Meet Jamie Cantrell


Jamie Cantrell

Jamie is speaking at DevRelCon San Francisco 2019. Join us on June 6th and 7th for the developer relations conference.

Prior to her talk, we caught up with her to learn more about her dev rel story.

Tell me about your role at SAP
For the past three years, I’ve been working with the SAP Community on both platform UI/UX strategy and other community management issues, like moderation and engagement. In 2018, I led the project team focused on GDPR compliance in our UI/UX and data management for the Community. Today, I am working on projects like new user onboarding, engagement programs to bring our product teams across SAP closer to our customers and partners, training and development programs for our team members, and building a more diverse and inclusive community.

What brought you to this point in your career?

While I was working on my MBA, I applied for a position as an IT Knowledge Management intern with Hill’s Pet Nutrition/Colgate-Palmolive Co.  At the time the hiring manager had been sifting through lots of applications from those with technical skills but limited communication skills. She said she was very excited to hire me because I brought something different to the table. That’s when I realized I had a special opportunity to build a niche in the industry: translating between engineering and business users. I finished up my internship in 2011 and, after some major personal events led me down a couple of alternate paths (namely, marketing and sales), I came back to that niche skillset I had built: technical communications and change management.

In 2013, when a recruiter from SAP SuccessFactors reached out to me about a position in communications with the product support organization, I jumped on it. And, when the hiring manager decided I didn’t have enough experience to bother interviewing, I pushed back and told her that I had a different kind of experience and skills that she wouldn’t find in another generalized marketing/communications person. That’s how I started my career with SAP – by advocating for myself. That was another important lesson that I’ve carried with me: no one will advocate for you more than you can advocate for yourself.

After three years with the product support group, I moved over into the SAP Community team and have been there since. Last March, I completed my change management certification with PROSCI, which really solidified my knowledge of the people side of the change process and allowed me to better organize and guide change in our Community.

How does dev rel work at SAP?

My team (Communities and Influencers) is part of a broader SAP Community and Developer Relations group. Strategically, we work together to connect SAP with our developers, but the Community is also open to business users and other industry professionals. We report up to the Technology & Innovation board area, the segment of the company focused on products and engineering. In the past, we’d been on the Marketing side of the house, which of course meant that we had leadership with a different set of priorities and perspectives than we do today. I think we’ve landed in the right place, working alongside the dev rel team.

I know there are communities and dev rel folks out there being pushed to do demand gen and other marketing activities. Instead, we can focus on connecting with our influencers and building a more inclusive community around the products and technologies that SAP provides. This frees us from the pressure to produce anything that doesn’t serve our purpose.

What’s your dev rel philosophy? 

By its very nature, our entire job is to utilize and build empathy to achieve a better experience for our users and better results for our company. Dev rel and community management are both two-way communication roles. We represent the company with our users, but we also represent our users back to the company. One of the most challenging and critical roles we play is to be in the rooms where our members can’t be and advocate on their behalf. As community managers, if we are doing things right, our platform should be invisible to our end users. We help users access both self-service and peer-support through our work. Our objective is to uplift community members, giving them the chance to grow their own expertise and reputation, and empowering them to develop their careers within our environment.

We are successful when our members build their networks and help to grow the overall collective knowledge around using our products and solving their business problems. There is no self-aggradizement in this job and it can be pretty thankless sometimes, but in the end, we’re not here for our own egos. That’s the nature of “helping” professions. We invest our energy so others can build easier and better.

What do you see as the big challenges for dev rel right now?

The biggest challenge the industry faces right now is to create a diverse and inclusive environment.  As the tech industry seeks to continue innovating at the current pace, representation of diverse perspectives in technical teams will be critical. This is how we ensure that the technology we are creating is not only helping the most people, but also is not harming any people that we didn’t consider during the build process. Ultimately, this effort is about access and opportunity. So when we talk about inclusion, we have to focus on eliminating obstacles that impede different people’s abilities to be involved. This means proactively minimizing the impact of biases, providing free access to as many resources as we can (including events), and supporting the varied needs of our members, whether that means providing childcare at conferences, adding captioning to our videos and images, or addressing psychological safety in our digital communities.

Meeting the diverse needs of the 2.8 million users in the SAP Community is a special challenge in itself, and I don’t think many in the industry are yet dealing with community at that scale. In the end, dev rel needs to move beyond events and community managers need to move beyond platform. We must meet people where and when they are working, accommodating their needs as best we can through empathy and representation.

What are you hopeful about?

I’m incredibly hopeful about the diverse faces and stories that we are seeing become more prominent in the industry today. I see men and women and enbies alike making meaningful contributions in very visible ways to the overall collective. And that’s not to say these folks weren’t making contributions before, but as we talk more openly about different cultures, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, we see bigger opportunities for people whose voices were previously suppressed or silenced.

I am hopeful that as we continue to show that bias and discrimination are not acceptable and that it’s on those with privilege to speak up, reach down, and lift up those without, we will continue to see more doors opening for those who are traditionally underrepresented in the tech industry. Dev rel has a unique opportunity to drive this forward, as the barriers are lower than other ways that the industry interacts with people. Dev rel is on the ground, so to speak, meeting with everyday folks and in doing so, we have the special opportunity to open the doors and invite more people into the room.

Hear Jamie speak at DevRelCon San Francisco 2019!

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