So I haven’t blogged on nivenly.com in ages so I figured I was over due for a technical post. As I am sure some of you have noticed I am recently unemployed and have been spending the last week or so on back to back phone calls with a lot of big names in tech. I have been asked the following question probably 50 times in the last 10 days:
What do you want to do next in your career?
I have been thinking a lot about this recently, and some ideas I have been playing with for a while finally came together in my head. So I want to present this crazy notion of this probably insane idea I have.
So let’s first cover my previous experience so we can understand how I ended up here.
DevOps / SRE / Infrastructure Bro (literally)
So once upon a time I wore a pager and had a beard.
This shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.
I learned a vary valuable lesson here: My job was far more fulfilling and I was far more productive when I would focus on 1 thing and do it well. At this gig I was part of a dispersed “DevOps” team that was charged with performing a lot of bullshit for the many engineering teams we had. I felt most productive and successful when I was able to pair with a team for an extended period of time and really dig in and solve some problems. The one-off interrupt driven nature of working with other teams left me frustrated and made the quality of my work degrade as I was context switching all day every day.
DevOps / SRE / Infrastructure witch
I went through a gender transition NBD.
I then started a new job doing the same style of back end support. This time in fishnets and I was not working with multiple teams.
I was embedded to focus on infrastructure for a SINGLE purpose.
This was one of the best jobs I ever worked at (until we were acquired by
large tech company).
I left work every day feeling productive, successful, and proud of what I did. I made the team more productive, and was able to dig in and solve a lot of the really tough problems that nobody else could solve. To this day, I don’t think I have ever been more productive at my day job than I was here. In fact, the majority of my book Cloud Native Infrastructure was inspired from the work I did while working as an embedded DevOps engineer.
So then Kubernetes happened.
People discovered I had mad backend skills, and could also perform really well under pressure (thanks pager) and next thing I know I am a developer advocate ranting about Kubernetes for a few years.
I never lost my passion for my backend work (and to be honest can’t wait to get back into it).
Working as a developer advocate has been nice, but it’s not what everyone thinks it is.
Travelling sucks, hotels are annoying, airlines lose your bag, you are constantly working on the go, it’s really challenging work.
Then the 30th of the month happens and you get a notification to do expense reports that you don’t have time for.
Google maps directed you to the wrong building for your talk in a country that doesn’t speak English.
Oh by the way, it’s time to check in for your next flight.
After spending some time talking with folks about what I want next in my career I realized I was trying to describe a role that doesn’t exist, and desperately needs to.
Working as a DA I was a jill of all trades and a master of none. I was detached from our engineers, but was expected to represent them. There was no way for me to keep up with the many efforts that were concurrently happening so ultimately I lost my ability to be a deep and authentic knowledge expert about a single thing. This is when I noticed my passion started to slide.
By working as a DA for many different things it left me uninformed and overworked. The engineers were frustrated with me, and I was with them. Not to mention the customers…
Developer Advocacy has 0 business interfacing with an existing customer. That isn’t advocacy.
I started to imagine a world where I could focus on a single tool. A single product. Do one thing and do it well. Contribute to engineering conversations, and help influence engineering, and still advocating for a single product if and when it was needed. There are few engineers who can do this, and I am amazed we haven’t figured out that the majority of DAs would be super stars here.
Imagine going alpha with an open source tool, then having one of the core engineers go out into the wild to teach folks about it and gain feedback. Then imagine them coming back to the whiteboard and sharing their findings in a digestible way to the engineering team who built the product. This. is. developer. advocacy.
We need to start embedding our DAs into our engineering orgs and letting them do what they are good at. Give a DA a single concrete problem, and light a fire underneath them.
We need to stop expecting our DAs to be our one stop shop for every single effort we have going on. This isn’t a sponsorship. Let DAs influence tech. Give them a seat in the engineering discussions to do so.
Embed your DAs to a single team, in the same way you would embed infrastructure engineers to a single team.
Let a single product define the scope of a DAs involvement with the community. Why send a DA on the road if the product doesn’t need it? Let’s be concrete people.
Let’s do one thing, and do it well.