Rex St. John | Developer Evangelist
June 23, 2014

What is a Developer Evangelist?


Greetings from Seattle, my name is Rex St. John and I am a Developer Evangelist at Mashery, an Intel company. Many people are curious about what Developer Evangelists do so I am writing this article to outline what it's all about: Making customers successful with their target audience of developers. 

The Mashery API Network

As the leader in the API Management space, Mashery seeks to help businesses open up their APIs to external developers in a controlled and secure way. Whenever a company wants to expose their internal data (say, Beats Music) to external developers, there are a number of questions that must be answered. How do they create a good DUX (Developer User Experience)? How do they secure the API? How do they ensure that their API program is successful? How do they get developers excited about using their APIs?

Mashery helps to solve these problems and more. With nearly 300 APIs in our system—and 40+ publicly available APIs including Expedia, USA Today, and TouchTunes), we have a long track record of success. With a single-sign on, any developer can join the network and access any of these APIs (provided they follow the terms of service). The role of an evangelist is to reach out to developers at hackathons, events, workshops, meetups and conferences to get them to join the Mashery API Network and use our tools to maximum effect to build interesting software.

The result? 95,000 applications are currently active and 300,000 developers have signed up to our network. Having a large number of developers available allows us to rapidly drive adoption of new APIs that are added to our system—a significant advantage for our customers. 

Reaching Developers Is Hard But Necessary To Customer Success

Developers are often said to be "immune" to most forms of advertising and marketing. When it comes to technical products, most software engineers only want to talk to other developers who understand software, not to marketing or sales people. Reaching developers requires a "special breed" of software developer with a variety of interpersonal and technological skills.

Mashery Developer Evangelists are all current or former software engineers who continue to write software demos, content, and samples to support our APIs. Having a software engineering background gives us credibility that we can leverage to engage developers at events like hackathons. 

How do we drive API adoption? Our evangelists show up at hackathons and present developers with interesting and compelling projects that our APIs can support (plus a few giveaways and prizes), then developers do the rest; spending the next day or two hacking together applications. 

Hacker League and Hacker League Enterprise

One of the coolest things about Mashery is that we own the world's largest hackathon planning and organization platforms in the world: Hacker League. Event organizers from around the world initiate hackathons using our platform and we often dispatch evangelists to support these events in person. Once a hackathon has ended, participants post their resulting "hacks" for all to see

If you are planning on running your own Intel hackathon or know someone who is: Use Hacker League and we may send developer evangelists to support it!

Big crowdMany people ask if hackathons are "that big of a deal" or have made comments along the lines of "isn't a hackathon just a slumber party with computers?" The answer is: NO! Some of our LA-based hackathons reach sizes in excess of 1,400 people. That's 1,400 software engineers, designers, and startups in one place producing numerous new solutions and ideas, many of which eventually find their way onto Kickstarter or become funded startups. Reaching that many technical people in that short a time is nearly impossible outside of a hackathon or large developer conference (which are much more expensive to attend)!

Furthermore, like sales and customer support people, evangelists spend so much time directly engaging with "potential customers" that they come to have an extremely deep and broad knowledge of their developer audience, which makes their product and marketing feedback incredibly useful. Evangelists are, in effect, a bridge to the developer community to help establish two-way conversations between product and market. 

Participating In The Community

In addition to our normal slate of events, Mashery evangelists have also proudly supported many types of hackathons including civic events to support the homeless and Intel's own National Day of Civic Hacking. Evangelists are, by far, some of the most visible representatives of a company within the local community. It is incredibly important to leave a good impression at each and every event we attend. 

Doing evangelism properly means staying the entire weekend for a hackathon, circulating between tables and actively helping hackers with technical problems—whether or not they directly relate to selling a product. Doing evangelism properly means showing up to civic events and hacks to support the local community on behalf of your organization. For example, last month I attended an event called Hack to End Homelessness where I built an iOS application to help local homeless advocates assess and fulfill the needs of the local disadvantaged population. The resulting app made the nightly news, which made my whole year!

A hackathon is often 2-3 days of 8-16 hours per day of pure mingling, talking, thinking, setting up and tearing down booths. It takes a whole lot of energy to do that. Evangelism, as a career, is known for it's potential for burning people out. Which is how we come to my favorite part of being an evangelist: The "HRD" (hackathon recovery day) that we often take after such events to recover. 

Closing thoughts: It's All About Customer Success

All of these efforts serve a single core business need: Making Mashery customers successful with their APIs. At the end of the day, our services are provided to ensure that once an API is hosted in our network, it gets the attention it needs from software developers.

Want to learn more? Sign up to the Mashery Developer Network, join Hacker League and start planning your next hackathon, if all goes well maybe Mashery can support you with what you are doing!

  •     Read about Mashery Evangelist activities here.
  •     View Mashery hackathon photos on Flickr.
  •     Follow MasheryDev on Twitter: @masherydev.

You can follow me on Twitter: @rexstjohn.