How to Survive as a Developer Evangelist


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If you’re here, you already know (roughly) what a developer evangelist is. You know that we’re Globetrotters, Hackers, Hustlers, Teachers, Mentors and Frequent-Flyer Mile Collectors. You have an idea of what a developer evangelist does. If you’re interested in becoming a developer evangelist, good on you. It’s the best job in the world; it truly is. HOWEVER, as you’re sure to find out, it is exhausting. In this post, I’m hoping to help minimise that exhaustion, and help you to avoid the dreaded burn-out.

Passed out -- by Richard RileyI’m recently back from Paris. I was there for Music Hackday (one of my favourite events), in which I sponsored, demo’d and mentored. When I arrived home on Monday evening, I crashed for three hours. I then couldn’t sleep that night and was found on my couch passed out at 8 a.m., none of which I remember. There’s a good reason for this:

I’m not looking after myself properly.

Less than three hours of sleep a night, no proper exercise, a bad diet and long days really take their toll. When I first started as a developer evangelist 15 months ago (with a prior company), I was fit, healthy, sleeping well, exercising very well and was a stone (14 pounds) lighter. I haven’t looked after myself properly. What I’d like you to take away from this post is 100% from-the-heart advice on doing practically the opposite of what I’ve done! So let’s dive in:

 

Sleep.

This is possibly the most important, yet constantly ignored bit of advice in this post. I’m not going to go into the science of sleeping, and I know this sounds ridiculously obvious, but I know all too well the woes of not getting enough sleep. I’ve seen it deteriorate my peers, and definitely myself. Three hours per night is a number, albeit a bad one, that seems to be appearing all too often in my life. Developer evangelism isn’t to blame here–I am.

Since getting back from Paris (except that first night), I’ve had a solid 6 hours a night–enough for me. This is because I’ve consciously been trying to get that. Enforcing a bedtime and wake-up time is a good start, but we all know how difficult it can be to stick to.

Let me give you an example–you’re at a 48 hour hackathon–you DON’T need to stay awake for 48 hours. I’ve done that, and it ain’t pretty. Try and get a hotel or AirBnB close to the hack location and give yourself set times of leaving at night and returning in the morning to ensure you actually get some rest. At HackTech, in January, we worked in shifts. One of us would go to get some sleep for a few hours whilst the other covered, and we’d rotate as such. Do this. It works.

 

Eat.

informal hackathonEvery hackathon, every meetup, every day. You’re going to encounter my downfall–beer and pizza. For some reason, this is the chosen sustenance of our industry, and as awesome as that is, if you opt to go with that every time you’re faced with it, it’s not going to end well. I know the temptations of beer and pizza as much as the next devangelist, but you’ve got to try to break the mould, and stick to better, more healthy stuff.

Again, this is such obvious advice–and I know a lot of devangelists don’t bow to such temptations, but when you’re super busy, you don’t always have time to go get something healthy. My diet over the last 15 months has been appalling, and again, that’s my fault. But I also know a whole bunch of fellow devangelists who say the exact same thing.

“I’ll just take my lunch from home!” Wait, you can’t. You’re not at home. Adding to this, you will also start to notice your kitchen becoming emptier and emptier. When you travel all the time, you’re generally not home for long periods of time and unless there’s someone else living with you, it’s difficult to keep your fridge stocked with healthy stuff. It is almost as difficult eating well when I’m home as it is when I’m away.

 

Take Liberties.

informal-hackathon-1If you’re like me, and you love your job, you’ll find yourself saying “yes” to too many things. Last year, I took every trip that was thrown at me, and I almost burned out in six months. I was doing three different countries every week, on a very small team, and ended up having to take a week and a half off to recover as I was totally burned.

It’s ok to say “no.” You can’t do everything. If you work on a small team, it is more difficult to do this, so make sure you plan with your team which events take priority and which trips are most important. Saying yes to every trip that comes up is going to end in tears.

I take pride in saving the company money when I travel. You don’t need to fly business class, ever. You don’t need a hotel suite. You don’t need to take $500 cab rides. But what you DO need to do is make sure your travel is beneficial to you. If you’ve got a long trip, the last thing you want is taking a flight with three layovers, just because it saves a couple of hundred dollars. Traveling for 17 hours when you could have travelled for nine is crazy. It’s detrimental to your health, it’s a waste of company time, and your own time.

Also, travel, light.

 

Repeat.

Keeping a routine in this job is nigh-on impossible. You’re never in the same place three days in a row, so how can you keep a daily routine? I’ve only ever met one evangelist who actually had a solid routine, absolutely nailed, EVERY single day, no matter where he was in the world. He’d get up every morning at around 5am, go for a 10 mile run, ate well and didn’t drink. In this role, basically Superman.

You can’t keep a steady gym routine going when you’re away from your gym most days. You can’t always stay in a place with a gym, and more than likely, you’ll have been drinking beer anyway, so can’t bring yourself to go for a 10 mile street run every morning.

Try saying “no” to more pizza and beer and saying “yes” to more sleep. That’s pretty much a good enough routine. If you can get some exercise time in, no matter where you are in the world, even better!

Simple, Obvious Advice…

I know this advice seems totally obvious, but do devangelism for six months, and come back to me about how many points you’ve failed on. If you are like me, it’s all of them. From now, to not be a hypocrite, I’m vowing to follow my own simple advice and stick to it. Hopefully in six months time, there’ll be a post from me reflecting this.

I’ve actually just (very reluctantly) cancelled my place on a rugby tour to Portugal next week, because the day I got back, I’d be straight off to Amsterdam for The Next Web conference, and it’d kill me. It sucks, but prioritising saves your health.

Look after yourself!

- @rbin


SendGrid Devangelist. London based polyglot hacker, mainly playing with Golang and Ruby. Musical Hacker, Hardware hacker, Hackathon lover, API abuser and NoSQL user.

Robin Johnson on Twitter
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