What Does a Developer Evangelist Do?

Samantha Ready is a developer evangelist at Salesforce.com. She has been with Salesforce for three years, and prior to evangelism was part of an internal development team building prototypes and apps on the platform. Samantha graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in computer engineering and a concentration in robotics and embedded systems. Her current passion is building cloud applications, and empowering users of all technical backgrounds on the Force.com platform.

Samantha Ready is a developer evangelist at Salesforce.com. She has been with Salesforce for three years, and prior to evangelism was part of an internal development team building prototypes and apps on the platform. Samantha graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in computer engineering and a concentration in robotics and embedded systems. Her current passion is building cloud applications, and empowering users of all technical backgrounds on the Force.com platform.

API Economist: What exactly does a developer evangelist do?

Samantha Ready: The way I would describe a developer evangelist is part thought leader and part explorer. On the one hand, we're trying to be on the cutting edge of what's new with the software product and how to use it, and also lead the community in ways that they should be doing development with the platform. It's a blend of taking our skills and then optimizing them for our expertise on the platform, and then also trying to get that information out to the community about how they can be successful on the platform.

When you think about the term "evangelist," often it's associated with religion. What religious evangelists do is they have some dogmatic practice that they want to proclaim to the masses. As developer evangelists, we are passionate about technology and the platform, and we're trying to advocate that to the developer community.

API Economist: As a developer evangelist, how do you measure success?

Samantha Ready: From an evangelism perspective, the number of Twitter followers is a good indicator of your reach. It means people want to hear what you have to say. We get a lot of feedback from the different events that we speak at. Twitter is a really good litmus test of how we're doing, because people are most honest on Twitter when giving feedback.

Another way that we track success is our developer blogs.  We often post code samples that are linked to our GitHub accounts. When we're giving out these code samples and recipes to developers, we'll be able to track how many times sample has been forked, who exactly is using it in the community, and just the overall impact that we're making in the community. We also track responses to blogs. We track how many views it the blogs have and how many re-tweets we receive. This is your footprint on the Internet – it’s a measure of just how recognized you are by the community for the things that we do.

API Economist: If a company wants to start a developer evangelism program, how do they go about finding a developer evangelist?

Samantha Ready: Developer evangelists are definitely a different breed. You have to, on the one hand, have the technical chops to be able to code software, and on the other hand, have the ability to talk about it. I know a lot of people that are knee deep in their technical savvy, but when it comes to explaining it to someone who's never used it before, they fall short. You need someone that can not only walk the walk, but talk the talk and communicate it to the community.

Developer evangelists should also be forward thinking. You need visionaries who can assess the developer community and see how you should be steering the ship. Otherwise, the developer program might not necessarily take off. Developer evangelists need to be community focused. This means elevating the developer community. It means being present and going out there and working with the developer community.

API Economist: On the subject of getting out there in the community, how much of your time is spent at Salesforce events versus non-corporate events?

Samantha Ready: I'd say it's a half-and-half. I'm trying to do more meetups, because I think that those are a lot more frequent than corporate events. Generally, most of them are very informal and they're just discussions with developers on a variety topics.  It’s good to get out there in the community because we sometimes get stuck in our own little bubble when we're only going to the corporate events.

API Economist: What programming languages does your typical developer evangelist focus on?

Samantha Ready: Web programming languages are the primary focus, but I would say you need to be able to do a lot more than just even two or three. We're mainly focusing on JavaScript, because mobile's the big push right now. Then, as far as tapping into the back-end or server-side coding, I feel like every person that we talk to in the community is either a Java developer or a .NET developer. We need to be able to speak that language, too, because it's about leading them into what would be easiest for them or what would make them the most successful with whatever they're doing. Right now, some of the most interesting mobile app developers I know are people who started programming just two years ago. But they're able to plug stuff together now in such a way to make something that's cool.

API Economist: What are some of the "dos and don'ts" around developer evangelism?

Samantha Ready: You definitely don't try to market to a developer. The second you start using marketing-speak or sales-speak the ears close and you just see them shut off. I try to avoid PowerPoint slides where I can. No one wants to look at PowerPoint slides. No one wants to learn by PowerPoint. They want to learn by seeing code, seeing something real, and seeing you do something that they can follow along and engage with.

I've had issues where my code didn't necessarily compile on the first try, and it's great, because, all of a sudden, you see them trying to figure it out with you, and it becomes an engaging activity, as opposed to walking through a bunch of slides. 

API Economist: I can see from the Developerforce blog that you are quite prolific. What advice would give on keeping developers engaged with your writing?

Samantha Ready: Blogs are a great way for you to get little tidbits about various development aspects that might be useful to you. I constantly worry about search engine optimization when I am writing a blog entry. It's always cool when it's at the top of the feed, but how are people going to find it later? A huge challenge for us is trying to make sure that we use the right words so it'll still show up on Google even if a developer isn't exactly sure what they're looking for.

It's really important, first of all, for you to write about something that you're passionate about, because that will definitely show through in the blog. Second, follow up with different developers who are constantly asking questions. I'll get questions about something that I wrote six months ago, and it's not useful to leave them high and dry.

I think that blogs are really important for generating content. More often than not, when I'm writing blogs, I'll constantly be linking to other blogs within our system. It creates a web of knowledge that is easy to traverse, and then people, will learn a lot just from one original article..

API Economist: What are some of the more innovative approaches that you've taken to developer outreach at events?

Samantha Ready: When it comes to events it's all about the experience. You can have breakout sessions and all the standard one-on-one stuff, but what people remember are the things that you do differently. For example, last year, our way of innovating at the Dreamforce Developer Zone was that we created what was called the "Mobile Touch Stadium." A lot of mobile apps were being built on the fly in front of you, and it was sort of shaped like the kitchen stadium in the Food Network’s, Iron Chef America Just like they do on the show, we'd have two developers building things side by side, with an MC going back and forth between them.

It was very unique. It had never been done before. We were afraid it might blow up in our faces with everyone watching. The risk reaped a great reward, and it was definitely very informative, and fun at the same time. Because it was so different, people went home talking about it. It generated quite a bit of press at the event as well.

API Economist: What other approaches have you taken to generate compelling content for developers?

Samantha Ready: While live and being in person is great, we create digital content, too. Webinars are a really great way to reach a ton of people at once, especially if you get high registrations. Sometimes we'll have 2,000 people on the call. Digital content will live on YouTube forever. When you create your own YouTube channel and you start making various webinars, you'll be able to reference that within blogs. You'll be able to send it to developers and say, "Hey, we gave a webinar on this. If you want a deeper dive on this talk, go to YouTube." It’s great seeing thousands of views on these videos for months to years after we've had that original airing.

API Economist: You mentioned being forward thinking as a great trait for a developer evangelist. What excites you the most about the future?

Samantha Ready: The shift to mobile is one of those technological shifts that only comes around once in your life. Six years ago touch devices were a luxury. Now, it's almost a necessity. That whole cliché, "There's an app for that," is just so ridiculously true. The world is just a world of apps. I went to a hackathon two weeks ago, and there were two kids that were 13 years old saying, "Oh yeah, I've been building apps for the last two years." I was amazed and thinking, "What? When I was your age, I was learning how to type with home keys."

API Economist: We are starting to see more female developers in the community. What inspired you to get into computer programming?

Samantha Ready: I'm going to be honest. The way that I got into coding was kind of an accident. I went to an all-girls school. We had a lot of really interesting classes in high school, and I needed an extracurricular subject, so I took C++ when I was 15 years old. I didn't really know what it was at the time. A lot of people in the class struggled with it, because it's kind of like trying to learn a new language when you're 15 years old. It's a different way of thinking. I thought it was great. I thought it was fun, and I thought it was creative. It was the first time in school that I really felt like I was building something and problem solving. It was true design.

Soon after, I took Java classes, and I was really excited. And in my senior year, I did web design. It kind of gave me that rounded set of skills that influenced my course of study in college. I wanted to do computer engineering because I could still do a lot of programming but then also study the hardware itself as well.

API Economist: What are some of your favorite mobile devices and some of your favorite apps?

Samantha Ready: I'm going to admit it. I'm kind of a Mac fanboy. I have two iPods, an iPhone, and iPad. The iOS devices are great. I'm on my iPhone probably way too much.  One of my favorite apps is Instagram. I also found this great app called Robinhood. It's for people that are trying to get into the stock market but they don't know a lot about stocks. It gets all of its information from crowdsourced ideas. It’s basically a financial social network.

Another app that I think is really cool is SideCar. The way SideCar works is that it shows real people driving their cars around the city, and you're able to see where they are on the map. When you say where you are and where you're going, they'll come pick you up. It's donation-based but offers a suggested amount and you simply pay through the app. You know exactly how far away they are. You know exactly when they're going to pick you up. You know exactly what their car's going to look like, what their name is, who they are, and then you just walk outside, and it's like getting a ride from a friend.

API Economist: Samantha, thank you for your time!

Samantha Ready: My pleasure!