Dear #DevRel, it’s not you, it’s me.
tl;dr — I honestly don’t have enough spare cycles in my head to listen, the choice gives me information overload anxiety.
The Journey to Zoom Hell
The pandemic turned many associations, pastimes and communities on their head. From work teams to bookclubs everyone hooked it online and muddled through the best they could.
From a professional point of view the warning signs were coming, people were cancelling talks, sponsorship, events and generally not turning up to anything. Flights were cancelled, hotels started to feel the pinch months before the first lockdowns. When one of the larger conference organisers completely shut up shop for in-person events. That was the first real sign it was not going to be a fun ride for anyone.
Communities of all types started to appear, the explosion of use of Zoom, Clubhouse, Discord and the like ramped up. I know myself for one, started jumping in on things purely to connect with friends, colleagues and connections mainly to check that they were okay. I’d been working from home for years but even I wasn’t mentally ready for the load change it gave.
If you were a parent schooling your children and trying to do your job at the same time, you should get a medal. Simple as that.
During all of this I started hearing about domains that never occurred to me before, one of them was Developer Relations, or #DevRel. Now I’ve been in the industry for a long time but even this was new to me.
What is Developer Relations or #devrel?
The Wikipedia lazy quote machine gives an actually decent explanation of DevRel is:
Developer Relations, also known as DevRel, is an umbrella term covering the strategies and tactics for building and nurturing a community of mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and developers (e.g., software developers) as the primary users, and often influencers on purchases, of a product. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Developer_relations
I never knew it even existed until I joined a few communities by invitation. These people have become dear friends over the last few years of pandemics, scares, vaccines and the eventual release into the conference wild.
There was a lot of talk of redefining how DevRel worked online. It was now about meetups and virtual conferences, communities (lots of communities). There was a sea change coming, everything was to play for. The old rules just did not count anymore, the new reality was here and we could create it. Creating content, more content, getting in with the developers and so on. I could do talks with a whiskey in my hand, timezones were brilliant!
By the end of the conversations I began to feel like the black sheep in a sea of DevRel or that awkward one in the party that wanted to say something but didn’t want to make a fool of themselves by saying the wrong thing.
The reason settled with me eventually, I’m not in marketing which to me DevRel feels like it is, though that is debated by DevRel professionals too.
Me? Well I’m in DevOps, I’m in software development and I am the solo founder of a Synthetic Data startup. In effect, I’m their target market…..
And here lies the problem.
Conferences are Back On. Podcasts are Back On. In Person Events Are Back On! BACK TO NORMAL FOLKS!
The industry wanted to get back to “normal” but with a new found sense of trying to carry what it learnt from the virtualisation of everything it held dear. Personally I don’t think it lasted too long. But like travelling sales people, they had to be out on the road, away from home for a bit. Fair enough, whatever you like. I realised it just wasn’t for me, as much as I love airports and I DO LOVE AIRPORTS.
I was never a fan of crowds to start off with. I realised a long time ago, I am a situational extrovert.
All the while I was on programme committees for large conferences I really didn’t have much interest in showing up. A life of stickers, t-shirts and notebooks is all very well but you could just post them to me. And listening to two days of talks is exhausting to me. Me and my walking stick can only go so far before we just sit down and slowly give up. I tend to pull my laptop out and start working on AI models.
It became very clear that I was taking in too much. I had to slow down. My job is to help customers, not to continually fuel the content of software companies. So I slowly pulled back. I did the odd talk and the odd podcast/video interview but I am not DevRel and I’m not selling anything. I do those things because I love my job, I love my friends and I love attempting to educate those that want to learn more.
However, I am not in DevRel.
I am not DevRel.
DevRel is not me.
“So Jase, What Podcasts Do You Listen To?”
It’s a question I get asked a lot. So I’ll answer this now, I don’t listen to podcasts, especially tech related ones. I find them a distraction from work. Which means finding time outside of work to listen to the content.
I don’t really read blogs that much either. While I do belong to a few Slack/Discord communities I don’t really engage much on those now either.
I turned up to what would be considered a small tech conference in Northern Ireland and I got the same comment from five separate people: “Jase, you’re not talking, what are you doing here?”
As you can tell, I’m not a consumer of DevRel. But I’m not sure I’m a creator of it either. The reason is pretty simple too. I’m at work, therefore I’m focusing on my work. When I want to zone out I will fire up my Sony Walkman and listen to St Vincent, Sia, Taylor Swift, Level 42, King Crimson, Tackhead, Suzanne Vega but I will not be listening to your tech podcast or reading anything telling me that your product will make my life easier.
Sorry, that’s the blunt truth, it’s just more information I can’t take in.
The Small Mobile Intelligent Unit
When the large scale conferences started off again I had a large dose of FOMO (fear of missing out) when I started to see pictures of my tech friends back in the wild, consuming the beers and pizza. I missed it, for a second. Then I thought of the airports, the trains, the expense reports and so on. I felt saved.
At this point though I’m also thinking, I’m a founder of a startup who’s target customer is developers. Do I need to DevRel? Am I actually DevRel? Are we all in DevRel?
I did do a talk on this to a small group, a number of which were in DevRel. It was an interesting conversation because I’m me, there’s only one of me, I can only do so much in the limited time I have. So my mind is always on optimisation and automation where I can.
However, I like the odd talk — well giving them. Obviously I won’t be a complete diva at an in-person meetup and get out as soon as I’ve done my bit. But small events are really better for me and even then I might only do them once every quarter. I’m trying to cut down on the fast food that I eat.
The last few weeks I’d been questioning why I was feeling the way I was. Were my introverted ways post pandemic redefining where I wanted to be with the wannabe conference speaking superstar? I’d even got a “no travel” clause in my contract so I didn’t waste time doing conferences, I’ve got a job to do. Schmooozing isn’t one of them.
Redmonk’s James Governor then clarified my thoughts without me even asking.
I’ve been failing to see the actual advantages of large events, the smaller things were far more interesting and could give a better opportunity for debate, discussion and so on. A free beer exercise is all very well if you want a few days away and you need to stock up on t-shirts/pens/notebooks and more trinkets to get through airport security.
I realised, it’s just not for me anymore but neither am I in a constant cycle of learning and reinvention. What I need is optimisation and automation.
DevRel, I love you. But it’s not you, it’s me. I just don’t have time for your videos, podcasts and written content.