Posts Tagged ‘developer advocate’

Evangelism vs Advocacy

In this post I’ll explain the difference between evangelism and advocacy

For 5 years, I had the job title “Technical Evangelist” it was an interesting title and frequently resulted in questions and comments. Developer evangelists and technical evangelists were popping up at a number of high tech companies. But, over the past 3 years or so a new job title has emerged: “Developer advocate”. What is the difference?

dictionaryDictionary Definitions

Let’s start by looking at the definitions.


According to Merriam Webster an evangelist is:

  1. “A writer of the 4 Gospels” (definitely not the definition that applies here)
  2. “A person who evangelizes”.  (That’s not very helpful, so need to look up their definition of evangelizing… here we go: “to preach the gospel to”; “to convert to Christianity”.)
  3. “An enthusiastic advocate”

It’s that third definition that seems to fit the spirit of the technical or developer evangelist role. However the other definitions are still very much entrenched in most peoples psyches. In fact, if you look up the definition of evangelist in the Oxford dictionary you only see two definitions:

  1. The writer of one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John)
  2. A person who seeks to convert others to the Christian faith, especially by public preaching

The Oxford dictionary doesn’t recognize any non-religious definitions of evangelist. This is likely why I heard so many jokes about trying to convert people to Microsoft or preaching the word of Microsoft. Fortunately, I just had fun with this and would occasionally do my best tele-evangelist imitation “All hail the mighty Microsoft! I shall cleanse your soul from the clutches of Google” and then stop to explain that my real job was to help developers understand how Microsoft technology could help them.

Let’s return to the 3rd definition in Merriam Webster: “An enthusiastic advocate”.  Technical and developer evangelists are enthusiastic. They have passion for the technologies they represent. They share that passion by delivering workshops, writing tutorials, and presenting at user groups and conferences.


According to Merriam Webster an advocate is:

  1. One who pleads the cause of another” 
  2. “One who defends or maintains a cause or proposal” 
  3. “One who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group”

All three definitions emphasize that an advocate acts on behalf of the group, promoting their interests, pleading and defending their cause. A developer advocate should support developers not preach to them.

Advocates perform similar activities to evangelists: delivering workshops, writing tutorials, and presenting at user groups and conferences. But, a true advocate always does so with their customer in mind first instead of the company.

Whether I am an advocate or an evangelist,  If I work for a particular company, I am going to be promoting their products!

Having said that, let’s make one point clear: Whether I am an advocate or an evangelist,  If I work for a particular company, I am going to be promoting their products! But, there is an expectation that an advocate does so in a way that puts the developer or customer first. Good evangelists do this as well, but the shift to advocacy from evangelism is an done to emphasize a customer first focus.

An Advocate and an Evangelist walk into a conference…

Let me give you a specific example. An evangelist might go to a conference and deliver a session called “Introduction to facial recognition APIs”.  This presentation teaches you all you need to know to implement the API.

An advocate would be more likely to deliver a session called “How to leverage facial recognition to improve security”. This session teaches you how facial recognition is useful for security applications and how to leverage Facial recognition APIs to do it.

Both presentations can be very effective. Both presentations could be amazing sessions to attend. Both sessions provide the same core content: How to implement the company facial recognition API. But, the advocate’s presentation puts a different spin on it, the title itself tells you this session will help you with security. In designing content and talks an advocate should always ask themselves how does this presentation help my audience? How does this support them?

Evangelism vs Advocacy

Evangelism vs Advocacy

Inbound vs Outbound communication

twowayBecause the advocate is seen as someone who pleads and defends the cause of their customer they may also take on an additional responsibility: collecting feedback from customers and sharing it with product teams.

The evangelist was generally an outbound role, they presented and shared what they knew. There job is to drive awareness and adoption of the product.

The advocate role should be outbound and inbound

The advocate role should be outbound and inbound. In addition to presenting and sharing what they know with others, they should also collect feedback from the community and represent the customer needs back to the product teams.

Preparing for inbound communication collected by advocates

Many product teams are starving for real customer feedback and appreciate the opportunity to get feedback through the advocates.

bombardedI’m an advocate presenting at a conference. A developer comes up to me after my talk and explains they tried to use the API but there’s a parameter missing that makes it difficult to use. Fantastic, this is exactly the sort of real world feedback we want to collect, but you need to put some thought into what you do with that feedback after it’s collected otherwise it can get lost.

How will advocates provide feedback to the product teams?

Feedback may be provided to the advocate verbally, through social media, or by email. How do you want the advocate to physically share that feedback with the product teams? There are a number of options: Email; Feature request forms; Create an item in the backlog; Reporting in meetings or stand ups; The advocate could also point the developer to a community feedback form where the developer can provide feedback to product teams directly.

How frequently will advocates provide feedback?

Customer feedback does not follow a schedule but your product teams probably do. Do you want to develop a rhythm for your advocates to share feedback with the product teams or will they share it ad-hoc as it comes in?

How will you prioritize feature requests from advocates?

Priority-ListCustomer feedback collected by advocates is just one input into your requirements. The product team has a constant backlog of requirements, bugs, and feature requests from the product roadmap; paying customers; beta testing; focus groups, and more.

How much weight or priority do you assign to feedback from your advocates? The answer is the ubiquitous “it depends”. Priority is usually based on some combination of effort, urgency, and impact. You would likely assign a different priorirty for feedback from someone actively using and paying for the product than you would for feedback from someone just trying it out at a hackathon.

You may need your train your advocates to collect enough information to prioritize feedback appropriately.

Communication and expectations

If a customer provides feedback through an advocate, what are their expectations? Will they ever know if their product feedback was shared with the product team? Will they know if their feedback was considered but is not feasible at this time or whether it resulted in a new feature request? Who is responsible for following up.

If the advocate forwards the feedback they received verbally in an email to the product team is their work done? Is the advocate responsible for following with the product team to find out if the feature requested is already in the backlog, or that the error message reported is in fact just an error you receive if you are using the incorrect Python library.

If a product team member has additional questions about the feedback “What version of Python were they using when they encountered this error?” is there a way to reach back to the customer? Does the product team member reach out directly or is communication done through the advocate?

Adding the inbound feedback to the responsibilities of an advocate can result in a lot more work, but it could also result in a better product for your customer!


Having evangelists or advocates can benefit your company hopefully this post helped you understand the difference in philosophy between them.

If you found this post helpful you may want to read additional developer relations posts. If you are looking for help with your developer relations work or you are interested in having me speak at your event, reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn.




Why do evangelism/advocacy?

In this post I’ll explain the value of evangelism/advocacy programs vs traditional sales and marketing tactics.

“Why would a company hire someone with no sales or marketing experience to help drive product adoption?”

More and more companies large and small are hiring evangelists and advocates. I spent 8 years in these types of roles at Microsoft. I am a coder. I have a bachelors degree in electrical engineering. The closest I came to a business course was a first year economics course. Why would a company hire someone with no sales or marketing experience to help drive product adoption? The answer: ‘authenticity’.

Sales person telling me an API is great vs person at computer coding telling me API is great

Trust the coder

For some people, the word ‘sales’ can have negative connotations. I have visions of someone at a used car lot trying to convince me the 8 year old Mustang in front of me was only driven on Sundays to and from church or a phone call interrupting my dinner offering a special discount on duct cleaning.

Where do we turn when we want advice on which product to purchase? Looking for running shoes with better traction? The website may tell me this shoe has “unsurpassed grip on any surface” but can I believe them?

Most of us turn to our friends, our peers, and ‘experts’.  I use the term experts loosely, because with the advent of the internet there is a plethora of experts out there ready to give you advice on everything from the how to tell if an avocado is ripe to which phone games I should try if I like Candy Crush.

When I am trying to find a running shoe with better traction, I want a review from an actual runner. I want advice from someone I can relate to, someone who speaks my language, someone who understands the challenges I face training and racing through Canadian winters. I trust a fellow runner to go beyond the ‘marketing pitch’ and let me know is the traction good for ice or mud? is the shoe light or heavy? how stiff is the sole? is it waterproof?

salesperson telling me shoe is has great traction vs runner in snow telling me show has good traction

Trust the runner

When I am coding and want to explore a text analytics service to detect emotion, I want advice from another coder. Someone who understands the hidden hassles of coding. I want to hear from someone who installed the libraries, got the API key, and figured out  which parameters I need to set in the HTTP headers. Oh, and hey, since you went through all that, can you please give me a video or GitHub repo with detailed instructions so I can don’t have to mess around with all that and I can get my own code up and running quickly.

The runner and the coder speak with an authentic voice, they have real world experience I can relate to, so I am more likely to believe and trust them. They can also provide information that a marketing or sales person might not realize I need.

“Advocates and evangelists do NOT replace traditional sales and marketing”

Advocates and evangelists do not replace traditional sales and marketing. They complement them. They provide an authentic voice representing your product to your target audience.

Advocates and evangelists are paid employees who represent your product. They should work with your sales and marketing teams. They may report into your sales and marketing division.

I realize this is just an introduction to the concept and if you are trying to get an evangelism/advocacy team up and running you likely have more questions: What skills should they have? Should they have quotas? What’s the difference between an evangelist and an advocate? What type of person would I hire for the role? Maybe you have other questions.  Leave your questions below or your compliments on my amazing art work 😉 and I will try to answer them in future posts. So stay tuned! If you can’t wait for the next post, just send me a note on LinkedIn!

If you found this post helpful you may want to read other developer relations posts. If you are looking for help with your developer relations work or are interested in having me speak at your event, reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn.