Developer relations jobs at startups are sometimes seen as suitable for entry-level developers, but this is a common misconception. In reality, these positions require a diverse skill set that can be overwhelming for new engineers.
The Variety of Tasks
Developer relations jobs at startups require a variety of tasks, including writing documentation, creating tutorials, writing example apps, giving presentations, and attending events. You’ll need to be able to prioritize these tasks, drive them to completion (often with the help of other startup colleagues) and re-order them based on changing needs and input.
This is all on top of the normal chaos at a startup, when you will be either searching for product market fit, pivoting or scaling. The combination of these tasks can be overwhelming for new engineers who are still learning the ropes.
This means that you need to be able to navigate the often chaotic environment of a startup on your own, without much in the way of project guidance or career development. You will need to rely on yourself and your own skills to be successful. This can be intimidating for new engineers who are just starting out their careers, but with the right attitude and knowledge it is possible to thrive.
Credibility with Developers
Developer relations jobs at startups require credibility with both beginner and expert developers. This means that you need to be able to communicate effectively with developers who are just starting out, as well as those who are experienced in the field.
While entry level developers can empathize with other beginning developers, technically connecting with experienced developers is a tall order. This requires a deep understanding of the technology and the ability to explain it in a way that is accessible to everyone.
Credibility with Founders
Developer relations is a long game, so you need to have buy-in from the founders of the company. They need to invest in you, in the community, and in your activities that strengthen the company’s ties to the community. This requires a deep understanding of the technology and an ability to communicate effectively with developers of all levels. It also requires demonstrating technical prowess and expertise that will be respected by the founders so they can trust that their investment in you and your activities will pay off. Having a few years of experience under your belt can help build this credibility, as it shows that you are familiar with the technology and have built up a base of knowledge that can be used to benefit the company.
Learning New Technologies
Developer relations jobs at startups require you to get up to speed quickly on a variety of technologies. This means that you need to be able to learn new things quickly and be able to explain them to others.
You need to be able to understand the abstractions your product sits upon, as well as the tools it can integrate with. The more experience you have with different technologies, the easier this is. Conversely, this can be a daunting task for new engineers who are still learning the basics.
Foundation of Production Level Code Experience
Finally, developer relations jobs at startups require a foundation of production code experience. This is because you need to be able to connect with developers who will be evaluating your tool.
You need to be able to speak their language and understand their needs. This requires a deep understanding of the technology and the ability to write production quality code.
Where This Advice Doesn’t Apply
If you are joining a larger startup or company with an established developer relations teams, much of this post does not apply. In this case, you’ll have founder buy-in, support from team members, and more defined tasks.
You may still have trouble connecting to experienced developers with complex questions, but may be able to connect them to other team members who can help them.
What To Do
If you are interested in developer relations, play the long game with your career. Spend a few years as a software developer, working on a team shipping code that users will enjoy. Learn how developers think and approach problems.
You can also engage in the communities that are important to you, either online (slacks, reddit, hackernews, etc) or in-person (conferences, meetups, etc). Volunteer or speak at events, which can help you understand the nuts and bolts of what goes on.
After a couple of years, you’ll have the software engineering foundation as well as the community experience to set yourself up for a fantastic devrel career.
In conclusion, developer relations jobs at startups are simply not entry-level positions. They require a diverse skill set that can be overwhelming for new engineers. They require credibility with both beginner and expert developers, the ability to get up to speed quickly on a variety of technologies, and a foundation of production level code experience.