One Year in Evangelism

We are quickly approaching the end of 2015, and the end of my first year professionally as a developer evangelist. It has been quite the roller coaster, including everything you would expect from a startup: expanded responsibilities, fast pace, and even a successful exit. Looking back on the experience thus far, I have some notes that I want to share, and some advice for others following in this path.

Backing Up...

Let me back up first... In 2014 I spoke at 22 events, a couple of those were online, a few were local, and a few had multiple talks (larger conferences). This was all in addition to a full time job with appendTo, which was sold in October, 2014 and let everyone go. As you might imagine, this required a lot of travel. That travel was mostly on the weekends and evenings, and when I wasn't traveling I was preparing for the next conference, usergroup, or hackathon. Time eventually catches up with everyone, and I am certainly no exception. My wife and I started having trouble finding time to spend together.

In one sense, appendTo's closing helped solidify my next career move: into pure developer evangelism. But I didn't jump lightly into it. I conferred with evangelists I knew like Cal Evans and Keith Casey, and my wife and I discussed the move at length. On the one hand, I would be working on my talks and preparations during "work hours" and thus have more free time for personal matters. That said, a lot of the events still took place in the evenings or on weekends, and even if they didn't a lot of the travel required would still be on "off hours."

This is my first piece of advice for anyone looking to go into developer evangelism:

Maintain balance. Have a plan for your time: both work and personal.

Once I had decided this was the path I wanted to follow the question became how my wife and I could make it work and not ruin our relationship. The key is to have a plan, but just as important is following through on that plan. For example, since I was going to be working weekends on a regular basis, I planned to take off the Monday or Tuesday following a trip. I would travel into downtown to have lunch with my wife on those days, an activity that I typically wouldn't have time for on a "work day." Additionally, we made a larger effort to spend other activity time together like exercising.

Starting Up with StrongLoop

I began working at StrongLoop in mid-January; we had to postpone my start date slightly to account for a couple of events I was already speaking at. As is the case with many small startups (we were just under 30 people at the time) mine was a trial by fire. I had to learn the technology extremely quickly and be ready for an event in just weeks. This was in addition to the normal orientation process that occurs with any new job.

This brings me to tip number two for evangelists:

Prioritize. There is always more to learn, you must focus to survive.

StrongLoop has done some very cool things with Node.js and needed someone to tell the world about them. I joined as the first developer evangelist and joined the marketing team. Some folks I talk to are surprised to hear that I was under the marketing organization, but that is not uncommon. That said, the other two positions I had offers for were under the development director and general manager respectively, so there really isn't a "right" way to organize evangelists. (We also tend to fall under different titles: you can generally substitute "technology", "product", and "advocate" in the title and make up lots of similar positions.)

There were already people doing the work of an evangelist at StrongLoop, but it was not a full time position for anyone, and there was little strategy around the activities. My job was to both develop a plan and to execute on it. This can be difficult at a startup where funds are usually hard to come by for activities that don't immediately draw ROI (a return on investment for the dollars spent).

Tip number three is more for the manager-types:

Evangelism is a long-tail endeavor. An evangelist should not be selling product.

Wrapping Up the Year

In late September of this year, we announced that StrongLoop had been acquired by IBM. This was a great exit for the founders, and really shows how popular and mainstream Node.js has become. I believe that IBM will do great things in the community and I look forward to watching it progress. You can read about my initial thoughts on joining IBM over on the StrongBlog.

Looking back on my activities for 2015 I find many successes, both in talks I've delivered and in connections made. I also see plenty of room for improvement. As we enter 2016 I will be growing our evangelism team within IBM and spread the word of Node to a broader, and possibly more attentive, audience.

Here are some statistics from the year:

If you are curious about developer evangelism and want to learn more, I highly recommend reading the free online book by evangelist extraordinairre Chris Heilmann. And feel free to hit me up as well!

Published on December 28, 2015