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Jul 03

Developer Advocate versus Technical Evangelist; When names change the tone

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St. John the Evangelist

There is a role in the developer team at Google called Developer Advocate, and I consider myself an honorary one of those.

What is interesting, is how the name has had an effect. When the group kicked off, we really didn’t like the term ‘evangelist’. The religious connotation is so strong isn’t it? It also feels like an evangelist is going to run around with his particular religion, and will be trying to persuade you to join, without really listening.

An advocate on the other hand sounds just a touch different. I can advocate something, and part of that will hopefully be heavily listening, and participating in the open community. Of course, these are just words, and you have to make this happen. We could call ourselves evangelists and do a lot of listening, or become advocates and do none. The word choice though does make you think about what you should be doing.

More importantly, in my opinion, is the word developer. Rather than talking just about technology, we are talking about humans who use it. This again makes you feel like you need to be more part of the community, working with developers on their level.

Then you put it together: Developer Advocate and a funny thing happens. What does that mean? At first people think that you are advocating to developers, but it is also very important to think about the other connotation. You think about being an advocate of the developer.

What does this mean? It means that when you are in a meeting with your product group, you are their mouth piece. What do they think of the products? the APIs? What are they asking for? You get to almost be an outsider on the inside.

That is the power of the developer advocate role, and why it can be such a fun one at companies.

Of course, I don’t even need to tell you that we are hiring for this position in the US and elsewhere in the world :)

NOTE: Right after I posted this I saw that Jeremy Z had a post titled Two Tech Jobs: Technology Evangelist and Network Operations

12 Responses to “Developer Advocate versus Technical Evangelist; When names change the tone”

  1. Niall Kennedy Says:

    Why is this considered an Engineering function and not Marketing? Is the employee a member of the product team (Maps, Analytics, Search, etc.) or a member of a separate part of the org?

  2. dion Says:

    Niall,

    There are pros and cons to choosing where it fits. I personally like having it be part of engineering, as you then don’t have the same pressures that you would if you were in marketing (easier to do what is right IMO).

    Being part of the product itself is key for many of the roles, as if you aren’t embedded then you won’t be deep enough in the technology. I am learning that there is room for a couple of different types of people though. You want people narrow on a technology but deep (e.g. know everything there is to know about Android). You also want generalists who work across multiple teams and can tie things together (e.g. an Open Web advocate that works with Gears, App Engine, Ajax APIs, …). It is interesting to find the right balance.

    Cheers,

    Dion

  3. duecorda Says:

    Nice.

    I used to introduce myself “Fan of Gears”. Cuz me (may some others) don’t like the word “evangelist”. But now you gave new title of mine =)

  4. Al Says:

    Reallly, Really liked this Dion, thanks for sharing it, anything that helps reduce zealotry is good in my mind, and the religious connotation is something that is frequently expressed by such zealots so I think you hit the nail on the head.

    regards
    Al

  5. dion Says:

    @duecorda,

    I like “Fan of Gears” too, although when you spell it out as “fanatic” it sounds worse that it is ;) I consider myself a Gears Fan myself!

    @Al,

    Thanks a lot for the comment.

  6. Niall Kennedy Says:

    OK, so I thought more about this and it may warrant an entirely separate blog post. But a quick comment here first.

    Evangelists help develop a market where none existed before. You first have to get the religion before you have developers in need of an advocate. Your PC should be connected to a network (Eric Schmidt’s gig at Sun). Your webapps should be offline enabled (Gears). Your web performance sucks (exceptional performance).

    If no one gets your religion you have no developers in need of an advocate. You foresee the future of the world and need others to catch up with your vision. Once you have market validation you have a developer base in need of an advocate.

  7. dion Says:

    Nice thoughts Niall. There is the balance of trying to sell your religion vs. participating in the global community and getting your point across as you participate. The more radical the idea, maybe the more evangelism needs to be done.

    It is tough to sell religion though, especially to developers! They often don’t want words they want actions. That is why advocating via code is often the best path to a developers heart.

  8. Brad Neuberg Says:

    Hi Niall, at its heart, do you want an engineer who can also do evangelism, or a sales person who can do some engineering? I would argue that what you want is a geek and a person that loves technology and can do serious engineering, but who can also present to people and work with others. I’d rather have this than a sales person that has a bit of experience with technology. Thats why I think advocacy and evangelism should be rooted in the engineering part of an organization, or as I like to tell others ‘I’m a mutant engineer’ :)

    As an aside, much of advocacy involves feeding info and external feedback to the folks building a product. If you are in sales they will completely discount what you have to say; however, if they see you as a fellow engineer and respect your technical ability because you’ve proven yourself they will listen to you much more. I spend a huge amount of my time doing internal technical advocacy, so its important to have that credibility.

    Brad

  9. Guy Kawasaki Says:

    If you work for Google, it doesn’t matter what your title is because of your market share. The question is what works if you’re not working for a Google. :-)

    By the way, a Google advocate should be using Blogger, not WordPress. :-)

    Guy

  10. Nitin Reddy Katkam Says:

    “Fan of Gears” doesn’t really sound like a job title. It suggests that you like Google Gears or Gears of War or the manual transmission in a car.

    Developer Advocate sounds nice – you try to make the developers heard and work as their representative.

  11. Tom Gaudette Says:

    Thank you for this post. I enjoyed reading it given that I manage a team of Technical Evangelists at MathWorks. When I only had people inside the US the term Technical Evangelist although sometimes a laughing matter had the customers’ remembering the evangelists. Now that I have people outside the US we continually get push back on the term and people will not use it.

    For me I was a developer who became a manager and now I am in Marketing. Well I would say depending on the company structure this type of team can be in either side of the Marketing/Development line.

    To me a technical evangelists should be a developer who love the products, evangelizes them to customers and advocates for the customers to the developers inside the company.

    We talked about the term “Developer Advocate” but thought it was an advocate to developers as this post states and our customers are not developers they are users.

  12. Tom Muller Says:

    Being an European, everything with a religious tone sounds strange in combination with business. As a client I evangelist sounds strange in my ears. It has a negative impact in the customer relationsship.
    There are some differences between US and other parts of the world.

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