Tell us a bit about yourself.
I run a developer relations consultancy called Hoopy, as well as the DevRelCon event series. Developer Relations has been a huge part of my life for the past fourteen years and so I’ve grown to feel as though I have a personal stake in its success. I’m particularly keen that we think carefully about what we do and why we do it, so I’m spending more and more time developing frameworks for thinking about dev rel and developing data to back that up.
Outside work, I live with my family in a small farming town in England. When we’re not locked down, I like doing archery as it’s an entirely different way of thinking and being than is necessary for the day job. I’m also developing a new business that has absolutely nothing to do with dev rel or tech, which is a fun way of doing something productive while also switching gears.
How did you get into Developer Relations?
I started my career as a web developer, then tech writer, but I was always interested in marketing. I tried to bring that interest to my involvement in open source and that led to me working at Canonical, where I did a mix of marketing and community for their Launchpad suite of tools. From there I led dev rel teams at a couple of NoSQL companies, launched DevRelCon, then went full time with Hoopy.
What advice would you give people looking to join you?
DevRel is tricky to get into because it seems like it’s a single role but, actually, there are several roles that masquerade under the same name. Think carefully about what you do best and what you enjoy the most then focus on getting really good at those, while always being mindful that most roles will require you to do a mix of things.
I’m wary of recommending that people do a bunch of spare time work in order to build their visibility. There are lots of people all posting to dev.to and other sites in order to build awareness of themselves in the hope of developing their careers. However, if you can find a niche that aligns with your interests then being well known in that niche can help. Sometimes the best dev rel people are those people who come up naturally within the community around a technology.
Later on, a great way to be prepared for interviews and your first job is to be sure of the “why”. Too much dev rel happens because it seems like the right thing to do, rather than being part of a broader plan. If you can develop an understanding of how dev rel impacts a company’s overall strategy, what goals you’re working towards, and how your activities contribute to that, then you should be more impactful.
How has your role changed in the past year?
DevRelCon has been a big part of Hoopy and not running it in person has been a mixed experience. Our online version, DevRelCon Earth, went well and, frankly, was less stressful but I missed the spontaneous in-person conversations. We’re sticking to online only for DevRelCon in 2021, too, and embracing it as a way to bring in a greater diversity of voices.
How do you see the future of DevRel?
Post-vaccine, the world of DevRel won’t go back to what we were doing before. The endless travel was wasteful and hard to measure, but ultimately much easier than asking, “Is this the right thing to do?”
The pandemic has forced us, as an industry, to work creatively around the lack of travel. Managers and practitioners have found new ways to pursue their dev rel goals. I hope that creativity continues, rather than live streams replacing travel as the default dev rel activity.
In-person events are important when they form part of a measurable strategy. Even after the pandemic, we’re going to come back to a world with fewer venues, fewer conferences, and fewer event organisers. I have no idea what that will mean for pricing. There’ll be less competition amongst events, so prices might go up. However, I wonder if demand might go down now that budget holders have seen that dev rel works without so much travel.
What’s more interesting to me, though, is what happens in the medium term. I suspect that the big theme of the next five to ten years of developer relations will be a change in what we think of as the role of developers. By some estimates, there are around 60 million professional software developers in the world today. The future of dev rel is about the next 60 million.
People who write code line by line will still be the bedrock of the tech industry but I expect two trends to change what we mean by “developer”:
- Low code and no code tools will see more and more people creating software without using traditional programming languages. Ruby on Rails excited us all with its scaffolding apps back in the mid 2000s. It saved a bunch of boring work, letting you get to the fun bit faster. Low code and no code take that to the next level by giving you an actual working app without writing a line of code. That’s going to result in a cohort of people building software who do not think of themselves as software developers.
- Development will become far more global. I don’t expect the US to lose its lead or the huge influence it has on the tech industry, but developers in Africa, Asia, and South America will shape the next few years in ways that will require a change in the culturally US-centric dev rel playbook.