Tell us a bit about yourself.

Shalom! I’m Benjamin, Benjamin-Michael, Беня, or just plain Ben. I have lived in Tel Aviv for the last 3 years but was born in Saint Louis, Missouri to Russian immigrant parents. I traded in my Budweiser and bow and arrow for a surfboard and Sabich.

My path to DevRel is a long and indirect one. My parents and grandparents were all Soviet academics and even though I inherited their talent in Math, throughout school my ADHD brain lacked the patience to really consider any math-related careers. I still remember the frustration I had in 4th grade computer lab, watching as my friends programmed their Logo turtles to draw fantastical pictures and I was barely able to draw coherent shapes. Yet at the same time, my stepdad, who worked professionally maintaining massive financial systems in BASIC and COBOL, always came to me to fix anything with our home PC. And it was my job to make sure he never really understood what Limewire was ;)

Somehow along the way, I came to think I wanted to be a lawyer. So I studied philosophy and economics in university and interned for a hotshot lawyer in Saint Louis. After about a year or so I subconsciously knew that law would never fulfill me. For a few years, I bounced around jobs, not really knowing what to do. I studied a bit of electrical engineering, managed the bar at an event space haunted by Tennessee Williams, and even started a bagel business. As programming, startups, and Silicon Valley were entering the general lexicon I realized that computers and entrepreneurship were things that not only interested me but I was good at and always had an affinity for. So I enrolled in a part-time bootcamp. It didn’t work. I spent a year self-learning javascript and node by building a totally useless app. That also didn’t work.

Finally, I went on a month-long trip to Israel and felt myself more at home in Tel Aviv than anywhere else I’d ever been. I knew I had to move there. Which meant I knew I had to really learn to code. I enrolled in an intensive bootcamp, fell in love with Rails, worked 24/6 in that bootcamp for 2 years, and then finally landed my first “real” DevRel job with Vonage. It wasn’t easy. I can’t thank Madeline O’Leary, Avital Tzubeli, and Ben Greenberg often enough. Thank you all. [P.S. you should follow them all on Twitter!]

For the last (almost) 2 years I’ve worked as an Online (Developer) Community Manager at Vonage.

What do you feel is the most important part of your job?

Flexibility. As an Online CM, I’m constantly required to wear many different hats to make sure I’m helping support our developers, our team, and our colleagues across the business. We interact with developers in many different channels, so knowing where all the information lives is essential. Working between many teams and departments, it requires me to bring different skill sets to support individuals as they may require. Sometimes that specific knowledge about our products or platforms, sometimes that multimedia skills, and sometimes it’s just checking all the different channels consistently.

Additionally, working as a community manager of developers looking to consume our APIs, the job requires a level of technical authenticity. Developers prefer self-service. So creating as little friction as possible from their question to the answer, requires a good deal of technical expertise. We work with developers across many languages and frameworks, ones that I’ve never actually touched. So having the confidence to understand and help guide devs requires a lot of self-awareness. Sometimes I go down the coding rabbit hole with them and sometimes I just quickly direct them to one of our Advocates. Quickly deciding which action to take is important in helping the developer efficiently.

What is something you’re struggling with?

Just as the job requires flexibility and authenticity, the hardest part is juggling all the tasks while still trying to improve yourself as a developer.

Tell us about a time you were inspired by someone or something in DevRel.

Pretty much all the time. I joined Vonage right as Covid was beginning. I was terrified of joining my first remote team, my first distributed team as it would require me to develop a whole new set of organizational skills. My fears were validated. 2020 was an especially hard year for me to find any semblance of work/life balance. My manager and full department were really amazing about messaging, telling us to take as much time off as needed, to not stress about work or deadlines or any of that. (P.S. Vonage has unlimited time off and we’re hiring a ton of DevRel! Ask me about it!) But I found that the fear of losing a job during Covid, imposter syndrome, and a globally distributed Slack meant that I was either working or thinking about work for about 12-15 hours every day, 6 days a week. I was burnt out for most of the year.

So what’s inspiring about this? I was in awe as I realized all the younger colleagues in the team were feeling similar to me. But the “seasoned” veterans? The ones that had way more responsibilities at work but also real responsibilities and stressors like children, aging parents, and MORTGAGES!, they were kicking ass! In particular was my former colleague Michael Jolley. In addition to maintaining our most popular and fastest-growing SDK, he was always assisting other advocates, answering questions across all the platforms (Slack, StackOverflow, Github, etc), speaking almost weekly at conferences/meetups, writing blog posts, being a celebrity on our Twitch and sharing his advice to help our team grow their own Twitch streams. But that was just his Vonage work. On the side, he was also running a massively successful community of his own, with its own Discord and charity initiatives, and partnerships. And somehow he found the time to learn cool new talents like programming his own robots! Oh and PS, he was simultaneously raising a young family through a pandemic. And the man never espoused a shred of stress or anxiety. He’s truly a DevRel MVP.

P.S. everything I just said about Michael, you can apply to Kevin Lewis. Two baldies that make you question whether time and space apply to them the same as us mere mortals.

What’s one change you’d like to see in DevRel?

There’s a lot of talk about empathy in DevRel but I think it often gets weaponized. Too often I see people whose first, second, or even third language may not be English get humiliated for not using “inclusive language”. It’s not their fault we no longer use ye. DevRel is still primarily a North American / Western European discipline. When we transpose Western aka American/British norms onto a global community, we are actually making programming less accessible. I think people in DevRel circles forget about the experience of folks in the greater world. Yes, it’s ok to be religious. Yes, it’s ok to want a suburban life with a spouse and children. A lot of developers are just looking for help with coding. They aren’t looking for all the political commentary that seems to come packaged with it. I wish DevRel would remember that most developers aren’t posting on Twitter and aren’t writing diatribes on I wish DevRel would remember who we’re trying to help and what we’re trying to do.