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Developer Advocate Wars / Arms Race

While I’m not a huge fan of an unique amongst open source foundations by having involvement from all the major cloud providers so I have an interesting vantage point in seeing a trend amongst them in ramping up developer advocacy hiring over the last couple of years. Furthermore, this hiring blitz is even more evident for me given the last couple of weeks have been conference crazy in the cloud native space with CloudNativeCon/KubeCon, MSBuild, Google IO and Red Hat Summit happening.

So what is happening with developer advocacy and the hyperscale cloud providers?

Note: If you aren’t familiar with the term developer advocate, I highly recommend this presentation by Patrick Chanzenon and blog from Ashley McNamara as an introduction to the profession.

Google

Google historically has been one of the early proponents of developer advocacy/relations and has invested in it since 2006 (see this excellent presentation for a historical perspective). A cursory search on LinkedIn shows a few hundred developer advocates employed at Google covering a variety of technologies from browsers to cloud. They also recently hired some heavy hitters like Sam Ramji and even Adam Seligman of Salesforce fame to help further build out their developer relations organization which was a smart move:

Anyways, I consider Google a leader in developer relations and with folks like Kelsey Hightower on staff, they are ahead of the curve.

I expect them to continue hiring like crazy to onboard more people onto their cloud offerings given their position in the market.

Microsoft

I used to work with Jeff Sandquist at Twitter and was delighted to hear he went back to Microsoft to build a developer advocacy focused organization. MS isn’t new at this game as some of us who are old enough and did MFC programming back in the day may remember Microsoft and their Channel9 advocacy program. Microsoft has been investing heavily in developer relations by making key hires (e.g., Ashley McNamara, Bridget Kromhout) and have rebooted their investment in open source to become one of the largest open source contributors in the industry. I’m not the first person to notice this trend by far, my friends at RedMonk noticed last year also. Searching the Microsoft job site, I see them hiring a handful of developer advocates mostly focused on cloud but they already have a large established roster of folks. It’s hard to get an exact count through the inexact science of flipping through LinkedIn search results, but I’d peg it 50-100 people currently employed doing developer relations.

Amazon (AWS)

In late 2016, Amazon started to expand their open source credibility by hiring folks like Adrian Cockroft, Zaheda Borat and Arun Gupta.

Using ancedata from my own experience being at events the last few years, Amazon has been aggressively speaking at conferences popular in the open source community. They have started to open source more examples and work with the community to improve them (e.g., https://github.com/aws-samples/aws-workshop-for-kubernetes)

It’s hard to get an exact number of people employed doing developer relations at AWS but going through the inexact science of LinkedIn search results, it looks to be in the 25-50 range which seems lower than I expected, but it’s hard as developer advocate is a fluid title (some people call themselves evangelists). In terms of hiring, searching the AWS jobs site I came across a couple of handful of developer advocate focused jobs so they seem to be aggressively hiring in this space. Also on a related note, I’m forever a fan of AWS for their execution and open discussion about hiring older engineers.

IBM

IBM traditionally has a strong position with their interactions with the open source community and even built a formal open source program within the company (I was also a fan of their DeveloperWorks initiative and even wrote technical articles for them in the past). They have also showed how making early bets on open source initiatives like Linux and Eclipse can reshape markets. In terms of developer advocacy, it seems about a year ago hired Jonas Jacobi to focus on developer relations from what I’ve been able to ascertain. They recently hosted an open source developer event in San Francisco called IBM Index which signals a desire to build developer communities outside the traditional IBM enterprise events like Think.

From a cursory LinkedIn search, IBM has 100+ developer advocates working on things from AI to Cloud. In terms of hiring, I’ve only found a handful of job descriptions currently open that are focused on developer advocacy. However, there were many job descriptions that were labeled software engineering that seemed to heavily focus on developer advocacy, for example, the folks that work on something called the IBM Cloud Garage seem to be a developer relations style job.

Oracle

Oracle has a burgeoning cloud business and according to some news sources, Oracle is actively trying to hire a new executive to run developer relations. A cursory job search shows that Oracle is ramping up their hiring, I see dozens of developer advocate positions open along with some more senior director level positions. I continue to expect Oracle to invest heavily in developer relations as this is an area they aren’t known for but has become table stakes in the public cloud business in my opinion.

Alibaba (and BAT+)

Alibaba and their cloud business is growing fast worldwide even though we don’t hear much about them in North America. In my opinion, they are making smart moves in Southeast Asia, India and other markets but that’s for another article to discuss. In my quest to learn about developer advocacy at Alibaba and even the other BAT companies, it was hard pressed to find any folks individually working on this. It’s clear to me that Alibaba has developer relations folks as if you go to their Alibaba Developers site there is some great content there but it’s been difficult to find current folks employed in devrel there and what they are hiring for. I’ll chalk this up to my inability to understand how job searching works in China and maybe one of my readers can shed some light on this. My hunch is that Alibaba will aggressively start hiring developer relations people worldwide if they didn’t start already, it will be fun to watch.

Conclusion

So what did I learn while I wrote this article? Well first off, getting hard numbers of how many job openings out there is a terrible science, sites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Indeed make it very difficult to extract data from their platforms to analyze. Second, developer relations is a nascent field and there’s no standard job description or career ladder. In many companies you have titles that range from “developer advocate” to “developer evangelist” to even “software engineer” that have primary responsibilities as developer relations. There have even been boutique communities popup to support people in the role of developer relations, see the Evangelist Collective slack as an example. Also the hiring of developer advocates isn’t just for large cloud providers or companies… you see some of the smart modern startups like Hashicorp, Turbine Labs and others hiring folks exclusively to make it easier to onboard developers to their tooling.

Finally, my prediction is that we will see cutthroat competition amongst the hyperscale cloud providers in hiring developer relations talent, especially out of the incumbents. The rest of the industry will learn from this experience that having a strong developer relations team is table stakes for any developer focused business. I’d love to write more on this topic but I’m short on time and I’m sure my friends at Redmonk can do a better job on this topic than me 🙂