The developer relations job category is less than 10 years old, and the developer advocate role is even newer. In essence, developer advocates represent the voice of the user—in this case, that's usually the developer—internally to the company and the voice of the company externally to the community.
Mattermost depends on its developer advocates to be the bridge between the community and the organization. At Mattermost, a developer advocate's three primary areas of responsibility are:
- Raising awareness among developers about the open source project, including educating users and helping them get the most out of the platform
- Building strong relationships with users across open source and developer communities
- Advocating for users internally with the product team by sharing the community's feedback and challenges
Not everyone is cut out to succeed as an open source developer advocate. With that in mind, here are the top five qualities we've identified in outstanding developer advocates.
1. A genuine passion for helping others
Developer advocates often start as developers or in other highly technical roles. They excel at their job but get less pleasure from creating solutions than they do by helping others do the same.
Over time, they turn this enthusiasm into enabling and empowering other developers to be successful. They naturally evolve into developer advocates by educating and helping users get the most out of the platforms they're working with.
Passion is one of the most important qualities of a developer advocate. To advocate for the user both internally and externally, they must put the user and the community first. This does not happen without genuine motivation to help others succeed.
2. An authentic communication style
An outstanding developer advocate has a passion for writing and talking about technology—whether they're solving technical challenges, providing knowledge about specific frameworks (e.g., Kubernetes), or sharing solutions built on top of a platform.
But when they share their knowledge, they must be careful not to be perceived as promoting a specific platform or product. If any group is turned off by inauthentic marketing, it is developers. Developer relations is not the same as developer marketing. That is why authenticity is critical when connecting with developer communities—particularly in open source.
Combining these creates an authentic communicator who captures developers' attention and pulls people in. That engagement enables them to raise awareness, educate to help users get the most out of the platform, and build strong relationships with users—the three main areas that developer advocates own.
3. A natural flair for building relationships
Developer advocates are typically extroverts. Through their authenticity and passion for helping others, they can build strong relationships with users and members of the community.
The truly outstanding advocates have a natural flair for creating connections through their superb networking skills. They also know where the communities exist, whether it's Reddit, Twitter, meetup groups, forums, or chat channels.
Why is having a natural flair for creating relationships so important?
First, developer advocates bring their existing connections to developers and open source communities when they join a team. Second, they come in knowing the right social media and developer channels to reach developers and open source users. Finally, they create new relationships with community influencers and open source leaders that can give your platform an opportunity to grow rapidly.
4. A personal investment in the community
As I mentioned, developer advocates are not only the advocates of users internally; they are also the voice of the company externally to the community. This allows them to develop their own personal brand and "street cred" that they will carry with them after they move on to another company or community.
When a developer advocate cares about their personal brand and has a personal investment in what they do, they are typically more motivated. Not only are they responsible for cultivating the company's brand, but they are also putting their own reputation on the line. This can be frightening to some. But those who are brave and willing to personally commit have the edge needed to excel as a developer advocate.
As a side note, developer advocates who are employed by the company they're advocating for should work as part of the community and put the community ahead of themselves. They must be willing to continuously learn from and with the community, be a team player, and never put their own brand ahead of the company or community.
5. Technical sharpness
The final key attribute of great developer advocates is their technical sharpness. Are they knowledgeable about cutting-edge technologies, languages, and frameworks? Do they learn technologies and tools easily? Are they self-taught, self-resourced learners?
Since other developers will look to them for guidance, it is important for developer advocates to be highly technical with several years of relevant experience in software development or DevOps. Without already being a developer (or otherwise highly technical), it would be difficult to really understand the developer mindset and know what tickles their curiosity.
These five qualities—a genuine passion for helping others, authentic communication capabilities, a natural flair for building relationships, a personal investment, and technical sharpness—are Mattermost's core characteristics in outstanding open source developer advocates. Are there any other must-have qualities I've missed? Let me know in the comments!
Thank you to Justin Reynolds for the valuable edits on this article.