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The developer evangelism handbook

This handbook will get you on the way to be a great developer evangelist for any product or company. Of course your approach needs tweaking for different markets and audiences - and in accordance with your own personality - but the main principles are the same for everybody and anywhere in the world.

Developer evangelism is a totally new field of work and the first hurdle you will encounter is people asking what a developer evangelist is and why any company would need a role like that.

Defining developer evangelism

A developer evangelist is a spokesperson, mediator and translator between a company and its technical staff. Every day millions of dollars are wasted in companies because non-tech people and tech people either don't communicate at all or completely miss each other's points.

Developers are what makes IT work. Yes, ideas are what start a great product and IA/Design (or call it UX if you want) makes it work for users but to make it work technically you need developers. Sadly enough developers don't get much credit for their work and are generally considered “deliverers” rather than “thinkers”, which is simply not true. What this also means is that telling something to developers as a company or getting them excited is quite a task.

Tip: If you are a clever company you also open your products to third party developers and release interfaces to the world. This could be as simple as an RSS feed, APIs, SDKs or going all out and releasing the whole thing as open source. The benefits are that millions of developers out in the world can find issues with or uses of your products that you never thought of. Innovation can happen anywhere – not only in a meeting room inside your company.

Both the world and your company is full of dedicated, highly skilled technical people that are ready to solve anything technical that needs solving. You can get them as excited as a 10 year old on a sugar rush who gets a puppy to play with – for us geeks the puppy is technology and the sugar caffeine.

You can make geeks find solutions for almost anything – if you speak their language. If you don't then they will most likely appear as weird, non-communicative and in general not as excited about working for the company as – for example – the marketing department is.

The trick is to understand that to be a developer – especially a web developer – you need to have a certain way of seeing the world. And this way of seeing the world makes you suspect things to fail in any which way. If your message means less work for the developers out there it is a great start to come from. If it means extra work on top of what is already on their plate (and developers always get maxed out) then you'll be out of luck.

Start with the right mindset

The main thing never to forget as a developer evangelist is the technical part. It is very easy to get into the habit of just writing one presentation after another and re-use materials but this way you will not have much impact.

If something new comes out of your company that should get out to developers take it and access it like an outside developer would. Develop something with it, then document what you have developed and then start writing how you build the thing – and voilà – you've got half an article or presentation already finished.

As a developer evangelist it is very important that you used to be a developer. The more projects the better. For example working in an agency is different to working for local government or a large multi-national company. Your job will be to make your company's technical offerings attractive and interesting to a large variety of developers, and you really only can do that when you know their pain.

Of course it is important to be a technical expert, but there are so many more little annoying parts to delivery inside a company that you should be aware of. If you don't have the experience in having to deal with them (and the frustrations they bring) you will have a much harder time giving developers the ammunition they need to sell your services to their boss.

Developer evangelist is a role that is a change for developers, not for people coming from HR, PR or marketing. Your main job is still to code – but this time examples, training materials and explanatory demos rather than live products.

Find your role and play to your strengths

Not everybody can and should be an all-around evangelist. It is enough if you find your place in the whole spectrum of evangelism. Think about what you love to do the most and then start creating something. The most common niches of the whole job to go into are:

  • Writing code tutorials
  • Blogging
  • Public speaking
  • Training
  • Social web coverage

Check the rest of the handbook and see what resonates best with you. Then start evangelising. You have nothing to lose and will most probably be very surprised how easy things become if you concentrate on one job at a time.