DevRel: To be, or not to be, a personality?

Shawn Gordon
4 min readSep 9, 2023

Developer Relations/Advocacy, or “DevRel” is a relatively recent formalization of an activity that has been going on for decades now. When I had my own Linux software company from about 1999 to 2010 that was heavy on KDE, I would engage in this all the time. It was harder back then to find the watering holes where the interested parties would hang out. You’re in the IRC channels, message boards, or mail lists, talking with people, explaining what you’re doing, showing how to do it, answering questions, etc. We didn’t have convenient ways to create and publish training videos or any of that kind of thing. I had my version of OpenCore back then before it was more formalized as a business strategy. We were blazing a new trail on how to monetize and be respectful members of the community.

Today there is a glut of options, but the challenge is the same, find the watering holes, and become a natural part of that community that is liked and trusted. Don’t just drop in to announce your own thing, be involved on an ongoing basis. What that has also given rise to is the “social media influencer” type of DevRel person.

DevRel fundamentals

When I had my record label, two basic things had to be done with a new release.

  • Awareness
  • Availability

Part of awareness was very similar to DevRel. Getting out there and talking about it, getting it reviewed, getting press releases, reviews, all that jazz. So for me, the first step of DevRel is spreading awareness. If I’m doing this on behalf of a company, then the focus should be the product and the company, not me as a “personality” IMO. I also want to be very mindful of your time. I get paid to create content to engage and educate, but you don’t get paid to consume it. Your life doesn’t revolve around what I am talking about, so I can’t just assume you have enough information on top of your mind without me providing some context.

That fits into an empathy component that I believe is core to everything. I want to be empathetic of your time. I want to be empathetic of what you are trying to learn, and the problem you are trying to solve. I want to grow my knowledge base around what YOU are asking, not what I think is going to be fun or interesting for me. I want to always put myself in the position of the consumer of the resource. The idea is to reduce the friction between you and solving your problem with the technology I’m talking about. That said, I also want to point you in a different direction that might be the better answer for you than what I’m working with.

Content can take many forms, and people absorb content in different ways. I like short videos, interactive tutorials, blogs, and articles. I differentiate between a blog and an article with the blog being the deep dive, more of a tutorial perhaps. The article is the more surface-level piece where we pose a problem, and show a solution with the product. We don’t have to do a deep dive, it’s meant to almost be a teaser to show what is possible, and then provide that deeper dive through technical documentation, tutorials, and blogs. The article, short video, and interactive tutorials are baiting the hook if you will.

By providing quick bites of information, it allows people to quickly ascertain if something might fit into their ecosystem, thus prompting them to dive deeper. If all they can find is deep dives or cotton candy chatgpt style pieces, then they will typically just move on.

Being a Personality

I’m seeing growth in the technology space of a wannabe influencer type. People are trying to be whacky characters and treating it more like being on TikTok. The videos they put out for the company, are filled with links to their personal sites and content. They tend to overshare about themselves. While it is nice to feel you know something about these people and develop a connection, we seem to have erred on the side of oversharing now. Again, this is all in my opinion, maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned.

Summary

For me personally, I am paid to promote a brand or product, not myself. Your time is precious, so you don’t have the time or inclination for me to squeeze in my self-promotion. We’re all in tech, we’re not wanting TikTok types of content as far as I can tell. Sure, be fun, be approachable, be informative, and be engaging, but again, be respectful of people’s time. Meet people where they are as much as possible. Make it easy, reduce all the friction you possibly can. Be a trusted voice and resource. Have a personality, but don’t just be a personality.

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Shawn Gordon

All things data, developer, sustainable energy enthusiast as well as prolific musician.