Respecting the social battery in DevRel


Carly Richmond

Job title

Developer Advocate




DevRelCon London 2023

In this talk from DevRelCon London 2023, Carly Richmond, Developer Advocate at Elastic, discusses the concept of the social battery and its impact on developer relations. She explains how the social battery can be depleted and provides suggestions for recognizing and managing its depletion. Carly emphasizes the importance of supporting both community members and ourselves in maintaining healthy social energy levels.

What the video

What the video on YouTube >

Key takeaways

  • The social battery refers to the amount of energy one has for engaging in social activities before needing a break.
  • It is not a binary characteristic and can change throughout one’s life.
  • Depleting the social battery can impact one’s ability to function and operate effectively.
  • Symptoms of a depleted social battery include mental exhaustion, difficulty processing information, and decreased engagement in conversations.
  • In developer relations, it is important to consider the social battery of both community members and ourselves.
  • Taking space time, both for social interaction and for solitude, is crucial for maintaining a healthy social battery.


Ramon Huidobro:

It is my joy to invite Carly onto stage to tell us about respecting the social battery and DevRel. Please stand up for Carly.

Carly Richmond:

Hello everyone. It is so fab to see you all today. So my name is Carly Richmond. I’m a Developer Advocate at Elastic, and as we’ve said, I’m going to talk about the social battery today. So I’m going to talk about what it is. So we’re all on an equal footing. I’m going to talk about how it impacts our own jobs within developer relations, and I’m going to give you some ideas of the things to look for to maybe see if your own batteries starting to deplete. Okay, so what is it? Well, it’s kind of similar to the badges I’ve got up here. I’ll be honest, I don’t have one of these badges, but I’m super tempted. But what they are, basically the idea is that it’s how much energy you have for engaging in social activity, speaking to people, being in enlarged crowd before you really start to feel like you need to go off and do your own thing and have a little bit of a break.

Now, that’s not necessarily a problem and it’s something that can change as well. Now, I’m not just talking about the idea of introversion and extroversion being something that you have that’s a binary characteristic. It’s something that changes throughout your life. It can be impacted by factors such as your own mental health. It can be down to workload. It can be all sorts of different things that drive, whether being in a social situation or around a large crowd of people is energizing for you, or if it’s something that’s going to deplete your energy super quick. So obviously we’re getting to the end of dev recon. How many would kind of like to chill? Like my hippo friend here? Yeah, we’re all getting there and that’s okay. Now, the social battery and the draining of it impacts our ability to function and operate as human beings. And that’s not because we have a separate battery.

It’s a little bit of a misnomer that we have one lot of energy for socializing and one lot of energy for just existing and another lot of energy for doing the mental operations that we need to do for work. The reality is, as Dr. Roy Bow Meister found that we have one energy source for everything that we do. It’s just the fact that if we’re in a situation where we’re trying to fight against our natural reaction and engage in willpower, we are going to deplete our energy far quicker. And that’s why talking about social battery is fundamentally important because if you’re forcing yourself to go through a social situation, which you might have to in certain areas, then you’re going to deplete your energy far quicker. So obviously one idea is mental exhaustion as a symptom, feeling like Hippo Friend here, you just want to collapse on the floor.

But there’s other aspects as well to look for when it comes to that depleted energy level. So I’m talking about things like struggling to process information. So maybe it’s the last talk of a day and you’re just feeling like nothing is going into your brain, nothing is being retained. Think about are you able to take the social cues of other people. So if you’re struggling to identify them, then it might be that you’re feeling a bit drained. Are you less engaged in conversations than you might be? Normally, that’s another thing to look out for and think about other things as well, such as do you have sensitivity to bright lights such as the one that’s right over here, loud noises. Those can all be symptoms that you’re perhaps needing to take a bit of a step back. Now, there’s two groups that we really need to think about when it comes to DevRel and the Social Battery.

And the first group is our lovely community members that we love engaging with. So all those developers and people that we’re actually talking to, we need to make sure that we’ve got adaptions in place to support their own social batteries irrespective of the size of the events that we’re trying to engage in. So how many of us have seen these color coded stickers or some form of variation? Yes. So quick question, how many of us have changed these through an event? So started off with a green sticker and then ended up with another one at the end. There’s not that many hands up, and that’s a real shame because I’ve never changed my sticker color either. But the reality is, if you’re at a large event with thousands of people, you might start off being very green and saying, Hey, I’m totally up for chatting to everybody I meet, but then by the end of day two or the end of day three, you’re sitting towards an amber or a red.

So when we make these stickers available or events, we also need to make sure that people know that they can change them, and also that it’s something that’s easy to get ahold of. They don’t have to start running around a large venue to find out who to get the new sticker from. The other thing we need to think about is the Pacman rule. So how many people are aware of the Pacman rule? Great. How many actively mention it at the start of their events? So there’s less hands up, and I think that’s a real shame. The only time I’ve ever seen this mentioned is actually a half stack, and I think we need to do more on that because there’s two Pac to think of with the Pacman rule. So by encouraging people to go into that Pac-Man shape over a closed circle, you’re allowing new members of the community to pop in where they’re perhaps unfamiliar so they can meet new people and feel a bit more welcome and a bit more comfortable.

But it also means if people are starting to feel socially drained, they can hop out of a conversation and let someone else in. So let’s make sure we embrace the Pacman rule and actually mention it to encourage everyone to use it. Now we need to think about ourselves as well, and that’s not coming from a selfish viewpoint. It’s just embracing the natural fact that in order to work effectively and be there for our community, we need to look after ourselves too. We go from very interesting extremes from Devereux. I started as an advocate 2022 April, and one of the things I found really interesting about this job is the extremes and social activity I go through. I go from being on booth duty, potentially speaking to hundreds if not thousands of people for several days depending on the size of the event to being at home, working on content in my office by myself, literally with nobody around.

And the reality is that going between those extremes can be very unhelpful. There’s times when you want to crave social interaction if you’re working at home, for example, but we also have these other extremes where you just need a bit bit of a break, and that’s where we really need to consider this construct of space time. So when I joined Elastic, obviously when I was applying, they sent through the source code to me, and one of the things that I found really important was the idea of space time. In order to give me the breathing space. I need to think, and this applies very well to this social battery situation, the fact of the matter is that sometimes you will need to engage in social activity. So chatting to colleagues on Slack, when you’re at home and it’s quiet and you just need to talk to somebody or even arranging a quick virtual coffee, or if you’ve got the luxury of a local WeWork or an office, go off and do that, get that social energy, recharge yourself that way.

But the opposing extreme is if you don’t want that social experience, take the space time to go off and breathe. If it’s in the middle of a conference, that’s where things like booth breaks should come in. It’s also important to try and make sure that we have spaces where people can hop off and have some quiet time, such as corners with chairs, et cetera. But you know what? Ultimately this all boils down to what Jerry Springer said. In order to really perform, we need to look after ourselves within DevRel and also the community of developers that we ultimately work with. So I’ve spoken about the DevRel battery, sorry, I’m talking about the social battery today, how it relates to developer relations. Talked about some of the tools we have that we can make adaptions for, and also the importance of space time. Thank you very much for listening.

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