A few years ago the key theme of one of the DevRelCons was "metrics". People breathlessly tweeted about how this was the most important topic in DevRel, to general agreement. The 2 day schedule was packed with 48 speakers with impressive titles stack ranked by follower count. Hundreds of DevRels flew in to hear DevRels thoughtlead DevRel. Drinks were drunk, hands were shook, empty promises made. Then they went home.
Nothing changed. Today in 2021 people continue to talk about how hard it is to measure DevRel. The full videos of talks to this highly anticipated paid event worth hundreds of dollars per ticket were released on YouTube, with a total view count of 601 (not a typo). The organizers did an incredible job garnering 18 sponsors, all duly ignored. My company was one of them, spending thousands on a Gold slot for which we got 4 tickets, presumably to learn DevRel best practices and hire great talent. We sent none.
I did cherry pick an egregious anecdote, but it helps illustrate the typical state of DevRel accountability today. Lots of sizzle, questionable steak. Loudly performing "DevRel", yet indistinguishable from "Con". Yet despite lack of visibility, companies continue to invest! Because we do know that through all the noise and gladhanding, some value does get created and it is unique to all the other user acquisition channels available.
I of course don't have the perfect answer. But I've lived it for a while and wanted to write down my evolving thoughts for others who are going down this same path. Instead of solutions, I'll offer structure. Instead of answering your questions, I hope to offer you better ones.
Note: I write for new DevRels as well as people running DevRel programs. This is a "201" blogpost rather than a "101" — I'm aiming to cover what introductory blogposts don't say. I will also have inconsistent capitalization and voice because I am condensing a massive amount of thoughts and trust you are smart enough to figure it out. Sometimes "DevRel" is one person (who actually holds the title "Developer Advocate" or "DX Engineer"), sometimes "Devrel" is an industry. If this upsets you, please read something else.
Stop looking: Your North Star metric is "monthly active developers". If growth is accelerating, good. If growth is constant, fine. If growth is 0% or worse then whatever you are doing isn't working.
Unhappiness arises when there is an expectations mismatch between what the company wants out of DevRel and what DevRel is good at. People have natural affinities — you are more likely to do well with community if you already organize meetups, you are more likely to be great at content if you are a regular on the speaker circuit, you are more likely to understand how to plug user gaps with product feedback if you already built one, etc. Don't judge a fish by its ability to climb trees.
There are three emerging sub-specialities of developer relations: community-focused, content-focused, and product-focused. How you are measured depends on what your strengths are and what your company actually thinks devrel is. We'll explore each in turn, but first some context: