Building Content: Corporate Channels or Personal

Before getting into this topic, let’s get clear definitions for Corporate Channel and Personal Channel for the context of this article with an added specific detailed definition for “advocate” and “advocacy”.

Corporate Channel: This is the channel of communications that falls within the realm of a corporate blog (like Digital Ocean’s Blog which is one of the best, HashiCorp’s, or New Relic’s are all examples), corporate Twitter account (the best of course are one’s like Wendy’s), and the normal slew of stuff on LinkedIn and Facebook. Largely, in all honesty developer’s rightfully just ignore the huge bulk of junk on both LinkedIn and Facebook. The other part of this channel is of course the plethora of ads that rain from corporations, but those aren’t anything to do with advocacy as you know except in a disingenuous way.

Personal Channel: This is the channel that often advocates work with most. This is advocacy that they work with and build up within the community that is largely autonomous of the corporate channel. However there is always a corporate entity – their employer or otherwise related – that will of course benefit also. But first and foremost the personal channel is one that an advocate builds for themselves, the community, and a particular technology, language, or other thing that they’re interested in. Above all things, from an external point of view this is where people who follow or consume an advocates gain trust for that particular individual.

Advocate/Advocacy: In this article, note that I’m using an expanded notion, simply put if you’re on Twitter or Github or somewhere public in even the slightest way you are indeed an advocate and providing advocacy for some technology product or platform. This includes people with titles like Developer, Engineer, Architect, or whatever else that has a professional presence online.

What’s What

Of these two channels, it is often difficult as an advocate to determine which to use for various messages out to the prospective community. Do I push content for a corporate entity? Do I push content via my personal blog? Will one damage the other or damage my future prospects at reaching the audience I hope to gain? What advantages does one have over the other? Let’s get into and answer these and other questions.

Advantage Goes To… Neither

Each channel has advantages over the other. For content that you are very specifically curious about, that you’ve spent the time learning, and want to share your personal journey with one’s personal channels are dramatically better then putting that on a corporate channel. If something is more of a manual, how-to, similar to documentation, or an update about specific products or services, that should and rightfully fits on a corporate channel.

Things do become unclear when you may want to provide release notes for a product, but also commentary about what and why various features or issues were built and resolved. It’s something that could add positive characteristic and a human touch to a corporate channel, or on a personal channel it may add specific technical know-how that is then related to the owner of the personal channels. In this case there isn’t specifically a win-lose, but a kind of win-win for either channel, except the one that doesn’t get that content.

For best integrity and focusing content where people can trust it most post this on…

Corporate Channels

  • Product or Service Release or Release Notes
  • Announcements of Corporate Events, News, etc.
  • How-to Articles
  • Documentation, new documentation
  • Manuals or walk through information

Personal Channels

  • Any of the above but with person details, thoughts, ideas, hope, or whatever else has come to mind about what is being released or posted.
  • How-to articles that detail specific personal experiences using products or services and especially anything positive or negative related to those products or services.
  • Personal adventures in coding, conferences, meetups, events, or other human elements of one’s advocacy around something.
  • Other interesting, but generally tangentially related content that you’re interested in that informs some idea of who you are. i.e. I post stuff about music (metal), and biking. If you’re going to be active and advocate, you might as well be you (more on this below).

Building Channels

Another major point of contention is how to and in what way should a corporate channel be built up from an advocacy perspective versus a personal channel. Should either relate to the other, reference each other, or otherwise interconnect? In many ways, my not so humble opinion is yes. A prime example, at DataStax I worked diligently to provide content for the corporate channels, but I also very specifically aim to build my own channels which I use to have a voice and provide the community information, details, and information about the things I’ve learned and am working on. these things often don’t fit on the corporate presence but are exactly the types of things that build integrity in the corporate channels.

Take for example, personal anecdote here, I undertook recon around Twitch streaming. This is a medium that has been growing significantly among developers as a way to hang out online together and teach, learn, and generally build cool things to help with what we do on a day to day basis. Sometimes it is game development, other times it might be setting up infrastructure as code for something that will host a site or pull data for and use Grafana for example. This is a very personal realm and has that personal interaction as a key underpinning of what it is as an experience. This makes going in as a corporate channel difficult, with the need to build a personal presence something that needs to be done first to build and maintain some integrity. Then building the corporate presence becomes a bit easier since there is solid familiarity with the platform.

This goes the same for Twitter. Personal channels, especially today, can gain far greater impact than a lot of the corporate channels. A lot of corporate channels just get outright blocked as people grow tired of having ads and other things force pushed at them. Twitter, after all and in spite of the Twitter Corp itself, is still largely about and for a personal experience. Them shoving news into it has made it a faux commons, and distracted from many things and created a toxic environment for many, but for those of us that can make use of it this still stands out among social media as one of the more valuable. As mentioned, it’s a personal environment that needs a human touch, and the best corporate channels are those like Wendy’s!

Sharing Content

Now there is also the realm where content starts to be shared. Sometimes things are cross-posted, but whatever the case shared content needs to be proofed, kept in a voice for ease of reading and maintained over time. The search engines and other ways that content is organically found on the internet often goes through a kind of auto-updating process to remove cruft and old links, but for some things links really stay put and continuously – even when horrifically outdated – show up in search results. For advocates it is of key importance to maintain relevancy and in many cases update the content they produce. It’s rarely done, but something that is worth working toward!

Advocacy for Advocates

When working through building content, every advocate and every company hiring advocates should work to build up their individual advocates. If the company isn’t, and the advocates aren’t, then it does a disservice to the advocates and the company – as it is of vital importance to not forget that we build software for people. Ideologically the connections that advocates have are with people, and it’s important that this is focused on, built up, and maintained as a core element of developer, or any kind of advocacy.

My take on the situation and general modus operandi “Advocates should first and foremost ensure they advocate and build up their own work and presence which itself is built on core relationships throughout the industry. Corporate content comes 2nd and in doing so the corporate content can be and will become much more valuable, usable, and important.

On that note, good luck on your advocacy efforts!

The Developer Advocates – Observations on Microsoft’s New Competence

racoonRecently a whole slew of people got hired at Microsoft. Many of us have taken notice. It’s left a lot of people with questions like:

  • Why would Erik, Ashley, or Jesse work at Microsoft?
  • Doesn’t it seem suspicious?
  • I wonder what kind of cash they allocated to that payroll budget?
  • Does Microsoft hire anybody that actually uses Microsoft tooling anymore?
  • I’m confused, what is even going on?

The answers may be more obvious for those of us that have kept an eye on Microsoft. There has been this grand upheaval and cultural change that has occurred. CEO Satya Nadella has legitimately shifted the culture in a way that much of the company has wanted to go. Somehow, he’s also managed to start changing the culture even for those that weren’t sure or didn’t want to go.

Satya has taken what core individuals like Scott Guthrie, Scott Hanselman, and many others have hoped for and pushed for over the years and started to enable the people within Microsoft to make this happen. You can read plenty about how Microsoft has gotten it’s groove back, and about the work the Scotts and others have done to get that groove going. But I’m not particularly writing about that, but it has inspired this article in a big way. I’m going to elaborate on what I’ve observed and what I know to make a strong, effective, useful, and community focused developer advocate and developer advocates team.

The developer advocate team over at Microsoft is led by Jeff Sandquist, Brian Liston, and a few others. They’re solid individuals with good ideas about how to build and have an advocate team contribute effectively to the community in which it works. Here are the top three obvious things they’ve done that have made the team effective, relevant, intelligent, and useful.

  1. The team is diverse. I’m not even going to play around, diverse teams with many ideas and a range of people do better. End of story, it really ought not to be complicated these days. But one can’t just start a team and say “I want my team to be diverse”. That’s a start, but the important part is does one know how to build a diverse team? In technology, if one doesn’t have insight into actual human begins this doesn’t pan out so well. One has to have the ability to communicate effectively to people out of the tech nerd guy stereotype trope in order to actually build this type of team. Jeff, Brian, and crew appear to have this ability. I’ll write more on this later, but suffice it to say, this is a top skillset of a developer advocate team’s leadership.
  2. The team has to be skilled at a variety of complementing technologies. If someone knows X, and the next person knows X, and nobody knows Y, then the team is going to be fairly weak and likely broken in representing and providing value around Y, and in some sense even around X. At this point the Developer Advocates that have been introduced have some pretty extensive skillsets around key technologies that the Microsoft Technical Evangelists have traditionally been extremely weak in. This current team has some skills in the Windows space, but there’s been a big focus in filling the massive skills gap around Linux, cloud technology (ironic there’s traditionally been such a gap on the cloud team), non-MS languages like Go, distributed systems, data analysis and intelligent (or data science or whatever one may call these roles), and more. The Advocate team (also not called evangelists anymore, finally) is finally in a good position to actually start doing advocacy around actual cloud technology. I’m excited for the potential of the prospects!
  3. The third thing that has stood out, is that they’ve hired people that know how to do the advocacy thing already. They’re not trying to define or redefine it on Microsoft’s terms but instead have brought people onboard that are already natural advocates of things they find interesting. Take Erik St Martin (@erikstmartin) for example; co-authored a book, “Go in Action“ with Brian Ketelsen (@bketelsen), co-hosts Go Time FM. That brings up another great example with Brian Ketelsen. Both of these guys are hug advocates in their own right, without connection to any specific big company or what not. These are the types of people that bring huge strength to a team with already proven ability to delivery. Then there’s Jesse Frazelle, but seriously, I really don’t even need to mention the work she’s done with containers (cough cough, docker, etc). Another person you should be watching is Anthony Chu (@nthonyChu), who’s been a steady Azure and great technologies advocate over the years, also joined up. You can read more about the individual team members here, and I hear through the secret grapevine that there are more en route to join. Simply put, Microsoft isn’t pulling their punches!

Before a lot of the Microsoft team had been formed into the epic legion it is today, there were a number of articles pointing to this rebirth into a newly relevant organization. One that was solid is Ars Technica’s “Microsoft’s renewed embrace of developers, developers, developers, developers“ by Peter Bright (@drpizza). One of the first, as anyone who reads & subscribes to [Red Monk] analysis would suspect, was published by James Governor (@monkchips) with “On Hiring Jesse Frazelle: Microsoft’s Developer Advocacy Hot Streak Continues“. The writing has been on the proverbial wall.

So now what?

Now the thing to wait and see is if the team and the team’s leadership can direct all of this energy into their respective efforts. The team is big, lots of people, lots of focus points. How will they use each others’ strengths while building up along core competencies? How will they provide value without detracting from product and push product without losing community value? There are a lot of questions to be answered and I’ll be keeping a close eye on their efforts. As I do with all of the advocacy teams I find fellow interests in. The advocacy, effectiveness, and reasons for it all has been an interest of my own for some time. So much so you can expect more than a few more articles on this topic, until then, cheers!

 

9 Ways To Survive The Shit Storm of Developer Evangelism

I started to write a blog entry a few months ago about my time doing developer evangelism. First in practice, along with product management and team leadership and then as a full time developer evangelist with Basho. Then I felt many different things, nothing which translated into a very useful blog entry. Well past any motivation to write up where and what I was doing at the time and why I decided it wasn’t something I wanted to keep pursuing, I ran into this blog entry titled “Developer Evangelism The Whole Story“. At that point I thought, “alright, I’m going to add my two cents after all”.

For one of the same reasons Keith Casey wrote his entry. People have asked me numerous times about becoming an evangelist or advocate. Be sure to read Casey’s write up, and here’s mine to throw more into that fire.

Positives:

  • You’ll be able to go to all sorts of cities and meet a whole bunch of different people.
  • You’ll be on display and actually able to do something to improve the industry. Not just technologically but to help resolve sexism, discrimination and other issues and treat people well.
  • Do right by people as an evangelist and you’re set for a plethora of possibilities when you finally get burned out.
  • You get to play with all sorts of tech.
  • You get to travel a lot, which makes you really start to respect your home base, wherever that may be.

Negatives:

  • You’re barely ever home, usually you’re on the road with familiarity often becoming the stink of a plane or the confused expression as the TSA security circus actually recognizes you and just starts ignoring you.
  • Even though you can help improve the industry, you’re ability to make a home, make a difference where you live is dramatically reduced to basically nothing. For most people, considering civic involvement in the United States, this probably doesn’t even matter. For some, it’s destructively depressing.
  • If you get mis-portrayed, say something dumb out of jest, or the media mis-quotes you it can be anywhere from annoying to career limiting or ending. If you make the mistake of pissing of someone that has a lot of pull then it could also be super destructive – even if that person is a total jack ass and everyone routinely knows it and admits to it.
  • You get to play with all sorts of tech, but you lose a lot of credibility because you don’t actually build anything real anymore. This is a huge problem, and I’d even suggest most evangelists go work on an actual dev team every other year or so. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will start to be perceived as a shill of some sort by a reasonable amount of people, even though they could be extremely wrong in that perception.
  • Your home base, you often don’t get to have a real home base. You are a vagabond. For a musical definition, listen to Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam”.

Now if you still think this is a great gig for you. Thicken up that skin, get some callouses and get ready for a bad ass trip that’ll teach you about all sorts of human interactions and more. But be prepared and keep a solid look out for burn out and the degradation of any of the situations mentioned above. If you do you’ll likely do well. If you’re still interested, here’s a few things to get your kick start in developer evangelism:

  1. Get a social media presence, get it fast, and get a nick that you can use in almost all contexts. Don’t even pretend you can skip this step. The most successful evangelists have a huge social media presence and manage it. They manage it hard core, work it into a system, and learn efficient and positive ways to interact with that social media presence. Shut up, don’t even try to skip it, just go out there and manage it.
  2. Make sure to spend at least an hour a day doing something technical. Hacking on Docker, writing some scripts or heaven forbid writing some actual code. This is massively important because you’ll find yourself losing direction all the time from the task switching and not getting to do these little technical things that will help you keep your edge.
  3. Learn to speak. I don’t mean read a little book and think you know how to speak in front of a crowd. Likely, you really suck at it. I’m talking about practicing in the mirror, talk to yourself, record yourself and watch it and do all of these things without becoming nihilistic or pompous. Most of us tech speakers are so bad we’re lucky that the people in the industry are actually focused on the tech and not our stuttering horror of speaking abilities.
  4. Drop all fear to speak with people in positions of power. Remember, everybody is human, don’t get intimidated and don’t intimidate.
  5. Not that anybody in the software industry or tech industry or any industry needs told this but I’ll say it. Don’t overdo the drink. We’re all dangerously close all the time to being worthless drunkards. Some of us stay pretty functional on a drink or two, but that only lasts for a short time before you do indeed go downhill. Don’t deny yourself, you are NOT part of the one percent that can stay sharp and rot your brain. So keep the drink in check.
  6. Find a way, anyway, to stay physically healthy. If you don’t the travel can very likely kill you. I don’t mean like “I’m tired and want to go to bed” killed but more like “hmmm, Tory Joe McQuerty here sure did see like they were fine, too bad we’re putting them six feet under” killed. Oh, the “I’m tired and want to go to bed” will happen all the time too, just make sure you keep that as the only killed you get.
  7. Attain a huge amount of apathy for the extra overdose of everyone’s opinions about how everything sucks in the world. Many programmers are notoriously negative, especially if they work in the enterprise. It’s part of the daily war story if you get sucked in. Remember to stay focused on what’s important, your health and your loved ones, the job comes second. Anybody that tells you different, put them in that apathy category.
  8. Never feel like you have to explain yourself when you need to take some family time or personal time. Just say you need to and do it. Even if you’re pretty close to people on your team, they need to respect that and let you get some time in. This is extremely important.
  9. Don’t give to many fucks. Learn that at some point you gotta call it a day and turn in. Just drop it all and get a good night of sleep.

Summary: Think really hard about what you want when signing up for a dev evangelist or advocacy gig. It will wreck hell on your life, but it could be immensely rewarding too. But please, if you go into evangelism, practice at it and be prepared. I hate the idea of seeing more people burn themselves right out of the industry.

If you have anymore survival suggestions, please do comment!