Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hi! I’m Lorna, software engineer, author, speaker … and now Head of Developer Relations at Aiven, a cool cloud database startup.
What do you feel is the most important part of your job?
Moving and translating technical information so it’s useful to the people that need it most. In developer relations, that includes really obvious things like dragging information out of support tickets or internal docs and publishing it where our developer community can discover and understand it. We’re building a Developer Portal over at https://developer.aiven.io (open source, static site generator) and getting really positive feedback, but most of what we’re “creating” there already existed somewhere else. There’s also some less visible translation work, especially inside the company. I represent developers to all the internal teams, and know which engineering teams to ask to fill which gaps in our marketing content, for example. I’m also proud to be the unofficial chief technology explainer for the Marketing department - they are experts in their own disciplines, but not necessarily in open source database technology, so I often spend time explaining how things fit together, or what some of the words mean.
What is something you’re struggling with?
This year I transitioned from being an individual contributor to being a manager, responsible for hiring, budgets, strategy, all the internal departmental relationship, and a fast-growing team. I’m out of my depth every single day and I’ll be honest, there are days when I wish I had a job I could just get up in the morning and be confident in doing! Job transitions are not like that and I hope that somewhere in among all the winging it and apologising, I’m learning something. As I said to my awesome manager recently: things must be going all right or people would stop asking me to do all this stuff!! I am very lucky to have an excellent support network around me both at Aiven and in the wider industry as well, knowing others who are on their own career journeys and have advice or sympathy for my situations. My manager is super supportive, Aiven has a great culture and I really appreciate how my team works constructively with me and, in the nicest possible way, sometimes around me :)
What do you look for when building your team?
Curiosity and openness. The only thing I can guarantee in this job is change, so people need to be adaptable, to be excited about tackling the next thing, and to be great at communicating with people inside and outside the organisation. Our customers are mostly very experienced technical professionals, so pretty serious backend or database tech experience is also very helpful. I tend to think of DevRel roles as being cross-disciplinary so if you identify as being a tech expert, but you have tendencies towards another profession such as teaching or writing, then that’s a really solid starting point. I meet a lot of candidates who tell me they have no DevRel experience but then it turns out they run a user group, do the onboarding for new tech hires at their company, and they’ve been blogging for five years - so basically they’ve been practising for this role for years already.
What’s one change you’d like to see in DevRel?
I want us to take our responsibilities as the keepers of knowledge more seriously. We know our own platforms, and often our own communities, better than anyone. It’s on us to make that information available in the best way, to the people who can use it to build something amazing. We talk a lot about content re-use in DevRel, but I wish that people took the foundation stone of this idea, written content, more seriously. Written content can be viewed on another device, bigger font, high contrast, spoken aloud, or even translated (the machines will never replace real translation services, I know) if needed. Go ahead and re-use the content once you’ve created it, let’s have sample code repositories, conference talks, videos, demos, live streams. Good quality written content crosses the boundaries of space and time, this is the one thing we can do that will have the greatest impact. Let’s hire specialist writers in DevRel teams, and work on our own written communication skills. It’s not about perfect English (fill in your preferred language of publication here), it’s about understanding your audience, and structuring your content thoughtfully so that you can empower the largest possible audience to build even more awesome things themselves.