because we’re working with relationships. I can’t just go to my boss and say “Today I changed the lives of five developers,” so we have to look at why a company would start a DevRel team.
This is from 2020, and the first thing you’ll see is driving engagement in red. This can happen in several ways. At New Relic, we specialize in software observability, and if you didn’t know what New Relic was 5 seconds ago, now you do, so I’m doing my job.
Now, we’re part of the big markets, and a year from now if a company you’re working for is considering between New Relic and Option B, and we both offer the same service at the same price, you’re going to remember this talk, and you’re going to remember that Pachi works at New Relic and she’s super cool, and so you’re going to choose New Relic because humans are emotional.
Another part is education and support for developers and that can come in several forms. For example, educating people about our product with tutorials and videos. Right now in this talk I’m giving I’m educating about that route. As part of my job I’m a big advocate for newbies, and if I’m teaching people how to code I’m doing work that’s outside of my company because New Relic doesn’t teach people to code. But I am identifying the blockers and helping to remove them, and that works for me. Other developer advocates might prefer to just choose the right tutorials, and that’s okay too. Education and awareness are the biggest things.
Of course, engagement is another part so we want you to know about the brand and interact with it. Even if you aren’t actively posting on social media, we always want to bring people in and get feedback on the product. However, getting feedback as a DevRel is different from just getting regular feedback.
Usually when you use software, afterward they ask you to fill out a survey, but you probably don’t want to. So they offer to give you a sticker if you do it and everyone likes stickers so you do it. But unless it was something that you REALLY liked your answers are going to be pretty simple yes, no, yes no.
But DevRel’s want to understand you and are going to have a real conversation with you, so you’re more likely to give us honest, unbiased feedback, which is really useful for us.
This graphic is actually wrong, 1% is not sales, DevRel is not sales. If people ask you to sell, that’s not your job. LOf course if someone comes to me and says “Hey Pachi I want to sign up for premium” I’ll tell them “great, let me connect you with someone on the sales team.”
Code contributions like in open source, and lots of companies have great projects for documentation or developing new products and lines. But the biggest things are awareness and education.
What does a person in DevRel do? We are a regular community, giving feedback, letting people know that we exist, but how do you do that? I divide that route into three pillars or stepping stones. The first is creating content that can help. And that can come in many forms like, just talking. I’m creating content YAY! I blog, which is extremely important, and I also do YouTube videos.
Community relations are a big thing as well. You have to relate to people and not be afraid, even if you’re an introvert. I’m a huge introvert. But the relationships you create when doing this, that’s not networking. The difference between that and networking is that, as a DevRel, it’s important to create authentic relationships. And those relationships are yours to keep or not if you’re an introvert.
Last but not least is code. Some people say that DevRel is like programmer marketing, but that’s the piece that differentiates us. For example, my first gig as a DevRel was working at Twitter, and I would write tweets and engage with people on Twitter, and that helped me with marketing because it allowed me to relate to the pain and the jokes.
Those are the three main things. Depending on your route you can do much more content creating, and a little bit of code. In 2020 I did lots of content creating, and a little bit of coding. But now my company has shifted and asked me if I can do more coding, and a little less content writing.
If you are writing a lot of code you may be creating lots of content, but you won’t have as much time to go into the community. If you’re a developer advocate that does more public speaking, you’re probably going to be a lot more community-based. The percentage that you do of each of those will vary.
I’m going to tell you a little bit about my journey. I started to learn to code in October 2018. I’m a self-taught programmer or, I like to say, community-led. That was online. The next summer 2019 I went to a conference in New York called Kotland, where I gave a talk about why you should start blogging. So I started blogging. My first post had maybe 20 lines saying “Hey, code is hard.” Then in January 2 years ago I started to get out into new communities, mostly Dev.to and Tech Twitter, which is like normal Twitter but it depends on who you’re following.
Then I started live coding on Twitch and that’s something I love and that was life-changing because I got to know so many people. And at the end of 2020, I got a gig that, 2–3 months later, landed me my first job. I tell this story because nobody ever takes a straight route to be a DevRel, and as you can see from my journey, even before I knew what it was, I was already creating content and engaging with the community.
This is not something you go to college for. You need to have some life experience. Of course, there are roles for juniors. I had a junior role, but even then I had some experience as a programmer, even if that was just through calling a friend who had gone to a Bootcamp. So you do have to acquire some skills. Maybe that will change.
So what do I do? I personally handle public speaking and live coding, we have podcasts at New Relic, and conferences are slowly coming back. My role is a lot of public-facing things, but some other people may do it differently. The things that don’t change are the three pillars. You’re going to write some code, you will on some level interact with the community, and you will generate content.
You may be asking what my day-to-day is like. As a programmer, you probably have testing and tickets that you are accountable for, and things that are broken, but as a DevRel, I don’t have that. Instead I get up, I do my morning stuff, I sit down and plan my day, I see what calls I have to make.
Then at 10 AM, I used to stream for two hours, then jump on some team meetings, have a lunch break, do a little work, put some hours into a blog post, work on some lines like for this talk. Some days I’ll work for eight hours, some days I’ll work for four hours, and on conference days I can go all day for like 18-hour workdays.
We do lots of fun stuff, DevReal is fun, but you have to be mindful because burnout is really easy. Sometimes when you’re doing things that are fun and you; ’re running around enjoying yourself your brain might be like, “okay, we had our fun, but our body is complaining.” It’s always important to have boundaries.
Now you may be asking yourself, can I be a DevRel person? Well, are you a dev? And you don’t have to have years of experience with it. Most roles do ask for it, but my role only asked for about five years of experience. However, the manager liked me so they opened the role for me.
You just have to have some experience with coding so you can relate to developers. And you have to be willing to try new things. A programmer might be working with python and say that they need a blog post about how to write a script, but next month it might not be Python, it might be a new tech. So you have to be willing to spend your time learning different things rather than sticking to a single stack. In my case, we have a big team of 10 people so we can somewhat specialize, but that’s currently not that common. That means you have to be really flexible.
Most importantly we share, we are teachers, we are educators. We can be sharing coding advice, or we can just be explaining what DevRel is. I’m actually really mindful because once you get into DevRel people watch you, and they see you as an example. So you have to teach and share but if you want to be a really great DevRel you have to really care.
I always say that caring is the piece that sets you apart. Anyone with the right skills can be a DevRel, but if you care, you can be a great DevRel. Caring about the community and the people is what makes the difference.
The way that you start is by finding your type of content. That means, maybe you want to be a YouTuber, so you go for that, or maybe you want to be a TikTok’er. So you have to find the type of content you like.
When I started last year I was leading YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and I burnt out really quickly. So just do one thing. That being said, start blogging, that has always been the lowest barrier. You don’t have to expose your face, your voice, or your name. And if you raise an issue there are mechanisms for the exchange of ideas. I highly recommend Dev.to because they have a great help community there.
Last but not least, find your people, find your community. For me, initially, that was Tech Twitter, that was Dev.to. But if you’re more into Python then you might prefer Python ladies. There are broad tech communities like Tech Twitter and more specific communities like Python Ladies. Once you find your people then you’re in the right place. You have the people around you when you want to give back, and for me that’s how I found that I want to be DevRel.
When you’re in a place where you are really comfortable you don’t just want to absorb that, you want to share it and give back somehow.
I do have a DevRel repository. We have lots of content. It is github.com/pachicodes/devrel. There I have books, letters, blog posts, and I just added a list of Twitter DevRel people who can share more resources with you, so I hope you enjoy that, I hope you learn. I am Pachi Parra, you can find me all over the web on Twitter and Twitch, and my DMs are open, and I’ll be sharing with you all on Slack really soon to answer some of your questions, and it will be lovely to share more with you all. Thank you.