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DataTalks.Club

Developer Advocacy for Data Science

Season 2, episode 2 of the DataTalks.Club podcast with Elle O'Brien

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Transcript

Alexey: This week, we'll talk about the developer advocate role and not just the usual type of developer advocate, but a developer advocate in data science. We have a special guest today, Elle O'Brien. Elle is a data scientist at Iterative, which is a company behind DVC and CML. If you don't know what these three-letter abbreviations mean, DVC is Data Version Control and CML is Continuous Machine Learning. I've been following Elle for a while on Twitter and recently, we got connected on LinkedIn. (2:57)

Alexey: When I was looking through her profile, I noticed that one of the lines was “developer advocacy and outreach, available for speaking engagements”. It wasn't the only line that was there, but it caught my attention because this is something I've been curious about – this role, what it means, what they do – and I wanted to talk to somebody about it. So I decided to reach out to Elle, invite her to our chat, and talk more about this topic. Welcome, Elle. Thanks a lot for joining us today. It's a pleasure to chat with you. (2:57)

Elle: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. This is exciting. (4:05)

Elle’s background

Alexey: Before we go into our main topic of developer advocacy, maybe you can tell us a bit about your background? What have you done so far and how did you get into data science? (4:10)

Elle: Sure. It was all kind of indirect. I'm an ex-academic researcher, like many people that get into data science. For the last decade, I worked in various areas of neuroscience research and I was a math major in college. I was doing computational models of biological systems – I did that as an undergraduate for a few years and did research there. I did a Master's degree at the University of Washington. Then I did a PhD. I kind of got all over. I worked in a lot of different labs and we were modeling a lot of different systems, but it was always using the same core tools, more or less, of making computational models. (4:22)

Elle: By the end of that time, I could see that there was something I really didn't want to miss in machine learning and data science. Part of it is that there are a lot of methods that get used there, like nonparametric statistics, and the approach of prediction, rather than inferential statistics, and I really wanted to get deeper into that. At the same time, I was also feeling a bit troubled by the fact that in so many labs I've worked in, code data sharing, collaboration and management were still really difficult. Every lab kind of has its own way of doing it and it's a considerable burden. It’s like you have a bunch of scientists and none of us are really trained for how to manage data that we have to keep for years and years or share with a collaborator or completely reproduce our code for somebody else. I feel like there definitely has to be a systemic change in the tools that we give scientists. So I wanted to go into something that addresses that problem. (4:22)

Elle: That's why when I was done with my PhD, (not this past November, but the one before that) I joined Iterative. I wanted to work on data version control. That was kind of it – all of my data science proper is kind of self-taught, the way that so many data scientists are – you follow tutorials, you learn. I really like getting to work in the ML Ops space now. Although I am going to be joining the University of Michigan in just a few weeks as a full time lecturer and research investigator in the School of Information. I'm going to be leading some classes and developing a curriculum for the Applied Data Science Master's program. So I'm leaning even harder into, “How can we teach this effectively and at scale?” (4:22)

Alexey: One thing you mentioned was that you got another PhD, not the one you got in November? Does that mean you have two? (7:28)

Elle: Oh, no. I only have one PhD. [laughs] No, I was just trying to think of dates when I said that. But, yes – I only have one PhD. (7:39)

Alexey: [laughs] Okay. So you'll be teaching, among other things, the tools of how to make research reproducible? (7:50)

Elle: Yeah, some of it is going to be teaching statistics, some is going to be supervising students as they are trying to do end-to-end data science projects. In an applied data science program, a lot of people want to go on to be data scientists and not academic researchers. I think maybe pursuing tools for academic researchers is maybe a research area that I like, and my day-to-day teaching will probably be very applied. How do we get Junior data scientists – data scientists that are just about to go to the workforce in a few months, who are at a pretty high level of awareness of the issues – the knowledge of the tools and the space in order to be able to make some educated choices about how to manage their data science projects? (7:59)

Alexey: You know, that's something that universities (from what I see) are missing right now – end-to-end overview of data science projects. So this is really great that you decided to do this. (8:53)

Elle: Yeah, I'm so excited to do it. But making a data science curriculum is a lot of the work that still needs to be done. We have to lay out what is the data science curriculum and what has to be there. And I suspect a lot of universities are going to be doing this in the next couple of years. It’s like you said, in my experience, most of data science I just learned by Googling things. (9:07)

Becoming a developer advocate

Alexey: When I talked to you on Twitter and asked about this – when I reached out to you saying, “Hey, I want to talk to somebody about this developer advocacy role.” You replied that this is such an interesting job and that you had no idea that this job existed until you got it. Can you tell us the story in a bit more detail? How did it happen with you? (9:33)

Elle: Yeah. Throughout my PhD, when I wanted to get to work on data science, I would often just make myself weekend projects. For one of them, I had taken StyleGAN, which is a big, beautiful GAN that was released by NVIDIA with all the code and a trained model too. So I trained it on a bunch of frames from videos of myself in different outfits that I had in my closet. Then after it was trained, I just moved around the latent space and I patched it together and I made a video that was just like morphing on my face with different accessories around it. I posted it on Twitter, just because I was like, “Look at this cool thing I made!” It did low key viral – it got like a 1000-something likes, which was pretty good for my Twitter at the time. Then a bunch of people noticed it. (9:59)

Elle: After I posted it I also said, “Hey, by the way, I'm looking for jobs.” I figured since I was one month away from graduating, did not have a job, and I had this thing on Twitter that was doing well – I just made a separate tweet, “By the way, consider hiring me.” Then Dmitry, who's the CEO at Iterative, saw it and he said, “Hey, we're looking for somebody for DevRel,” and I guess the audition that I had done was – I made a piece of content involving machine learning that people wanted to see. So that started it. From Dmitry, I learned that there are, in fact, teams that make things, that are looking for people who will take the tools they make and do something cool with them that they show other people. I also learned that just getting attention on the internet is a viable career path. (9:59)

Alexey: Okay, so basically, you played with a tool, you put it on Twitter, it went viral, and then you mentioned, “I'm looking for a job” and – boom – you got it. Right? (12:05)

Elle: Yes, exactly. (12:18)

A day in the life of Elle

Alexey: That's a nice story. But your job is not just DevRel – you're also doing data science things. You're also involved in creating these tools, right? So what does your day look like? What do you do at Iterative? (12:20)

Elle: There's a lot of different stuff. I also work on the product team for continuous machine learning, or CML. So I kind of help organize the launch for that – making the website, all of our examples, our tutorial. A lot of the work I also do is in our docs for that project and trying to understand user feedback on it, as well as making some new features. I'm very proud – I added a PR for support for Bitbucket Cloud recently to that. I do a little bit of development, but I'm really learning software development. I developed software for years as an academic, but it is just not the same as doing development for an open source project. I kind of treat this almost as an apprenticeship that I get to learn as I go. (12:39)

Elle: There are a lot of conferences that I go to, I do a lot of speaking gigs, I do videos, I try to shoot a video at least every few weeks. Now I have a list of things that some users want and trying to hit those. What else do I do? Quite a lot. Right now, we're hiring more developer advocates. Right now I am a team of one, so we're growing. Also because I'm going to be reducing my time doing this as I will be working at a University, so we're working on hiring. The hiring process takes quite a bit. I also do a lot of blog post writing. (12:39)

Elle: Another thing that takes time, that you don't really see or expect, is that you have to create code examples for everything. When we have a new tool or feature that I want to highlight, it often takes a couple days to create a good technical use case. So, you're sitting there, you're coding, you're getting a dataset – it's kind of like a mini data science project. Then at the end, you have to make sure it's all completely reproducible, readable – it's like turning in a report. Those are kind of fun, but that's some labor that I didn't expect, but it’s a part of it. (12:39)

Being a team of one

Alexey: So, you're doing a lot of blog posts, a lot of speaking, and videos. I see that you post videos constantly on your YouTube channel. Then, you also create reproducible code snippets. That's a lot of things. How do you decide which to work on next, given that you're just a team of one? There are so many things to do. How do you decide what should be the next most important thing? (15:02)

Elle: It's hard. It's really hard. What I often do is have a schedule in mind of “When are we planning to release this?” And I know when we have a release of something, I'm probably going to have to really pitch in on that and maybe add some area of docs, perhaps – something like that – also, working on all the messaging around the release and blogs for that. So those are big landmarks in my time – I know that I've got to work on a release. Then, in between those, I get a bit more freedom to do things like make a video about a topic that is kind of timeless, so it doesn't matter if I release this now or next year since it would still be interesting. (15:32)

Elle: But it is quite hard to keep them all going. Sometimes I feel like I'm actually debating for the first time ever that maybe I need to put a limit on how many talks I accept, because it does take away from the time that you can be writing, and they're all important activities. It's really not obvious or easy. A lot of it is just an experiment on the run. And I just feel like we're due for a blog now. I feel like we're due for a video. (15:32)

Promoting releases

Alexey: So it's more like a feeling. Plus, if there is a certain release, you know that you will need to prepare for this release – prepare some supporting material, good recommendations, good use cases. Do you also need to stick around on Hacker News or Reddit, or do things like that? When you release something, do you publish an article? I think you were posted on the top on Hacker News a couple of times, right? (16:44)

Elle: Yeah, we've had that a few times. This is another thing I didn't expect, but when you put something on Hacker News or Reddit, whether you posted it or it's just trending there – you have to be there. It’s actually a whole-day event when something goes big on social media, which is something that I did not expect to take up time. If I post a little thing on social media like, “Hey, we have a newsletter out,” I don't have to monitor that. But when we have a release, the next eight hours I'm on three different social networks tabbing back and forth going “Okay, answer any questions. Respond.” So it's actually a pretty big production. (17:12)

Dealing with toxicity

Alexey: Also, in Hacker News, it's anonymous – people can just register there and write pretty much whatever they want. Sometimes the level of toxicity there in this community is pretty high, I would say. How to deal with that? It's probably not easy. (17:54)

Elle: It's not. Actually, that is another thing I didn't expect. You really have to pick and choose what Internet communities you can be on. I find Hacker News and r/MachineLearning are both places where there is a high level of toxicity. If I'm just browsing them, it's usually not long before I find something where I'm like, “Oh, I really wish I hadn't read this today. This does not make me feel great.” I thought that I would get a thicker skin for them over time, and I didn't. I find that it actually never gets easier. So I kind of dig in harder on Twitter because I like Twitter better – the data science community there. (18:15)

Elle: For Hacker News, I kind of go “as needed”. I know it would be better if I was a regular participant and got more “internet points”. But I don't do that too much. In Reddit Machine Learning I do answer a couple questions about every month to keep the account current. But other than that, I don't really hang out there, which is a little bit weird when you're advocating in communities that you're not really a part of. But luckily, I'm pretty well embedded on Twitter and I have a couple of data science Slacks and you have a data science Slacks and those are kind of more comfortable, safe spaces, to share something and get feedback. So I definitely take advantage of those two. (18:15)

Developer advocate job description

Alexey: Yeah, thank you. Since I was pretty curious about this role, I decided to just take a random job description of a developer advocate for a company and see what it says. I found this in some Slack, and it said in the responsibilities section, the first point was, “You need to build an open source community for the company from scratch.” Not for the company, but for the product they have. Then the second point was “To drive awareness of this product by speaking at three to six industry events quarterly, writing blog posts, tutorials, creating videos, building examples of using this product for demonstration purposes, and building excitement around this product.” Then there was a third point, “Be the voice of the community in our development process.” Is this a representative description of the position, or is this something that describes more of a full stack position? What do you think? (19:47)

Elle: It is quite representative. I would say that it's because I think companies still have a lot of work to do on learning how to hire DevRel and what DevRel should do. This is probably pretty close to what I expected that I would be able to do, as one DevRel. I very quickly realized that this is not actually that realistic, if you want to do a good job on all three of those, especially people that don't do DevRel or don't have experience in it. I think a lot of technical founders, probably, believe that community building is the same as content creation and presentation, and they're just completely different skill sets. I've had a lot of discussions with other DevRels that have helped me appreciate the distinction, which is not appreciated by all or even most companies that are hiring, I think. (20:59)

Elle: Creating or building a community is something that requires a great deal of real-time interaction. You actually have to be in Slack, or in the subreddit, or on Twitter. You have to be there. You have to be responding to people constantly, having conversations, facilitating bigger discussions, and you have to do a lot of moderation. You really have to be a leader of a lot of interactions. But on the other hand, creating content and videos, and demonstrations, requires a great deal of independent solo-focus time. You cannot really do a good job, unless you're really going to just switch them up constantly – which I do – but it's very, very hectic. I don't think it's sustainable in the long term. That's part of why we're growing our DevRel. (20:59)

Elle: I guess if I could say one thing to people that want to hire a DevRel, it's that they should consider separating people who are really strong content creators from people who are community managers. Managing communities, reaching out to people and keeping them engaged is kind of like engineering almost – social engineering of “How do I create the right conditions for cool things to happen and so that people want to show up?” Content creation is just a much more, almost solo-focused activity. I'm not sure why those got put on the same level like, “Oh, obviously, the same person would do these,” other than maybe because they're just activities that aren't “engineering”. (20:59)

Alexey: There is also this third point, like, “Be the voice of the community.” Is this something that developer advocates do? (23:42)

Elle: Yeah, I mean, I try. Well, I think the idea is that if you hang around the community a lot, you will pick up on what issues people are having – what bugs they have, what feature requests, what big blocks exist that prevent them from getting engaged with what you make – because you want it to be easy to get started. If you're around the support channel, perhaps (we have a Discord where people come to ask questions), you learn pretty quickly, “Okay, what are the common stumbling blocks that people are facing?” And “What are the things that people ask for over and over again that we would be really silly to miss those signals?” (23:51)

Elle: To some extent, I can do that. But on the other hand, it's the same issue of, if I'm in this support channel, then I'm not on Twitter, or I'm not giving a talk, or I'm not creating content. Also, building a community is different from answering technical questions from users. It's actually something I can do, but I feel like to really excel at it, I might need to be more full-time embedded in support, or with the users more of the time. With that said, my team is very software engineer-heavy, but (I don't know if this is true) there are not a lot of people who have experience doing data science, aside from me. And I would also include my academic research in this, where we have datasets – we’re modeling it, analyzing it, and we want to have a reproducible pipeline that generates our results. (23:51)

Elle: Since I do have that experience and my technical background is probably like a lot of data scientists, I can try out our tools and act like a beta tester and give pretty incisive feedback about what part of this would just not be intuitive for a typical data scientist with our highly variable backgrounds. (23:51)

Alexey: Yeah, it makes sense. So basically, it's more a description of a full stack role, right? For example, in full stack data science, we have somebody who can talk to stakeholders, build data pipelines, train a model, roll the model out to production, and then support this model. In a way, it's like five different people when we talk about the full stack data scientists. Here, it's the same, right? You have a community manager, a content producer, and a person who works with support. (26:01)

Elle: Yeah. Really, you can analyze a lot of signals coming out of your community and we don't even make use of a lot of it. There's so much information you can get from your community in so many ways – metrics and interactions. You could easily have a full time job doing that. (26:47)

DevRel vs developer advocates vs evangelists

Alexey: I often come across the developer advocate role, and then there is also a role also called DevRel. Are they similar? Are they the same? Are they different? What do you think? (27:04)

Elle: I think they are the same? I am not completely sure. I hope if I'm wrong, somebody will come and go, “Actually, it's this.” But I think they're the same. (27:20)

Alexey: And evangelists – is this also something that’s in this field? (27:32)

Elle: I think so. Yeah. I think that I would feel pretty similar. Like, “Oh, I have a lot in common with you.” If I met somebody who was an evangelist, I would feel like it's quite similar. (27:38)

Alexey: To me, it seems like evangelists are more often on a stage giving talks. And evangelizing is basically talking about the product and getting people excited about it. This is actually one of the points in this job description “Building excitement around the product.” So this is probably what an evangelist would do, right? Get people excited about things. (27:50)

Elle: Yes. It's interesting, in the US, the word “evangelist” is mostly used for religious preachers. So I think of somebody who'd be on TV on Sunday morning preaching and being like, “Call in for your free Bible today!” and it gets people extremely excited. I think of it like that, but for something in tech. (28:23)

Alexey: So “Call today for your free AWS credits!” or something like that, right? (28:48)

Elle: Yes. [laughs] Yeah. (28:52)

Dealing with the downsides of DevRel

Alexey: Actually, the reason I'm interested in this role is because some time ago, somebody from AWS reached out to me saying, “Hey, we have this position called developer advocate.” And I never actually thought about this position at all back then. But then I thought, “Okay, the description looks kind of similar to what I'm doing – giving talks and producing content. This could be an interesting position.” And then, I talked to some people and many of them mentioned things like you did, that the people in AWS have to go to Reddit, Hacker News and see all this toxicity and deal with that. There’s especially a certain amount of hatred towards AWS in these communities for some reasons (I don't know why). So it's not that glorious, from what I understood. Some people think it's like a springboard to being famous, right? You're on the stage, you're talking all the time. But there are also downsides. (28:55)

Elle: That’s really true. It's really true. And I did not plan for that. I think I always thought “internet points = good”. But then when it was my job, I have to say, it's really scary when something is trending or going big, because there's just a tremendous amount of online abuse. It happens quite a lot. I actually experience a great deal of fear sometimes when things are going big, or sometimes it's kind of panicky, and it's not really that fun. Like you said, I know Hacker News is like “the place to be”, but it's not a place I really feel great reading. I don't feel better. Sometimes I'll come across stuff that's quite extreme when I’m on it, and I'm really troubled by what I read. It's really hard to feel like, every day, I'm going to show up and try to evangelize there when I don't even want to be there. So those things are really, really difficult. Like you said, they're not glorious. (30:19)

Alexey: So how can you deal with that? Let's say somebody is really excited about this position or this role, but there are these downsides. Do you have any recommendations to people on how to deal with this online abuse on the internet? (31:25)

Elle: I mean, I don't. Part of it is just because I don't know that many DevRels yet. I'm still kind of growing into the community a bit. I feel like there's got to be some solidarity and experience in that and people supporting one another. Part of it is that I think platforms have to get better at moderating. I feel like it is really easy to get harassed on even places that have a nicer community, like Twitter, where everybody has their face and their name most of the time. It's still very easy to get harassed and I've seen it happen to a lot of people in machine learning – DevRel or not. When you have a big opinion, people will come for you. I think that, if you are underrepresented in some way, like if you're a woman, or you are not white, I feel like they can come for you even harder. So that can be pretty tough. (31:44)

Elle: On some forums, I'm anonymous – my Hacker News, I've made it pretty not traceable to who I am. But sometimes you can't avoid it. If you're posting like, “I made this!” and there's only three people on this project – they can figure it out. But I also just make sure to try and make a safe online presence. I try to check pretty regularly, like, “Okay, if somebody were to try to harass me or dox me, what could they find?” And I try to keep that pretty minimal. Sometimes I'll make sure that, if I see an embarrassing picture of me somewhere that's from like, 2009 – I will write to that website and be like, “Would you please take down this picture of me?” Things like that. (31:44)

Elle: But I just feel like there has to be some solidarity for that being a rough experience for anybody – DevRel, professional – you're not just a person who makes things for the internet. So commiserating with people helps a bit. It has to be known that it's a job hazard. I feel like if I was supervising somebody with this, and they said, “I really need a break from Hacker News for a bit.” I would grant that. I would. I think that's valid, because you can burn out. I'd even say “If you're not okay posting here, maybe we’ve got to find other avenues.” But I know that for early stage startups, it's really the material benefit. Being on the front page of Hacker News does change things for you. I recognize the business value of it, and I will still do it because I'm all in on my startup. But I just made peace, I guess, that “Okay, I'm doing this for what it takes.” [laughs] (31:44)

Alexey: Yeah, it's sad. But there are definitely advantages for this role, right? Do you think it is a springboard to becoming famous or not really? (34:28)

Elle: I mean, maybe a “low key” kind of fame. (34:39)

Alexey: Yeah, I mean in the community and not like on national TV or anything like that. [laughs] (34:44)

Elle: Yeah. I feel like it's really interesting that as I've done this job, I get a lot more followers. I get a lot more talk invitations and I love that. But then my family has no idea what that means. The people that I'm close with don’t sense anything different other than that I'm invited to a lot more talks. But getting invited to talks is really rewarding – you get to be on panels with amazing people and the more talks you’re in, the more you meet people and hear perspectives that you would never have heard before. (34:50)

Elle: So that’s the benefit, putting aside the risk of burnout – that part is so cool. But at the same time, having a lot of followers gets scary, because the more followers you get, the more you're worried about disappointing them. Sometimes I feel like I post less risky or adventurous things than I would if I had like 100 Twitter followers. (34:50)

Alexey: Again, you have some responsibility and can also turn bad because of the things we just talked about – the online abuse and all that, right? (35:48)

Elle: Right, they're actually here for your brand. When you are a DevRel, what you're monetizing is your brand. For some people that's very close to their personal life. But for me, it's not. I don't want to tweet a lot about my personal life. They really are here for a certain brand of things. So it's kind of a personal choice about how much you want to reveal about yourself. But in a sense, it means like, “Yeah, it's me, but it's also not me.” It's cultivated and it's intentional. I do edit – it's all very intentional. I think that if you're a DevRel and you want to have sustainability, you have to be careful about what kind of things you want to share regularly. (35:58)

Skills for DevRel

Alexey: For somebody who wants to become a DevRel, what kind of skills do they need to develop? (36:51)

Elle: So, the big one – it’s both the technical work and the communication. You have to be credible as somebody who knows tech. But I don't think it's important that you start working at a team or a company knowing everything about their product, I feel like if you know how to learn, that’s enough. I feel like the biggest skill I got from my years and years of academic research was like, “Okay, I can jump into a new lab or a new project and I don't know anything in their stack, but I can learn it pretty quickly.” I'm not an expert in any of these, but I can get started in a couple minutes. I know how to be a beginner. Anything new that comes across the desk, I'm not afraid to try. I'm not afraid to ask stupid questions and figure it out. (36:58)

Elle: The kind of experience that you get is not necessarily from knowing everything. I don’t know everything in the ML Ops world. There are lots of tools in this space that I've never tried and I'm pretty comfortable saying, “Yeah, I don't know how that works. I don't know what it is.” But you have to have some credibility about your own knowledge of the space so that people will trust you as an expert – someone that should have influence. There are lots of different ways to do it. On the other hand, you just have to be clear. I think the biggest difference between experienced technical communicators and not experienced technical communicators is that after a while, you learn what details to cut so that people really just focus on what's important. (36:58)

Elle: Sometimes you just have to not be afraid to be simple and plain in your language, because getting people to understand is much more important than showing everything you know. The communication has to be there. It's a combination of “Can you at least look like you know something about what you're doing?” and “Can you be clear to people who are really coming from a lot of very different backgrounds?” “Can you try to put yourself in the shoes of somebody new and say things in the way that they need to hear it?” (36:58)

Alexey: Okay, so basically being able to learn and being able to teach are the two key skills, right? (39:23)

Elle: I think so. Yeah. (39:29)

Alexey: How important is it to have a technical background? For example, the videos you make are about technical tools. You need to know all these things at a pretty good level, right? You also need to be able to answer questions, not just at the beginner level, but also about your own product and how this product can work with some other things. So you need to have a certain technical background to be able to do that, right? (39:31)

Alexey: Elle (39:31)

Alexey: Yeah. (39:31)

Diversity of backgrounds

Alexey: Alexey (39:31)

Alexey: If somebody without a technical background wants to start a DevRel role, would that be a problem for them? How important is it to have that, in your opinion? (39:31)

Elle: I think it is not important to have a formal technical background. I think that there are a lot of ways to learn. The things that I would want to see would be blogs. Start with a blog about something that you're teaching yourself. Teach yourself something. And it can be something that's kind of basic, and then you can write a blog about it and how you learned it and what you did. Make a little tutorial for somebody else and it kind of serves as a note for yourself and a bit of a lesson. When you try to teach someone, you learn it even better. It really can be fairly simple stuff that you start with. I think that technical skills can be gained. (40:20)

Elle: I know people that have transitioned into data science jobs, DevRels and not, with their background being like, “I have a Master's in marine biology” or maybe something that's maybe tech adjacent. I also know people that don’t have a tech background. I work with a guy who, (not at not at Iterative, but at Michigan), who has a History PhD. He taught himself software development and data science skills – now he's one of the instructors. (40:20)

Elle: So I think there is a lot of room for people who are coming in from a nontechnical background. In fact, it can be an asset, in a way, that you really do get the experience of being a beginner, and you can learn “What was it like? When I was a beginner at this, what parts of this were really confusing for me?” Then you take note of that and you take that with you. For me, all the times I didn't know something were actually the most informative for this job. (40:20)

Alexey: So basically, if somebody is not super technical or doesn't work as a software engineer right now, one way of getting this position and becoming a developer advocate would be learning in public, right? You just learn something, put it online – write an article about your experience. This is how you would go about it, right? You start communicating about your learning process, then people notice you, and then maybe your tweet goes viral. Like you mentioned, “By the way, I'm looking for a job.” This is a good recipe for getting a job as a developer advocate, right? (42:12)

Elle: Yeah. Definitely what I recommend to people is to start blogging on a platform that you like. Medium is a good one. Towards data science, it’s a really good place for that. There's a lot of beginner ones there. Post on Twitter. If you're in the r/ community, I really recommend r/bloggers. You can also go to language-specific sites and aggregators. But just start making things. (42:55)

Alexey: Yeah, it makes sense. You talked to other developer advocates and DevRels – what kind of backgrounds do they have? What kind of background did they have before becoming DevRels? Is there some pattern that you saw? Were they usually software engineers in the past? Or is there really no pattern? (43:25)

Elle: In my experience – and this is not all of them, by far – but I noticed that there's a lot of people that are kind of creative, like working on a lot of different things, like learning things. There's often a little bit of silliness, too. A lot of us really like having a light-hearted tone and we like making things that are going to make people laugh. I think a lot of the best DevRels are people that maybe would have been comedians or something in another life. You don't have to be funny to be a DevRel, but I do notice a lot of my favorites are really funny people. But other than that, I do think that one of the cool things about data science in general – DevRel or not – is that there are a lot of different backgrounds here. (43:49)

Alexey: Yeah, being funny is probably a good way to build a connection with the audience. And this is what you need to do as a DevRel, right? To build a connection so people can relate to what you're saying, listen to your stories, and actually go and want to try the product you're advocating for. This is probably the pattern you're seeing – that these people are relatable and easy to connect with. Okay. (44:46)

Is DevRel for me?

Alexey: So the background doesn't really matter in this case, right? There are some people who were computer software engineers in the past, some from marketing, or somebody that even has a background in history. But let's say that this role sounds interesting to me and I want to become famous, go to conferences, talk to people, be on the stage – be in the spotlight. How do I understand that this is indeed for me? It does sound amazing, except for the parts that we talked about. So let’s say that I think it might be for me, but I don't want to quit my job right now, only to find out in two months that it's not for me. Is there a way to check if I would enjoy this kind of work or not? (45:15)

Elle: To some extent, yes. A lot of people who are full-time developers or data scientists maintain blogs and they maintain their Twitter presences. I feel like that is very close to what the job is like. But, at the same time, anytime you take something that was your hobby and turn it into your full time job, it's just completely different. It's like the people on Instagram who are like, “I'm quitting my job to be a full-time Baker and post videos on Instagram!” And then they go, “Oh, man… I didn't expect there to be so much growth hacking and all these things I do just to try to get people to look.” I didn't really know about that and in that way, I think it's actually harder for me than I expected. But maybe if you're somebody who's really strategic, and enjoys being strategic about your content, that could be a good signal. (46:12)

Elle: If you find that you want to be blogging all the time – that is a good sign. Or if you're into the community management side, if you really want to be leading a community and interacting with people all day – if you just want to hang out on your Discord server much more than you want to code, that could be a good sign. But, it's just a little hard, I think, until you're really putting in a lot of hours over a long time. Because, for me, all these things take up more time than I ever expected. That’s maybe the biggest downside. It's definitely a job I would still recommend to a lot of people. But to be totally honest about it, it is hard to not have as much time for things like research and development because you’re spending so much on content and growing your audience. (46:12)

Growth hacking and metric boosts

Alexey: You mentioned that people don't consider that it will involve a lot of growth hacking and things like that. But it actually does involve these things, right? (48:06)

Elle: It can. Yeah. (48:16)

Alexey: Do you have any growth hacking tips? (48:18)

Elle: None. I am not a good growth hacker. After a certain point, I just talked to Dmitry and I was just like, “I really don't know how to growth hack. I don't have that skill set. And I'm not really that interested in learning it either. So I think if you want that, it's gonna have to come from somebody else.” That's another thing – that's a skill set that people might assume I have, like “Oh because you write blogs and make videos, you know all about social media and how to keep up an audience.” And I really don't. I guess my philosophy is – I don't believe in cheap views. I know you can write a clickbait title to get people to show up, but I don't believe they'll keep showing up if you do that. (48:21)

Elle: That's another thing. Sometimes people really care about metrics. They want to see your audience taking off. Yeah, I did have more views on my YouTube channel when I could release a video every single week, but I simply can't keep up that pace. I'm really absolutely dogmatic. Maybe I will do things sustainably and slowly and I do not want my metrics to spike. I want organic, real growth that I can sustain. And I will do that by continuing to release quality content at a schedule that I can manage. So that's my philosophy. But if you're a startup – yeah, you want big numbers sometimes. You want to be able to show your investors big numbers. So there's a whole other side of it that other DevRels are probably more qualified to answer than me. (48:21)

Alexey: But you do make your videos quite entertaining and interesting. I don't know if you have this rainbow colored… (50:08)

Elle: I have the owl. Yeah. I always have the owl. (50:19)

Alexey: That is maybe one of the growth hacks, because this is like the mascot. Every time I go to the DVC channel, I see this little guy. (50:25)

Elle: Divi? Yes. It really is the mascot. I just love Divi so much. Actually, when I was a kid, I used to make a lot of videos that I would post on my social networks of just being silly. This feels like that. I just get to goof off with this completely ridiculous technicolor owl. I just wish I could be in the room when they decided “We're going to sell this.” I just love it and I want everybody to see this. (50:43)

Alexey: That could be one of the growth hacks that you can share the next time somebody asks you. “Okay, just bring the rainbow color or something that attracts people.” Because this is on every video, right? Was there one without it? (51:12)

Elle: Oh, I'm completely committed to featuring Divi in every video. I also just want people to know that this isn't that serious. I used to go to a Data Visualization Meetup Group, back when we could meet in person, and it was held in a cupcake shop. It was this bright pink cupcake shop. It was just the perfect kind of – it's cool. We don't all have to be like hackers. We can just be people who are going to try this together. So I like comedy that way. (51:29)

Importance of teaching

Alexey: We don't have a lot of time left, so let me quickly check if we have questions. Yeah, we don't. Except from Angel who was saying that he wasn't a troll. Sorry about that. Yeah. I'm also interested in this – you mentioned that you're going to be teaching soon. In your opinion, how are these two things related – being a DevRel and being a good teacher? Does a DevRel always need to be a good teacher? (52:06)

Elle: I think on some level, yes. But not in the same sense of being able to put together a classroom lecture. Of course, you also don't have to grade anybody. But you do have to spot “Where are people struggling to learn something? What are the spots that I really need to help them on?” Honestly, when I make YouTube videos, one of the coolest things about it was that I would get questions from students in other countries. They would write and be like, “Hi, I'm an undergrad doing this. What should I do?” And you end up kind of advising a lot of people. That part is really sweet and really rewarding. It's cool. So that part, I think, is a lot like teaching. (52:44)

Elle: Of course, teaching comes with a lot more things. You have to make a syllabus and you have to grade, you have to create a curriculum – all that. But I kind of wanted that. I think everybody who does data science needs to know something about the craft of it, like “How do you manage developing your code and your data?” I want to make sure that that's not just the thing that data scientists learn after the fact, on the job. I want to be intentional about “What's in the curriculum?” If you pay for a Data Science Master's, “What do you get?” I want to control that. So that's kind of why I'm going back into a university, because I want to help standardize this a bit. (52:44)

Elle: Honestly, one of the things I was most worried about was losing the international audience. I feel like, as a DevRel, you have students all over the world and it's all free. It's all accessible for them. So one of the things I made sure of when I took the job was that I would continue to have copyright over all of my teaching materials so that I could share them. Because I don't want to stop providing materials to students that happen to be outside of the university. (52:44)

Alexey: So you plan to record videos and put them online? (54:46)

Elle: Definitely some. I have found that YouTube is a really good channel and I like it a lot. Also, I find that there's less toxicity as a creator there. And it's really fun interacting with people. People wait for your videos and you get regulars, and that's really cool. I'm definitely planning on continuing to have YouTube videos. If people are asking a question in class a lot, I'll probably just make up a video explaining it and put it out like a three minute video. It's just a great reusable resource for people. (54:51)

Alexey: Yeah, that's great to hear that you managed to convince the university to allow you to do that. I'm personally looking forward to seeing those videos. I think we need more videos like that. Especially, at University, we need more lectures that prepare students for real life. Because most of the time, like you said, people just learn at work. But a university is supposed to prepare them for work, right? (55:28)

Elle: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, I was in school for like 10 years and I still never had anybody really teach me how to use Git, even though every lab wrote code. I think they realize now that there's a gap. One of the worst things, when I was doing my PhD, you'd hear people say constantly things like, “Oh, yeah. You'll be ready for industry.” And then I got there and I just wasn't. [laughs] (55:57)

Alexey: [laughs] Yeah, I've heard that story so many times. I was also a person who shared the same story. Except it wasn’t a PhD, I was talking about a Master’s, but this is a really common theme. (56:26)

Finding Elle online

Alexey: Okay. Thanks a lot for coming today and sharing your experience with us. Do you have any last words? Where can people find you? (56:39)

Elle: Last words? Yeah, you can follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. We've got a YouTube channel, which we can probably provide a link for. Basically, I hope that more people become DevRels, especially people who have really different backgrounds. I just tend to find that sometimes, when you're an outsider from somewhere, it gives you a really good perspective about what it's like to learn and that can make you one of the most effective teachers. Also people who really understand how to tell stories, how to make great graphics, great videos – all of that. It's like getting to be like your own little video studio. It can be really creative and really rewarding. That is why it can be worth going through all of the really difficult parts, too. So I hope that this has been helpful for you in figuring out if it might be something for you. Or if you're a company that is looking to hire, I hope it's helped clarify some of the different parts of DevRel and how it's actually quite a few independent facets. Sometimes you'll find a unicorn who can do it all and sometimes it takes a team. (56:47)

Alexey: Yes. Thanks a lot for being here today and sharing your experience. And thanks everyone else for being here as well. Let's see each other again next week. Thanks, Elle. Goodbye. (58:12)

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