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Developer Advocate vs. Developer Relations Leader: Who to Hire First
May 10th, 2021

Developer Advocate vs. Developer Relations Leader: Who to Hire First

Many founders and executives struggle to decide the right title for their first DevRel hire. Should it be a developer advocate or developer relations leader?

Unfortunately, I see a lot of early stage startups hire a developer advocate first—and fail. They wonder what they did wrong or why developer relations doesn't work for them. Don't let this be you.

Which came first, the DA or the DevRel lead?

Similar to old question "which came first, the chicken or the egg" there is no black and white answer on which role to hire first. The way we approach this question really breaks down to one simple question:

Do you have the right strategy and processes in place for your developer advocate to succeed?

If you can confidently answer most of the following questions, you're likely ready for a developer advocate.

  • Have you defined your developer audiences?
  • Do you know what they are motivated by?
  • Do you know where they spend their time?
  • Do you know what resources they need?
  • Do you know what they care about as it relates to your product?
  • Do you understand where and how to best serve them?
  • What languages, tools & libraries do they care about?
  • If you had to spend $10k by the end of the day, could you confidently decide where to spend it?
  • Have you defined how you fit into the wider developer ecosystem vs your competitors?

One caveat we should share is that there are developer advocates who have done this job. They've been the first hire and they're had to work through finding the answers to all of these questions, sometimes without even realizing it.

You may be able to find a developer advocate who can define the answers to these questions for you, but your search is going to be lengthy and difficult, or require you to find a unicorn. 🦄 Hint! This unicorn is going to be someone who understands business & dev. Look for someone experienced in product management, community, entrepreneurship, or other roles that require business strategy.

If you're adamant about hiring a developer advocate first, break down the above mentioned questions in the interview process and ensure you or they can help you define strategy around your developer audiences.

Comparing DevRel skill sets

To help you understand which role is the best fit for your organization, I've broken down the skill sets of a developer advocate versus a developer relations lead.

Developer advocate skill set

  • Relates to your developer audience
  • Knack for problem-solving and customer service
  • Desire to help other developers
  • Ability to be able to present & solve complex problems easily
  • Willingness to speak publicly or a comfort level with presenting technical topics
  • Solid technical writer — or ability to identify the details needed for an insightful documentation piece
  • Experienced developer in the areas that matter to your users
  • Enjoys networking and building solid relationships that matter

Did you notice how none of these exposed hard skill sets, like "needs to have a deep understanding of React." Your developer relations leader or strategist will be able to drive deeper into these bullet points and associate more details around your developer advocacy hire, who they are, and what they need to feel supported.

Developer relations leader skill set

  • Understands the wider developer ecosystem and how your product aligns
  • Strategizes your business & product goals alongside their developer audiences goals to define the best results
  • Understands developers, and not just because they are one, but because they know how they think & operate—they've "attracted" them before
  • Clearly defines developer audiences & their motivation
  • Builds strategy for scaled developer adoption through developer advocacy
  • Leads teams of developer advocates, community managers and developer support contributors
  • Understands when a goal needs a developer advocate, vs a tech writer, vs a community manager (or all)
  • Understands business & technology, not just one or the other
  • Understands how to best leverage user feedback to improve your product

Make the hire that's right for your team

We're not saying that you can't bring in a developer advocate without having all the answers, we just want you to be prepared. If your developer advocate hire can't define the answers to the early questions we outlined, then you or someone on your current team will need to work alongside your developer advocate to define strategy and approach before they can find success.

At the end of the day, you should do what is best for your team. If your team is ready and prepared to work alongside a developer advocate hire, great! If your team is scrappy but already over-committed, you may want to double think your hiring decision.

This article was originally posted on Devocate, which joined the Common Room family in August 2022. For more developer relations insights and resources, check out the Common Room blog. Learn more about Common Room’s solution for DevRel teams if you're looking for an intelligent community growth platform to educate, empower, and enable your community.