Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello! My name is Kathryn Grayson Nanz, and I dabbled in lots of different tech-related jobs before making my way over to the DevRel world! In 2013, I graduated with a Fine Arts degree and took my first job as Junior Graphic Designer at a small, boutique ad agency in DC. While there, my Creative Director told me to never let anyone else find out that I knew how to code – he warned me that if they knew I could do it, I’d be stuck doing it forever and I’d never get to work on print design again. I ignored his warning; turns out, he was completely right, but I’ve never been happier.
I’ve gotten to take on all kinds of various roles: from email design/dev, to web design/dev, and front-end engineering/UI design, before finally landing in my current position as the React Developer Advocate at Progress Software. It’s been a ride, but I feel strongly that each job informed the next one, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had skipped even one of those experiences. I’m passionate about helping people build beautiful and user-friendly interfaces, designing and maintaining component libraries, and stopping back-end devs from writing any more CSS.
What do you feel is the most important part of your job?
In my opinion, the most important job of the Developer Advocate is to always be learning, and then sharing that knowledge with the community. We often think about this job in terms of facilitating a community, being a “thought leader”, or even selling a product – and that can certainly be one part of it, but I think the larger part is being a contributing part of your communities as well (even and especially the ones you don’t personally maintain).
A lot of folks in the DevRel space came from past jobs as engineers themselves, and I think it’s crucially important for us to not get too disconnected from that mindset and experience. Which is one of those “easier said than done” kinds of things, because there are so many non-development-related tasks that we’re responsible for as part of our day-to-day work as Advocates. But ultimately, if we’re not staying connected to and actively participating in the community we’re advocating to, we won’t be able to do our jobs well. It can be a hard balance to strike, but I believe it’s a vitally important one that always needs to be at the top of our priority list – no matter what else we have going on.
What is something you’re struggling with?
I really struggle with perfectionism as a Developer Advocate. When you’re teaching something, or sharing knowledge of any kind, there’s a real pressure to get everything 100% perfect the first time – but, that’s really hard, even for an experienced senior engineer! I felt that pressure before, when I was working as a software engineer as well, but at least then the audience was smaller; just whoever I was pairing with at the time. Now that I’m doing the same kinds of work, but in public…it can really feel like the pressure is on to get everything right. Bugs and errors are just part of the gig – I know this, and yet every time I’m coding on stream or for a video, I have this voice in the back of my head telling me that making those kinds of mistakes will undermine my credibility. I think that pressure can also be higher for women in the DevRel space, who often come in already feeling an immense pressure to prove themselves in the tech industry – even during times when they’re not in the position of a subject matter expert. It’s 50% impostor syndrome, 50% perfectionism, and 100% a bad habit that I’m trying my best to break.
Tell us about a time you were inspired by someone or something in DevRel.
I’m really inspired by the React Working Group and how they’ve handled the upcoming React 18 release. I think their level of communication and community management has been really impressive, and I’ve really appreciated their approach to the whole process. Their GitHub Discussions page is a fantastic mix of beginner-friendly topics and deep-dives into the new technology. I was especially impressed by a Glossary / ELI5 topic where new concepts were explained in plain English, without any judgement or assumption of prior knowledge. Even as a fairly experienced React dev, I’ve learned a lot by reading through those conversations. The examples are useful and interesting, and the questions asked are always answered thoughtfully. I’m not part of the React Working Group, but I still feel like I’ve benefited hugely from the resources they’ve provided via that Discussion page, and the way they’ve chosen to open all of that to the public for reading and review. What they’ve created offers a level of accessibility that I’ll be working hard to bring to the content that I create as well. Overall, I’ve just been super impressed with their knowledge base and the community that they’ve created.
What’s one change you’d like to see in DevRel?
I think I’d like to see, in general, a higher level of authenticity in the DevRel space. And I’ll be the first to admit that sounds kind of cheesy, but I do think it’s easy to get sucked into a very narrow idea of how a DevRel is supposed to look and act. Then, when we’re creating, we’re thinking “What would a Real DevRel™ post about this?” Without really intending it, we can start to shape ourselves and our content around that image…but we shouldn’t. In fact, adhering too closely to that persona can actually do the opposite of what we’d hoped, and we run the danger of coming off as “grifty” or try-hard, or just kind of insincere.
Each Developer Advocate has a unique voice that brings something new to the table. I believe that the whole community benefits when we’re able to share our authentic selves. I don’t think this means we have to divulge every detail about our private lives or anything – just that when we’re blogging, or streaming, or speaking, that we’re bringing our unique personalities and experiences with us and letting them shine through (even if they don’t always perfectly align with our concept of “what a DevRel should be”).