From Blogger to Senior Developer Advocate at AWS

David shares with us the secrets of getting into DevRel, with no previous experience.

David Tippett DevRel

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David Tippett

Senior Developer Advocate

AWS

Chesapeake Virginia USA

Previous companies:

  • PRA Group
    AGI

Key Takeaways

  • David advises starting a blog that focuses on problem solving
  • He advocates doing what you are passionate about in order to stand out
  • David recommends learning all you can, being curious, and sharing any knowledge gained in plain English with the community

 

David’s video

Watch David’s video on YouTube

Transcript

What does your job involve?

What’s happening guys? My name’s David and I’m a senior developer advocate on the OpenSearch team here at AWS. Specifically the open source OpenSearch, not the managed service. Today I wanted to give you a little bit of background on how I became a developer advocate at Amazon with no experience, and I will note that this is not the path I recommend for everyone, but listen along because I have some advice on how you can get started.

What were you doing before DevRel?

So I started working initially as an analyst at a call centre, and it was a really good way for me to get in the door with development because I was still getting my CS degree. So, I walked into this analytics job and it was rough. They were running reports in Excel for hours. They were refreshing these reports and I was like: ‘This is terrible. We can totally automate this’. So I whipped out my Python skills and started hacking up some scripts, and by the time I left that position, we had automated 60 reports. We started with 10 – 60 were being done automatically. When I started we were only overseeing about a hundred people, and when I left we were overseeing 550 people’s schedules and call centre metrics, which was just super cool. All without adding anyone to the team, just through automation.

How did you start to learn about DevRel?

So I’d been doing this for about three years when I was like: ‘You know what? I have my computer science degree, I’ve been doing this for a while. It’s time for me to find some like real work, you know, using C#, a real programming language into web development’, because that’s what everyone else was doing, I felt like. So I found myself a job doing C# development for Dynamics 365, which is a CRM for those who don’t know and at a broadcast studio. And let me tell you, I hated it. I could not stand the work that I was doing. So it was about this time that I came across the word ‘developer advocate’ on a thread on Reddit, and I was just hooked. 

Did you identify any skills gaps?

The second I saw that, I’m like: ‘I need to work to that level of engineering’, what I believed I had to be in order to be a developer advocate. So naturally, I went and took another job doing C#, because that makes sense (!) My next move was to start a blog, right? Because that’s what developer advocates do. They write blogs. So I thought… Anyhow, I wrote 18 blogs in the first six or seven months that I was blogging. And some of them would do well, but most of them would just kind of taper off after the first couple days. Except for a few. And those blogs I wrote when I was frustrated and couldn’t find a solution for a problem that I had, especially when I spent weeks looking for the answer. 

What did you focus on in your blogs?

A really good example of this is fixing your SSL verify errors on Windows. So I had spent a week diving in on this and trying to figure out ‘what is wrong’? And turns out when you’re on a corporate network and they’re doing SL decryption, which is where they take incoming packets, decrypt them at the firewall, make sure they’re okay, re-encrypt them, and then send them to your computer. So when they do that, there is a certificate on your computer that Python needs to know about in order to verify that it came from an authorised sender. Well, turns out Python doesn’t look in your window certificate store, which is where it’s stored. So there was a very simple solution to this and that is to install Python Certify 1 32, and it looks in your cert store and everything starts coming back as valid. I spent weeks looking this up and that blog to this day still gets 50 to 125 views a day. So those are the types of things I started really focusing on and blogging on.

What was your first DevRel job?

So it was at the same time that I came across an opportunity to become a moderator on a community on Reddit. And I was like: ‘this is fun. Like I’m totally down for this’. Little did I realise how hard it was going to be! That community had half million people. And we really quickly realised as mods, we need a really concise set of rules to point back to, whenever the community has a disagreement or someone wants someone banned, we need to be able to say: ‘We banned this person and this is why’, or ‘We didn’t ban this person and here’s why’. We would often get like: ‘Why’d they just get away with a warning?’ And admittedly, being able to point back to those rules and describe why we did what we did earned us a tonne of trust in the community. They generally would back us and it was phenomenal. It was really important for us managing such a large community to have that nice concise set of rules. 

What other DevRel departments have you worked in?

So in my most recent job, I spent a lot of time working on solving problems that could come from either servers or cloud instances or network devices, because I worked as a network automation engineer and also as a DevOps engineer. And naturally I was looking for the right tool for the job, and we had a lot of tools internally. We had log.io for instance, we had Datadog, there was Rapid7, there was SolarWinds, we had Log Insight, which is a VMware product, and I was like: ‘We’re using all of these tools separately and admittedly probably pretty poorly. Nobody really knows how to use these tools really well. What if we were to take all of them, put them into one tool bag and everyone learned that same tool bag, then we can share learnings across different groups. That’s awesome’.

How did you make yourself stand out from the crowd?

So I started talking to different people and learning and finding out what’s out there. And of course I came across the Elk Stack, came across Open Destro and I was just talking to people about it, like: ‘Look, we really should be doing this’. 

It was during this time that Amazon actually released their open source fork of Elastic called Open Search. And I was like: ‘Alright, well what’s the difference?’ So I reached out to their developer advocate at the time, Kyle, and I was like: ‘Hey man, you wanna like help me figure out what’s going on here?’ So we talked about it for a long time and we ended up co-authoring a blog, ‘The Difference between Elasticsearch, Open Destro and Open Search’. And I was like: ‘Awesome, this is really exciting’. At the time there wasn’t super much, mainly licensing and the availability of some security plugins, but as times’s grilling on, there’s a whole lot more that’s getting packed into open search. I’m going to try and not plug it too much here though. I was talking to people internally about this and like: ‘Hey, let’s solve this problem’. 

What made you consider a career as a DevRel advocate?

So it was a little bit later that I ended up reaching out to Kyle and I said: ‘Hey man, like, how do you like being a developer advocate?’ And he asked me: ‘Why? Were you thinking about it? Because I thought you might be a good fit for the open search team actually’. I was like: ‘Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? Like, me? I’m just this little DevOps engineer at a relatively mid-size finance company. I’m like, what makes you say that?’ And you know, after talking to him for a little bit, I realised I’ve been doing developer advocacy stuff for almost three years at this point. I had written a blog and been keeping up with it. I was moderating a community and earning trust. I was learning and being curious, diving deep and finding out the details and then putting it in plain English for other people to see. 

What advice would you give to DevRel hopefuls?

So I mentioned that I wouldn’t necessarily do it the same way, and that’s because I wasn’t really being intentional with a lot of it. A lot of it was just chance. But you guys have the opportunity to be super intentional. 

So go out there and write your blogs, write about things you’re passionate about, because that’s what’s going to really set you apart from the rest – doing what you’re interested in and sharing it with others. I want to thank you all for taking the time to watch this. Be an advocate where you’re at. If you’re interested in OpenSearch, reach out to me, follow our YouTube, follow my YouTube, follow me on Twitter, whatever. And thank you so much.