Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

The most social and loneliest job: being a solo developer advocate

At the beginning of the week I gave a talk in this year's DevRelCon about my experience as the only developer advocate of our company and how it creates an interesting juxtaposition of social work and occasional loneliness.

The Social

I'm in a very lucky position that I get to do something I truly love as a job. As a developer advocate at Futurice, I get to work and interact with hundreds of people every month and help developers learn new stuff, to meet each other and to have a good time.

As a developer advocate, I work in the middle of the company and the community, representing the company to the community and vice versa.

On the company side, I work with a lot of different groups: for our developers, I organize opportunities to learn, to share, to meet each other and to have a good time while doing it. I run Tech Weeklies, organize our annual hackathons and a lot more. I work closely with our marketing and recruitment to help provide the developer point of view for our talent outreach initiatives. For example, I run our developer newsletter Dev Breakfast with our brilliant marketing team. With Human Care (that's what we call HR) and sales, I try to do my part in helping developers have a good place to work at.

On the community side, I get to work with brilliant and kind developers across different communities, technologies and cities. A big part of my work happens through local events: hosting, sponsoring, speaking in and participating and through those events, I get to meet a lot of people. I also try to do my best to help the local community organizers provide events and talks to their communities.

And one very rewarding part of my job is to lead our student and university collaboration where we get to host events with students: sharing information, hosting workshops, helping students learn new skills and to giving them opportunities to connect with developers in the industry.

All that means two things: one, I have a job I really really enjoy doing. Second, it's a very social job (which occasionally means I'm pretty worn out after the week) with a lot of discussions with different people.

The Loneliness

Yet somehow, I've managed to find bubbles of loneliness inside it. It took me a while to realize that it was loneliness that I felt and even longer to understand how it was even possible.

But if I look at what I do with all these groups, it becomes bit more clear:

With the developers on both sides, we talk about technology. Sometimes it's about getting excited about details of a language or library, sometimes about the big picture and the impact. And as a developer myself, I love it. But we don't talk about developer advocacy.

With the marketing and recruitment colleagues, we talk about the impact my work has on the business and bringing in new developers into the company. We talk about the details of running a newsletter and how to improve it and so on, but we don't talk about developer advocacy.

With the human care and sales people, we talk about how to make the company a great place for developers to work and how to find the best match between projects and developers.

With the community organizers, we talk about how we can support their actions and help them find speakers from the community and spaces for their events. But we don't usually talk about developer advocacy.

Finally, with the students and university people, we help them learn new skills and host workshops and help them connect with people in the industry. But we don't talk about the developer advocacy.

That leaves me in the center, all alone.

The lack of having teammates who are equally excited about developer advocacy itself, leads to feelings of loneliness. When you always think and talk about the impact and the big picture and the effect your job has on other people and teams but never get to get truly excited about the job itself, it can be bit demoralizing sometimes.

And that's why I think this job can be the most social and the loneliest at the same time.

The Support

If you're in my situation, being solo developer advocate in a company and you're feeling the lack of peers to chat with, I highly recommend getting involved with devrel communities.

I noticed this entire thing when some friends of mine, who are developer advocates, visited Helsinki and we'd have long lunches and dinners – I once even had a brilliant excited discussion about developer advocacy in a job interview few years ago that felt awesome.

Having these people to chat with outside the job won't solve everything but it can help out from the pinch.

A few groups I mentioned in my talk by name are DevRel Collective, an online community of a couple of thousand devrel professionals who get together to share the good and the bad to be a great community of people to chat with, and Write the Docs community for people who work with documentation and writing to people. In addition to running meetups and conferences, they also have a wonderful Slack community.

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