What does a DevRel actually do in practice?

Being a dev-rel is a philosophy, a way of looking at things. A problem-solving way the most. How does it look like in practice?

2 years ago   •   7 min read

By Damir Krešo
Table of contents
Glassdoor says that currently, the average paying gig for a DevRel is around $90K annually. ZipRecruiter says that it is around $107K for those based in the US. So, how does one become a Developer Relations specialist and what does a Dev-Rel even do?

The starting position of a Dev-Rel

The main prerequisite that we found for starting as Dev-Rel is simply being in any sort of technical position. This is the only one that matters because it gives us insight on how developers work, how they think, and how they react to problems.

There is no ideal position to start with. Many developer relation specialists across the web say that getting into the dev-rel game actually starts with us - as a person.

Being a dev-rel is a philosophy, a way of looking at things.  A problem-solving way the most. It is being able to understand how different developers in different stages of their career approach dealing with the product you are representing.

As much as it is technical, you'll do your job great if you have the ability to listen, empathize and communicate with different kinds of people.

If we like communicating and advocating good solutions then dev-rel positions are the ones we can aim for. However, if we’re the kind of person that always thinks that we are the smartest cookie in the room - that might be a problem.

As much as we need to show confidence in our own knowledge and accomplishments, we still need to stay humble and be aware there is also always more to be learned.

If we are arrogant about it and refuse to listen to feedback (in every which form it may come) that might hinder us in our career as a dev-rel. Let’s remember, being able to LISTEN and UNDERSTAND our users is one of the most important skills we can have as a developer. Do not stop honing it to perfection!

The skills needed for the ‘relation’ part of a Dev-Rel role

We’ve already touched a bit on the skills needed for the “relation” part of a developer relation role. The ability to notice and hear (really hear) the problems of a developer or a pain point of a developer community is essential. We need to be able to examine problems and try to find our way around them.

However, being a dev-rel might also entail us representing solutions and communicating in all possible ways. Those of us who understand social media and how to build our personal brand inside it are already ahead of the game.

We shouldn’t be caught in the trap of building our brand across all platforms at once.

Sure, we can play around with different platforms just to see what works best. However, at one point we should determine which one is it that suits us the best and where we can build up authority. It might be Twitter, it might be GitHub or it even might be something like Stack Overflow.

That being the case, after mastering your platform of choice, the ability to adapt and do a variety of things like how-to tutorials, videos, public speaking or making easily readable docs is the next step. Not all developers react the same to different kinds of communications.

Some prefer the written word, some like videos better, and some prefer graphics. We need to be prepared to adjust and present ourselves and the product to all developers out there.

Establishing our personal brand as a leader in our niche is a great first step. That of course is everything but easy. Don't worry. Start small and don't stress if you do not have a huge following in the first 6 months or even a year. Be consistent and work on your delivery.

Read a lot about how you can grow your primary channel. We found Indie Hackers and Hacker News to be a great source of information, so have a look there (and start building yourself up over there if you can).  

We need to be careful of how we go about it though. If we are new and just starting off as a junior but want to work towards the dev-rel position in the future, it is still possible. We, however, need to know what are our strengths and what are our weaknesses.

Are we good at making educational infographics? Can we write short meaningful advice about a topic? What topic do we know the most about?

Also, it is highly unlikely that we are alone in “being new” in our niche. Newbies also need a voice. We can try and be that for them by providing critical advice, finding valuable resources and engaging in meaningful conversations. There is no need to worry if we can’t do it all immediately.

There’s a movie called 13th Warrior (a really good, an underappreciated movie in this author's opinion). In the movie, Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (played by Antonio Banderas) ends up in a foreign land with a strange language.

He just listens for days to his companions and then suddenly starts speaking at one point. Perfectly, non - the-less (well, it is a fantasy movie - kind of).

There is no shame in just lurking, looking, reading and listening at first. We first, need to learn the “language” of the people we want to engage. So, let’s be patient and take our time to learn it.

See what works and what doesn’t. How are the best ones structuring their sentences? What visuals are they using? How do they respond to comments?

Noticing and learning about details like that will only help us in the long run to the developer relations position.

Fitting into your developer marketing strategy?

We need to cover some basics. It is not dull and boring, I promise. And, well, we need to know this stuff in order to fit a company's developer marketing strategy.

First, what we need to familiarize ourselves with is this thing called B2D (Business to Developer). Developer marketing and developer relations go hand in hand ad they are often used together in tech companies.

As a dev-rel nothing is set in stone. Every company has its own needs. One of the most used phrases we will probably end up using when discussing strategy as a dev-rel will be “It depends”.

However, there are some well-known and established truths when it comes to which words to use, or more precisely, which words are of limits not. We should just all forget about the word “marketing”.

Developers hate it and usually, developers are smart enough to recognize when you are trying to “sell” them something.

Developers are usually transparent and actually very empathetic. It is easy for them to trust another developer. They can have a meaningful conversation with a developer.

That’s where developer relation specialists come in. Dev - Rel is a person who will bridge that nurturing gap for a company (brand), making at the same time a name for themselves and making the company more human.

Founder of Persea Consulting and author of The Business Value of Developer Relations, Mary Thengvall described being a DevRel like this:

"To the community, I represent the company, to the company I represent the community, and I must have both of their interests in mind at all times."

Don’t believe everything that’s been written here? We reached out to some dev-rel bloggers to share some quotes from other dev-rels. Thank you Anthony Prakash for sharing this with us (read the whole blog here: The World of Developer Relations).

Anthony reached out to his dev-rel colleagues with a question: “What does Developer Relations mean to you?”

Nevash Ramdial(Nash) from Stream :

“Developer Relations is a growing multidisciplinary field that sits at the intersection of engineering, product, and marketing.
The role, responsibilities, and goals differ drastically from company to company. Generally speaking, it refers to the activities and strategies for building and growing a developer ecosystem between organizations and developers.
The day-to-day of DevRels often includes a combination of community outreach (Twitter Spaces, blogging, speaking, etc.), internal advocacy (participating in internal engineering discussion, helping with documentation, etc.), and some product/marketing.
The most used words in DevRel: “It depends 😄

Aditya from Appwrite :

“Essentially DevRel is the bridge between the code and the community. DevRel folks are often responsible for maintaining communication between organizations and developers to ensure a better information flow and feedback loop. Thus, both entities have a better experience and growth path.”

Siddharth from Storyblok :

“For me DevRel is a role in which I can express myself to others in multiple ways; speaking at events, sharing experiences, creating content items, and so much more! DevRel allows me to be who I am and portray my thoughts to the wider community across the globe. It not only helps me to bridge the gap between developers and products/companies but also enables me to spread awareness to others and educate them to bring a bigger impact.”

YK from CS Dojo :

“DevRel, to me, is a way to connect what people want with what companies want. We put out a piece of content, for example, about a particular piece of tech devs want to learn. Then, we can weave whatever we want to recommend/promote in that piece of content.”

How Treblle Views it  - Transparency is Key

We at Treblle believe in our product and one of our core values is that anyone who works with us should at least like (if not love) what we’re building here.

The ideal dev-rel for us would be someone who actually loves Treblle as a product. This makes the dev-rel maybe a bit subjective, but in the end, the brand needs its ambassadors to be genuine.

Looking for a dev-rel position? Are you in love with APIs? Are you growing your audience somewhere? Don't be shy, and reach out to us at [email protected]. Let's talk ;)

So, we’ll never onboard someone just because they want to jump on just because we are moving fast and it seems like we have a great perspective.

In the long run, a freelance dev-rel that picks and chooses projects that they actually fall in love with will always be a win-win - a win for the community who can rely on a person who actually knows all the nuances of the product and by extension, this is a huge win for a brand they represent.

We are fairly new on the market still, so if someone reading this is into APIs and wants to try us out (We are a pretty unique API Monitoring / Observability Platform) please do. If you like what you see, reach out and we’ll hear you out for sure.

Otherwise, if you just want to learn more about us and about APIs in general, our Slack community is a pretty good way to start. Join in here.

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