Building your internal army


Amara Graham

Amara Graham

Developer relations teams can often see themselves as separate from colleagues in sales, marketing and other outward-facing teams.

However, while their goals and those of dev rel might not always be aligned precisely, IBM’s Amara Graham argues that we should do more to work together.

“I think sometimes you need to pause and consider the amount of work you’re doing as an external-facing employee,” she says

“You don’t always realise that there’s other people who may be able to do what you’re trying to do on top of your day job, more efficiently or easier.”

Having an elevator pitch

For Amara, who works on IBM’s global Watson and AI data team, finding those other people is a sure-fire way of strengthening your internal team. So how does she recommend doing that?

“(It’s about) really understanding your roles and responsibilities in dev rel and understanding how you can leverage these other folks that sit in different parts of the company,” she says.

“Dev rel is still very new so I always make sure I have my elevator pitch for people who might not be in tech or who aren’t close to dev rel. And then I have my broader pitch that explains when I hand over to sales or tech sales enablement or business development.”

Because, as Amara points out, while she might want to help everyone and do everything, she is not physically able and – crucially – may not have the required expertise.

“So if I work in a huge company, why not leverage all of those other folks for the things that they do really well?”

Connecting across a company

IBM is a large company with around 400 developer advocates. It also has a huge number of other outward-facing roles. The size of the organisation comes with benefits, but it is not without challenges.

How, for example, does the dev rel team work effectively across the company and ensure sales, marketing and other external roles are engaged and connected?

IBM has an internal directory where teams can make contact, but Amara has also used external platforms.

“I’ve had a number of IBMers reach out to me straight through LinkedIn and say ‘Hey, I’ve read your blog post,’ or ‘I’ve seen videos that you’ve done externally. And I have a client or a potential client that’s interested in this,’

“Or some folks from our partner marketing, say ‘Hey, we’re working with this company, they want to work with IBM. Can you build something and demo it and speak onstage at their conference?’ stuff like that.”

Amara says it can sometimes feel that developer advocates are bombarded from all sides, especially when other teams want to use their budget or resources to meet their own targets.

While openness to cross-organisational working is a good thing, there comes a point where lines need to be drawn and responsibilities made clear.

For Amara, this means “sitting down and talking with these folks and establishing your scope and their scope.”

Clear loyalties

As someone who started her career as a developer, Amara is very clear about where she feels most at home.This is why you’re unlikely to find her in sales meetings.

“I always describe myself as more, ‘What can we do with it today? And how can we make sure that it’s the right thing for your developers today?’

“And so, if the product doesn’t work for them today, or if the framework doesn’t work for them today, I’m going to say that. And if you don’t want to have those conversations, I shouldn’t be there.

“I can’t make promises that our technology can’t do today. And I won’t do it. It’s against my brand. It’s against, you know, everything that I do.”

It’s her enterprise experience that makes Amara determined to ensure developer advocacy is brought to the developers themselves.

“We were sold products that didn’t work for us and then we were stuck with them,” she says.

“And I don’t want any developer to have to go through that. I want developer advocacy to come in to the developers and the folks that are not making the decisions. They’re the ones that are just forced to live with the decisions in some cases.”

Quid pro quo benefits everyone

Amara recognises that this developer-focus is one internal strength, while the sales team brings another and the marketing team another.

Ultimately, she says, being able to pull everyone together enables larger strategic conversations about the future of the company. And the larger conversations will always start with the smaller ones about technical issues or gaps that need fixing or who to connect with.

“It’s those early conversations where I’m happy to sit down with people that reach out to me and say, ‘Here’s what I can do for you.’ But I always make sure that I say, ‘Okay, now tell me what you can do for me.’

“Sales have a ton of folks in their network that might be interested in coming to some of the workshops that I have, they may be interested in setting up a workshop for their organization.

“So I go in and I teach them different things that we’re working with. Maybe it’s the latest tips and tricks with something like Unity. And everyone wins because we’ve all set those expectations and appreciate this is what you’re good at, here’s how we can work together as a team.

“And then if it’s outside of either of our scope, we pull someone else in and have them do the things that make them happy.”


:: Amara will be sharing some of the ways to build up an internal army in her talk at DevRelCon London 2018 over November 7 and 8.

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