How Did I Become a Developer Advocate?
Find out how I went from a journalism major to a developer advocate in the tech industry.
I am a developer advocate, but I didn’t start as this, nor did I start as a software engineer. My career path has taken many left turns, and I anticipate it will continue that pattern with one key ingredient I’ve strived for in all of my different roles and industries: writing to help others.
So, how did I become a developer advocate?
Where it all started
Starting in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, let alone even know what a developer advocate was. However, I knew I was good at writing as each of my English teachers echoed the same sentiment. Yet, I didn’t understand how one could make a successful career from writing unless they were a NYT best seller. So, I pursued a degree in Fiction Writing - yes, this is an actual degree. At least at my private art school, it was a degree. However, my writing experience in college compared to high school was vastly different as I struggled to build confidence and received harsh criticism. I endlessly re-wrote assignments and submissions, never landing on a final draft.
I changed my degree to journalism with a focus on fashion, as it was a personal passion of mine. I studied writing and the origins of an A-line silhouette which landed me a role working for a couple of fashion magazines. I quickly realized my morals and beliefs were different than those who roamed the hallways and sat within these prestigious publishing headquarters.
I didn’t want to refer to all of our interns as “Katie,” dismissing a person’s entire identity because they didn’t deem ‘worthy’ and babysit the chief editor’s children without compensation. This wasn’t what I signed up for; I wanted to write and have a meaningful job!
So, I began my journey of self-exploration and hopped from role to role, industry to industry, only to find myself as a project manager for a design agency where I was learning to code on my own to support our clients with their needs. However, I wanted to take my passion for helping others a step further in the only way I could at that time. This was when I decided to join a coding boot camp with funds I inherited from my mother’s passing. I wanted to invest in myself to continue building solutions for others.
After several months of studying object-oriented programming (specifically C#), I secured my first role as a full-stack software engineer for an insurance company. This role was the first left turn in my career path that led me to the tech industry.
The common denominator in each role
As I pursued my software engineer role, I quickly realized I wasn’t very good. I struggled to communicate with my colleagues, learn the code base, and contribute solutions. I felt very isolated with my anxiety and inability to speak up and recognize my shortcomings - was it the code? Was it the lack of mentorship? Was it the company? Was I not smart enough to do this job?
I spent days searching for a coding solution, wishing I had someone to bounce ideas off of and share my issues with. When I asked a senior developer for support, I often lost my keyboard as I watched them implement the code to fix my error - but how? How did they know? Was I not asking the right questions? Should I have paid more attention?
The senior developer would regurgitate their solution in words I couldn’t comprehend or visualize. This was when I wished I could find other engineers or a magical explanation to help me better understand my coding issues.
Fast forward through my engineering career, I was finally able to work with a team and manager who I could better communicate with and who were supportive, and who strived for best practices. As an engineering team, we wanted to promote and educate other developers on those best practices so that they could do their jobs efficiently. As a team, we worked to define those best practices and create a curriculum for other developers within our company to learn from.
Finally, creating examples and providing solutions allowed me to reinforce what I knew and find my place within tech, which allowed me to grow and help others in the way I always wanted. Using my writing skills and helping others find solutions to their technical problems gave me the confidence I had been searching for all these years. During this time, I was also introduced to ‘evangelism’ as my team, and I continued evangelizing API development within our company.
What’s an evangelist?
When we were “API Evangelists,” our goal was simple: evangelize API development so that all of the development teams at our company could transform our monolithic legacy systems into shiny new web services. We achieved this goal by teaching developers how to design and build APIs efficiently to support our products and improve the end-user experience when returning data.
But first - what does evangelize mean? Are we preaching the gospel like those who practice evangelism within a religion? Sort of – in the tech industry, evangelism refers to the promotion and spreading of a particular technology or a product, not a religion. Our evangelist efforts included educational content and consistent support for our internal development teams when designing, building, or using internal tools for their APIs. Yet, evangelism can go further than this and be masked with different titles, focuses, and content.
So, like any other developer working for a larger corporate company, the economy’s state influenced high turnover and a lack of support and resources that nudged me toward my next role. I began my job search, but this time I was looking for something more than a mid-level software engineer role and asked myself, “how could I continue to incorporate my writing and help others?”
My introduction to developer advocacy
I stumbled upon a junior developer advocacy role opportunity during my job search. It was this opportunity that I not only got to write and help others, but present, create projects, and share my technical learnings with more than my colleagues. With this came a sense of community and mentorship that introduced me to the various layers of the tech industry and technologies I knew nothing about but couldn’t wait to learn and, in turn, help others through my learnings. This role set a new course for me that I have now embarked on and can incorporate past career skills too - whether it's sales, marketing, back-end engineering, project management, etc. Developer advocacy allows me to take each left turn I've taken on my career path and apply it to this role.
Admittedly I'm still relatively new to developer advocacy and the complexities that come with it, so if you're interested in learning more about this role and want to follow along with both my career and technical learnings, please subscribe to this blog and stick around! I'm currently learning Python and diving back into Kubernetes, and I would love to hear what you're learning and how we can support each other.
Remember: no matter how many left turns you take in your career path, recognize the one thing that sets you apart from the rest and use that as your compass.