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Building Developer Relations Teams with Trag Episode 15

Building Developer Relations Teams with Trag

In this podcast episode, we are diving into the world of developer advocacy and developer relations with Chris Traganos, aka "Trag."

· 37:14


CJ: Welcome to Build and Learn.

My name is CJ.

Colin: And I'm Colin, and today
we're joined by Chris Traganos,

who now leads the developer and app
store evangelism program at Amazon.

Welcome to the show, Chris.

Trag: Hey, CJ, Colin,
thanks for having me.

CJ: Absolutely.

So I think some people know Chris and
I had a close relationship working as

colleagues at Stripe, but now Chris is at
a different company, a different place.

And so let's yeah.

How would you reintroduce yourself in
your new role, in your new like situation?

Trag: Yeah, for sure.

Probably online coming through.

I would say the last couple years
I've probably known more as trag,

like on social media and stuff.

Growing up with this like confusion
Greek name suddenly realizing people

just call you by your slack handle.

Trag has actually been so helpful.

it's just like short whatever.

So Yeah, it's, it's yeah,
us, us immigrant names.

So yeah, so I'm Chris.

I lead I'm head of developer
evangelism at Amazon, so that's like

Amazon App Store and the different
devices that folks buy from Amazon,

so fire tv, fire tablets all that.

And so, yeah, I got a, I got a global
team of developer evangelists and

trying really hard to get developers.

Submitting and kind of building
apps for Amazon customers.

I joined recently, so I joined
last last fall in the fall.

So I joined in September
last year in 2022.

And prior to that I led developer
advocacy at Stripe where CJ and I met.

And so was there for about four years.

Really focus on the same things, right?

Like trying to show developers how.

Kind of get the most out of the APIs
and products we were we were launching.

And so that was, that was also a blast.

And prior to that, some other
programs, Evernote some crazy

Colin: Which is actually where
you and I met was Evernote.

Trag: Oh my gosh.

I think we did a developer hackathon
on Devpost in like 20 14, 20 13.

It was like this global online hackathon.

Colin: I was doing a startup where
we were trying to build like the one

integration, the one API to rule all APIs.

And so we would just go to API
hackathons and try to use our own

tool to like build stuff, you know,
and just show that we were really

good at API integrations in general.

So we built an integration with
Evernote, where back in 2014, people,

I don't think were really using it
to store photos as much, but I used

it pretty exclusively for photos.

And so we analyzed every photo in your
Evernote and then took all the colors out

so you could search your notes by color.

Trag: Yes, yes.

Colin: So we got to go to the Evernote
developer conference and present on

stage and do all that kind of stuff.

And so I think we got, I don't know
if we, we didn't place actually,

but but we were in like the top,
you know, finalist for that.

So that was really fun.

And that's when, when your name
popped up, I was like, wait a

minute, I know Chris from somewhere

Trag: Yeah, that was actually that was a
great time cuz yeah, back then you know,

Evernote, I joined pretty early Evernote.

It's the first kind of, I
think a hundred employees.

We were.

In this tiny former auto garage
in downtown Mountain View.

Hilariously, we were subleasing
part of that, part of our space

to the original WhatsApp team,

And when we got too big, we
like kicked them out of the

office cuz we needed more space.

And so I feel like that early Evernote
stage was fun because yeah, it was a note

taking app, but there was it was basically
cold war technology for image recognition.

And so we had handwriting recognition
and we also had all these.

Machine learning APIs where you
could say like, show me recipes.

So there was like all this stuff in
the backend that we started Yeah.

Seeing developers build these
integrations that we like kind of

treating a note as a a, as a data
store, not just as a note that you could

throw in mixed, mixed media and notes.

I think the space too, like
this, when I think about when we

started, there was no Apple Notes.

There was no Google Docs.

The thought of like real time editing,
like we take for granted the, the things

you can do with collaborators, both
through APIs and like live in the app.

And yeah, when people talk about like the,
like note syncing, like syncing documents

now I'm like, it is really, really hard.

CJ: Hmm.

Trag: Yeah.

So, no, it's yeah, that was, yeah, so
I guess, I guess to that point, like

I've, I've been in dev, I've been
doing dev rail since about 29, 20 10.

And so my background's a web developer.

Really more on the front end, like
designs kind of part of that really

old stage where flash was dying and we
kind of went all into web standards, A

List Apart, Jeff Zeldman, Eric Meyer,
like really going that, that direct.

And so I just totally fell in
love with the concept of like, I

can make any website look exactly
like the comp, but using actual

semantics and, and, and web markup.

And so I did that for a while, but one
of my jobs, I was working at Harvard,

I was a webmaster for, that's like
such an old word, for harvard.edu.

And half of that challenge was getting
all these separate graduate schools to

submit content to like the main website.

Because the news is always like
from the different schools.

And so that was my first taste of Dev
Rel where I'd run a monthly developer

meetup where you're trying to like win
hearts and minds across the university

of like, Hey, the business school should
totally hook into like this new, this new

form or api we have to submit content.

And if you do that, like
it's great for your org.

And so I got a taste of that and
actually joined Evernote just as a senior

web dev like to to run evernote.com.

And the way I fell backwards into Dev
Rel is they, there's like a API spec,

it was like a pdf and they're like, hey,
could you make like a, maybe like a slash

developer section on the site for that?

And I just fell in love with the concept
of using Evernote in a way that wasn't

originally intended, like as a backend.

And I don't know, like just, I
just fell in love with the idea of

devrel and it's been way too long.

The burnout rate for Dev Rel is 18
months and, and I see folks come and

go and I'm like, what is wrong with me?

CJ: Yeah, it's funny, it's like it sounds
like part of, part of that launching

off point was events too, and I remember
you in the past claiming the, the role

as like hype man for the api, like API
hype, man, going to events and just

trying to like, get people excited
about what they can build, which I

think is a pretty critical part of, you
know, advocacy and developer relations.

But I'm, I'm curious like what you
think might be the most rewarding.

, is it kind of seeing devs adopt stuff?

Is it seeing the success on
the company side or yeah.

Like what, what what about
that excites you the most?

Trag: so it, yeah,
it's, it's a good point.

So I would say what drew
me to dev relations.

So I remember being at a hackathon,
like at Tufts University like, you

know, a decade or so ago, and there
was, his name's Paul Lair and he

worked at a company called Eco Nest.

This small startup in Boston.

and he just got on stage to all these,
like CS students, a couple designers in

the room, and he, he just like showed
their, they had a music API and they broke

down like every song, like they could
extract the beats per minute, the chorus,

the bridge, there was all this stuff.

And he, he did this really tight demo.

It was just a couple minutes, but
he took like a popular r and b

song and then he, he fetched a Led
Zeppelin, John Bonham drum track.

And it was kind of wild cause it was
like, yeah, it was all tech in the back.

But what he was showing you is
like, what was possible, and just

to watch like myself and everyone
in the room, it's like, it's just

like that like the sparks of joy.

You're like, oh my gosh.

Like that's like rethinking what you can
do as, and that's just, I think I really

fell in love with Dev Rel as a tool then.

I would say over time, what was
interesting is I know in dev relations,

dev advocacy, there's this tension of,
you know, are we here to We get inspired.

We love to teach people how to
code, how to show people new things.

But we also, like, I don't know
many devs who work for nonprofits.

There's a couple, but most
of us do work for a business.

And so I think I've always tried to
remind myself like, at the end of the

day, we have to be like an accelerant
for whatever, like our, our team and

our company's top like goals are.

And so it's that challenge of like,
your best work is when you're just

passionate and you're loving the topic.

but you know, you, you gotta figure
out how to get how to marry the

individual advocates passions with and
myself with what is the most important

thing we could be doing right now.

And so I think oscillating between
massive companies and tiny hacky

startups has helped me like kind of,
I don't have the answer fully, but

I guess the answer is, it depends.

So yeah.

Yeah, it's a good point on business
versus like just focusing on.

Colin: I mean, APIs have only taken
off and so I think most devrels today

are probably doing something around an
API products cuz companies built it.

Now we gotta get people to use it.

We gotta create the docs, we
gotta do all these things.

In your role today, it sounds like
you're trying to get people to build

software that runs on devices, right?

And hardware, whether
it's tablets or or fire.

How has that been different
for you in terms of there's not

necessarily like a rest endpoint.

That you're advocating for.

It's more of this like there's a full
software release cycle there of getting

people to build full on apps There.

Trag: Yeah.

No, it's, it's a, it's a good,
it's a good question, right?

Cause you think like there.

In Dev, like you can be working for you
know, an API focused, comp api, first

company you could be working for forever.


It was interesting, like the, the
revenue value was actually the more

that devs like yourself were building
these interesting personal scripts

and use cases, or a lot of devs were
taking Evernote in, like building custom

workflows for companies as a backend.

That argument is like, we could
see the more you connected,

authorized third party.

The more likely you were gonna
stay paying for Evernote Premium.

And you, you, you just, the stickiness
factor was essential, right?

Like, if it is like notion or any of
these type of Google for work a great

corollary where I have everything
connected into my, into Google.

Work flows, Google forms Google
scr like Google Scripts automating

things on different ends.

And so the more it's just indispensable.

It's just, it's a no-brainer to pay.

And I think shifting to Stripe, it was
interesting, like Stripe went 10 years

nine, 10 years without really much devrel.

Like there was Derell where they were kind
of like voice of the developer really in

sync with the product team, dog fooding.

Maybe like an annual conference, but
a lot of stripe, like the tools made

sense, the dogs were clear, and devs
were like, just give me what I want.

As stripes started building like a.

A network of apps on top of their
platform, the storytelling got harder.

And so I think it depends
on the stage of the company.

Like devrel is just gonna be
different when you are a tiny

startup trying to win big customers.

And it's also gonna be different like at
an Amazon where, I mean, just imagine all

the customers we have around the world.

They are buying multiple Amazon
products, Amazon devices, and.

The, the thing we center on is like,
how do we make sure our customers

have like absolutely everything at
like in their hands, like being able

to access their content and so the
developer, it's, it's broad, right?

It's everything from massive companies
that you use and entertainment all

the way to like productivity apps.

That, there's a lot of apps
that, like Fire OS is based on

the Android open source project.

And so, A lot of those apps you see are
gonna have a very similar experience

to something on like Google Play.

With the difference of monetization,
like probably all of us have

Amazon account payment on file.

So you can imagine the opportunity for
something for Amazon devices and the

app store is if you invest in bringing
your app over into essentially a third

party marketplace, you're getting in
front of Amazon customers who are very.

For their favorite apps to
also be on these devices.

And so yeah, it's fun.

It's like, it's, it's, it's a mix.

Cuz there are, the APIs are more like
sign in, like authentication, like you're

signing in with your Amazon account.

There's payments, like,
so your payments on file.

Think like, if you have like
prime video, you're, you're

ordering, you're buying in-app.

In-app subscription's
probably the big one.

But also, yeah, like knowing did my
package come and so for me it's like,

it's a meaty, it's a meaty challenge.

It's, I like it.

I at Stripe, definitely.

One upside is just the
idea that it was API first.

You almost were given too much.

You, you were almost given so much
information, like you as a developers,

like trying to figure out, okay, how do
I stitch this up to get what I need done?

And then switching to something, which
is like, at the end of the day, really

what matters is that customers have
a ton of awesome apps in their hands.

They can use.

and so trying to make sure devs
feel like that they're very

successful, they have what they need.

CJ: How does the strategy change,
like in terms of engagement with devs?

Like I.

. I just know the perspective of Stripe.

Like this is the only place I've done
advocacy and a lot of, I would say our

team leans pretty heavily on content.

We do engage with the community.

We have like a strong product
feedback cycle and we're very

involved in the product, but leaning
on content heavily to help increase

awareness and adoption of the APIs.

It has been pretty successful for us.

Like how does that strategy change
if you are standing up a new.

that is like advocating for an
app store versus standing up.

Maybe if you're like, you know,
advocate number one at a tiny startup,

that that is like an API product.

Like what?


What are your kind of thoughts there?

Trag: Yeah.


That, that's it.

It's, it is a good flag.

Like when I did dev, like at m
io, we're trying to like pitch a

use case that wasn't in the market
yet, like cross platform chat.

Really trying to, like half of
it was advocating to Slack and

Microsoft Teams and Cisco WebEx.

Like, Hey, like this
isn't a zero sum game.

The more there's
interoperability, the better.

And we also happen to have pretty
good gateways to sync it all.

And so that was more like trying
so hard to get to get noticed, like

trying to really build Like developer
fascinating tool, you know, tools

that devs are like, oh my gosh,
this is saving me so much time.

I think at Amazon, like Amazon
customers, like I have confidence.

There are so many
customers across the world.

They love and purchase tons of
content apps devices, all that.

I think for us, one thing that I didn't
expect to be such a benefit, Amazon

apps apps in the Amazon App store.

So think like your fire tv, fire tablet
any of those echo shows that have screen

anything kind of like with a screen.

Those apps can be built with so Android.

So Android apps most likely
will you know, they'll work on

F os react native developers.

Like if you are building anything where
you can end up having an apk and end up

built, if you've already built an app,
like it's the se, you gotta segment.

, it's perfect if you already have a
pretty solid app on other platforms.

You know, app stores are becoming
unbundled and, and we have the upside

of, we've been doing this for, we've
been all in on the Android open

source project for over a decade.

And so for us it's great because
the use case is probably like,

we've got tons of customers.

We're on multiple platforms.

We'd love to get in front of a
very passionate customer base that

is always looking for new apps.

And so for that, it's.

Like, we're going to Droid Con, we're
going to react native conferences.

We're writing a lot of new content on
okay, how to take your React native

app and integrate our our, our SDK
for, for in-app purchase, et cetera.

So for us it's like, I'm so used
to for, you know, for Stripe, it's

like you got your Ruby crew, you got
some like native device developers.

But the end of the day, like it's,
it's payment architects and maybe

like dev agencies that are really
thinking deeply about payment.

Evernote, it was more like SaaS
companies trying to think like

maybe we also add an integration.

That message IO is mostly like
interoperability chat, so IT departments.

And so I think for me it's been
interesting of like it's much

broader, applicable audience.

And the show don't tell things important.

Like it's really helping devs understand
the opportunity and then showing

them like examples of how they can.

Through, through code samples and a
ton of talks, we're submitting a lot of

talks like walking through Flutter, react
native Android, Kotlin related use cases.

And so yeah, the polyglot
aspect of this place is wild.

But I love it.

It's like me and my team we're
having a lot of fun right now.

Like I haven't been a Microsoft
Windows user for years, obviously vs.


And some of those, you know,
GitHub, I've, they've been

bringing me back into their orbit.

But right now, like I.

Install so you can, you know, on Windows
11 in the Microsoft store, you can

install actually the Amazon app store.

But any popular Android apps, you can
install it and, and it's running like

it's really performant in the battery.

Like, it's kind of like you're using
Android apps, like your favorite

productivity to do apps, but that were
built for phones, but, or tablets.

But you're using it on like a
two gigahertz or more device.

And so that's been interesting.

It's like I.

the linnux sub the lin
windows subsystem for Linux.

I have like a buntu running
when I'm testing some new betas.

We have and I also have a ton of Android
apps, and they feel just like apps.

It's, it's almost like a VMware or
something, but it, it is more native than

you would think in like a virtual machine.

And so that's been wild to me because
you're starting to get past, like these

apps live on this platform, these apps
live on that platform, like, yeah.

Colin: code

Trag: Yeah, it's just code and these
processors kind of all have Yeah.

Like the, the kind of lineage is coming
back together of like, at the end of

the day it is just processing either on
an arm trip arm or apple chip or Intel.

And so yeah, it's it's a fun
time right now to like watch

how these things play out.

For sure.

CJ: Very cool.

Is this is your new team?

How is it organized and also
like are you under marketing?

Are you under engineering?

And Yeah, like I think there's a lot
of benefits and trade-offs depending

on like where a dev team lands.

And so, yeah, I, I'm curious where
your current setup is, and then maybe

if you could speak to some of the
trade-offs of like where you put dev

and like how that impacts things.

And it, and some companies, like you
report directly to the ceo, whereas

like other places you might be
buried under some sales or marketing.

Trag: Yeah.

It, it is, it's a, it's such a
like hot and button topic because

I mean, folks have their, you know,
they're, I would say two things.

People have their opinions on what dev
dev advocates are like for whatever good

or bad experience they've had with a
dev advocate like , that is pretty much

set in stone unless they're convinced
otherwise in a different experience later.

And I also think dev.

In marketing versus, so I've, I've,
I've built dev teams under the CTO

o yeah, directly under the ceo.

I've been directly under partnerships
and business development.

I've been under marketing and at
Stripe, obviously it was directly under

engineering, and so it's kind of wild,
like your tactics and your focus shifts.

but I do think you're still
really fighting on behalf of

the developer experience and
you're acting as developer zero.

So yeah, Amazon, it's interesting.

It's, it's it's whole
business units, right?

So under Amazon devices, like
the one benefit, it's different

than I've done Dev anywhere else.

Whereas, you know, my colleagues
are, I got folks in business

development, like they're working
with the top partners, right?

I am working directly with all the tpms
and lead engineers, like on the s E K.

. And so I, I dunno, I guess in the big
company I just assumed more silos, but I'm

working hand in hand with folks because
we kind of all roll up into the business

unit, which is like apps and partnerships.

And so you don't have that like
centralized model where one

part of the company is this one
part of the company does that.

It's like, you know, we're
delivering a unit and that includes

everything from the hardware to the
software to the backend infra and.

That's been surprisingly awesome.

So and some of the folks I'm working
directly with, my manager, like

they all have backgrounds in like,
you know, the Xbox gaming unit.

I got some folks who've worked at
like sports gaming, big partner

apps like some media brands.

And so this is kind of wild cuz
obviously in you're like usually

an API team or your, it's a v like
coming from SaaS and going into this.

It's been interesting.

Yeah, Roku, it was, we were Dev rel.

Worked hand in hand every day with
the SDK team in engineering, but we

were under partnerships and so it
was kind of like we had the solutions

architects that would help us sometimes.

But pretty much we were really working on
like go to market, like launches for new

features, building a ton of sample code.

At Evernote it just
oscillated like Evernote.

In the beginning it was just like
a pet project of the ceo and it was

under, I think we reported up into
had a platform, the API team in.

. And then after a couple years we moved
to partnerships where it shifted to,

like, it went from really focusing on
change logs, updates like API reliance

to what are the most important things
we can do, content and code samples

wise that would move the needle.

And so that was more opportunistic,
like how could we get apps that

consumers love to integrate with us?

and then, yeah, so it totally depends.

Like, and I think what I've noticed
is some, some dev advocates will be

vitriolic about being under marketing.

Like, and I get it, like I get it too.

Like if you've gone to if you have
a CS degree or if you've worked

your butt off to like learn,
learn your learn code yourself.

I totally get this thing.

I'm like, oh, like a lot of the
hangups in our industry is like

people's fear of self-identity,
like that burning insecurity.

I think that fuels a lot
of that Dev advocates.

. What if people know that I'm not legit
or whatever things we tell ourselves.

And what I've noticed is what's
helped me at least, is like I'm

very comfortable with ambiguity.

Like I know, like I don't
necessarily know like, am I in eng?

Am I in bd?

Am I?

But I do know like what we
have to get done like for the

next six months to a year.

And that's worked great for me is because
a lot of the arguments will be like

like red flags for me is when someone.

We need to know really clear
lanes, kind of like we need to know

exactly what you can and can't do.

Or if, if someone in Dev Advocacy's
doing it, you're like, Hmm.

If you're doing that, then suddenly
like the best dev advocates I know

oscillate between content work,
community efforts, and product.

And if you just say, oh, we're
only top of funnel, or, oh, we're.

A really technical cause We gotta
prove to people we're, you know,

we are not your average advocate.

Suddenly, like your hangups are
messing up, like the community just

needs what they need and you're
kind of making it about yourself.

And so, yeah, it's a, it's a quirky,
quirky industry with a, with a

boatload of characters for sure.

Myself included,

CJ: In terms of keeping those advocates
motivated and advocating for advocates

it sounds like that's like a big
component to it, is understanding what

they want, how they wanna operate,
and, you know, moving from doing, just

working on change logs, that kind of
sounded almost like busy work, right?

Like, oh, we're just gonna keep focusing
on change logs and making, you know,

little fixes to the docs over, like,
switching that to like, oh, let's

do a bunch of video content or live
streams or speaking at conferences.

It, it definitely seems like.

Keeping the folks motivated by giving
them projects they're passionate

about is pretty like a pretty proven
track record of, or like, you know,

approach to having a successful team.

But is there, is there more to
it than that kind of just giving

people projects they wanna work on?

Trag: Yeah, I think.

Yeah, managing dev advocates or
dev, like sdk engineers, like

however your team's formed.

I get so much joy from it, but
it is, I'm not gonna lie, it's

definitely one of the hardest parts
of my career for a couple reasons.

One is like, you have expectations from
leadership on like what your team's gonna

deliver, and leadership has a thought on
your team, should be focused on adoption,

or your team should really be focused
on awareness and adoption, and others

are like, you are the community team.

What I've found.

Keeping high performing dev advocates
in like convincing them to join

your team, like courting them from
other big companies is hard, right?

Like, there's one which is pay is
super variable based on region.

It's, it's getting better, but like
based on region and based on the company.

So like that's one thing is a fear of
like, oh my gosh, like what if I go to

my next Dev l job and I'm like losing
my engineering street credit and I

can't get a software engineering job.

. I think a lot of it people are
probably gonna roll their eyes, but

the mentality I use as so Stripe
was an engineering manager for about

10 to 12 advocates kind of global.

They were all over, and the attitude
I took when it took to managing

them was Kind of like a lot of the
articles I've read about what it's

like to manage Peloton instructors.

And so when I think of it as like
advocates, they just, by nature, you

have to accept managing them is gonna
be different than managing an api, heads

down engineering team because they're
putting themselves out there every day.

They're giving talks, they're dog fooding,
giving the product team a lot of feedback.

It is exhausting to like be out
there, especially when everyone has

comments and thoughts and opinions
on what you are and aren't doing.

And the way I think of it is, like I
do, the phrase that sticks in my head

is like, they're our on-screen talent.

Like they are putting some out there.

There's an aspect of them of like, they
are a narrative on top of our product how

they carry themselves in social media,
the things they're passionate about,

the things I wish like we can pretend.

, there's, there's boundaries
between you you know, your work

life and your personal life.

But as an advocate, unfortunately,
you do have folks making up their mind

about what you are, what you focus
on, and really like what your out, you

know, what your actual output and the
things that you devote your time to.

And so I think what I try to do is, Yeah,
I spend a lot of time, like when I'm

hiring someone onto a team, I already kind
of want to know like what motivates them?

Is it building in public?

Is it convincing themselves that they are
still a competent engineer because their

last company gave them a lot of hangups?

Is it they got great stage presence,
but they really want to take themselves

to the next level in their mastery
of building like app architecture.

And so I think.

I am very fluid.

Where I am fine for an advocate
to spike in community or to really

go deep in product and almost be
seen as like one of the leads for

like some engineering project.

I think what I try to do is motivate
them in a way that it's just like

intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

It's so hard.

Like if I just go to an advocate
and tell them, you are to do

this by this day, top down style.

I don't know.

I just, I personally, you don't
get my best work if it is just

like, this is the task, this is
your job, QA it, or whatever.

I think with advocates you gotta
try to marriage like for some time

your personal goals, company goals,
my goals are gonna be aligned.

I'm gonna help you.

I'm gonna fight like hell to be
an advocate for the advocates.

I want you to get a bigger following if
that matters to you, I want you to be

able to go launch your own startup, be a
dev instructor, whatever you want to do.

And I also kind of want you to
like really help us get to the

next level with what we gotta hit.

And so for me, if it does, like
I really wanna do a video guide,

a video series on this, and I
think this is how we can measure.

and this is gonna help
me work with product.

I'm like, that's great.

Whereas another dev might go I
think we're really going to need to

go deeper in our samples offering.

And so what I try to do is like on a
quarterly basis, like dream big, which

each advocate like really trying to
think of like the things that back

in their head and back in their mind.

And I'm also kind of bringing up nudges
and things that would be helpful.

And usually what we end up find, like
landing on, on a monthly cadence is.

kind of the areas they areas
for growth and like ways they

can put points on the board.

I know it's a sports analogy.

Sorry, that was a lot of talking

But yeah, I think a lot about, like,
it totally depends per advocate,

but the collective of the team, you
tend to have, everyone does spike in

different areas, which if you average
it out, that's how you end up with

a world class dev advocate team.

Even if it's just like yourself.

Right now, it's just like me and a
co, you know, we're a very small.

but I also know show don't tell
aspect is how you grow a team

to the size it, it should be.

Colin: Yeah, that's
really interesting cuz.

Kind of touched on this idea that
dev advocacy can be so many different

things, even in one team, right?

You have SDKs, which might be
more, someone's rolling up their

sleeves and figuring out how
do we generate these better?

How do we make sure like, oh, our PHP
one's not as good as our ruby one.

We're getting feedback.

You're working with product
to return that feedback to the

team that's building those STKs.

You're helping people with contents.

You're doing all these things.

I think we kind of touched on this
in our episode with Lindsay Barrett.

about technical support and
technical support managers, and

there's this, you kind of touched
on this as well, of worrying about

losing their engineering chops.

Or maybe even I'll, I'll just say dev
advocacy almost seeing as like less

than being an engineer when really
it, you know, I think there's a.

Perception of that, when really
the job is just so different.

It's just a different job with
different skills, and you need to be

able to do some of that engineering.

Would you recommend dev advocacy as
as a path for someone getting into

programming, or do you recommend that
they, you know, kind of go down the stint

of be an engineer somewhere for a little
bit and then head over into advocacy if

that's something that they're interested
in, or, or does it work either way?

Trag: I would say that
question is no, no doubt.

The most polarizing conversation
like question that comes up in

like folks who lead Deval teams.

I think we're, oh, I'm, I'll
just be honest with you.

I'm really torn on it because on one
side I have met tens of thousands of

amazing developers that came to, like,
I met you a decade ago at a hackathon,

and now you're like the lead at an
amazing developer first company.

Like all of us start somewhere.

Myself, I started as a web developer,
got invited, was asked by my company, can

you fly to Brazil and run a dev event?

And suddenly I fell in love.

Like I, my eyes were open to I
absolutely love dev and dev advocacy.

Where I'm torn is, I think a lot
of companies go, okay, start off

in dev do a bootcamp, do whatever.

Learn how to code build in public.

And then eventually, like a lot
of people think, , it's kind of

a way to get into development.

I think what's tricky is it's double hard
for these folks where they're trying to

like learn how to code, but they haven't
had a lot of lessons learned of like

working side by side with engineers with
a p i, architects with different folks.

And so I, I guess where I'm
torn is like, honestly the crux

of Derell, the tension I feel.

You know that, going back to the
nonprofit question, are we, here is

our purpose to teach people how to
code, how to get into the industry?

Sharing our personal stories, like we're
almost like influencer first approach,

like which does open the door, which
does bring more opportunities or is

my job to really show developers who
I know are judging and watching what

I'm doing and will turn the live stream
off if I can't load it, like run a web.

Service like am I trying to show
them we are dead serious about

like engine engineering excellence
and we have your back and we know

what the hell we're talking about.

Where I'm torn is it does depend on the
company and so, and it does, I guess go

back to the, the org question cuz I'm
so proud of the folks that have gone

to the industry and have like really
like, had a lot of launches and, and,

and grew up into a role, but I also.

Developers, the audience is some
of the most critical, opinionated

folks I've ever dealt with.

And I know that if myself or someone
on my team is giving a, a talk

that the code hasn't been reviewed.

We haven't dog food ourself.

It's a lot of I don't wanna say fluffs
not the right word, but it's like really?

What's backpack?

No books.


Like really low on content that
could get a dev to take the action.

I'm pretty critical of myself.

And so that's, I think where I'm torn
is yeah, the influencer based devrel

versus the building in public devrel.

And I think it depends on, is
the goal to get, I don't know.

I, I, I don't wanna be definitive
on it cuz it really depends on

the situation and the company.

I, I feel like I can have
a stronger opinion in

Colin: Yeah.

Well, I think this is similar to the
paths that engineers have to take anyway.

I mean, there's the whole, do
I go down the manager track?

Do I stay as an ic?

But I think dev advocacy is another,
you know, branch on that as well.

Whether you start there,
you end up there I think.

Just looking from the sidelines,
I'd think that it's not a very

productive conversation to compare
the two as to which one's better.

I think they're just different and
different people are gonna be drawn

to different things, and so we can let
the internet debate this conversation.

I, I would've, I would've
started with this question if

I knew it was so polarizing,

Trag: Well, and I think on top of
that, the, the, the other one you

just touched on is also equally, I
would personally say I've been pretty

unconventional about the manager question.

So at Evernote, like very, so I
was I was a web developer and then

I became a developer advocate 10,
so years ago, and it was still.

AWS was just coming out.

It was kind of like a different,
we're still, everyone was still like

still figuring it out in the field.

What the hell?

How the hell the job was.

And so I very quickly grew
up into a leadership role.

I was like, Director of
Ations, I was 25, I don't know.

Yeah, I was 25.

I had no idea what I was doing.

And then I jumped into Roku,
where I came in as an executive.

I was the youngest
executive in their company.

And it was very much like,
very away from the tactics.

It was like, how are we gonna develop the
strategy to then roll out the details?

And so you just think differently
when you're developing hardware.

You have to be waterfall.

, you have to ship this
device for Black Friday.

And so software decisions have
to be made in the lockdown.

There is no sass, like, oh,
we can push the button later.

And so to answer like what I'm saying
there is like I went to this thing where,

because I work well with people, because
I think I'm a pretty, I think fairly

high empathy, high eq, I care to a fault.

I grew very senior, quickly to senior.

And so actually at Stripe
I jumped back into ic.

So it's like Stripe hired me.

A developer advocate, like
I thought the job was cool.

I loved the product.

I had made an idiot mistake and
turned down stripe a decade before

when they were like nine people.

And so I was like, you know what?

Yeah, I'd love to just go
back to being a dev advocate.

Like I felt overwhelmed by the strategy.

And so that four year stripe process
Yeah, the first year I was icy.


I stepped up eventually when they asked
me to lead the team, but I have really

appreciated every five years they're so
oscillating between senior IC and manager.

and I know that's not for everyone, but
for my career it's actually been great.

Like I've had a lot of mentors older
than I, like, tell me like there

was that point in their career when
they could keep going more senior.

Definitely golden handcuffs
pay wise, but they lost that.

Like con Marie, like that Marie Condo,
like, does your job, especially your

technical job or Derell job, give you joy?

And I think like I've benefited
from being able to just shake it up.

. And so for me, if some, like, I don't
know, like I, I could see myself going

back into a startup and going icy or
like, you know just like a team of one

until it makes sense to grow it up again.

What I will say is I not to put CJ on the
spot here, so cj, CJ and I were peers,

and then I became, I kind of took over the
team and CJ ended up reporting it to me.

And one thing I really appreciated
about CJ was two specific things.

He was very intentional about
like, I am a developer advocate.

I, I'm a software engineer who
also happens to be a dev advocate.

And I think that was, that
authentic approach was really

appreciated in the community.

It's not one or the other.

It's like, I'm gonna keep my
chops up and that's going to

really help developers learn.

The other thing I appreciated that
most people, as they're growing

their career, have a hard time doing.

He is like cj not spot, but he
was like, I wanna stay in ic.

Like, Really wanna see an
IC and I don't think the

management track is right for me.

And that honestly helped so much
for someone to have that type of

clear voyance, like most people
don't get intentional like that.

I dunno, CJ if you wanna
touch on that at all,

CJ: Yeah, I mean I had a little bit
of experience managing at a previous

role and it was not a good fit.

I had The awful experience of
having to let somebody go and

that kind of just yeah, I was
like, I never wanna do that again.

I never wanna be in that position again.

And I, yeah, I love just getting into
flow and executing on projects and

so yeah, I think it's totally okay
if you wanna stay in IC forever.

And it's also totally okay if you wanna
be a manager or if you wanna like do this

pendulum thing and swing back and forth.

So that might be a good,
good spot to wrap up.

What do you say?

Trag: Yeah.

I really appreciate you both and
yeah, it's been fun to listen

to the podcast and yeah, having
y'all's conversational approach.

CJ: Thanks Aton for joining Trag.

I know there's a million things that I've
learned from you over the past several

years, and so continuing to be able to
just you know, rack your brain, has

been, has been great, even though it's
been a, it's been a few months since

we've, we've had a chance to catch up.

So thanks again.

Really appreciate you coming
on and yeah, everything that

you've done for me in my career.

Colin: Thanks for listening
to Build and Learn.

We will catch you next time.

CJ: Bye.

View episode details

Creators and Guests

CJ Avilla
CJ Avilla
Developer Advocate @StripeDev. Veteran. ๐Ÿ“ฝ https://t.co/2UI0oEAnFK. Building with Ruby, Rails, JavaScript
Colin Loretz
Colin Loretz
I like to build software and communities. Building software at @orbitmodel ๐Ÿช Coworking at @renocollective ๐ŸŽ™Sharing software learnings on @buildandlearn_
Chris Trag
Chris Trag
Currently leading @AmazonAppDev Evangelism ๐Ÿ“ฆ๐Ÿ›  Previously: @StripeDev @Evernote @RokuDev @Harvardw3


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