I have yet to see a job description for devrel that matches what someone actually does in their day-to-day work.
Part of the problem is that a lot of devrel teams are built by someone who’s had success in their own devrel career and is building a team around their own history and preferences. But most of the problem is that companies have an extremely poor understanding of what devrel actually means, so they tend to make it mean anything.
An incomplete list of all the different jobs I’ve seen described as devrel.
I’ve seen “developer relations” used to describe a wide range of entirely different roles and skillsets:
- Community building — creating spaces and systems for others to succeed
- Content creation — tutorials, videos, demos, etc.
- Documentation — a different kind of writing entirely
- Sales support — talk to prospective customers (usually their engineering teams)
- Product support — relaying community feedback for planning and prioritization
- Engineering support — acting as “User Zero” for new APIs and features to give early feedback
- Marketing support — helping shape the messaging and positioning of the company
- R&D support — prototyping and validation of wild ideas
- “Being famous” — sometimes a company just wants to be associated with a well-known name (I have feelings about this, but that’s for another time)
- …and this isn’t even a complete list — it’s just what I can remember about the work I did in my own devrel roles
None of these skills are necessarily required to get into devrel — but depending on how a given company understands devrel, they might be.
Companies don’t think about devrel strategy — so you have to.
Every company has a complex set of strengths, weaknesses, and needs. Devrel will take a different shape in each company.
If the company’s leadership isn’t comfortable going out in public and talking about the company’s vision and product’s value, devrel will probably need to tackle that. They’ll be looking for someone to get up on stages and get a crowd hyped on your company’s promised future.
If the company doesn’t have a Documentation team, devrel might get tapped for that.
If the company is weak on Marketing, devrel can fill in for a while. Ditto for Product, Sales, Support, and a host of other roles.
Devrel is organizational duct tape.
Devrel has a tendency to become organizational duct tape. It’s a role that attracts generalists who — while they can’t do everything — are typically capable of handling some of the tasks of many roles. This partial coverage can help companies handle shifting needs for a short time while they figure out more permanent solutions.
The adaptability of devrel is one of its greatest strengths. But it’s also one of the biggest challenges when joining a new company. If the company hasn’t really thought through how devrel fits into the organization, it’s incredibly hard to predict what kind of tasks you’re signing up for.
Ask the right questions so you don’t end up with unpleasant surprises.
When you’re interviewing, ask the company what the daily tasks for devrel are. Make sure they expect you to do the things you want to do. And if they have no idea, you can make the choice on whether you want to do the work to shape the devrel team at this company — or whether you’d prefer to look elsewhere for a team with a clearer idea of what success looks like in the role.
I’ve watched extremely talented people take devrel jobs, only to leave the job within their first year — often with a lot of frustration on both sides of the relationship.
If you’re deeply technical and your goal in devrel is to be heavily engaged with the Engineering team, building demos, and workshopping APIs to ensure the developer experience is top-notch, that needs to be what the company is looking for in their devrel team.
Otherwise, you might think devrel means digging into the tech, and the company might think it means writing two blog posts per week. Without setting clear expectations, there could be mismatched goals — and you’ll end up leaving the job unhappy.
Know what drives you — and what doesn’t.
If you’re looking to get into devrel, it’s really important to understand all the different facets of what devrel can be and to make sure you know which ones you enjoy.
For example, if you love writing and creating tutorials, make sure that’s what the devrel team does. There might be a different team with technical writers — and you may want to apply for that role instead.
If you want to go to conferences and give talks on stage, make sure that’s what the company expects out of devrel. Especially today, with budgets tightening and conferences struggling to get attendees back after COVID put in-person events on hold, not every devrel team is going to have a travel budget to send you to conferences.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself: How do I create the role that gives me energy that makes me want to come to work that I’m excited about doing?
Devrel is mostly a vibe — get the job details in writing.
Devrel is too new as a role to have any kind of standardized job description. Every company will define, measure, and prioritize devrel tasks differently.
I know folks who work full time in devrel at two different companies. In one, their job is exclusively conferences: they go to events, work the booth, and generate leads. The other spends exclusively works on writing tutorials, blog posts, and demo apps. Both teams have “Developer Relations” as a title, but the Venn diagram of their actual work is two separate circles.
They’re completely different jobs, despite having the same job title.
The Island of Misfit Toys
I often joke that the devrel is the Island of Misfit Toys. Our job in devrel is to understand the gaps and weaknesses in a company, and then fill those gaps. That might mean that we’re working on the product one day, then working in engineering the next. Other days, you’re working on a marketing campaign or writing docs.
All of these tasks fit under the devrel umbrella.
But remember: depending on the company and the company’s maturity (and who the company has already hired), you might never do any of those things — whether or not you want to.
If you want to land a devrel job you’ll enjoy and thrive in, you need to write your own ideal job description — then use it to filter the companies until you find one who defines the role the same way.
Getting your first devrel job is hard, but you can give yourself an advantage.
Breaking into devrel is tough, especially if you don’t already have a platform. However, having a clear understanding of the broad spectrum of what devrel can be, what your strengths and goals are, and how all that fits into the company’s strategy puts you head and shoulders above most candidates.
Most candidates aren’t thinking about this.
Most companies aren’t thinking about this.
Devrel is not about being an niche internet microcelebrity. You’re there to do work, and you’re there to provide value to the company.
Remember: if you want to be in devrel, do devrel.
If you want to do a thing, do that thing! If you show somebody that you’re good at it, they will reward you by offering you more of that work.
If you show that you understand the space and put out work you want to get more of, you’ll eventually land that job. Lots of companies will make accommodations to allow you to write or speak about your work at the company. It’s extra press for them, after all.
And remember: it will take time. Keep applying constant, gentle pressure and you’ll get the job. 💜