How I became a Technical Evangelist

Creative Commons: http://j.mp/1bowKFE
Creative Commons: http://j.mp/1bowKFE

I often get questions about how to become an Evangelist. I can’t give you a magic recipe, but I can tell you how I managed to land my dream job.

Before I start, be sure to understand what the job is all about: it’s not just about doing conferences, and traveling. So, four years ago, I decided that my next step in my professional career would be to become an Evangelist (French post). I saw some of them, read about the job, and thought that it was a perfect fit for me: I’m technical, I like to help others, and I have a special skill many developers don’t have… I’m social. So like for any jobs you want, you need to understand what are the requirements or the skills for this particular job, and fill the gaps. If I have to summarize what I understood about the role a couple of years ago, it would fit into these five words (in no particular order): technical, speaking, communities, experience, and leadership.

Technical

You need to be technical, to be a Technical Evangelist. It sounds stupid, but many people don’t understand it. Of course, you won’t develop software all day long, but since you are talking about technology, you need to be able to have a discussion with developers, build demos, and be credible in front of a crowd. On my side, it was easy as I was a Software Developer for about 10 years. I would say that it’s usually the profile of people who become Evangelist: I’ll write more about this in the experience point.

Speaking

Even if the role isn’t just about public speaking, it’s still an important part. Furthermore, your role is to create connection with developers, so you’ll have to talk with them, discuss, and help them. On my case, I had no problem to discuss with people about technology, but I had no public speaking experience. I started to check where someone like me, with no experience, would be able to do a presentation in front of a crowd: I submit a talk to Podcamp Montreal (French post), and got accepted. It was the beginning of my public speaking career, as after that, I got some speaking offers. Even if it wasn’t about technical topics as I did a presentation on how to use social media to organize events, I was still sharing my passion in front of attendees. It helped me build some experience with public speaking, and build my case for the job I wanted.

Communities

You cannot succeed as an Evangelist if you don’t work with communities. People that believe in your mission, love your product, use your technology will be there to support you, and be what I call, virtual Evangelists! When a company hires you, it’s not just about your skills: having a good network will help you. It’s also one of the reasons why those jobs are well-paid, as you are building an amazing network while you work for a company in that role, and it’s something enterprise wants to keep with them. I was already going to different technical user groups, but also social media events. I connected with other developers, user groups lead, conferences organizers… I like people so it wasn’t hard for me, but networking was a big part of it.

Experience

I was writing about having technical skills, but you need experience. If you are going to talk to developers, you need to be a developer too. There is no way you’ll be able to succeed if you don’t have experience as a developer. You need to have credibility, know the day to day of building software, the pain of working with customers… For me, it was also an easy part as I was developing software for about 10 years. I worked with different technology like Java, PHP, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Perl, C#, Objective C… I played with many operating systems like Windows, OS X, and Linux. I developed different type of software: web, mobile… It’s one thing to have experience, but when you talk about your product or the technology you promote, you need to be able to tell the truth, and compare with the other choices on the market.

Leadership

I like to believe that all Evangelist jobs aren’t tight with a manager who likes to micro-manage: from my personal experience, it’s a job with a lot of freedom. In my own definition of leadership, you can find the word responsible too. So to land this kind of job, you need to show that you are responsible, and that you have the makings of a leader. You’ll have to manage your schedule, maybe work at home, decide how you’ll achieve your goals, even defining your own goals. It’s easy to ask your previous manager to speak for you on those points, but does it have a lot of impact? Who is giving references about someone who will say bad things about you? Fortunately, I started, and lead the Festival Geek de Montreal (French site) for two edition: I was able to show companies that I can lead a huge project, build a team of awesome volunteers, create something big, and make things happen without having a manager over my shoulder telling me what to do.

At the end, I listed what skills I thought I needed, and work on those to get more experiences, and be sure I would be able to sell myself as a good candidate for being a Technical Evangelist. I think it makes sense for all jobs: find what you need, and make it happen. All those points together helped me a lot as when Microsoft was looking for a new Evangelist in Montreal (French post), they heard about me from people in the communities. They were also able to see tangible things I did, and even if I didn’t officially have Evangelist experience (no job, not paid for doing it), I already started to Evangelize…  So this is my own story, and I hope it’ll help you land your dream job as a Technical Evangelist too!

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