My Next Developer Experience and Relations Role (Updated: Oct 2022)

23 Nov 2021

Over the next few weeks or months, as I search for my next role, I’m hoping that I’m going to have a few conversations. The purpose of this post is to clarify what I can bring to any company that is considering employing me and what I’m looking for in my next role.

TL;DR / Exec Summary

  • What I’ll bring:
    • See my LinkedIn profile. In particular, my time at Nexmo (acquired by Vonage) and my more recent experience at Ably
    • A successful servant leader and award-winning Developer Experience & Relations team builder
    • A product-first approach that must start with the developer experience
    • Business understanding and the ability to achieve strategic alignment with developer-focused initiatives
  • How I’ll assess the company:
    • Inclusivity and diversity
    • Developer-focused
    • A product that I’m excited about
    • Transparency
  • What I want from a role:
    • Accountability spanning developer experience and relations; the end-to-end developer journey with a brand
    • An opportunity to learn and grow
    • A servant leadership and team-building role
    • To directly help a business succeed

What I’ll Bring

I hope that my experience, which includes over 20 years of building developer-focused products and engaging with developer communities, speaks for itself. But, here are some highlights that I feel are most relevant to my search for a new role right now.

Servant Leadership & Team-Building

I enjoy helping others succeed, and I have a proven record of seeding, growing, and scaling multi-functional and globally distributed teams.

My biggest challenge and learning experience was growing a DevRel team of three people to become a Platform & Developer Experience team of forty-two people. The team was diverse, collaborative, multi-functional, remote-first and distributed from San Francisco to Singapore, with a multi-million dollar budget and revenue goal.

The teams were:

  • Developer Experience: API standards, documentation, dashboards (inc. signup flow), SDKs and sample code. See the
  • Developer Education: Blog posts, streaming, and video content. See
  • Community: Internal and external developer community engagement. See Vonage OneHack and Vonage Voyagers.
  • End-to-End Experience: defining, managing, and coordinating the Nexmo and Tokbox to Vonage rebrand and the experience crossing multiple digital assets.

These teams delivered business value and won multiple awards year-on-year.

A Product-First Approach

I have a background in software engineering, so I am a developer and understand what developers need and care about. You have to start with a product that solves a real problem and provides a really good developer experience.

You must get the fundamentals of developer experience right before driving developer awareness of a product or you risk losing developer trust.

– Phil Leggetter

I stand by this. And, in some cases, the experience of the Product itself is a fundamental way of raising developer awareness. Stripe is an excellent example of this. But, of course, you also need to raise awareness directly in most cases, but the developer experience has an amplifying effect that must be prioritised.

Inherent in this is that I’m product-minded. I feel I can bring value by either being accountable for key product assets (API standards/design, documentation, other educational assets, sample code, SDKs, and developer consoles or dashboards) or, at a minimum, be a stakeholder. Therefore, I don’t want a role purely focused on marketing activities, as some DevRel roles are. This doesn’t mean I’m against a role within Marketing, but Marketing must be strongly aligned with Product.

Business Understanding & Strategic Alignment

I’ve worked with C-level executives for many years. At Vonage, a public company, I reported directly to the CPO following acquisition and contributed to slide decks for the board and market analysts. As a result, I understand that sometimes competing forces are at play and know when to find alternative solutions, compromise, or pick a battle.

I understand the difference between strategy and tactics (and I’ve got a certificate to prove it). So I can take high-level business objectives and create a strategy to help the business meet those objectives through developer-focused initiatives.

How I’ll Assess the Company

The main assessment criteria I have (and I have a spreadsheet) are as follows:

Be Inclusive & Diverse

I want to work for a company that understands, accepts, and values the differences between people, including those:

• Of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations • With differences in education, personalities, skill sets, experiences, and knowledge bases

The workforce must either already be diverse or a very clear programme is in place to increase diversity.

Be Developer-Focused

I’m a developer at heart, and I love to enable other developers. So I want to join a developer-focused company. I’ve previously worked for companies that build products for developers where many employees, including execs, need to be convinced time and time again about the value of developers. Unfortunately, this can also lead to all sorts of decisions being made without consideration for software developers, even those who work there.

Note: If you don’t understand the value of developers buy “Ask Your Developer” by Jeff Lawson now!

So, if the company doesn’t fundamentally understand developers, I’ll need a C-level role to be the “voice of the developer” as a peer to the execs, so I don’t have to spend as much time “managing up”.

No matter the type of company, I want my focus to be enabling a team to serve developers instead of “managing up”.

Have an Exciting Product

I’ve learned that it’s important to be excited about the products that the company I work for is building. In the past, the products for companies I’ve most enjoyed working with are:

  • Real-time web technologies: Caplin Systems and Pusher
  • An open-source toolkit for building complex JavaScript apps: BladeRunnerJS by Caplin Systems
  • APIs for communications such as messaging, voice, and video: Nexmo/Vonage
  • Open-source product analytics, including funnels and feature flags: PostHog

I’m not as interested in roles focused on developer deployment infrastructure/DevOps such as k8s or source control. These are powerful and important products but not something that excites me as much as those listed above.

Be Transparent

The most transparent company I’ve ever worked for is PostHog, and it’s a big reason I’m disappointed it didn’t work out there. So, I’d like to find a company with a similar level of transparency. An example of this is the PostHog company handbook was public and open-source, and the executive team minutes and board decks were shared with all employees.

What I Want from a Role

My current priorities for my next role are:

Developer Experience & Relations

I’ve already stated that I’m product-minded, why I feel that benefits a business and that I don’t want to purely focus on marketing to developers. Of course, this will rule me out of some roles, and that’s okay.

I believe a company will get more out of me if I’m responsible for key assets of a developer’s experience with a company’s brand and Product. For example, at Vonage, I was ultimately accountable for all developer touchpoints of the Vonage API platform (Nexmo and Tokbox) except for paid advertising. This enabled the team to think holistically about the experience we were providing to developers and build a more cohesive experience.

I’m looking for a similar opportunity where I am accountable for many developer touchpoints across Product and Marketing. Where I’m not accountable, I’d want to at least be consulted.

An Opportunity to Learn & Grow

I was on the Nexmo SLT (Senior Leadership Team) and then the Vonage API Core Council (an exec team representing the API group within Vonage). In these groups, I acted as the “voice of the developer” across Vonage and gained a lot of insight into how businesses operate.

I want to build upon these experiences, which means a role such as Chief Developer Relations/Developer Experience Officer would be perfect. However, these roles are few and far between, so a VP-level role that reports directly to a C-level executive would also give me the access I feel I need to learn, grow, and help a team and business be successful.

Servant Leadership & Team Building

I work this way, and I want to work with others who do too.

I believe the traditional company org chart should be inverted where the CEO’s role is to support and enable everyone above them. Therefore, my role as a leader within an organisation will be to grow, support and enable a department or team.

I want to work as part of a dedicated team or function. I’m not a standalone individual contributor (IC) though I can be an IC on a team and lead it.

I don’t want to work at a company where leadership means telling a team what to do. And I don’t want my manager to tell me what to do. Instead, I want to be challenged with problems to solve and be enabled and trusted to execute.

To Directly Help the Business Succeed

I’m a servant leader because I inherently enjoy helping others succeed. This doesn’t mean only helping those I’m asked to support and enable (manage/lead), but also helping anyone that I report to; I want to help make them and the business successful.

In order to be successful, there must be a clear understanding of how I can bring or enable value.

Where Now?

If I’ve sent you a link to this page and you feel we’re aligned - great, let’s continue the conversation.

If you’ve come across this post in some other way, the post contents resonated with you, and you think we could work together, get in touch.