Career change: How I became a Developer Advocate

Career change: How I became a Developer Advocate

Last year, I changed careers from Tech Writing to Developer Relations at Cockroach Labs. This blog post details how the Flex Friday, Learning is Good, and Roachermobile programs at Cockroach Labs helped me reinvent my career.

The Backstory

My first job out of college was in 2009 as an Electronics Engineer in India, testing electronic circuits and writing datasheets. I liked the documentation tasks more and switched to tech writing full-time. After 5 years as a tech writer in India, I realized I had run the course of being a self-taught tech writer and moved to the US to pursue a formal education in technical communication.

By the time I completed my Master’s in Technical Communication degree, I landed the Senior Tech Writer position at Cockroach Labs. By August 2019, I was nearing my 10-year anniversary as a tech writer and itching for a new challenge. Enter — Developer Relations.

Flex Fridays FTW

At first glance, Developer Relations seemed like the perfect fit for me with the right mix of tech, content, and community. But moving to DevRel full-time was a career risk — leaving a secure position as a Staff Tech Writer to pursue the shiny new role everyone was talking about. I remembered trying out the documentation tasks while still working as an Electronics Engineer had helped me make the career change from engineering to tech writing. I decided to try out DevRel tasks before making an official move.

Thankfully, we have the Flex Fridays program at Cockroach Labs that allows us to use Fridays to learn and experiment with projects outside our job descriptions. To make sure I was making an informed decision, I used my Flex Fridays to research what Developer Advocates do and designed a series of experiments to try out different aspects of the career. I called the project Prototyping a Career in Developer Relations and documented it on my YouTube channel.

Learning is Good

Flex Fridays gave me the time for my DevRel project, but some experiments required monetary support to travel to and participate in conferences. To fund my conference travel, I made use of another of my favorite perks at Cockroach Labs — the Learning is Good program — which gives each Roacher $2500 per year for professional development through courses, conferences, coaching, and so on.

To the Roachermobile!

The experiment helped me envision myself in the role of a Developer Advocate. Once I knew it was something I wanted to pursue seriously, I jumped on the Roachermobile — the aptly named internal mobility program at Cockroach Labs.

As this blog post explains, "An internal mobility program is a system that provides opportunities for current employees to grow their career within the company, but outside of their current team ... Where a promotion can be thought of simply as moving up a rung on the ladder, internal mobility would be more akin to hopping onto another ladder and traversing a unique path."

The Roachermobile allows Roachers who perform well and meet expectations in their current roles for at least one year to qualify for an internal role change. The Roacher must then complete a full interview process assessing the same experience and skill requirements as external candidates to ensure a fair hiring process and meet the goal of hiring the best candidate for all open roles. As part of the Roachermobile program, I was given the opportunity to interview for the position of the first Developer Advocate at the company, and I must have done well on the interview because I got the job!

Of Champions and Cheerleaders

There were some hiccups along the way since the Roachermobile program as well as the DevRel function were completely new to Cockroach Labs at the time. My manager, Jesse Seldess, was my unwavering champion throughout the transition. There were times when I got frustrated and lost confidence in myself or the process. But Jesse, my team, and my coworkers from Engineering, Product, and Marketing cheered me on through the challenging moments.

It's rare to find a tech company where you feel seen and heard. It's rarer to find a company that values you enough to make space not only for who you are but who you aspire to be. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and excited to grow into the new role!

Curious about how you can grow your career with our team? We're hiring plenty! Check out our open roles here.

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