Posts Tagged ‘developer relations’

Protecting your evangelist/advocate: Part 3 – Maintain personal space

Working as an evangelist or advocate often involves presenting at conferences and user groups or working at booths at conferences. There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of encountering harassment. In this post, I’ll talk about the importance of maintaining personal space.

What is your personal space?

There is a reason we call it personal space, because it is *our* personal space and the moment someone enters it uninvited you tend to feel uncomfortable.

It depends on culture

The size of a personal space varies from culture to culture. I experienced that difference  first hand. I live in Canada, and my parents are British. The Brits are not known for being touchy feely. At my French high school, I was completely taken aback at the graduation celebrations when the parents of various class mates gave me big hugs and a kiss on the cheek. Who are these people and why are they touching me! This was their normal, and they greeted all the other graduates the same way, but it was not my normal, and it made me uncomfortable.

It depends on situation

The size of your personal space also varies depending on circumstances. Even in the UK, I know if I hop on the London Underground at rush hour, I will be jammed in close with other passengers. But, I would never stand that close to someone if the subway car is half empty.

It depends on relationship

The other factor that defines our personal space is how well we know somebody.  You might be fine with a good friend moving in for a hug and kiss on the cheek or sitting closer to you on a bench in a restaurant, but that might be too much from a co-worker. An acquaintance can stand a little closer than a complete stranger before you feel uncomfortable.

Creating personal space in a conference setting

Let’s imagine for a minute you have just finished a presentation. You have a couple of good friends who came to cheer you on. You also have the unfortunate luck to have someone who has already made you slightly uncomfortable online or in person in the room.

The presentation ends. Your friends come up to congratulate you.

*IF* you greet your friends with a big hug, the other person may feel like they can walk up and hug you as well! They already feel like your friend from the conversations shared on Twitter or at the conference dinner last night, so hey, I get a hug too right! When you let one person into your close personal space it is easier for others to invade that space.

But, what if your friend comes up to you after the presentation, and you greet them with a big smile and a strong handshake that keeps them firmly 2-3 feet away. When you set a clear boundary with someone who is clearly a good friend, then it is much more awkward and unlikely anyone else would presume they have the right to move in any closer. Don’t worry about offending a friend. You can explain later, and they will quickly adapt to your ‘business personal space’.


The new era of selfies creates an interesting dilemma. It seems rude to say no to a request for a selfie (although that is absolutely an option, there are celebrities who have decided to do exactly that).

Taking a selfie requires letting someone inside your personal space, and means you have someone posting a picture of you and them that is beyond your control.

There are a few ways to maintain some control if you do decide you are cool with selfies.

Watch movie stars and celebrities walking a red carpet, when they take selfies with a fan, notice how they take the photo themselves so they can control the space between them and the fans.

Watch Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in action. Justin is famous for posing for selfies. He is fully aware of and controlling his personal space at all times. He lets the other person take the picture and usually places himself just behind them, even when he places his arm behind someone he isn’t necessarily touching them. Only in the group photos do you occasionally see him start to lose control and someone manages to sneak an arm around his back. (Now if this were a female celebrity I doubt they would have even allowed that one arm around the waist or that peck on the cheek.) Watch how as soon as the selfie is done he turns to face the person and shakes their hand or touches them on the shoulder re-establishing his personal space.


Let’s be clear, 999 people out of 1000, or even 9,999 people out of 10,000 won’t cause you any problems if you ignore everything I listed above.  But, if you do encounter that one person who makes things awkward it can cause a lot of stress and misery. So defining a larger personal space and making a conscious decision about how you want to handle selfies in work situations will give you more control and reduce the chance of issues or escalation.

If you found this post helpful, check out the rest of my developer relations related 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


What to look for when hiring an evangelist or advocate

Thinking about hiring a developer evangelist or advocate? or about to start the interview process? In this post I’ll share some of the traits essential to a successful evangelist.

As I review each skill I will focus on the specific reasons they are beneficial for an evangelist or advocate.

Passion to share

My manager and I were reviewing candidates for an intern technical evangelist position, when he said ‘Some people are just natural evangelists, they can’t stop themselves.’ I think he is 100% right. Your job candidate may not evangelize your product, but they should love to share what they discover with others.

Person telling another person all about a new restaurant they tried

Passion for sharing

I have a good friend, who had Elite status on Yelp. His restaurant reviews were well rated because he provided a helpful balanced perspective in his reviews. What did he get out of it? Well Yelp did host Elite dinner nights in certain cities, but that wasn’t his motivation. When he tried a restaurant, he honestly wanted to share what he learned about the restaurant with others, so if they did go, they knew exactly what to expect: 5 star dining? cheap bacon and eggs well prepared with slow service? You know these people. They are always recommending a book they’ve just read, a new recipe, a new gadget, or a new series on Netflix you HAVE to check out.

All evangelists/advocates should have that passion to share what they discover and learn. That same passion for a Netflix show, comes through when they discover a shortcut for increasing the font size of the code editor or how to import a csv file with a custom date parser using lambdas and Pandas in Python. If your own evangelist can’t get genuinely excited about your product, how will they get others excited?

Evaluating the ability to share passion in an interview might be as simple as asking for a recommendation on a good book or movie so you can see their passion in action.

Communication Skills

A developer evangelist communicates the value of your product to the community.  They might be experts on your product and know more about the features than your own engineering team. If they cannot communicate the value to others they will not be effective. Which communication skills are most important depends a bit on how you have defined the role but we can break it down to oral and written communication skills.

Oral communication skills

A good evangelist or advocate can communicate well in a

  • 1-1 conversation – A developer may ask you questions after a presentation.  In a 1-1 conversation, you have less control over the direction of the conversation. It’s essential that you have the ability to handle the twists and turns. In an interview you might ask questions to determine how would they handle being asked a question to which they do not know the answer or you might ask how would you handle someone telling you they think your company is violating people’s privacy?
  • 1-many conversation – When you are talking to a group, it’s not just about what you say. You need to project your voice, enunciation becomes more important, you have to make sure the entire group feels included by making eye contact with different people, you should be able to read body language to spot negative or positive reactions.
  • 1 – virtual audience conversation – doing webcasts, twitch streams and recording videos is it’s own skill. Not everyone can project energy without a physical audience in front of them. Without an audience to observe, it is more difficult to judge how long to pause, how fast to speak, you don’t have the usual visual cues to see if your audience is engaged. You have to imagine someone out there laughing at your jokes. For live online events, you need the ability to watch the time, handle questions and comments coming in continuously as you present. The easiest way to evaluate these skills is to have them submit a video sample. Focus on the communication skills rather than the lighting and sound quality. Lighting and sound issues can be addressed by providing the right equipment and learning a few basic tips and tricks for video recording, or by recording in a studio with a professional studio team.

Written communication skills

Your evangelist does not scale. It is expensive to fly them around to conferences and user groups to present. There are millions of developers in the world, you will never reach all of them with in person presentations. What do those developers do when they are trying to figure out how to do something new? or when they get an error message?

Person at a computer searching for help online

Coder searching for help online

  • They Google it – a well written blog post or online tutorial by your evangelist is your best friend. Especially if partnered with a SEO (Search Engine Optimization) savvy social media person to help those resources show up in search results. (An evangelist may have some knowledge of SEO, but I don’t consider that an essential skill for the person writing the post)
  • They go to Stack Overflow or Twitter– responding to questions on Stack Overflow and Twitter is a great way for an evangelist to win over a developer who is experiencing difficulties or looking for advice and help. It is also a great way to identify the challenges developers are facing with your product.

Presentation skills

We expect evangelists and advocates to present at user groups and conferences, so presentation skills are important. The best way to evaluate presentation skills is to have the candidate deliver a short presentation, the topic can be anything from how to tie your shoelaces to how to create a virtual machine. It’s not their expertise you want to evaluate, it’s their confidence, clarity, energy and presence on stage.


  • Learning independently – Technology and the technology market are constantly changing. Even if a candidate has a good understanding of the product you want to evangelize when they are hired, they will need to learn new features, and new products as they are developed. You may be able to provide the occasional formal training, but a lot of learning will need to be done on their own.
  • Working independently – Because you need people to present in different countries and regions, many evangelists and advocates work remotely.  They will not have much direct supervision, so it’s important they know how to prioritize their work and be productive on their own, even when travelling.

The belief that your product will help developers

An evangelist or advocate is only effective if they speak with an authentic voice. You don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t truly believe your product offering will help developers.

You might find someone who has a great reputation in the data science space, huge social media following, established presenter at conferences. How does that help you if they are completely committed to another platform or programming language and do not believe that your offering has equal or better value.

As much as we companies talk about evangelists and advocates being there to ‘help developers’ , the reason you have headcount to hire someone is because you need them to do a job. Your evangelists and advocates should have goals that help your company. They are hired to promote your company products and services. That same fantastic ability and confidence that makes them great presenters often comes with an ego, or they may be concerned that if they start speaking too much about one product they will be seen as selling out and will lose their reputation in the community.  If you are hiring someone with an established reputation, it’s a good idea to ask them during the interview process what value they see in your products and how they would share that information with the community and whether they are comfortable being viewed as a representative of your company.

Technical skills

If you are hiring someone to be a technical evangelist or advocate, they do need to know their way around the technology space. They don’t need to be experts on your specific products and services, that can be learned, but they should know the subject domain. For example, if you are hiring someone to promote a machine learning service they should have experience with machine learning. Otherwise it’s hard for them to understand to  explain to others in machine learning how your services help developers solve their day to day challenges.

Don’t be afraid of hiring someone who has experience with a competitor’s products. Their insights into the strengths and weaknesses of different products can be valuable. However, do make sure they believe your product adds value and they can authentically show its value to the developer community.

Social media skills

Social media is a powerful tool for sharing information with developers and engaging with developers. You may have identified candidates you would like to hire because they already have a strong social media presence.

Basic social media skills are not essential for a new hire, you can learn best practices for engaging on Twitter, Twitch, Instagram, etc… But, you probably don’t want someone who refuses to use social media.

If they already have an existing following that is a definite plus, as long as their existing social media persona does not conflict with the company evangelist persona you will be asking them to play.  As I mentioned earlier, some people feel their reputation exists because they are seen as vendor neutral, or Open Source, and may resist sharing company branded messages on Social Media because they don’t want to be seen as selling out. If you are courting someone with a big existing following, make sure you ask how they see the new role of company advocate meshing with their existing online profile.

Effective Listening skills

Evangelists and Advocates love to talk! But they also need to know how to listen, especially advocates.  They have the wonderful opportunity of meeting in person with developers who are working with or considering working with your technology. This is a fantastic opportunity to collect feedback for product teams and get a sense of how your product is viewed in the community.

They need to make sure they know when it’s time to talk, and when it’s time to listen. An advocate should know how to ask probing questions to determine the root cause of concerns and questions.  “I don’t trust your product” might turn out to mean “All AI services make me nervous because I don’t know how the training data I upload is used by the company” or it might mean “When I use a free trial and it requires a credit card I am afraid it will start charging me automatically when the free trial runs out”.

If you are out talking to developers, you will eventually meet someone who hates your company or hates your product. Often they just want someone to listen and hear what they have to say.  We have all had a negative experience with customer support, or sales that soured our opinion of a company. Your evangelist/advocate has the opportunity to win back those lost customers by being calm, and rational. Let’s be clear, not everyone can be won back. Some people will never be happy and just want to complain. It’s important to know when you have a lost cause, and just say “Thank you for sharing your feedback, I can understand why you feel that way”, and move on!

You can evaluate listening skills by role playing during the interview. Have the interviewer pretend to be a developer who has heard something negative about the product and see how they handle it.


As you can see a lot of the skills required from an evangelist or advocate are soft skills. Soft skills cannot be fully evaluated from a resume.  Once you ahve narrowed down your top list of candidates, so an online search.  How do they currently interact with your target audience on social media? Are they active bloggers? Are there videos posted online you can watch to observe their presentation skills?

In addition to the standard questions in the interviews, consider using role playing or having them deliver a sample presentation to evaluate their skills. This person will be representing your company in the public eye, you want to be sure they will be able to understand your value proposition and effectively deliver your value proposition both in person and online.

If you found this post helpful, check out the rest of my developer relations related 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

Protecting your evangelist/advocates: Part 2 – hotel safety

Working as an evangelist or advocate can mean travelling for conferences and events. There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of encountering harassment. In this post I will share hotel safety tips:

Don’t stay at the conference hotel

The conference hotel may be very convenient, but it is not ideal if you are trying to reduce the chance of unwanted attention.

One of the ways to reduce the chance of unwanted attention and harassment is to draw clear lines between your work and personal life. That is difficult when you stay at a conference hotel. Conference hotels become an extension of the conference itself. Your hotel room might be the only personal space you have, and even that may not be quite as private as it seems. You may have attendees in an adjoining hotel room who can hear your conversations (especially if you have one of those rooms with the connecting door).

Since conferences are all about networking, attendees hanging out at the conference hotel may feel it is perfectly reasonable approaching you outside regular conference hours.

Two people running on treadmills one is focus and running the other is talking

You dress professionally for the conference, which sets a professional tone for any conversations with attendees. But, at some point you will likely be headed out in more casual clothing. When an attendee has the opportunity to chit chat with you in casual clothing it makes the conversation feel more personal, they are hanging out with you *outside* work.  Imagine you are in a city like Atlanta and have plans to go grab a nice dinner with friends. Atlanta is generally pretty hot. A guy might throw on shorts and a light shirt, a girl might throw on a light summer dress and sandals. It’s wonderful to ditch the conference shirt after working a booth, or attending a networking event. What you don’t want is to end up being cornered by an attendee in the hotel lobby in your shorts or dress as you wait for your Uber. What if you want to go for a run? Do you really want to meet attendees in the elevator when you are wearing lycra shorts or tights?

If you are staying at the conference hotel, treat all your time in the hotel as professional time, dress and act accordingly.

Don’t stay in the bedroom attached to the hospitality suite

Sometimes companies will sponsor a networking event, or host meetings in a hospitality suite at a hotel. Many of these hospitality suites have an adjoining bedroom. Hey awesome, says the company, we get a free hotel room with the hospitality suite. Even if that room has it’s own lock, that’s still bringing people very close to your personal space. Now someone knows exactly where your room is. At some point it’s possible someone might even go into the bedroom, entering your personal space. Keep your sleeping quarters well separated from the place where you are inviting people for meetings and networking events.

Always use the bolt on the hotel room door

You know the chain, or the flip bolt that prevents housekeeping from walking in if you happen to be on a conference call when they drop by to clean your room? Yeah, use it! Not just because you may be doing work in your hotel room during the day and you might forget to put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.

Unfortunately, hotels occasionally make mistakes. It is rare, but I have two friends, who checked into their hotel, went up to their rooms, opened the door to discover the room was already occupied! The hotel had accidentally assigned them rooms that were already in use. One of my friends was arriving at around 2 AM when the current guest was in bed! Fortunately both friends caught on to the situation quickly and were able to leave without freaking out the current guests, but it’s a good reminder that the bolt is your friend!

Master your “don’t talk to me” look

When you work as an evangelist or advocate you want to be approachable. You want people to feel like they can come talk to you after your talk, or at the booth.  You need to practice how to look un approachable as well.  I will smile and greet everyone I meet when I am on the clock at the booth. But when I walk away, I consciously switch gears and demeanour. There are a number of ways to be less approachable:

  • Wear headphones
  • Look busy with your phone
  • Walk briskly with purpose
  • Have a co-worker or friend walk with you and be so engrossed in the conversation with them you can’t be interrupted
  • Practice your best “resting b*tch face” so you look grumpy or angry

Sadly this can be important even when dealing with hotel staff. I do have an acquaintance who used to smile and be friendly with the staff whenever she walked into a hotel. One trip, she had issues with the concierge calling her room, and then he showed up outside her hotel room door! Now she does her best ‘Don’t talk to me” when walking through the hotel lobby. Unfortunate, that one jerk out of 10,000 people you meet forces someone to act this way. 9,999 out of those 10,000 would simply smile back and never be a problem.

Be deliberate about where you eat and drink in the hotel

If you sit at the hotel bar, you are leaving yourself open to have anyone come and sit down next to you. You can bring a book or laptop with you to the bar, which is like a virtual ‘do not disturb’ sign, but that does not prevent someone sitting beside you and trying to strike up a conversation. Also being at a bar, there is a higher risk the person trying to strike up a conversation may be inebriated which creates a higher risk of uncomfortable situations and escalations.

If you sit at a table, someone might stop by and say hello, but for them to sit at your table uninvited would be highly unusual!  You can also ask the restaurant staff for a table off to the side or less visible if you do not want to be disturbed.

Don’t assume the ‘platinum club’ lounge is a safe haven. Many people who attend conferences our frequent travellers and will have access to the club lounge.  Treat the lounge as you would the hotel bar. In fact it can be worse, because

  • You don’t have a bartender to step in if needed (bartenders can be quite helpful when you have unwanted attention from someone else at the bar, many of them know the signs and will try to rescue you as best as they can)
  • Everyone else in the platinum club lounge has something in common with you, so you’ve provided an opening for conversation “Hey you stay at Marriott all the time as well! I find the W so much better than the Westin don’t you? Have you stayed at the one in Manhattan with the amazing desserts?”.

Trust your instincts in the elevator

Once in a while, I get in the elevator and someone gets into the elevator with me who makes me nervous. In these situations, play it safe. If the other person is harmless, no harm done. If the other person is going to be/or has already been a problem, you want to avoid having them in order of highest to lowest risk A) Follow you to your room; B) Find out your room location; C) Find out your floor.

Let them select their floor number first. Once they have selected their floor number you have a few choices. Which option you choose depends how much your spidey sense is tingling, and how easy it is for someone staying at the hotel to get off on someone else’s floor.

If they selected a lower floor than yours:

  • Select the floor one above or below your own. Once they get off the elevator, you can select the correct floor. Worst case you ride the elevator to the wrong floor, and ride it back down again.

If they punched in a floor number higher than yours, or you are at one of those hotels where you can only punch in the floor coded to your room key, or you are just feeling really uncomfortable:

  • Have a ‘darn I forgot to stop by the front desk’ moment, and select the floor for the hotel lobby. You can even walk over to the front desk to ask if they have toothpaste, or late checkout, if you want to carry the charade through. Or you can just wait until the elevator doors close and take the next elevator.

If you found this post helpful, check out the other developer relations posts including other posts in the safety series. 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.

Protecting your evangelist/advocates : Part 1 – Have a plan to get home post event

Evangelists and advocates are asked to be public figures, that means they expose themselves to potential harassment and risk both online and in person. In this series, I will share some practical tips and tricks to help ensure the safety of yourself and your team

Our first tip comes from @TheTrendyTechie, Co-Founder & CTO of Crescendo, and it’s a good one “Have a plan to get home after the event”

Many evangelists and advocates attend events and conferences. You don’t want to find yourself stranded outside a building in a neighborhood you don’t know so here are a few simple things you can do to ensure you have a safe ride back to your hotel or office.

Person standing in the rain at night on desolated street with cell phone battery at 3%


Ensure you will have access to a charged phone

A simple step to ensure you get home safe, is to make sure you have a charge left on your phone at the end of the day. You may need to request a cab/ride-share, or look up directions for walking or driving. Before you walk out the door for that flight or taxi ride do the following:

  1. Fully charge your phone
  2. Put the phone in low battery mode so the battery lasts as long as possible
  3. Charge and carry a portable battery charger as a back up in case your phone runs out of battery

Ensure you will have internet access on your phone

Having a phone without data is not a lot of use in this day of taxi and navigation apps.

  • Don’t rely on wi-fi at the event. Event wi-fi is notoriously unreliable and might even be disabled by the time you leave. $8 for a one day roaming package or $20 for a local SIM card is a small price to pay for your safety.

If you are planning to purchase a local SIM card

  • Make sure your phone is SIM Unlocked and will work with a SIM Card from other providers
  • Bring your passport with you to purchase the SIM card, many countries have ‘traveller’ SIM Cards which can only be activated if you show your passport
  • Find out ahead of time if you can purchase a local SIM. Japan, e.g. does not sell local SIM cards, but you can purchase a pocket wi-fi and use that to get internet access for your phone, tablet, and laptop

Learn from Susan’s mistake: After being stranded and unable to create a taxi account in Malaysia because all the ride-share and taxi apps require a local phone number. I realized I needed a local SIM. The next morning, I got up early and walked 20 minutes to a local store to purchase a SIM Card. The staff told me they could not activate the card unless I had my passport, which was back at my hotel. I did not have time to go back to the hotel and get it before my next meeting. I had to muddle through the entire day getting co-workers to order my taxis and finding ways to repay them until I had another chance to purchase a SIM card.

Figure out your transportation options BEFORE you get to the venue

  1. Does the city have a ride share program such as Uber/Lyft/Grab? Do you have the required app installed and an account created?
  2. If the city does not have a ride-share program such as Uber/Lyft/Grab/ is there a city wide taxi app you can install and use to order the nearest cab? These tend to find cabs faster than apps for specific taxi companies.
  3. If you are going to be using a new cab or ride share service, install the app and create the account with billing information BEFORE you leave for the event. I was at a university outside Singapore with a fully charged phone and a data plan. When I tried to create an account on the Grab and the local taxi app it required a local phone number, which I did not have! I had to get a co-worker to order my a ride, and the next day I had to purchase a local SIM card so I could create an account and order my own rides
  4. If you will be at an event away from the city centre, you may want to rent a car instead of assuming you can get a taxi.

Learn from Susan’s mistake: I once spent over an hour waiting for a taxi at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I did not know Vancouver has no ride share programs and a shortage of taxis. I did not have the generic Vancouver taxi app installed. It was raining, and when I called the taxi company they told me my taxi would arrive in approximately one hour. I was on a university campus at a building with multiple entrances. I spent over an hour constantly scanning the streets looking for my taxi and hoping no-one else had taken my cab. Apparently catching cabs on rainy or snowy days in Vancouver is always a challenge. I now rent a car any time I have events in Vancouver outside the downtown core.

Use the app not the phone number

Always use an application to order your ride instead of calling the taxi company.

  • Using an app often allows you to track the location of your ride
  • Most apps give you and the driver the ability to contact each other if they can’t find you.
  • The app provides a record of who drove you in the event you leave something in the taxi or need to complain about any sort of harassment

Learn from Susan’s mistake: I was in Malaysia and used the Grab app to order a ride from the airport to my hotel. I left an expensive digital camera in the back of the car! I was able to contact Grab and report the lost item. The driver located the camera in the back seat, and for a small fee drove back to the hotel and left it at the front desk while I was out during the day!

Be prepared to walk

Despite your best efforts, sometime ordering a taxi or ride-share does not work out. Sometimes you can walk down the road to public transit or a better location to find a taxi.

If your event shoes are impractical for walking, consider throwing some foldable flats in your purse so you have decent walking shoes in a pinch. (Of course @TrendyTechie would know that you can buy fashionable foldable flats, though she tells me she did not purchase the zebra stripes)

Learn from Susan’s mistake: I was at an event at the science museum in Chicago. They provided shuttle service to the event, but there was no shuttle service when the event ended around 10 PM. There were about 400 people all leaving the event at the same time trying to find taxis and ubers. It was a mess. Fortunately, I was wearing practical shoes and had a 6 foot+ tall male co-worker with me. The two of us walked about 500 meters towards a L-Train stop figuring we could take an L-train into downtown. As it turns out we found a well lit street corner and flagged down a taxi just as we approached the L-Train.

Catching an early flight to the airport? Ask the hotel to arrange your transportation

Take advantage of your hotel concierge, especially if you are booking one of those dreaded 4 AM rides for an early flight. Why would I rely on the hotel instead of a cheaper ride-share?

  • You can’t be sure of finding a ride share service in a timely manner at 4 AM, showing up 20 minutes late for an event is one thing, missing your flight is quite another
  • The hotel may have a free or cheap airport shuttle service, these often require booking ahead of time
  • If the taxi does not show up at the expected time, the hotel now has some responsibility for finding you alternate transportation
  • The hotel (should) have a reliable and safe transportation company


A little common sense goes a long way when it comes to personal safety. If you are travelling internationally always ask the locals for any additional tips they can share to keep you safe. Attending events and travelling for work can be a wonderful experience, following the tips above will reduce your stress and keep you safe. Share your own tips so we can update this post and provide great suggestions for future posts!

If you found this post helpful, check out the rest of my 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




Getting the most out of hackathon sponsorship

Sponsoring a hackathon can be expensive and time consuming, but it’s a great way to reach new developers. In this post I’ll outline the critical success factors to hackathon sponsorship.

Define your goal

There are typically four reasons to sponsor a hackathon:

  1. Get developers to try your tech
  2. Recruiting
  3. Contactability
  4. Brand awareness
  5. Collect feedback on your product and documentation

You may want to do all of the above, that’s fine, but if you do, rank those goals! It is difficult, almost impossible to do all of them well.  Pick one as a primary goal, and another as a secondary goal.

1. Get developers to try your tech

If your goal is getting developers to try your API, or use your software here are some options you may want to consider in your sponsorship agreement:

  • Hackathon prize category: The best way to get hackers to try your code is to bribe them with a prize! Be specific, e.g. use *this* API in your hack and you qualify for our prize category. Just watch out for hidden costs which I cover later in this post.
  • Workshop: Hosting a workshop during the hackathon is a great way to help hackers be successful. They have a lot of prize categories to choose from, if it’s too hard to get going with your API, they may just give up and try for a different category.
  • Pitch in opening ceremonies: This is your best opportunity to make sure all the hackers know about your prize and how to win it. But keep it short! I’ll share tips on how to pitch at opening ceremonies later in this post
  • Booth: You need a place for mentors to hang out if coders are having trouble with your tech and have questions
  • Pre- and Post event emails: Can you provide a customized email to hackers before or after the event pointing them to great learning resources or upcoming events and competitions where they can try your tech?
  • Social: Can the hackathon promote your hackathon prize and learning resources on their social media

2. Recruiting

If your goal is recruiting here are some options you may want to consider in your sponsorship agreement:

  • Resumes of all hackers:  Some hackathons provide hackers with the option of providing their resumes to interested companies
  • Interview room: Do you want the ability to do interviews on site with interested parties?
  • Booth: it may be helpful to have a booth where recruiters can hang out and talk to interested hackers
  • Time to talk in opening ceremonies: This is a tricky one, because hackers usually get pretty bored listening to one company after the other present during opening ceremonies. But if you can be short, concise, and deliberate it’s your best opportunity to present to all the hackers at once.
  • Prize sponsorship: hackers are there to hack, so offering a prize is a great way to get their attention. It also gives you a chance to get a sense of their technical skills. But, it comes with a lot of extra work and costs as I explain in the section on hidden costs.
  • Pre- and Post event emails: Can you provide a customized email to hackers before or after the event to let them know about job opportunities and how to apply?
  • Social: Can the hackathon share recruiting messages and links to application pages on their social media?

3. Contactability

With the new data protection rules, having the ability to email or otherwise contact a new developer is a becomng a more and more common goal. If your goal is the ability to contact hackers here are some options you may want to consider in your sponsorship agreement:

  • Booth: Can you have a raffle or premium swag at the booth that requires signing up for communications?
  • Pre- and Post event emails: Can you provide a customized email to hackers before or after the event to with a request to sign up for communications (and something that makes them believe it’s worth it to sign up for the communications)
  • Social: Can the hackathon share messages and links with the Call to action of signing up for communication or some other follow up to get them in your funnel

4. Brand awareness

If your goal is brand awareness here are some options you may want to consider in your sponsorship agreement:

  • Logo placement: hackathons offer many opportunities to display your logo. There are the obvious t-shirts, signage, website options. Consider other options such as Lanyards, attendee badges, water bottles for all attendees
  • Swag bag content: Hackers love swag. You may be able to provide swag to the hackathon that will be given out when hackers register. (short rant: I have a love hate relationship with swag, so much ends up in landfill, how many fidget spinners does a hacker need, so please think creative on the swag, methinks I may have to write an entire post on swag!)
  • Spot prizes: this probably doesn’t require any extra $ but what if you gave out prizes to people wearing your shirt or hat during the hackathon 🙂 I’ve done it at conferences. Just make sure it’s something really obvious, we once did spot prizes for people wearing our temporary tattoos and it was harder than we expected to walk around and spot the temporary tattoos without being creepy!
  • Booth: a booth is great for having conversations, but you need a reason for people to stop at your booth. If you aren’t sponsoring a prize or recruiting they need another reason to stop by and talk. Maybe some premium swag or a raffle for a good prize
  • Pre- and Post event emails: Can you provide a customized email to hackers before or after the event to raise their brand awareness
  • Social: Can the hackathon share your brand message on their social media channels?

5. Collect feedback on your product and documentation

The great thing about hackathons is it gives you a chance to see what happens when a developer tries your product for the first time. This is an opportunity to find out whether  your documentation is complete, whether there are features missing, or whether you ahve the right tutorials to help a beginner.
If your primary goal is to get feedback here are the sponsorship package options you should consider:

  • Hackathon prize category: The best way to get hackers to try your code so you can get feedback is to bribe them with a prize! Make sure you tell them you are looking for feedback
  • Workshop: Hosting a workshop during the hackathon is a great way to communicate with interested hackers.
  • Pitch in opening ceremonies: This is your best opportunity to make sure all the hackers know you are looking for feedback and about how you are bribing them to try it with a prize. Consider feedback on the product as part of the judging criteria or swag for those who provide feedback too.
  • Booth: You need a place for your team to talk to developers and collect feedback

Don’t be afraid to order off menu

Is there something you want to do that is not listed in the sponsorship package? Do you want a combination of the bronze and silver package? Talk to the organizers, explain what you want to do and negotiate a price. They prefer sponsors to order off the menu, but chances are they are willing to accommodate custom sponsorships.

Budget for the hidden costs!

Sponsoring a hackathon will cost anywhere from $500 to $50,000 depending on the prestige, size, and sponsorship level. It’s easy to look at a sponsorship package and say ‘we can afford the silver package’ but don’t forget all the hidden costs both in terms of time and money!

Booth costs

  • Signage: How will hackers know which booth is yours. This might include anything from banners, to backdrops or balloons.  Prices vary greatly as do shipping costs. Tip: If you bring a tablecloth ask the sponsors for the table size, those new stretchy tablecloths in particular don’t always work if the table is too big or too small
  • Swag: Giving away swag can accomplish two things. It can draw people to your booth, and it can also get the hackers advertising your brand
  • People: If you have a booth, you need people to talk to at the booth. You need to decide whether or not to have people at the booth overnight at the continuous hackathons. Typically you would only consider staffing overnight if you are providing code mentors for a hackathon prize
  • Travel costs: will people attending need to pay for fuel, parking, rental cars, flights, hotel? Tip: Ask the hackathon if there is free parking for sponsors

Sponsoring a hackathon prize category?

If your goal is to get developers to try your tech, chances are you are sponsoring a prize category. Don’t forget some of the extras that come with it. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:

  • Do you need to purchase prizes? Most of the time you as a sponsor provide the prize
  • How many people can be on a hackathon team? Can your prize be divided among the team members or do you need to purchase multiple items to award as prizes?
  • Is your prize good enough to get hackers to enter your prize category? Ask the organizers what types of prizes and how many sponsors they had last year. If you can’t afford a premium prize, you might want to make your prize category more open-ended so hackers can enter your prize category and other prize categories with the same hack
  • Who will be onsite to provide help to coders who get stuck trying to use your technology?  Typically you provide mentors at the booth. If the hack runs overnight, will you have mentors on site overnight? Not everyone does, but the hackers appreciate those who do
  • Who will judge the winner of your prize category? You can get your mentors to help with this, but make sure someone is on point to co-ordinate. How many judges do you need? Ask the organizers how long you have for judging (then assume you will have 30 mins less than that because it almost always starts late), and ask how many entries a typical hack category receives. Then do the math 🙂
  • Will you need to pay for travel, car mileage, parking, or accomodations for anyone working at the hackathon? Ask the hackathon team about parking arrangements
  • Any legal stuff you need to do? When I worked at Microsoft we had to prepare Terms & conditions for every hackathon and sometimes there was paperwork winners had to complete before we could give them prizes. WE had a legal team who would help us, but this took time to get done
Hacker looking for late night help

Where did everybody go?

Rocking the opening ceremonies

Opening ceremonies suck. As a sponsor they are invaluable. They are our one chance to talk to all the hackers at the same time when they are awake, eager and ready to hack. The problem is they are all ready to hack. The last thing they want to do is spend 2+ hours listening to executives and recruiters drone on about the size of their company, or the parameters required to use their API.

Keep it short

Even if you have a sponsorship level that gives you 15 minutes to speak, please don’t! Think of opening ceremonies as a pitch competition. Give yourself 2-3 minutes to pitch to the audience. If you can’t win them over in 2-3 minutes you probably need to re-work your pitch. You are one of 10-30 companies who will be presenting one after the other, as the hackers sit there thinking, how many more of these do we have to listen to before we can start hacking. Keep it short! Sponsoring a prize category? All the hackers want to know is what’s the prize and what do I have to do to get it. Recruiting? What sort of person are you hiring (e.g. new grads vs first years) what are the pre-reqs (specific skills, degree type), why is your company awesome (in ONE slide with max 3 bullet points!) and who do I talk to to learn more.

Get creative

I was tempted to leave this out, because it’s sort of my personal secret to success. I love being sponsor 8 of 15. I love being the next presenter when the audience is getting restless and bored. That’s my opportunity to be the person who wakes them up with something memorable. I’ve done it by taking 30 seconds instead of 4 minutes. I’ve done it by singing a song, I’ve done it with a parody of We will Rock You getting the audience to clap and stomp along (You need, You need Azure!) . What can you do that will a) wake up the audience from their stupor and b) stand out from the other sponsors? Do you play the accordion? Do you juggle or do cartwheels? How about a skit? (no-one expects the Spanish inquisition! our primary weapons are APIs, Python code, and cloud! if you don’t get the reference, then I guess I am getting old 🙂 ) Throw swag into the audience before you start. Make the opening ceremonies more fun for everyone including yourself!  Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone a bit (trust me my legs always shake when I sing but I get hackers at the next hackathon ask if I am singing another song)

Presenter 9 of 16 at opening ceremonies

Presenter 9 of 16 during opening ceremonies

Make it as easy as possible for the hackers to use your tech

You want the hackers to use your tech, help them!

  • Have mentors on site
  • Monitor the Slack or Discord channel for questions about your tech
  • Run a workshop to help them get started
  • Have online resources readily available for those who miss the workshop
  • Have a shortened URL or QR code at the booth or on swag to direct hackers to those online resources

Have a plan for judging

Judging takes more work than you think. A little work ahead of time reduces stress when you have a fixed amount of time to pick your winner.

Pre-define judging criteria

Some of the hackers are just there to win! So let them know what you are looking for in a hack? Creativity? Technical complexity? User experience? Originality? or is there a theme such as social justice, diversity, or thinking green that affects scorting? Your judges and mentors may appreciate having the criteria ahead of time as well.

Communicate the judging criteria

Let the hackers and your judges know the criteria. You can post it to the Discord or Slack channel, or have it displayed at the booth or on the hackathon website.

Do the math

How many entries will you receive? How much time do you have to judge? How much time do you need between project presentations to take notes and move to the next team for judging? You may find that you need to split your judges up to get to all the hacks with enough time to evaluate and score them.

Set a time limit and stick to it

To be fair to all hackers, once you have done the math, set a timer to determine exactly how long you spend with each team. Otherwise you might spend too long at the first projects and be rushed at the later projects. Ideally everyone should have the same amount of time with your judges. I tell the hackers how long they have and I put my phone right on the table with the timer running so there are no surprises.  Decide if that time limit is for the presentation and they get extra time for Q&A or if Q&A needs to fit into that original time limit.

Ask about judging logistics before judging starts

  • Will teams sign up for timeslots and come to your booth to present? or will teams go to numbered tables and you receive a list of teams whose tables you need to visit?
  • If it is a numbered system what is the layout? I was at a hackathon with teams on two stories, it would have been useful to know ahead of time tables 56 and higher were upstairs.
  • What time does judging start?
  • How and when will you receive the list of teams to judge (table numbers to visit or timeslots teams signed up for?) – I ran into an issue where one of our program managers did the sponsorship negotiation and sorted out all the shipping, and they emailed the list of teams to them instead of me during the hackathon, since they had been the primary point of contact. We lost 30 minutes of judging time.
  • Do you need to provide the name of the winner to the hackathon organizers before you present the prize at closing ceremonies? If so, who do you notify and how?

Use ranking in addition to scoring

If you have to split up the judges (i.e. not every team is seen by every judge) then absolute scores may not be the fairest way to select a winner. Think back to school some teachers just mark tougher than others! The same is true with judges. I found the quickest way to identify a winner was to have each judge use their personal scores to identify their top 2. Each judge or judging group presents #1 hack, and we decide on a winner as a group.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… roll with it

For some reason, something ALWAYS goes wrong when it gets to judging time. It starts late, you don’t receive the email with the list of teams to judge, You go to the assigned table and the team you are meant to judge is not there, or a different team is there. A couple of helpful tips:

  • Stay calm. I guarantee you the person organizing the judging for the hackathon is aware that they are late or that things are messed up. They are stressed out trying to solve whatever the problem is. Even when I am angry with them, I don’t yell at them. I ask ‘ so when *can* we expect the list of teams, okay, and will closing ceremonies be delayed so we still have the same amount of time or judging?’ and deal with it. I can complain later in a feedback email post-event.  Remember, the hack organizers are probably exhausted, and you may be as well, not the best time to get angry (my co-workers will tell you that I have been known to vent to them when things are really messed up)
  • Before a team pitches to you, confirm the team name and whether they actually entered your prize category.  You don’t want to accidentally give the prize to a team that didn’t enter your category just because you read table 38 when it was actually table 39!
  • Find out who at the hackathon is in charge of judging and how to reach them (Slack and Discord don’t count! you want a room number, a cell phone number, or instructions like find one of the organizers in a pink shirt with a walkie talkie). That way when something goes wrong like you cannot find a specific team, its 30 minutes late and you haven’t got the list of teams to judge yet, or you need an extra 20 minutes because you got more entries than expected, you don’t have time to spend running around trying to find out who can help you

Be prepared for closing ceremonies

We are often so focused on the hacking time or judging that closing ceremonies are an afterthought. Here are a few questions you can ask ahead of time to make everything run a little more smoothly:

  • Where are the prizes stored during the hackathon itself? I do NOT recommend putting them under the table at the booth. We have had Xboxes stolen 😦 Ask the hackathon organizers if there is a locked room where you can put the prizes
  • If the prizes are in a locked room who can let you into that locked room before closing ceremonies so you have the prizes to give the winners? How do you contact that person if you can’t find them?
  • Where are closing ceremonies? Will you need help carrying the prizes to the location? Ahhh yes, memories of lugging four Xboxes across a university campus in sweltering heat to a different building!
  • Who announces the winners during closing ceremonies? You or the hackathon organizers?
  • How much time do you have on stage when you announce or congratulate the winners?
  • Will there be a chance to take a photo on stage with the winners?
  • If you need the winners to fill out forms, where should you meet them or take them to fill out the paperwork so they can have their prizes.

TIP: If the hackathon is running late and you are freaking out because you have a flight to catch, talk to the organizers, they can usually help you out by either announcing your prize earlier or getting someone to present the prize on your behalf and send you the pictures afterwards.

Packing up and heading home

Hey everyone around me is packing up their booth, I guess I should too! Packing up the booth is usually pretty straightforward (assuming you didn’t accidentally throw out a box you should have kept and you have packing tape), but what happens with those boxes now?

  • Is someone taking them home in their car?
  • How do we get the stuff from here to the car, is there a cart we can borrow? a freight elevator we can use?
  • Are there shipping labels somewhere we stick on the boxes? Where are the shipping labels, oh in an email, how do I print those out now?
  • Where do we leave the boxes so the shipping company can find them tomorrow?
  • When the shipping company shows up and can’t figure out where the boxes are who can they call? I’ll be in another city so I can’t help!

It’s a good idea to figure out as much of this as you can before you pack up the booth, especially since you are probably doing this at the same time as you are about to start judging.  Ask the hackathon organizers if there is a specific shipping company they work with for post-hackathon pick up. You can pre-purchase and pre-print shipping labels (but make sure you have packing tape to attach them!)

To sum up

Wow, Susan that was a really long post!

Yes it was, I have been to many, many hackathons, and I have seen many, many things go wrong. I was famous(infamous?) on my team because I always created a hackathon guide to distribute to all the people supporting me on site letting them know all kinds of logistics: parking, phone numbers, swag distribution rules, judging criteria, maps, hackathon schedules, etc…  Sponsoring a hackathon is a lot of work, especially if you are sponsoring a prize, don’t underestimate the effort. But the payoff of seeing new developers discover your technology and building amazing hacks using your tech can be worth every minute and every dollar and gosh darn it, it can be fun too!

Happy hacking and hey in addition to my work at AI Gaming, I do some developer relations consulting, so reach out if I you need help! (though to be clear, I do not want a full time job managing all your hackathon sponsorships :))

If you found this post helpful, you may want to browse through the rest of my  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.

Setting goals for your evangelism and advocacy teams

Having an advocate or evangelist team engaging with your community is a good thing, but it’s essential to decide up front what goals you want to achieve. This post will help you understand how and why to define those goals.

All too often, companies hire a few knowledgeable presenters, send them out to present at conferences and call it evangelism. Yes, presenting at conferences is great, but at some point, someone should ask the question, what’s the return we get from this team.

Even if you decide your goal is to present to new audience, the speakers themselves need direction. Can they present on any topic at all? Databases? Websites? Diversity in the workplace? Presentation skills?

If you hired an evangelist or advocate you likely had a goal in mind when you did. Something you thought would be improved by hiring the team. It’s a good idea to define the goals of the team before you hire them and send them out to be awesome.

The goals you set for your team should be SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely.

What is a SMART Goal?


Target a specific area for improvement. You want to reach more developers, what types of developers? University students? Developers working at companies? Beginner developers? Back end developers? Front end developers? You can developer better tactics to achieve your goals if you are specific.


Once you set a goal how will you know if you achieved it if it is not measurable. It’s great to have a high level vision of what you want to achieve such as ‘strong relationships with the developer community’ but how do you measure it? Do you want to track the number of user groups you meet? The number of developers who post in your community forum? Or the number of developers who download your SDK?

You need to be VERY careful when you decide what to measure. If you tell your team their goal is to get as many developers as possible to download your SDK, they might decide to give away flying monkeys at conference booths to everyone who downloads the SDK. Okay you get a lot of downloads, but are you actually engaging with the developers and building interest and loyalty in your product? (side note I am infamous for always wanting to give away flying monkeys)

flying monkey

Flying Monkeys for everyone who downloads the SDK


When you decide on a goal that is measurable you need to set a target. Are you trying to get 5,000 developers to download your SDK or 50,000?

Your goal should be a stretch. You want to push your team to be creative, but it should also be achievable. If you set a target that cannot be achieved there is a risk your team will be frustrated and demoralized.


(sometimes listed as Realistic but I find that redundant since achievable is already a criteria)

Your goals should be relevant to the company objectives and direction.

Over the years, Microsoft’s mission statement changed from “a computer on every desk and in every home” in the Bill Gates years, to “create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most” in the Steve Ballmer years to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” under Satya Nadella. When I was a developer evangelist at Microsoft in the Ballmer years, my goal was to get developers to build apps for Windows Phone and Windows. If a phone has a wider selection of apps, consumers are more likely to purchase the device. I understood how my goals helped the company achieve their mission.


Set a timeframe for your goals. Many teams set yearly goals because that ties in nicely with annual performance reviews.

Managing team expectations

Once you have set your team goals, make sure they are clearly communicated to the team. Everyone should understand what defines success for the team, so they can work together to achieve success.

In my perfect world, I could get a job as an evangelist and just spend my time picking and choosing conferences I want to attend and presenting to developers. I love presenting at conferences and workshops, it’s fun, and all modesty aside, I’m pretty good at it. Another evangelist might prefer to spend their time playing with the product and creating git repos. Another evangelist might want to spend all their time blogging and tweeting. Which one is right for your team, and which one will be happy on your team, depends on a match of your goals with their skills and interests.


Evangelism and advocacy teams can add a lot of value, but make sure you sit down each year and agree on goals for your team to define what success looks like for your team!

If you found this post helpful, you may want to check out the rest of my 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.