Is DevRel Just A Fad?
Navigating the myths and truths surrounding the world of Developer Relations
In general. Developer Relations or DevRel has not always been the most straightforward domain to understand in the first go. Unlike fields such as software engineering, marketing, sales, HR, etc., DevRel is particularly multifaceted, often leveraging programming, community building, writing, public speaking, and many more such skills. Lately, however, especially on social media, due to this lack of insight into the domain (combined with some malicious actors), there has been a prevalent notion that DevRel teams are useless.
Usually, I would take some offense in statements made about my work and my peers, maybe post an angry tweet or two about the same, and all that would lead to is more argument and fighting, thus retaining the status quo. Instead, why not try and tackle some of these myths, clarify them patiently, and hope this leads to healthier discourse? Therefore, in this issue, I’ll be helping navigate some of the myths surrounding DevRel today.
Defining Developer Relations
First, let’s take a moment to understand what the term “Developer Relations” (or DevRel) even means. I define it as the following:
Developer Relations, or DevRel, is a domain that focuses on maintaining relationships with the folks building on an organization's technologies or products.
Essentially, DevRel is the bridge between the code and the community. DevRel folks are often responsible for maintaining communication between organizations and developers to ensure a better information flow and feedback loop. Thus, both entities have a better experience and growth path.
DevRel teams came into inception because as we move towards a more technologically-enabled world, we see more people developing solutions to problems using programming and computer science and have more companies catering to such folks. With more and more organizations catering their services to developers, it became apparent that these organizations need people who can build with their platforms, communicate with developers, educate newcomers, grow their audience, etc. DevRel aims to fit this gap precisely.
You can learn more by reading my blog on the same.
Myths In DevRel 🤔
With that said, let’s tackle some of the most common myths about DevRel professionals I’ve encountered on social media today.
Myth 1: Most DevRel pros are just pretty girls with no skills
Absolutely not! The boys are pretty too. (sorry, I couldn’t resist making that joke 😆)
Here’s my question: if DevRel professionals were just shiny and flashy objects to show off with no value to cater to the world, why would anyone hire them? Just because you see a limited part of their presence on public forums does not mean their responsibilities don’t exceed those forums. For example, if all you see software engineers doing is making videos on YouTube, does that mean they don’t have a job beyond creating videos?
Myth 2: DevRel pros have to be social media influencers
Social media numbers are an excellent vanity metric, but they don’t signify the quality of opinion, just its (and possibly the OP’s) popularity. So when we hire DevRel professionals (and I say so from experience), we look at the quality of their content, whether the piece has 5000 likes, 500 likes, or 5.
And yes, many DevRel professionals work in public and act as ambassadors for their products. This automatically leads to them being perceived as thought leaders and decision-makers, generating followers. For example, I recently crossed 35,000 followers on X / Twitter; however, when I joined Appwrite as our 1st DevRel hire, that number was ~1,500. Sometimes, the following is just a consequence of public work.
Myth 3: DevRel is just glorified marketing and sales for developers
Yes, a lot of DevRel activities indeed result in consumer/customer onboarding. However, a fundamental difference exists between how we operate from marketing and sales teams. For example, I created a blog on Appwrite’s .NET SDK to teach how someone could build a CRUD API with ASP.NET and Appwrite Databases. If someone likes how Appwrite works because they read this blog, they will likely sign up to try it out. It’s almost like Aesop’s fable of the Wind and the Sun. I may not sell my product directly, but my work can create interest and demand for it anyway if it creates value for people.
However, this does open up space for an entirely separate thought. As technologists, why do we feel that not being marketers or salespeople gives us a sense of elitism? Why is there such disdain for careers that may require collaboration with such teams? The truth for any company, at the end of the day, is that even if a product is engineered well, it means nothing until someone buys it. This goes for DevRel professionals, too. It is essential to understand the value you create for your business and not be afraid to indulge in it due to possible social stigma.
Myth 4: DevRel pros don’t need to know how to code
That is absolutely not true! The only way I can build a rapport with members of my product’s developer community is by learning to be in their shoes. This means I need to have an understanding of the pros and cons of the product I advocate for from a technical standpoint. And the only way to understand those is by building with my product.
Now, if you’re a DevRel professional, I don’t imply that you need a 30-year career as a software engineer, or else you are directly invalidated. However, you need to gain enough depth in the tech powering your product to form opinions with backing and carry some authority. If you don’t think you can form an opinion at this point, you should consider taking a step back and focusing on your upskilling. Being a developer is the prerequisite of the job, not an alternative.
This should add some further context:
Myth 5: DevRel is an unreliable career choice
This myth is not entirely incorrect. Unfortunately, recent market trends have caused many great DevRel professionals to lose their jobs. To me, more than the profession, it shows a lack of understanding of the companies about how their DevRel teams impact their business. Truth be told, many companies have used DevRel teams to execute short growth-centric responsibilities without a long-term strategy. Such companies often hire, lay off, and rehire people for DevRel/community responsibilities.
As a DevRel professional, it is necessary to understand that just as people do not fully understand this role, neither do many companies. Some hire DevRel teams because of their community strategies, some hire because they foresee a growth impact, some hire because their competitors are doing so, and some even hire because their investors think it is the next cool thing to do. So please ensure you know your impact on your business; otherwise, you are at risk, too.
Myth 6: DevRel is a fluff role with no impact
Well, to really get an answer to this thought, let’s consider some of the responsibilities DevRel teams hold:
Maintaining a feedback loop between the developers and the company
Supporting and executing community-focused programs and initiatives
Creating educational content like tutorials, blogs, and videos
Advocating for the product at conferences, meetups, etc.
Contributing to the ecosystem by building SDKs, CLI tools, samples, etc.
Providing technical support to community members
This list is not exhaustive, by the way. Still think DevRel does not make an impact on the product, company, or community?
Myth 7: DevRel is a career for everyone
My take may be a little controversial among DevRel aspirants, but I do not think so. Considering that DevRel work is generally considered an amalgam of code, content, and community, most roles in this space need you to be a jack of all three trades while being a master of at least one. My experience has taught me that, while there is always space to learn, as an early DevRel practitioner, you should get your hands experienced on all three fronts before rushing into this career. Not doing so may thrust you into roles you’re not ready for, causing serious burnout and potentially having career-damaging repercussions.
My blog here has my opinions structured far better on this topic. Please give it a read.
So Is It A Fad? 🤔
Personally, I do not believe so. I think DevRel teams are vastly misunderstood and often underappreciated. DevRel is not a mere showcase of social media popularity or a superficial layer of marketing. DevRel roles are multi-faceted and solve a number of problems for their products when companies leverage the role properly. It's time we move beyond these myths and recognize DevRel as a pivotal component of the developer ecosystem today. This shift in perspective can lead to a healthier, more informed discourse around DevRel, ultimately benefiting the tech community as a whole.