To developer evangelism and beyond

June 21, 2021

Whenever I mention my work history someone inevitably asks: “What is developer evangelism?” This post details my experience in the role at Salesforce from 2018 to 2020.

Is developer evangelism a sales job or a marketing job?

Developer evangelism falls under technology marketing, yet you can think of it as a sales job. It aims to convince the end-user to adopt a proprietary product. I think of it as a sale to get the person to invest their time into using the product, and the result is increased product adoption in their workplace. Ideally, the customer becomes an advocate and spreads the best practice to others, thus scaling the marketing efforts.

The business case for Developer Evangelism

Picture a growing technology company. Its product is complex so it needs customization. The product is sold to organizations on a subscription model; a lack of product adoption means losing business.

How to solve this problem? Developer evangelists are people who evangelize the product in a scalable manner e.g. get feedback from user groups, write technical tutorials, share usage videos targeting the end-users to encourage product adoption. Increased product adoption means increased ROI for the customer organization and facilitates expanding market share.

How did I get into developer evangelism?

I was a software engineer working on a project used to monitor Salesforce’s online services. The project was open source and I, as the second engineer on the project, set out to market the project on a minimal budget. I spoke at open source conferences to drive adoption among external developers. Meanwhile, an internal job post at Salesforce described my promotional efforts to a tee, the difference is I’d be promoting Salesforce’s latest product offerings.

I jumped at the chance to learn from the industry’s best on how to market enterprise software.

Favorite thing about the role

Salesforce out-markets its competitors: no other company has such die-hard fans. These fans come from all walks of life: they are veteran entrepreneurs, volunteers who teach Salesforce on Saturdays, and people giving up their weekends to learn and join the “Salesforce economy”. Speaking in front of them was a little intense because someone in the audience might have used

Salesforce for years and knew things I didn’t, but whenever I presented they were supportive, smiled, and listened.

Highlights from business travel

While I was an evangelist I was part of team Trailhead at Salesforce, which tripled in headcount within 1.5 years. We worked hard but also played hard. Highlights with coworkers include:

  1. Eating with coworkers at a Michelin star restaurant at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, where a Peking duck was carved by a team of three in front of our eyes
  2. Hiking in Phoenix in Arizona, and learning about which cacti were edible (I don’t remember which ones, but it was a gorgeous day)
  3. A three-day safari in Kenya (I volunteered in Africa) at an eco-lodge resembling the Pride Rock in Lion King. We saw the entire cast of Lion King, saw a lioness at a watering hole, drove near zebras and giraffes, heard hyenas laugh at night, and slept under the stars (with a mosquito net)

Life was great! Why did I switch back to software engineering?

I loved my job as a Developer Evangelist. It was hard to believe that I, with English was my third language, was hired by one of the most respected tech companies to present their technology offerings.

As much as I enjoyed presenting to large technical audiences (my biggest one was around 150 people in one room at Dreamforce), at the end of the day I missed building the product. I’m a product-centric person at heart, and working in a service role, with its tight deadlines, was wearing me down.

I remember being at the airport and my manager called me from the UK saying I’d need to draft a step-by-step tutorial within 24 hours. I was planning to meet with my Toastmaster friends for a Christmas social, but work took priority. I went to the office to pick up something then stayed in the lobby to pound out that draft. While pounding on the keyboard I saw my friends meet up in the lobby, smile and laugh, and leave for the restaurant. The trips were exciting, and they were not free.

To beyond

When a Splunk recruiter reached out on LinkedIn with a software engineer position on Splunk’s flagship product, I said hello. I knew Splunk had a great product from engineers; they only complained about its price. I got an offer from Splunk and had to decide between developing a product, or staying in the evangelism role.

I chose the former and so far I’m happily developing products at Splunk. It feels good being back as a software engineer, where the code I write directly impacts the customer experience. Splunk has great ambitions as an enterprise software company, and I can’t wait to help it get to Salesforce scale.