A Day in the Life of DevRel

heidi-waterhouse_devone2019

This picture was taken on April 11, 2019, in Linz, Austria, at DevOne. I had left the first LaunchDarkly Trajectory conference in the last hour and flown to Austria overnight to speak here. That was The Before Times.

This is a capture of my events calendar for last September. There’s a lattice of different-colored event bars to tell me where I’m going to be when and hopefully prevent myself from double-booking.

calendar

September calendar shot

I want you to imagine all of my similar calendar month events getting torn into confetti and drifting down to the bottom of the year to join the events that already live there. Only now also with some sparkle from crushed hopes and dreams. (It’s not that bad, really it isn’t, but it feels that bad right now). At this point, there are still some things scheduled for late fall, but I am setting my expectations. I expect it will be a year before I stand on a stage in front of a crowd in person.

An animated gif of falling confetti

Colorful confetti descending

One of the common questions I get when I am mentoring or interviewing is “what does your average day look like? What’s a day in the life of Heidi, Sticker Thoughtleader?

There used to be two answers, and now there are three, and as miserable and scary as it is to be in the middle of a pandemic, I’m glad we have more than two, and I’m glad we’re building more than three. There need to be so many kinds of days in the life of devrels, because there are so many kinds of developers to relate to.

Day in the life, type 1: Prep

I’m not on the road, but I expect I will be shortly. I have checklists of things to pack and remember, but all that exists to make sure I show up in a physical place at the right time and in the correct time zone. 

  • Start a load of laundry
  • Check on the next couple trips worth of travel, make sure I have flights, lodging, paperwork, registration.
  • Read upcoming CfPs, promise myself I will apply to them before the last minute, and then open the Tab of Forgetting Until the Last Minute.
  • Check with my sales team to see if there’s anyone they particularly want me to talk to, or if they have any customers who would like a visit. Customer visits are an amazing part of my job, because I get to meet people who are actually using my stuff! In production! They ask all sorts of interesting questions, very few of which I can answer, but that’s ok, I take notes.
  • Work on my presentation. Maybe a cat picture would help?
  • Complain about my presentation and how much I hate this talk to my friends. They are used to this by now. I always hate my presentations until about the third time I give them.
  • Cycle the laundry
  • Calls and meetings internally. Sit in on the product development demos so I know what’s happening. Lurk in the revenue meeting so I know what the sales team is telling folks. Contribute whatever I can to the marketing people, who are the yin to my yang. Brainstorm with the events people on what is going to make for good programming, good swag, a good event.
  • Fill out my expense reports from the last trip
  • Go to my kid’s game or concert, or whatever it is that they’re doing that I’ve been missing
  • Hug my spouse and do the dishes after dinner
  • Check my brand twitter before bed and make notes about whether anyone has asked questions I need to answer. 
  • Realize after midnight I need to move the laundry again

That’s not all the things that could happen, and all of these things might not happen in one day, but it’s representative. I might be writing content or blog articles instead of a talk, it might be no-meeting Wednesdays, I might have a mentoring or buddy call, I might have pairing, but that’s about how it goes for me.

Skills:

  • Time management
  • Creative work
  • Writing
  • Systemic thinking
  • Observation and conclusions
  • Team-building and maintenance

Day in the life, type 2: GO GO GO

Conference days are an incredible dopamine rush for me. I love talking to people, I love explaining things, I get to actually hang out with my coworkers in person, I’m learning all sorts of fascinating things and seeing my devrel and speaker friends. A lot of times I make the mistake of thinking of this as my “real” job. But all of it is real, this is just the part of the iceberg that sticks up.

I actually have notes for a day that you see in the graphic above, on September 26

  • Wake up later than I had planned, due to jetlag, and having recorded a conference talk and MC’d a meetup the night before.
  • Go to ChaosConf, which was great! Listen to a couple talks and livetweet them before going down to the vendor hall and saying hello to so many people I like and care about and work with. Work my booth for a while.
  • Stand in line for the food truck while telling someone about my career path and how they can start building a trajectory away from feeling stuck.
  • Go back for a couple more talks. 
  • Run an abbreviated sticker table and talk to people as I give out stickers.
  • Take a meeting with my manager as I’m walking from one part of San Francisco to the other. Find out I’m getting a title bump and raise!
  • Show up just in time for the meetup I’m speaking at. Listen to the other speakers and really appreciate what they’re saying. Say hi to more people I’ve met. Hi, Tilde!
  • Give a talk about the coming recession and how developers need to understand their business value. This has nothing to do with my company, but everything to do with being a person who’s been in the industry long enough to see things coming. 

This is important! If I only talked about feature flags, or even only talked about devops, I would be less trustworthy than I am as a person who sees industry-wide trends and talks about them. I hope that it’s clear that all of my talks, the ones about ADHD and the ones about disaster mitigation, are all about making technology a more humane, safe, and sustainable place. I don’t want to work for anyone who doesn’t see that a tool is only part of that whole picture. Fortunately, LaunchDarkly is on board with my take.

  • Stand around talking to folks about feature flags/economic indicators/tool chains until the nice Intercom folks kick us out so they can go home at 10 PM. I have been actively working since 9 AM. This is not the longest my workdays get, but it’s not unusual for a conference day length.

Skills:

  • Typing speed
  • Active learning
  • Small talk
  • Public speaking
  • Making conceptual connections

Day in the life, type 3: Pandemic Boogaloo

First, let’s be clear that I’ve been working from home productively for 15 years. This is not new to me. It doesn’t always feel like this. So if you are new to wfh, or even if you aren’t, remember that it’s distracting to be in the middle of a crisis, and you’re just not going to be as sharp as you ordinarily would. It’s not about the webcam conferences, it’s about the existential dread.

But here’s how my Monday went:

  • Sleep until 10. My sleep hygiene is shot because I keep looking directly into the nightmare box at bedtime instead of reading a nice soothing book.
  • Breakfast while reading the Twitter list that I have curated to be mostly about work. It is not about work, it is about our global crisis.
  • Sit down at my computer, which I have configured to lock me out of Twitter for the first half hour of my day, because if I engage with the nightmare box too much in the morning, it eats my entire day.
  • Check my meeting schedule, set timers on my phone so I don’t wander off and forget to call in.
  • Look at my Trello, my Confluence, my email, my slacks. I feel like I have a world-writeable to-do list, but that’s not true, I’m in charge of what actually needs to get done.
  • Set 1-1 meetings with folks who ask for them, or people that I’m worried are struggling with being home from work.
  • Order stickers and stamps so I can do sticker distribution from home.
  • Outline this article, which I started taking notes for in The Before Times, but now needs to be revised.
  • Attend a meeting. My cat hears me talking and comes to stomp on me. She has the angriest meow in three counties, and all my teammates greet her by name.
  • Do a radio interview. To do this I need to download an app for my phone. To download an app for my phone I have to clear some things off of it, because I’m out of space. All of this is both essential and non-productive. The interview is interrupted halfway through by the broker calling to see if we’d been able to call each other. :facepalm:. It’s no one’s fault — my response times were not perfect and I forgot to put on DND on my phone, because I don’t usually use it for meetings.
  • Team meeting is good and productive, but by the time it’s done, it’s almost dinner time. My wife hollers that she’s made dinner, but I’m finding the perfect confetti gif and I show up late to the table.
  • Convince my family to watch a tv show with me. This is a luxury I’m still getting used to.
  • Tuck everyone into bed and then sit up for an hour writing this article, because after-midnight is usually my best composition time.

Skills:

  • Time management
  • Team-building
  • Handling task interrupts
  • Learning new technology on the fly
  • Relationship nurture
  • Writing

Other days, other skills

Other developer advocates have different days – there’s no one answer for what we’re doing. The most important part is that we are always promoting the needs of the developers in our community and beyond. We’re taking information and feeding it to our in-house developers, we’re teaching and talking to outside developers about integrations, usability, accessibility, and how our products fit in their lives. 

Some other tasks that are equally valuable and important are:

  • Write up analysis of events we attend and impact we have
  • Create integrations between our product and other products so people can use us more easily
  • Write API documentation and test it
  • Write playable demos
  • Record teaching podcasts
  • Sit with product designers and offer feedback about what we see in the field
  • Surface and answer questions that come to support frequently, in a way that’s easier to find
  • Create media connections so that we can get our message out to more folks across more platforms
  • Help run conferences, or pivot how the conferences are running
  • Do interviewing to help expand and add to company culture
  • Consult on sticker and t-shirt design
  • Advocate for usability and accessibility
  • Think up wacky demo ideas that would be fun to illustrate 
  • Shitpost on Twitter
  • Make drawings of how things work
  • Livetweet conference talks
  • Write book reviews and analysis
  • Attend conference talks and listen to content to stay current on modern practices
  • Work with tools like Glitch, Twitch, Digital Ocean, Heroku, Terraform, and others to produce samples or demos

Skills:

  • Coding
  • A/V wrangling
  • API documentation
  • Note-taking and feedback
  • Running a meeting
  • Interviewing
  • Creative thinking and market analysis
  • Critical writing

In conclusion

This is going to be interesting — as Emily Freeman said, “an inflection point”. But I’m starting to feel excited about the new opportunities we will all have. Nothing about our goals or our skills is different, but so much about our jobs is, and we have to keep our eyes on the goal to manage all the change happening in our jobs.

 

 

Heidi Waterhouse

Heidi is a developer advocate at LaunchDarkly, a company that lets you make business decisions about your software at runtime. She spends a lot of time talking and writing about things you only thought you understood, and how they are connected. She also has an unhealthy fascination with near-disasters of the technical variety.

Upcoming appearances

Velocity Berlin
Minneapolis DevOps Meetup
DeliveryConf