One Year in DevRel

This week, I spoke at a WordPress meetup group about one of the biggest features coming to WordPress: Full Site Editing. Leading up to the presentation, I recorded a version of the talk and shared the link with a few trusted community members hoping for feedback. In true “it takes a village” fashion, I got some amazing feedback ranging from switching out a GIF to bringing back some of my usual energy into the talk to switching around the order of slides. The day of, I found myself nervously re-recording certain parts trying to get the details just right. You can check out just my talk below or you can watch the full meetup presentation here, which includes a demo from an awesome coworker and a group Q&A session. The slides aren’t perfect (another coworker kindly offered to spruce them up) nor is the recording but it’s very much imperfectly me trying to distill something I’m passionate about it into something useful for others.

When I jumped into the meetup group, I looked around virtually and saw so many friendly faces in the room. After a year of trying to go as far and wide as I could in the WordPress.org space, it truly struck me how amazing it was to feel that sense of belonging. As the presentation continued, I started getting zoom chat DMs and found myself connecting with new people too. One person lived in SLC. Another was new to the WordPress community. Another was so excited about the outreach program I run that they wanted to know immediately how to join.

In many ways, this experience was a perfect culmination of my first year as a Developer Relations Wrangler. It reminded me just how lucky I am to do this work alongside so many amazing community members who think hard, care deeply, and work openly on the future of WordPress. It reflected the expertise I’ve built up around Full Site Editing and the strength of the FSE Outreach Program I’m currently spearheading. It tapped into how much I love preparing people for what’s to come as someone who has always wanted to know what’s up ahead since I was a young kid peppering my parents with questions (“But, mom, who is going to be at the birthday party?”). It reflected the strange ways in which the usual pathways for DevRel-like work had to adapt in the times of COVID and how neat it is to reach so many simply from my apartment closet (yes, I recorded from there). It also showed me how much more work there is to do–more people to meet, more ideas to share, more questions to answer, more resources to create.

Because I love an excuse to reflect and because we’re currently hiring someone to join the DevRel team (accurate as of April 2021), I wanted to share some high level reflections after one year in the role. If you’re keen to apply and, especially if you’re underrepresented in tech, feel free to reach out with questions. I’d love to chat with you about what this work is like. In case it helps, I recommend checking out a prior post I wrote on what it’s like working at Automattic to get a sense of if it feels like a good fit for you.

In no particular order, here’s what came to mind after one year in this new role (for me and for Automattic):

  • “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Sometimes I need to go fast. Sometimes I need to go far. Knowing when to do which matters immensely in this work.
  • “Seek first to understand rather than be understood”. I’ve found myself repeatedly relying on this as often seeking to understand first ultimately helps me an attempt to make something understood.
  • Concern yourself with relationships first and foremost before stressing about metrics/goals/stats. The rest will take care of itself and it allows me to preserve authenticity.
  • Do what you say you’re going to do. A truism for all work and life in my humble opinion.
  • Show up for others. It’s how you end up with friendly faces in the room in moments when you need it the most.
  • Make yourself as open as possible to as many people as possible while setting expectations around replying/engaging (I often link to my pen pal page).  You never know what patterns you’ll find or what new ideas will be sparked.
  • I don’t need to have the right answer. I just need to find it and follow up.
  • Keep a running list of known issues and both continually add to it and check against it as you evaluate what to do next.
  • It helps to balance out pushing boulders up hills with smaller things to keep momentum fresh and still create positive change. Otherwise, it’s easy to simply get stuck and tired with one boulder without creating change elsewhere. 
  • Repetition is key. Embrace it as a powerful mechanism to refine your messaging rather than a point of frustration. You never know when something will click.
  • There’s a true rhythm to this work with regularly weekly meetings, biweekly Gutenberg releases, WordPress releases, etc. It’s powerful to tap into it when needing to spread information and get work done. In moments of panic, it also provides a nice foundation to fall back to rather than trying to fix everything right now.
  • There are many ways to accomplish the same thing. Take the time to figure out the best approach and lean on those with institutional wisdom to share.
  • DevRel feels like diversity, equity, and inclusion work in that, at times, you’re trying to solve big problems for a wide set of people with varying levels of interest/engagement.
  • Make time for foundational work and new work. Both are needed and to go far you need a strong foundation to build upon.
  • Embrace being a force multiplier especially while our team is small (nudge once more to join us).
  • Don’t wait for people to come to you. You need to go to them.
  • Thank people when they give you the gift of hard to hear feedback. It’s often intimidating and scary to do so.
  • Continually create pathways for others to join you even if for a long time you’re going alone. You never know who might one day stumble into what you’re doing thanks to a pathway created long before.
  • Make room for unexpected possibilities and preserve flexibility. If you jam your schedule full of work, you might miss some of the magic of working in a community of wonderful humans doing interesting things.

Years ago, I remember thinking how much I wished I could get paid to build relationships with others as a job. Connecting and collaborating deeply with others brings me so much life and I never thought I’d actually find a role that would let me do almost exactly that in all its messiness. Even though I’m just one year in, I already feel many years in the tank mainly thanks to the strength and vibrancy of the WordPress community. I only hope I am putting back into the community as much as I’m receiving, especially as WordPress passes the 40% mark.

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