It's a very modern job title that can attract derision, but there's a reason why the most successful cloud computing company on the planet employs a bunch of technical evangelists: they help translate vendor jargon to ease developer uptake - and without developer uptake there would be no company.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) employs more than 20 technical evangelists. In the firm's words, these specialists should: "Engage with developers and architects around the globe, increasing awareness and adoption of AWS services. Evangelists help users understand how they can develop, deploy and operate applications that are scalable, secure and maintainable. The team supports grassroots, community-led technical knowledge-sharing through its work with AWS User Groups and AWS Heroes worldwide."
What is the day in the life of a technical evangelist?
During the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas last month, Abby Fuller, one of few women on the technical evangelism team at AWS, sat down with Computerworld UK to talk about how she landed in the role, what makes it a satisfying job and why diversity is an important topic to her.
What does a day in the life of your typical technical evangelist look like? Naturally, it's not a cut and dry question. "A day in the life is different," she says. "I do a lot of public speaking but that is not the case for everybody."
Each evangelist at AWS takes a different approach to their role, typically playing to their personal strengths. "Take Julien Simon, who is based outside of Paris and writes these amazing blog posts, then you have people like Ric Harvey in the UK who does a lot of community organisation for meetups," she adds.
"That's what makes evangelism and developer advocacy good, I think, is having a unique and diverse set of people able to do a bunch of different functions," Fuller explains. "You want to be able to engage with developers on the platform where they learn best and being abel to diversify that is what makes it good."
Making feedback a reality
Fuller, who presented as part of CTO Werner Vogels' keynote on stage at re:Invent last year, landed at AWS after the chief technologist invited her to speak at an AWS Summit event in New York while she was working as a developer for Sean Parker's video startup Airtime, where she helped complete a monolith to microservices transformation.
Her role actually changed recently from senior technology evangelist to developer relations.
"I do a lot of the same things I did before," she explains. "I get to keep doing the public speaking stuff and interacting with developers on an outbound basis but am a lot more closely aligned with the product internally, so it is a closer loop for me."
So a day in Fuller's life is now a bit different to her old life of travelling and speaking a lot. "I spend more time in the office now, which is great, because I like to take the feedback we get from developers and turn that into differences in the product," she says.
This means Fuller has a closer relationship with the service team to bring that feedback, be it tweets, emails or face to face, and feed that back in a way that can have an actual impact on the product.
Diversity and inclusion
For anyone that follows Fuller on Twitter they will know she is passionate about diversity and inclusion in the technology sector, and isn't shy to say how she really feels about a topic that naturally can be a source of real frustration.
When asked about this side of the business, Fuller is more measured: "I think it is something that impacts all of us. I also think the older and more senior and grumpy I get the easier it gets to talk about that stuff, despite how many times I have gotten carded since I got here, I think it's really important."
Fuller calls tech "a bubble" where "everyone is kind of the same and there are not benefits to that".
"By being open and welcoming and diverse and making it a space where everyone feels respected and valued I think improves it for us all," she says. "So maybe I kind of fell into it but it's something that impacts all of us."
That doesn't mean that fighting for diversity, and against inappropriate offline and online behaviour, is a fun part of her job.
"I would not say that I particularly love the talking about it part, it's so frustrating, but the reason I am still doing it is because you hear from a lot people who did not feel comfortable speaking out talk about how much of a difference codes of conduct mean," she says.
For example, re:Invent this year had codes of conduct that apply to both in-person and digital events, so extending those standards out to social media, blogs and video is seen as a positive step by Fuller.
"People feeling like they had a place to report and that there are rules people are expected to follow, I think makes our community better as a whole," she says.
Vogels has clearly had a big impact on Fuller's career to date, but she is glowing about the Dutchman's role as a leader and mentor, especially for female engineers.
"He's obviously been great to me personally with those kind of opportunities but I think change like that is always most powerful starting with people like him at the top right, where he is one of the strongest advocates for diversity in his summits and his re:Invent keynotes and that makes a huge difference, so he is an ally we are lucky to have," she says.
On the product side of things Fuller is most excited by AWS' progress with App Mesh and Cloud Map. App mesh is a service mesh for microservices to communicate for things like traffic shaping and Cloud Map is a service discovery tool.
"What is interesting with those for me is as more people move over to serverless and microservices, the containers and functions-as-a-service, you have more pieces to corral and it lets you solve other interesting problems like how they know about each other," she explains. "So these two products are an AWS-wide view of things for resources beyond my containers."
On a broader note, Fuller says her year culminates with re:Invent, because "we spend the year building up to it and we get to hear what people think about things".
"Maybe we say we think something is good for one thing and then all the developers say it's even cooler because they can do this other thing with it," she adds.
As a result Fuller's schedule after re:Invent is taken up by collating a tonne of feedback: "What's exciting for me in the next couple of months is taking all of that feedback about everything we released [this week], so hearing how people receive what we built and how they want to use it but also what they say they can do now but also in the future. So my priority is taking all that feedback, and what they are excited about, to build that for them."
If that sounds like a lot of feedback to work through, Fuller says: "I love it honestly, and I think you end up finding themes too."
When all is says and done though, "I like making developers happy and there are a lot of ways to do that", she says.
"It could be explaining something in a way they hadn't heard before," she says. "AWS has a huge range of services right, sometimes it is really amazing trying to solve a problem for them they were asking for.
"The other thing is being able to take the general knowledge and be able to solve the problems they didn't know they had yet... The second has the longest term payoff for me."
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