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In my journey as a programmer and developer advocate, I have come across quite a number of opinions which, surprisingly, castigated developer advocacy and their roles in the tech ecosystem. I also observed that many people confused developer advocacy with technological or technical influencing (commonly known as tech influencing), which are two important but distinct roles in the tech ecosystem.
It is my desire to enlighten, with the aid of this article, you my readers on who developer advocates and tech influencers are, their functions, and how best they can work together to make the tech ecosystem better. In this article, 'developer advocate' or 'advocacy' will be used interchangeably with 'developer relations engineer' or 'engineering'.
Who are Tech Influencers?
Tech influencers, also known as technology influencers or technical influencers are social media users with a wide audience of followers who have the intention of growing a large followership base through the technical content they share on social media. They provide content that is mostly suited for the general audience and draw customers to the technological company or companies that pay them.
Identifying a tech influencer might be quite tricky because most tech influencers do not have the title of "tech influencer" on their bio. However, there are certain factors that I will draw your attention to in order to help you identify who tech influencers are:
Tech influencers aim to attract the general audience to themselves and their content, irrespective of the technical background of their audience. They aim to grow a very large audience of followers who may or may not be specialists in the tech field. It is one of the characteristics of tech influencers to have or aim to have a very large audience.
Tech influencers may or may not have very strong technical backgrounds. However, they advocate for technologies or companies they believe would be good for the general public.
They often address topics from a broader perspective in order to reach a wide range of audience. For example, they could talk about Meta- the social media company, with respect to how it is faring in the stock market or its impact on wealth creation for entrepreneurs, their opinions on some or all of its features, and so on.
Technology influencers primarily aim to monetise their platform and the content they produce. This is often reflected in how seriously they take growing their audience or increasing their followership because companies collaborate with them based on their ability to reach a wide audience through their platform. They also earn from the built-in programs of the media on which they create content, which were designed to enable influencers to make revenue from their content on those platforms. Some examples of such programs include the YouTube Affiliate Program on YouTube, the Medium Partner Program on Medium, the Amplify Publisher Program on Twitter, and so on.
What do they do?
Tech influencers mostly create generic forms of content on tech. These could range from their opinions on the crypto markets, to which coins to buy, interview experiences, insightful comparisons between programming languages, latest trends in the programming language landscape, product reviews, posting memes, et cetera.
Tech influencers impart knowledge to their audience from a generalised point of view. They could educate their followers through tutorials on how to use specific software applications, how to grow their audience on social media or other platforms of engaging with one's audience, how to use Chat GPT and other AI apps, and so on.
Many tech influencers build up their audience by posting entertaining content which could be in the form of written posts, memes, pictures, and videos.
Explaining the Identity of Developer Advocacy
This begs the question- "who are developer advocates?" Developer advocates, also known as developer relations engineers are developers with strong skills in not only software development but also in communication, empathy, and community empowerment. Just as the word advocacy in developer advocacy portrays, developer advocates speak up for developers, before the companies that they work for and the tech community in general. They handle the relationship between developers and their sponsor tech companies or the tech community.
Many of us are yet to understand what developer advocates are. Hence, I will highlight the factors that characterise them in the next paragraph.
Developer advocates have strong technical backgrounds. Their ability to create tutorials on highly technical topics, speak at tech conferences, advocate for the technical and non-technical needs of developers, or foster the empowerment of the tech community stems from the fact that they are well-versed in those areas they represent.
In contrast with technical influencers, developer advocates speak and approach topics in tech from a technical point of view. A developer advocate would rather talk more about the impact of the good technical documentation of the React library created by the Meta development team on developers than the impact of doom-scrolling on Meta by its users.
Developer relations engineers also monetise their content sometimes. However, companies mostly employ their services based on metrics like their level of experience, their evaluated level of competence in the technology, field, or language they would be working, their communication ability, and so on, and not necessarily on how large their followership base is, although that could count in some cases.
Their Roles Of Developer Relations Engineers In Empowering The Developer Community
Developer relations engineers educate developers by creating how-to tutorials, demo applications, technical documentation, technical articles and videos, hosting spaces and podcasts, and speaking at Meetups and conferences.
Demonstration of the potential of a framework, language, technology, or developer tool, through building with or using it, goes a long way in encouraging the adoption of that technology or expanding the existing community that was built around it.
In a similar way, developer relations engineers also help out with raising consciousness about the technologies, languages, frameworks, or developer tools they believe in, by speaking at conferences, workshops, mentorships, organising hackathons, hosting spaces, et cetera.
Developer advocates build. This characteristic makes them stand out easily from tech influencers because their technical expertise in their area of advocacy requires that they can quickly build at least demo applications which other developers can study and that the internal team in their company can work with.
Developer relations engineers are developers who advocate for their fellow developers. They ensure that the developers who build with their companies' technologies have a seamless experience building with them and that any complaint or feedback from the developer community is relayed back to their sponsor companies.
Addressing Common Misconceptions About Developer Advocates
There has been a lot of dispute about the role of developer advocates as key players in the tech ecosystem. To get to the root of this problem, it would be pertinent to highlight the existing misconceptions about their roles in the tech community.
Little to zero technical expertise
Many people wrongfully assume that developer advocates have little to no programming knowledge. This misapprehension is made evident in the social media posts of people who wrongfully guide novices in tech into thinking that developer advocacy doesn't demand programming skills. In some other cases, some people make denigrating posts which allude technical incompetence of developer advocates. This misassumption is false because developer advocates require technical expertise of what they advocating for in order to properly empathise with other developers who are building with their technology.
Purely Content Creators
While content creation is just one part of the role of developer relations engineers, their job entails advocacy for developers, technical assistance, education, community engagement, and maintaining a feedback loop between the development community and the organisation they work for.
If at all there are cases of immoral marketing done by developer advocates, it would be in very rare cases. Anyone with coding knowledge can become a software developer but not everyone with programming knowledge is qualified to be a developer relations engineer because developer advocacy requires more than coding expertise, it also requires empathy, passion to teach, strong networking, and communication skills.
Showbiz of tech
Many people wrongfully err in assuming that developer advocacy is all about travelling, parties, free merch, and taking pictures. Although developer advocacy would require travelling, it would be important to note that it is not done for leisure purposes. Rather, it is being done for networking purposes and to speak at conferences, workshops, and hackathons. This makes the job more physically demanding than pure leisure because they are always busy and active.
Have no crucial value to add to the developer community
The misconceptions highlighted in this article cascade down since one misconception appears to beget the next. Since some people misjudge developer relations engineers as lacking technical expertise, being only content creators, celebrities, or immoral marketers, it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that some people are yet to see developer advocates as people who have a significant role to play in the tech ecosystem.
How Influencers And Developer Advocates Can Collaborate To Benefit The Tech Community
During the NFT boom of 2021, many tech influencers exaggerated the potentials of some NFTs and tokens and fabricated false reviews and memberships to manipulate and pressure people into buying them, only to rug-pull the people they tricked into investing in those projects.
Tech influencers should not overhype products or technologies that are malicious just to get paid. They should endeavour to support products they believe will be good for the tech community in general.
Developer advocates should be transparent. They shouldn't fail to speak up if they notice any injustices against developers in their company or the developer community, such as racism, underpayment, toxic working environment, et cetera.
Developer advocates to emulate
There are a lot of impactful developer relations engineers in the tech ecosystem. Hence, this would be a subjective recommendation because these are only my favourite developer advocates. They are
Developer advocacy and tech influencing overlap in some ways and contrast in other ways. Developer advocacy is a more formal role, catering to developers and requires a strong technical background while tech influencing is a more informal role, catering to the general tech community and not requiring any background in software development.
The issues highlighted in this article revolve around integrity. Hence, developer advocates and tech influencers can better benefit the developer community and the tech community in general when they always stay on the path of integrity.