Switching Lanes: How I Transitioned from DevOps to DevRel
10 min read
As I prepared to embark on a new chapter of my life in early 2022, leaving southern Brazil where I had been living for 3 years for the new horizon which is the capital of Portugal, Lisbon, I knew, deep down, that it was also time to explore new professional opportunities. It was around this time that Mohamed Labouardy reached out to me on LinkedIn, proposing that I apply for the Community Developer role at an exciting new startup. The job seemed like the perfect opportunity to showcase and develop my skills in a way that I hadn't been able to do in my previous DevOps role. Looking back now, it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
As I reflect on my career path, which at first glance seems to be quite non-linear, I can't help but think that I'm not alone and others have or will go through the same career shifts at some point. Just to confirm my suspicions I decided to do some research and came across a list of career change statistics that caught my attention. I was surprised to learn that the traditional idea of what a career should be is now considered outdated, not just based on opinion, but supported by the numbers. Here are a few interesting figures:
It is estimated that most people will have 12 jobs during their lives. In the last year (2023), 32% of those 25 to 44 have considered a career change. Since starting their first job after college, 29% of people have completely changed fields.
If we look back just one generation, we can already see a huge disparity in career durations. I’m sure this is why my parents don’t ask too many questions about what I do for work at this stage.
Workers age 65 or older have an average job tenure of (10.3 years)
For workers age 25 to 34, the median tenure is (3.2 years)
Just over 4 years ago I was an English high school teacher in Spain, I transitioned to DevOps engineering and in the next few months, I’ll complete my first year working in a Developer relations position.
I understand that there may have been moments in which you, like me, have struggled with your professional self-image and identity, especially if you have already “started from scratch” once or twice. However, discovering that non-linear and non-traditional career paths are becoming more common is reassuring.
Before entering the tech industry, I assumed that everyone was a Computer Science prodigy who earned PhDs in Physics on the weekends, but as I have come to learn, this is far from the truth. The industry is filled with diverse and unique individuals from varying backgrounds, making our field even more special, complex, and nuanced. At times, it can be helpful to pause, look around, and appreciate that although your non-traditional background is unique to you, it is not something to be ashamed of. Some of the people I admire most also come from similarly unconventional backgrounds.
Imposter syndrome all over again 👺
This is a tough one to shake, and always hard to avoid. Even though deep down I know that if I want to put myself in a new situation and somebody has bet on me by giving me a job I must have shown some sort of potential and ability. Even so, the darker angles of my nature are always close by whispering self-sabotaging words into my ear.
I completely understand why this happens, especially when you start out at something new, there are suddenly countless people around you with more experience, they have all the skills that you aspire to acquire and seem to inhabit this realm of legend status that appears completely unachievable to you as a rookie. Even though this might be your impression what I sometimes think back to is that experience we all have as children in which we remember everything as much bigger as they really are. It turns out that this phenomenon is called “childhood size perception bias”. A version of this happens when we start with something new. I’m not sure if it exists yet but another term should be invented called “comparing-yourself-to-more-experienced-people-and-feeling-bad-because-they-know-more-than-you bias”.
The major learning which we all know at this stage but it’s still crucial to remember is that it dangerously counterproductive to compare yourself to others, this only leads to negative feelings based on distorted and biased perceptions of others. The only comparison worth anything to us is the one where we compare ourselves to the previous versions of ourselves. Try to do everything in your power to have an honest view of yourself in every moment, if there is an area where you can improve, put effort into improving exactly that.
An example for me is that I wanted to improve my video creation and editing skills, are there better YouTubers than myself out there? Of course, probably 99% of Youtube creators are more skilled than me but my personal learning curve has been incredibly positive and that is the metric that I have to constantly hold myself to. The more I compare myself to myself in the past the more my imposter syndrome dissipates.
Focus on transferable skills first ⛷️
Starting out in a new field can be overwhelming because of the vast array of new and valuable skills to acquire. As a DevOps engineer, I didn't have to do many of the tasks that are now part of my job as a DevRel professional. However, even though there's a lot to learn, there are many transferable skills that you may not immediately recognize, but they can help you get up to speed quickly.
Let's look at a specific example: as a DevOps engineer, I had to communicate and collaborate with developers and their teams to solve software delivery issues or help them adopt new delivery pipelines or understand cloud concepts. Clear communication, active listening, and a helpful attitude were critical in that role. These same skills have been essential in my current position, where I communicate directly with users and community members on a daily basis. My communication skills have been the foundation that helped me transition into this new field.
If you're concerned that your communication skills may not be your strongest asset, but you have technical expertise in certain technologies, you can first leverage that knowledge to expand and improve the technical documentation for your site or tool for example. This approach can help you gain some quick wins and build the confidence needed to explore new skills outside of your comfort zone.
Balancing Technical Knowledge and Soft Skills ⚖️
One of the things I appreciate most about working in Developer Relations is the balanced emphasis on both technical knowledge and soft skills. While a typical week in DevRel can be unpredictable, one thing is certain: you may find yourself tackling a Kubernetes cluster issue, contributing to an open source project, providing technical support to users, and even creating content like videos and blog posts, hosting office hours, and speaking at live events. If you enjoy exploring and challenging yourself across multiple fronts, this field can be incredibly stimulating. This variety and balance that needs to be found between technical skills and soft skills fascinates me and keep me super energized to keep on exploring new avenues of creation, new ways of adding value, and of growing my skillset.
Elastic self-image 🪞
Due to the nature of the DevRel position you might have many open fronts, initiatives, and activities going in a single sprint, one week might be much more technically heavy, and other weeks you might spend half of your time improving your video editing skills or it even might feel that the only thing you are doing is chatting with users on the Discord server. It hugely helped me to stop having a narrow consideration of my professional self, I had to expand my self-image to give myself room to try new things.
I remember the first time I picked up an open “good fist issue” from our GitHub repo. My initial thought was, “hey, you aren’t a Go developer, are you sure you can do this?”. It turns out you don’t need to know the ins and outs of a coding language to get a narrow-scope issue done. It turns out that you don’t have to be a fully-fledged YouTuber to start creating videos. Once you relax the requirements needed to do something you can free yourself up to try. DevRel is an area in which being a generalist pays dividends. So break out of your narrow image of yourself and challenge yourself in an area you find exciting and you will more than likely be excited by the outcome.
The magic of DevRel 🪄
It was hard to imagine exactly what goes into the job of a Community Manager for an open-source cloud optimization tool, and just how different it would be from my previous DevOps experience, especially at the beginning. But what I discovered was that it's pure magic. Making it an area I find hard to imagine leaving and reverting back to a purely technical role ever again.
Why you might ask? Being a Community Manager of a company that believes in product-driven growth is a special position to be in because, in a way, you are the glue of the operation. Value comes from building a product that people want to use. You know if people want to use it or not by creating direct communication channels, usually gathering around and creating a community of interested early adopters. It's through this direct communication with potential users that you can gather crucial feedback and then do your best to iterate and deliver what your community of users is telling you they want.
As a DevOps engineer, I sometimes struggled to see where my work fit into the larger mission of the company. Now, I've had the experience of chatting with a user on Monday, getting feedback on a feature they would love to see, adding it to the roadmap, getting it prioritized by the product team, and helping the tech team work on it the same week to get it shipped by Friday. When this happened the first time my mind was blown. This has since happened on multiple occasions, and having such a pivotal role in the evolution and growth of the product in a direction that directly reflects the requests of the users is nothing short of magic.
Standing on the shoulders of giants ⛰️
Starting down a new career path as we have covered can be daunting, but there are many individuals out there who have put in a lot of work and effort to help others get better at their craft. I wasn't aware of the legends in the DevRel space when I first started, but much of my early success is directly and indirectly influenced by the incredible examples they set.
These are people who have helped me easily communicate complex ideas, create engaging and educational content that is actionable, and much more. I consider myself lucky to have so many examples of professionals who serve as my north star for how to be an efficient communicator and technical community manager. Their examples have been invaluable in shaping my approach to this exciting field.
Here is a short list of the giants I’m referring to:
Are you thinking of switching careers? ⁉️
If the thought crossed your mind, entertain it at least. If you are held back by the idea that you might feel like a junior all over again and you might be taking a step back in your professional journey all I can say is that the potential upside is huge. You will never be starting from zero, you always bring many transferable skills and a valuable background as a professional with experience in other areas (even if they are now tech related). Having a non-linear, non-traditional trajectory isn’t inefficient it creates novelty, diversity, and richness. I know it seems abstract talking about it now but if you want to challenge yourself and you put the effort in you will be able to pave your own way. By relinquishing the idea of what a “normal” career is supposed to look like and you can start building up yourself to end up being a uniquely valuable professional since nobody will be ever able to be you better than you.
If you got any value from this consider following or reaching out to me on Twitter and LinkedIn, always happy to connect!
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