Sustainable dev rel in 2019




When developer relations people get together, the conversation inevitably comes round to how many trips they’ve made that year.

Not long back, Emily Freeman tweeted:

James Governor

James Governor

At DevRelCon London, James Governor closed the event with a plea for dev rel people to take better care of themselves.

If you’ve spent any time around dev rel then you’ll know we have a problem.

So, if you don’t read any of the rest of this post then just read this: in 2019, let’s make dev rel sustainable.

Why do we have a problem?

Okay, what actually is the problem?

The main symptom appears to be that some portion of the dev rel profession is spending way more time away from home than might be reasonable.

Sure, travel is usually part of the job. Developer advocates speak at conferences, attend meet-ups, run booths, and so on. But the meme that dev rel people should only rarely see their loved ones is a dangerous one.

There are lots of reasons for why this has happened but I think the top four are:

  • The ongoing hunt for ROI: developer relation programmes are expensive and it’s tempting to feel you have to be everywhere at once to show just how hard you’re working.
  • Fear that the opportunity window will close: the investment will run out or the competition will win the market if you don’t speak at that conference 3,000 miles away on your dog’s birthday.
  • Peer pressure: we might not mean to, but we’ve created a culture where airport pictures and tweets about jet lag have normalised burn-out and also shown our non dev rel colleagues that this is what is expected.
  • Dev rel still isn’t well understood: mostly, though, it’s that there isn’t a common playbook for dev rel (maybe we need several) and so dev rel professionals don’t always know what to do and management/colleagues have outsized expectations of what dev rel can achieve.

Developer relations isn’t magic. It’s a process that when carried out for long enough, with the right inputs, and the right goals, will make increasingly large contributions over time. Misunderstanding that leads to unsustainable dev rel.

It’s unsustainable for the humans in the middle of it, for the environment, for the budgets of the companies we work for, and for the profession as a whole.

Not long ago, a client told me that they can’t hire developer advocates. Why? Because it’ll scare investors and executives. It’ll make them think of unsustainable, unmeasurable, expensive travel. Of course, that’s an unfair representation but maybe, as a profession, we’ve got to own up to the part we’ve played.

What can we do?

For me, it starts with strategy. Be sure of which developers you want to reach, what change you want to make happen, and how that feeds back into your company’s broader strategy.

Once you have that straight, conversations around dev rel become so much easier. After all, strategy is a framework for saying “no”.

If you have your strategy straight, then you’ll have the right mix of strategically justifiable travel alongside everything else that we as dev rel do. You can show your management and colleagues that what you’re doing is working, because you’ll have the right metrics in place. You can see that often travel prevents you doing other things that could be more effective. So, it’s okay to say no to the events that won’t give you a bigger impact.

So, what are we waiting for?

For our own sakes and for the environment’s sake, let’s make 2019 the year of sustainable developer relations. No one’s going to win any awards for most miles travelled (and airline status is a trap, not a reward). You’ll feel better and do a better job if you take time for yourself and follow a mixed strategy that makes travel just one part of what you do.


Photo by Adhitya Andanu, via Pexels

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