I'm often asked, "Should the person handling Developer Relations report to Product or Engineering?"
Sometimes, the answer is "yes", but most often, the answer is "neither" and what comes next might just surprise you - we've seen the best success when DevRel reported into Marketing. The reasons for this are also interesting:
It prevents power dynamics from short-circuiting the advocacy function that the Developer Relations role critically supports. You can't be annoying, even professionally annoying, if you're worried about how it's going to affect your comp or performance review. That may NEVER be a problem where you are and if it's not, then fantastic. But you need to think about it hard.
It tightly couples messaging that's given across a variety of contexts to fill a variety of needs. The reason you have a DevRel is to communicate outwardly beyond what the marketing for top-down adoption strategies is communicating. If you're reporting into the marketing wing, you're constantly perfecting this with them, and it's subsequently stronger.
It lets you set DevRel as a goal for anyone junior on your marketing squad. Don't just wait for engineers to realize they take a shine to the marketing stuff, let marketers also feel like they can take a shine to the engineering stuff. What matters is real voices come out.
DevRel really is about the show which is why we really feel like it belongs in the creator space as much as it does anywhere. We're storytellers with a knack for simplifying complicated concepts; having been an engineer is one way of acquiring that, but certainly not the only one.
What About Reporting To Sales Engineering Or Support Engineering?
Those would also be fantastic choices for DevRel to report to. In fact, it might actually be preferable if there is an unusually high "touch" count for onboarding to your product, because it's certain to ensure the DevRel stays very focused on friction points as they work with the product folks, and saves lots of time back and forth.
Similarly, if you're at a point where your value proposition still requires a complicated demonstration, it might make sense for the DevRel to report into the sales wing as sort of a bastion against breakage for client workflows.
Whatever makes sense, but again, keep in mind that advocates need to, well, advocate - make sure there's no conflict of interest with self-advancement from just doing their jobs.
This Doesn't Change The Universal Hat Stand Function Of DevRel.
Often called the glue that binds multiple teams together, we also have to ensure that if just one role is super-optimized with whatever is needed to operate with great autonomy between teams, it's this one. So before you go changing who reports where, it takes a special kind of manager to help developer advocates succeeed.
One day you're learning about pain points in a language you've never used before; the next day you're recording a feature demo, and then you need to put some time into thinking about how you can get your users the best deal in a controversial feature update - my point is, you don't produce consistent artifacts just by working consistent hours every week. Managers need a great deal of trust and emotional grown-upness to grow people in this role.
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