Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

A week in life of a developer advocate

Developer Advocacy and its umbrella term Developer Relations is a relatively new field. Sure, some people have been doing it for a long time (at some point Evangelist was another term used) and some aspects of DevRel have been roles for decades (like technical writing) but the boom is very current.

I've been working officially as a developer advocate for the past 3 years but I have a longer history of building communities, teaching programming and being a developer so it's hard to say when I actually started.

Every now and then, people ask me: "So what is it that you actually do?" and because real life is complex and messy, I usually answer something vague and almost funny like "All things dev but dev itself" or "Everything that's forbidden in a pandemic". Maybe it's because it's hard to start listing all the things I actually do because they are so varied.

I decided to keep a journal for one week to try to document my week as a developer advocate. Not every week is like this but it's quite a nice representation of my work and its many faces. And by work, I mean all the stuff I do with communities as in addition to being a Developer Advocate at Futurice, I also build and run different developer communities. So not everything on this journal is strictly Futurice stuff. I just find it impossible to separate Developer Advocate me from the other Developer Advocate me. They are so similar.

I wrote this blog post one day at the time at the end of each day so there's probably a lot of inconsistent use of past, present and future tenses.

Monday, 25.4.2022

We start the week with Monday. I didn't have a super relaxing weekend (to be honest, haven't had one since the pandemic started) so I was a bit grumpy and tired already when the week started. Once you see what this week has to offer, you can understand why it was a tiny bit concerning and exhausting to start with.

Being a FutuBuddy

This Monday we got some new collaegues at Futurice and I had promised to be a FutuBuddy for one developer who was returning to the company. Our FutuBuddy system is something I'm really excited for and I've had such good experiences being one. Basically it means that in addition to the regular onboarding by different functions at the company, everyone is assigned a buddy – another employee who's been at the company for a while and who can help out navigate all the nuances and unwritten cultures and so on.

Despite having a wild busy week, I promised to be a FutuBuddy since my buddy had already worked with us before so I knew there was a bit less buddying needed. And we knew each other well enough that I trusted him to raise any issues during the week if need arose.

We did start the week with a lunch with supervisors, buddies and new joiners – one of my favorite ways to kick off a new week and to meet new people.

Lots of small things during the day

Every day I have a ton of small stuff that comes up to my table. Here are some that I did today:

  • Sent internal messages about our events for this week.
  • I needed to alter my food order for tonight's event (and I hate phone calls) so I had to call the restaurant to ask if they could postpone the delivery with two hours. There had been a miscommunication between me and the meetup organizers and I learned this day about it.
  • I helped a colleague out with an internal event we are hosting in summer.
  • One of my Monday routines is to go through our internal Tech Weeklies (see more under Friday heading) talks: this week we only had one slot booked (by me) so I posted on Slack asking if anyone could pick up a slot and talk about a project they are working at. This time I succeeded so I did a bit of comms to sync about that and wrote emails and Slack comms, scheduled for Wednesday.
  • I had an impromptu meeting with recruitment about our new SRE team recruitment, went through what relevant events and other community efforts we have and agreed to book the next developer newsletter month focused on SRE/Cloud/DevOps stuff.
  • I'm working with our summer employee recruitment (ads, comms, being with the summer workers during summer) and one aspect of that is that we do weekly smileys. Smileys is a session where we come together once a week and share how we feel. To make it a great remote experience, I took an open source project developed by my colleagues and worked with them to set it up for us and wrote docs for summer on how to use it.
  • I also ended up doing a small HTML/CSS improvement on the site to improve its accessibility, made a pull request and submitted it to the team.
  • I synced with a local Python meetup and booked a date for their meetup to be hosted at our office in late May.
  • I said "I'll get back to you tomorrow" to a couple of colleagues because I ran out of time to help with their requests.
  • I synced with our family company Columbia Road about Tuesday event, when they should arrive and what is expected from them.
  • I had a lovely chat with colleagues about the 1st of May celebration culture in Helsinki.
  • I went to a local restaurant to order food for Tuesday's event.
  • I ordered drinks for 3 upcoming events.
  • I posted a few Star Wars memes to company Slack.
  • I connected two community members since they had interests in the same open source project.
  • I booked a catchup meeting for Tuesday with a colleague I had great discussions pre-pandemic but somehow lost connection with during the pandemic.
  • I booked a hotel for Wed-Thu night as I'll be heading out of town for a meetup & a lunch with local devs.

Azure & Friends meetup at the office

This Monday we also hosted a meetup for a relatively new developer community Azure & Friends as they are starting their operations to build a welcoming community around Azure development.

Before this week, this meant figuring out a date, trying to help find speakers, ordering food and drinks, doing a couple of AV checks to make sure we can livestream from our office setup to their Youtube account and so on.

During today, I got to do the things I love: carried chairs back and forth setting up the office, put drinks into the fridge, set up the livestream, made sure the mics are all charged, made a few slides to put on before the event (for internal comms) and during breaks (for Youtube).

Teemu speaking in front of a small audience

Then welcoming people in as they arrive, helping speakers set up with mics and laptops, taking out drinks from the fridge, doing a lot of small talk before the event, making sure everyone's having a good time and so on. The regular event stuff. Took a few photos, posted some tweets, monitored the livestream, switched between layouts for the stream, looked after audio levels for the event and so on.

After the official program and talks, we ended up staying at the office for a few hours to chat about life, software development, cloud stuff, sharing stories from projects we've done and so on. Eating a lot of pizza because I had ordered a bit too much. Laughed a lot. In general, had a really good time.

Once people left bit after 9pm, I cleaned up the office, did a few follow-up posts to the community Slack, put on the alarms and headed home.

Before heading to bed, I wrote a bit of advice or ideas for a former colleague looking to hire their first developer advocate.

Quite a Monday. And it was just the first of all the days to come this week.

Tuesday, 26.4.2022

To kick off Tuesday, I started with the thing I had postponed from the day before: helping a colleague in Germany to plan an off-site for their developers. We brainstormed a few ideas which I've used in the past for team bonding exercises and having a good time at an offsite.

I also did some follow up from the previous night with a few people I had met there and started to get ready for another event day.

I had an async Slack meeting with one colleague who'll be the contributor to our May issue of Dev Breakfast and I was excited to get them aboard to share their SRE and Cloud related topics to our readers. My earlier efforts in documentation paid off too because I had some guidelines and clear expectations written down in our intra so I was able to just pass along those and he could get started.

During the commute, I ideated a meetup to host for last day of May with React Finland and started booking the venue at our office and got the first two speakers for the meetup as well. The conference itself is in mid-September but we wanted to bring the community together once more before the summer. A few messages here and there and we had quite a nice base structure for the event together.

Once I got to the office, I had a few chats with a colleague who's visiting us from our Munich office, ate some lunch and then had a call with our marketing person who's responsible especially with our junior recruitment marketing. We went through what my needs at student and university collaboration team are and how we could best improve our common processes for the next fall when the next wave of events with students start again. Super nice to have more people working on it so we can be more effective with the reach and more prepared to build lasting impact.

Time for some emails! Found a designer to meet some students who wanted to learn more about our company and real work life of a designer and I got the best possible person to chat with them, I'm so excited about that. Few follow ups on discussions and trying to find a best time to do a call to learn more about social impact and how we can get involved with the organization. More meetup prep for upcoming events.

Since I'm the one hosting Wednesday's meetup for my community instead of being the sponsor/host, I sent messages to our speakers to make sure everything's okay and double checking if they need anything. Luckily, everything's good and we're gonna have an amazing meetup. And I booked train tickets to Turku once I was able to confirm which train I'm needed in.

I'll be doing a talk this Friday in our internal Tech Weeklies so I spent a bit of time today to try to figure out the structure and most important points I want to bring up. The talk will be about the 10 years of Tech Weeklies (so kinda a meta talk) and in addition to a short history tour, aims to answer the question: why it's worthwhile for companies to run these, for developers to do talks and for consultants to participate in them. If everything goes well, we'll have that in Youtube soon.

We're also moving into a new office over the summer so I had to make sure when is the last day that I can organize events here. I originally tried to keep all the events in May but today some might start slipping into June so had to find a hard deadline.

Just before the event, I also had a chance to do a 30 minute call with a colleague with whom we talked and sparred each other a lot before the pandemic but haven't talked in like two years. We've both gone through some hard times during the pandemic and it was so lovely to just chat about it and spark a bit of hope into the life.

Student event with Hive Helsinki

The main event of Tuesday was a long awaited student event with students from Hive Helsinki. It's been two years in the making with multiple cancellations due to the pandemic but finally we got the students here. I'm personally such a huge fan of the school and their concept and it was so great to spend the evening with them.

Like in Monday, event day means a lot of practical stuff: picking up food, putting drinks to cool, moving chairs around, setting up presentations, syncing up with other people involved from our side and doing internal comms about what's going to happen.

This time I had the privilege to be on the stage, first to talk about our company and what it's like to actually work here (and share some of my favorite anecdotes like a story about our Han Solo in carbonite ice that we have in the office) and then do a main talk of the evening that I had heard the students had awaited for a while. I talked about how to build hobby projects and use those to the best of their capability when applying for jobs and how to talk about those projects.

After the talks, we ended up staying at the office for over three more hours just chatting, playing pool, eating, playing Mario Kart and so on. Just like in meetups and conferences, this part is where the real impact happens: casual discussions where people can meet new people, have discussions about tech and work life (and ice hockey as the Finnish Liiga finals were on-going at the same time) with each other and with people already in the industry.

And once the happy times are over and guests have left, it's time to clean up the office, move chairs back, clean up, do some follow ups internally and with the school people and send a few last emails before heading home.

Once again there were a few things I had to postpone for tomorrow to get some answers from third parties and because I ended up running out of the day again. I don't normally work this long days but this week I'm putting in a lot of hours because a lot is happening and then next week I'll chill when there's less events. I really enjoy the flexibility that this job brings with it.

One thing is for sure, I desperately need a good massage after this week.

Wednesday, 27.4.2022

Somehow, Wednesday was the "chill" day of the week.

Let's list the "small" things again because tonight (I'm writing these at the end of each day) my prose writing energy is low.

  • Follow ups from yesterday's event: got some feedback from the visitors, checked how many people had signed up for a newsletter (spoilers: many), heard that we got some job applications already in from Tuesday's visitors so a really really good day. Got positive feedback also from colleagues who listened to my talks. Those truly made my day.
  • Speaking of feedback, there's very rarely too much positive feedback given and especially for all the "hidden" work that people do that is taken for granted and that otherwise goes unnoticed. I'm so happy that at Futurice, we have a concept called Jolt where we give publicly thanks and positive feedback to colleagues when they do a great job or help out with something. Today I got to share some Jolt love for our amazing office specialist. I'll need to write about our Jolt culture one day, it's amazing.
  • I briefly discussed our student and university collaboration plans and guidelines with a new colleague who was interested in learning what we do in that realm and if we could partner up with some new ones.
  • Made some more plans for our junior recruitment marketing for summer with our marketing people.
  • Wrote some background materials for a colleague from our recruitment team for her meeting next week as someone was interested in our approach with junior talent and why it's working so well.
  • Booked a few meetings to collaborate on how to build communities both internally and externally.
  • Got invited to speak in an event next month and came up with a new talk title and rough sketch for what I'll be talking about. More of that later when the event gets published.
  • Booked a few new events for May, the month is starting to look amazing regarding events.
  • Since it's Wednesday, I published a new blog post, this time it was Shy introvert's (short) guide to speaking in conferences. I usually publish them in the morning but I only realized it's Wednesday in the afternoon. If you wanna know why it's not automated, see this talk about my website project (spoilers: it's bit of a mess but it's my mess ❤️)
  • After publishing the blog post, a few people reached out so had discussions with them and was happy to hear how their careers had progressed since our previous discussions.
  • Django Day Copenhagen 2022 videos were published today! You can find them all at Django Danmark's Youtube channel and you can read my recommendations from my blog post earlier.
  • Time to hit the road, it's travel day!

Turku <3 Frontend meetup

Day 3 of the week means third developer event. I took the train to Turku (~2hr ride) for our Turku <3 Frontend community's meetup. I started the meetup in December of 2015 and we've had monthly meetups since (except during the pandemic) and now we finally kicked off this spring with a super awesome meetup.

Eevis speaking in front of meetup audience with a slide that says "Let's keep our promises"

A friend and an old colleague of mine, Eevis did a fantastic talk about keyboard navigation and ARIA. I've heard her talk many times about accessibility and every time it's spot on and very educational. Second talk of the evening was by another friend Konsta who did a brilliant presentation about Next.js. Combining slides with GitHub Copilot driven live demos was a really good approach. It's so interesting to see how much Copilot can change the live demo scene in presentations when you have to remember so much less for simple demos.

In addition to talks, the best part of the meetup is to catch up with the community before, during and after the meetup. After the talks we headed to a local pub and I think we had the biggest afterbeers crowd ever in the 6.5 years of running this meetup – we even got a few people who weren't part of the meetup to join for drinks. Whenever I can, I try to book a hotel for the night after the meetup so I don't have to run to the train but can stay and have discussions with everyone.

Out of all the communities I'm involved with and love, this one is by far my most favorite one. Building it and growing it is my proudest achievement and the first thing that was properly started by me (with friends) and not just someone else's project I continued. I've made so many dozens of amazing friends through that community and while everything else can be a bit chaotic time to time, coming to Turku <3 Frontend's meetup and hanging out with friends, everything feels just right.

After the beers, I headed to the hotel, grabbed some kebab on the way and hit the bed, ready for the fourth event day of the week.

Thursday, 28.4.2022

“This must be Thursday,' said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. 'I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Above quote is my favorite quote about any day of the week. Luckily this time, the sentiment towards this particular Thursday is very different: it's gonna be a great day.

For today's event, we'll add some designers and business people into the mix as I'll be an alumni panelist with Startuplifers' Startup your career event in the evening in Otaniemi.

A delicious chicken burger with fries and ketchup on the side

But before evening event, great things to do:

  • Woke up to a message inviting me to join a startup accelerator as a coach this summer – easy and enthusiastic yes. I used to work at Boost Turku building startup community and running the accelerator in 2015–2017 and after that I've been coaching in various startup incubators, accelerators and events helping new entrepreneurs figure out how to build minimum viable products, communities or master the skill of pitching.
  • Koodia pinnan alla (a Finnish podcast about backend development) published their new episode about AI development in games so while doing morning work, I listened to Ykä, Markus and Antti talk about that.
  • This week's Friday is the last Friday of the month so we'll be publishing April Issue of Dev Breakfast newsletter. That means today was the time to make sure everything is in order. Our marketing team puts the newsletter together and I do a quick run through of the preview to add a few extra eyes to make sure everything looks good. I'm so glad I get to work with our newsletter team that always delivers great stuff.
  • Since I was in Turku for the morning, I booked a lunch with a friend from our community. We talked for a few hours about meetups and communities, speaking in events, podcasts and started planning for a new meetup that will hopefully become reality in the fall. I also connected him to a few podcast hosts as he'd be a great podcast guest.
  • After lunch, I went through the panel discussion questions to prepare for the event. I've done the same panel discussion many times so didn't have to spend too much time for preparing.
  • On Friday, I'd be speaking at Tech Weeklies so I spent the 2hr train ride making the slides and coming up with the talk. For me, making a talk is a very creative process and more than me making the presentation, I try to discover the presentation from somewhere in my subconcious so I often play around with ideas, fonts, images attempting to spark my imagination and when I get that "Heureka!" feeling, I build rest of the talk around that.
  • Like pretty much every day all year long, I got some emails about potential collaborations and partnerships, went through them, answered those and forwarded others to people more suitable to handle them.
  • Brainstormed a bit with our accessibility specialists at work if we could do some community sessions for Global Accessibility Awareness Day next month.

Startup Your Career event

4th day of the week, 4th event of the week. I met an old friend and fellow panelist for the event at the subway station and we got talking, catching up since we hadn't seen since the beginning of the pandemic. It was so nice to share the stage with her today. I also learned she's gonna organize an internal hackathon at work and you know, hackathons are my jam, so I got all excited about why I think they are great for any company.

Startuplifers is a student-run organization from Aalto University that helps top tech, design and business students from Finland to get internships in Silicon Valley. I spent my year in 2014 (yikes, 8 years ago, I'm growing old!) at Chartio and it was the most life-changing event in my life. There's me before that year and me after that year and those two are completely different lifes. I've said many times that everything I've done since 2015 has been thanks to that experience, growth, gain in self-confidence and the networks I made there.

Four people on stage sitting in chairs during panel discussion

We had a great panel discussion with my great fellow alumni Satu and Vilma. An hour just flew by as we went down the memory lane and gave our advice to the current students about how to stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs and interviewing in Silicon Valley. It was so cool to see once again a bunch of people in the audience that I knew from various communities – some even heard me talk for the second time this week.

It was so nice to see fellow alumni, make new friends, and help out people looking to get into the industry or to take the next step. I think I managed to introduce the concept of meetups to a few new students and I'm excited to meet them later this spring in some of the various tech meetups in Helsinki as well as in the Koodiklinikka Slack.

Back in the days when I was a student, I didn't really have any connections with more experienced developers in the industry so now that I'm here and I have my wide networks, I try to bring them closer to the students as much as possible. I always dream about starting a good mentoring network to help with that but it's still an idea waiting for the right context and collaboration. One day I'll make it happen, I'm sure.

Friday, 29.4.2022

We've reached the end of the work week but there's still Friday to go. This week my Friday is way more chill than the other days of this week.

My morning was mostly occupied by a case in one of the communities I'm involved with that required coordination between our admins and doing a bit of public commenting that I can't go deeper into. Unfortunately cases like these pop up in communities every now and then and I always wish there's a way to find a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Dev Breakfast publish date

As I've mentioned a few times in this blog post, one thing I run is our monthly developer newsletter Dev Breakfast. It gets sent to our subscribers every last Friday of the month at breakfast time (CET/EEST timezones) and this Friday was no exception to that.

My colleague Knut from our Berlin office was the contributor this month and he put together a fantastic newsletter with great articles. If you're not a subscriber yet, you can find the April newsletter here. I really enjoyed the article he shared about Wikidata Queries.

For me, there's not that much to do when the newsletter comes out. I write a post to celebrate it and to give shoutouts to our contributors in our company Slack and to encourage others who want to join as contributors to reach out. I also share it on social media.

Tech Weeklies – 10 year anniversary

My main thing for today was to host our 10 year anniversary Tech Weeklies. One of our developers shared a demo of a feature they had designed and built in one of our projects and it was so cool to learn about a new Python tool that I had never heard about before (it was Chalice for those interested).

I had prepared also a presentation that looked into the history and the past 10 years of Tech Weeklies and spent most of my presentation answering the question "Why should a tech company invest money and time in internal tech sharing sessions?". I looked at it using one of our decision making tools at Futurice called 4x2 (there's an older blog post about it when it was called 3x2 in Futurice blog).

Me on a stage in front of small developer audience, wearing a headset and "It depends" hoodie. A slide behind me says "10 years of Futurice Tech Weeklies" with a few party emojis.

I made a case for why it's valuable for our people (developers as devs, as consultants and as speakers), our business (more skilled and up-to-date devs, employee retention, recruitment marketing), our clients (getting access to our full community of developers who know each other, what each other are experts on and who keep each other up to date) and the world.

Unfortunately though, the Google Meet had a noise cancellation filter on (first time it's happened to me in 4 years here) so the algorithm decided that my speech is not proper speech and it filtered me out, rendering the talk impossible to listen to most people who joined the event and the recording that I had planned to share to our leadership and to Youtube.

Despite the problems, there were a bunch of people in the office who did hear the talk and at least one of them got encouraged to maybe do a talk, so that's a success.

The problems did lead to me wanting to curl up and cry. Not because of the missed recording, that sucked too, but because these noise cancellation filters are the one thing in life that make me feel so little, so broken, so incompatible and so not belonging. It's like a stake pushed through my heart and soul. It's awkward and embarrassing to me every time it happens and the worst is that since I can't hear it myself, I don't usually know about it until it's too late.

That was bit of a bummer and ruined this Friday's 1st of May/Labour Day/Wappu celebration for me.

That's a wrap

What a week, huh? This week was in a way very well descriptive of my job and especially the variety in it: everything from carrying chairs and interactions with the members of the community in events to planning our operations on a strategic level with multiple stakeholders within the company and with external partners.

But also it's not always this busy, this week was definitely an exception with 5 nights in a row. Usually I have 2-3 events a week with one or two of them having me on a stage to present something. The amount of everything else was very descriptive though.

I had so much fun this week but also worked way too many hours. I'll be taking those hours back next week when I'm taking it easier as I only have one 1.5-day event with a bit of traveling (I'll be mentoring early stage startups and young entrepreneurs at *ship festival) and a few mentoring sessions and brainstorming sessions for future events and collaborations.

If anyone I met during this week is reading, I'm very happy we met – whether it was for the first time or if we've known each other for years. Doing this with all the communities I get to be involved with is what makes me enjoy life so much.

The weekend was mostly spent on resting and spending quality time with family celebrating Vappu. I did do a few community things though since I had 2 hours to spend in a train: I set up a date for the next Helsinki Dev Lunch for 19.5 and shared that in social media and Slack communities, pondered a bit about my upcoming talk abstract I promised to send next week and continued making some plans for one new meetup concept (about documentation!) and for a new one-off event I really want to organize but haven't found the right combination of things yet to make it happen. And I felt a bit of FOMO that my friends are going to JSHeroes in June and I'm not.

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