Developer Evangelists: No End to Career Growth Prospects

Mark Boyd, January 10th, 2014

According to the employment website Simply Hired, job advertisements for “developer evangelists” grew by 38% in 2013. The average salary for these new jobs was between $80K and $120K per year. With new vacancies from Twilio, Pebble, and HelloSign all being advertised this month, there is no end in sight for developers who want to combine marketing and business development skills with their programming expertise. ProgrammableWeb surveyed the career field and spoke with Context.io Developer Evangelist Tony Blank about what the job involves.

Simply Hired shows an annual growth of 38% in positions being advertised for developer evangelists; the majority of these positions involve evangelizing a business’s or service’s API. These hires are given the responsibility to build a strong and loyal developer community by encouraging developers to integrate the API into their business model.

Demand for Developer Evangelists

There are several drivers that will increase demand for developer evangelists in 2014.

  • Increased competition among API providers: One of last year’s most inspiring comments came from Steve Willmott, who argued that the API economy needs to prepare for the widespread release of a million APIs. API stakeholders were captivated by this vision and began thinking through the real implications of industry-shifting to an API-enabled marketplace. With more APIs being launched than ever before, the recognized need for developer evangelists to help businesses get their APIs noticed will grow.
  • Greater sophistication in B2D marketing strategies: In 2013, many API providers changed their marketing strategies to focus primarily on business-to-developer (B2D) engagement strategies. These included an improved life cycle management approach for open APIs that moved from landing pages to private beta to general availability, coupled with a focus on providing an engaging developer experience via more intuitive sandboxes, better API documentation, and detailed error messaging. As more API providers will need to build developer communities around their products — whether those will be specific developer communities targeting their business partners or more open developer communities — developer evangelists will be seen as the linchpins in the engagement process and will act as the “human APIs,” connecting a business with external partners.
  • Greater number of new connected devices needing an ecosystem: Connected devices are swamping the annual International CES held in Las Vegas this year from January 7 to 10. As new wearable technology, smart fabrics, connected homes, and connected car devices come on to the market, each will need to build an ecosystem quickly that shows how their devices can work well with others and meet the needs of multiple customer market segments. Wearable tech leaders like Pebble are already preparing to scale up against increased competition — they are currently hiring a new developer evangelist.

As businesses continue to reposition their product and service offerings to provide data and functionality via APIs, more developer evangelist positions are expected to be advertised. January and February also seem to be key months for advertising new vacancies, as businesses bring on board new talent at the start of the year.


Image: Topsy Analytics tweets mentioning developer evangelism in the last month

Key Skills for Developer Evangelists

Current job vacancies for developer evangelists focus on several main skills:

Brandon West, a developer evangelist at SendGrid, confirmed what API providers are looking for in new hires in his start-of-year blog post. He mentions the importance of having a breadth of programming language skills, rather than being highly proficient in just one or two languages. Instead, he focuses his attention on the knowledge transfer skills of developer evangelist applicants. West is looking for new hires to be able to clearly explain solutions with developers, alongside a passion and an ability to inspire developer-consumers.

“A developer evangelist is an outfacing person in the company,” says Thomas Sarlandie, Developer Evangelist at Pebble. “He or she needs to have strong communication skills, both written and orally. We often have to deal with very different environments so a generalist with experience on different OSs and languages is a must. Finally, he or she must enjoy reading other developers’ code. It’s not always easy!”

All job vacancies shared a common desire for entrepreneurial and hustle skills. Companies want to see proof that developer evangelists are at home dogfooding their own product.

Developer Evangelism at Context.io

Tony Blank has been a developer evangelist at Context.io for the past nine months. The Context.io API is a product to help end customers tease out the value of their e-mail data and contact information: for example, being able to use e-mail for improved productivity, customer market research, and relationship network analysis.

To get the position, Blank had to prove his mettle with using APIs as well as demonstrate his ability in sharing information and getting ideas across:

“After a few one-on-one interviews, I had to do a panel interview as if it was a hackathon. I was asked prior to the interview to pick an API I was familiar with. I chose FullContact’s Person API. I had used that API at a previous job. I presented to my future coworkers FullContact’s API as if we were at a hackathon. I prepared a handout on FullContact’s API that I used while I presented, which I think set me apart. I also believe it’s important to convey an openness and honesty as an evangelist. During the interview, I was asked a few questions I did not know. Rather than guess what the answer was, I admitted that I did not, and then proposed a few ways we could reach a solution.”

Since being in the role, Blank of course demonstrates how to use the Context.io in his everyday work. In one example of dogfooding his own product, Blank mentions how, while waiting at an airport for a flight to a developer conference, he was able to build a quick Python script around the Context.io API and sort through his e-mails to identify those who had sent RSVPs to the conference on Eventbrite. As a result, he was able to arrange to meet his warm leads at the conference while also being able to demonstrate another business value of Context.io.

Much of Blank’s work initially is on reframing what Context.io does: People tend to make assumptions immediately about what the product offers. “Developers hear e-mail, so a lot of it is education,” Blank said. “We share a few use cases around e-mail productivity apps, how to build a profile of their users, how you can look at contacts and turn e-mail into a social network, looking at the sort of friendship/relationship networks a customer might have. People begin to understand, but perhaps it’s not quite the full lightbulb.”

“So I ask what they do, and then I put on my product manager hat and say ‘OK, you want to provide a social sharing component’ or ‘you can use Context.io to see the 20 e-mail contacts that you communicate with the most,’ and I show you how you can use one API call to get there,” Blank commented.

Rather than try to drive a greater understanding of the Context.io product, Blank sees his role as developer evangelist as understanding the developer-consumer’s potential business need, as well as understanding his developer-consumers’ end customers. For example, Context.io customers include SaaS providers like Contactually, which in turn offer an e-mail-as-CRM-type product. Their end customers need to authorize Contactually to access their Gmail accounts to populate the CRM functionality of their service. Blank’s role as developer evangelist includes the need to understand both Contactually’s business model and the incentives that Contactually’s end customers need to have before allowing authorized access to their Gmail accounts.

“You need to be creative: That is the challenge. E-mail is so pervasive, but the one thing you have to keep in mind is that people view e-mail as their sacred, private thing, much more so than social media.

“So every end user has that trade-off around what is the benefit versus what personal information am I sharing. Many technical people are a lot more security conscious, so I need to be aware of that. I need to demonstrate that Context.io will have a lot of value to our customers’ end users. For example, a marketing company would love to know which e-mail newsletters you subscribe to and what payments you have made online, but I have to educate this type of client on why providing high value to their end customers is necessary to get access to that sort of information.

“There are tons of use cases across verticals, but, at the end of the day, our customers need their end-customers to want to share their e-mail details.”

Image: Tony Blank (Context.io) in center with fellow developer evangelists Kunal Batra (left, from Sendgrid), and Jonathan Gottfried (right, from Twilio) judging HackRU

Blank has been strategic in the types of customers he is focusing on on-boarding: “I have been focusing on early stage start-ups, as they often have not solved this problem yet. Start-ups have limited runways, and they usually have Gmail in place (or Yahoo, Comcast, etc.). These are companies that are still in the ideation phase, where they know the pain point, and then I can suggest a killer feature we have.

“But overall, the market is wide open to build apps on top of what Context.io can offer.”

Developer evangelists also need the patience for a medium-to-long-term win mentality, according to Blank. “API evangelism and customer acquisition are such a slow play. Adopters might agree that there is an awesome feature they want to use, but then they must have a road map to build it, and that’s a challenge. I have been doing this job for nine months now, and about six months is the fastest turnaround to integrate these services; even if it takes only a week or two for the development end, it takes a long time to integrate a new service.

“One of the things I’ve learned very quickly as an evangelist is that it’s kind of a biz dev sales job, but you can’t approach it as biz dev for developers. The approach of a developer evangelist can’t be ‘let me sell this to you.’ What you have to do is say ‘how can I help you, how can I enable you to do things that you can’t do otherwise. For technical reasons — things you can’t do or time problems — let us do that since it is not your core competency. Let me inspire you, let me understand your unique value, and let me figure out how we can help you build these really cool features.’

“You also need to understand the whole developer evangelist world. Many start-ups are integrating a lot of APIs (i.e., API aggregation), so often I need to show that this is how you can do cool stuff with these three APIs. It’s cool because I’m helping you do whatever you want to do, and the solution might be an API that I am not actually selling. For example, yesterday I asked about what one person did, and he needs a lot of information about an e-mail address. So I was able to point to FullContact, for example, as addressing exactly that pain point he wanted to solve.

“So, often it is like: ‘I can help you network; I can help you navigate,’ and from a bird’s eye perspective, that’s how I see my job.”

By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via e-mail, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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One Response to “Developer Evangelists: No End to Career Growth Prospects”

January 13th, 2014
at 1:31 pm
Comment by: ManfredBo

Great post with great selection of case study examples. And I agree developer evangelist jobs are hot…

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