Should I Become a Developer Evangelist?

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“What exactly do you do?”

Since I started working as a Developer Evangelist at Twilio I get asked this question multiple times a week. Whether it’s while I’m at a meetup, speaking at a conference or even when I’m visiting my family for the holidays. Often times when someone asks me this question it’s because they’re interested in looking into a career as a developer evangelist. My fellow evangelists Matt Makai and Greg Baugues have both written great post about their journeys as evangelists that I’d highly recommend. Following their lead, this post is my attempt to put on paper my answer to people who ask “Should I Become a Developer Evangelist?”.

Start With Why

One of our 9 things at Twilio is “Start With Why” and it’s much easier for me to answer the question of Developer Evangelism beginning with answering “Why Would I Become a Developer Evangelist?”.

My life has been impacted by this thing called “the Internet” in ways I never could’ve imagined. I cannot stress enough that the reason I’ve chosen Developer Evangelism as a career is because I believe in the power of developers to challenge assumptions and change the way the world operates for the better. To wake up every day with the opportunity to serve this community of amazing people pursuing the craft of software development is a dream come true. Being a developer evangelist has been the most personally rewarding job I’ve ever had by miles.

If you’re the type of person that is thinking about evangelism because your heart grows three sizes every time you find an opportunity serve developer communities, then I don’t think you could find a better gig.

!Every Day Is Different

When I first started this gig my initial answer to “What exactly do you do?” would be “Well… every day is different” but a few months ago I rightfully got called out for this being a super lame answer. Not only is it lame, but it’s also not entirely true. First, each morning I wake up with the same mission: “to inspire and equip developers to change communication forever”. Second, there are big tasks that are constantly on my radar:

  • Writing technical content
  • Preparing for and giving presentations
  • Attending / organizing meetups or conferences
  • Hackathons

The allocation of my day may be different but I’m thinking about at least one of these tasks every day of the week. Additionally there are many other discrete tasks that remain consistent as well:

  • Coding
  • Answering questions on StackOverflow
  • E-mails/Coffees/Lunches with awesome developers

Yes, developer evangelists still code! We have a large amount of freedom to decide what we code on. Personally, I spend a lot of my time writing code that I think I can turn into fun technical content but other members of the squad have done things like productize tools we can use in the field to help create great experiences for developers or build a helper library for a new language / framework.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the types of tasks you do when you’re a developer evangelist but if you’re thinking about pursuing this path, I wanted to give you a taste of what you could be spending your time on.

Freedom to Fail

One of the words you’ll probably hear most often when it comes to evangelism is “autonomy”. This gig is not paint by numbers. There’s a lot of challenges to tackle and we have the autonomy to tackle the ones we think are most important.

Bigger than autonomy, we have the freedom to fail. We’re actually encouraged to tackle big challenges, swing the fences and see what we learn. We track our learning regardless of the outcome. Often times there’s as much to learn from a strikeout as there is from a home run.

Developer evangelism is an especially great gig for people who are excited to try new things and then answer the question “What did we learn today?”.

Evangelism and Travel

Travel is a component of this gig (approximately 30%-40% of your time) but it’s important to realize that it is entirely possible to be an evangelist while still having a life in your hometown. At Twilio, over half of the evangelist team is married and many have kids. Carter Rabasa wrote a great post about how he balances hustling and family which was a huge help as I started this gig.

It’s not just having time for a family, Rob both serves as the Head of Evangelism at Twilio and plays in a punk band. There’s a myth that evangelism is a vacuum that sucks up all your time and, at least from my experience, it’s not true. Like Carter, I try to limit the weeknights I’m at events to two a week so I have time home with my wonderful wife and puppy Gif. With travel, I try to focus on visiting a few selected cities consistently instead of traveling all over the world. This approach gives me more time at home with the people I love.

If travel is the worry that’s kept you from seriously going after this gig, I’d encourage you to give evangelism another look.

My Favorite Thing

My favorite part of this job is the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships. Both internally (with the Twilio crew) but externally (with incredible developers I meet every day). I often joke that I hope no one at Twilio finds out that they’re paying me to do a job I would do for free.

I treasure every time I get to see a hacker deploy code to the web for the first time; whenever someone in the community does something so inspiring it leaves an indelible mark on me. There are countless moments I’ve had over the past year and a half that I will carry for the rest of my life. I’m incredibly thankful to have a gig that lets me cultivate the relationships that allow these moments to happen.

Does having a job where you wake up every day and build relationships with developers sound like your dream job?

<Response>
  <Say voice=”JeffFoxworthy”>
    You might be a developer evangelist!
  </Say>
</Response>

Say “Hi”

Have you been asking yourself the question “Should I become a developer evangelist?” and want to chat more? Drop me an e-mail at ricky@twilio.com or holler at me on twitter. I’d love to hear about your journey so far and find out how I can help.