Right now, my 3-year goal is to go from being a Developer Advocate Individual Contributor (IC) to head or director of developer advocacy/relations/marketing/education. For context, I transitioned from technical writing to developer advocacy roughly a year and 4 months ago.
Adhering to the wisdom of the proverb "make hay while the sun shines,” I decided that it was wise to start now to gather insights on what was required of me to achieve such a feat. What better way to gain this insight than by seeking advice from individuals already holding such positions?
I reached out to I reached out to Holly Guevara, Director of Developer Education at PlanetScale, and Jason St-Cyr, Director of Developer Relations at Sitecore. To both of them, I asked the question, “How did you get to your current position, and what do I have to do to get there?”
Here’s what they had to say:
Start obsessing over content strategy and tying the value of every piece of content to business goals
Across companies, the primary role of a developer advocate is to drive awareness and help companies promote their offerings. This is done through various types of content, such as sample code, demo projects, conference talks, documentation, YouTube videos, blog articles, and more, depending on the specific needs of the company or product.
As a developer advocate in an individual contributor (IC) role, you’re probably just an executioner, executing on assigned tasks. You don't typically generate ideas, drive content strategy, or prioritize what to work on.
However, as a head of developer advocacy, education, or relations, these are responsibilities that you would typically handle. You would have to move beyond content creation and start thinking about the bigger picture of content strategy. You would need to articulate how every effort and piece of content contributes to the overall marketing funnel. You would also need to analyze content metrics to identify new ideas and areas for improvement and associate business value with content.
As the Director of Developer Education at PlanetScale, Holly spends her week analyzing data, generating ideas for the content pipeline, managing the content calendar, assigning tasks to team members, coordinating launches and partnerships, and participating in meetings with executives to discuss the company's direction.
To start to develop strategy skills within your current company, Holly recommends diving into analytics to answer questions such as: Which types of content perform well? What generates marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) and leads to sales?
Fun fact: After reviewing over 20 job listings for Head of Developer Relations or Developer Advocacy positions, one phrase that appeared in every listing was "build strategy".
Before joining PlanetScale, Holly worked at Auth0, where she eventually became the manager of the technical content team. In this role, she started focusing on the bigger picture of content creation and used analytics to determine which content ideas would bring the most value to the company. When a manager position opened up, her boss reached out to her first because she had already been thinking like a lead.
As Amruta Ranade, Staff Technical Writer at Cockroach Labs, rightly said in her interview with me, "you have to start doing the job before the job is given to you".
Take the initiative to think beyond your assigned tasks to own, orchestrate and execute impactful projects
Jason shared a story similar to Holly's. He got into management by identifying the gaps that his boss was missing and taking the initiative to fill them. When a manager position became available, his boss advocated for him to be given the role.
If you're wondering how you can demonstrate capability beyond your tasks, Jason suggests spotting opportunities for improvement and taking action. Consider current industry trends, the company's position in the ecosystem, and what's happening in DevRel. Are there any suggestions or improvements that can make the team better? For example, you could improve the onboarding process, content prioritization and tracking process, or content collaboration process.
In addition to identifying areas for improvement, you need to be able to sell your ideas to your boss. Do your research and support your ideas with industry examples or the value the company would gain. You should be prepared to answer questions such as: why should this opportunity be prioritized over others? How important is it? Is the value commensurate with the effort required? You also need to align with other teams as needed and foster collaboration.
Jason also mentioned that, as an aspiring leader, you should not only identify areas for improvement but also learn to drive collaboration not only within your team but also across departments for certain projects to succeed.
If you're fortunate enough to work for an established company rather than an early-stage startup, there's likely already a laid-out DevRel career advancement path in place. Ask your boss about this and inform them of your desire.
However, if you're employed at an early-stage startup with limited structure, it's up to you to proactively seek out opportunities for growth and advocate for yourself. Jason shared his framework for leveling up his DevRel team, and there's also a Developer Relations Career Advancement Guide by Mary Thengvall that provides valuable insights into the skills needed for DevRel professional development.
Still, Jason also suggests that the fastest way to climb the DevRel career ladder and secure senior positions is by transitioning to growing companies, as it may take longer to progress within larger organizations where others are also vying for the same roles. Gain the necessary experience within your current team and consider joining a growing team where your expertise can be leveraged, especially when working alongside newer team members, which can position you as a senior professional.