Yesterday via twitter, I was asked a very ironic question:
So tell me @tpryan how does one become an @Adobe evangelist?! I must know.
I figured I would give answering it a go. Keep in mind that I did this 5 years ago when Adobe was trying to do very different things. I don’t know that this would land you at Adobe anymore. I distinctly think it wouldn’t. See the job I originally landed was “Developer Evangelist.” I slowly morphed into being a broader design focused evangelist over the past 5 years as Adobe’s focus on developers waned and more and more people were focused on Creative Cloud. So this wouldn’t work at Adobe today but it could land you at a developer focused evangelism/advocate role at another company.
Discover the role
My first introduction to the idea of an evangelist was Ben Forta in his role as ColdFusion Evangelist. I remember at the time being wowed that there existed a job where you had to fool around with new technology, blog about it, and talk about it at conferences. That seemed like a dream job, and I figured it wasn’t a career that you could plan for. It wasn’t until later I discovered that Ben wasn’t in a one off situation. There were developer evangelists all over the place.
Network for the role
A good friend of mine whom I met working at The Wharton School, Ryan Stewart, also was very much into the idea of being an evangelist. He ended up in the role before me and confirmed for me that was in fact an awesome job and that I could would be a good fit. I also met the a couple people connected with the product I really wanted to evangelize, ColdFusion. I connected with Ben Forta, Adam Lehman, and a few of the product managers. I also participated in the pre releases for the product, and got myself involved with Adobe’s user group community. All of these things gave me good connections and good name recognition with the people who would hire for the evangelist position. That wasn’t necessarily the reason I was doing any of it at the time. I was doing it cause I loved playing with the latest and greatest tech, and the community was very rewarding, but in retrospect these things helped me a lot.
Prepare for the role
At some point I decided I wanted the role, and I constructed the outline of a 5 year plan for getting the job. I looked at the externals of what an evangelist did. They experimented with the technology, showed how you could integrate it into other technology, and then they blogged about it and spoke at conferences. So I played with tech, got it to do new things, and then blogged and spoke about them. The idea was to prove I could do the job, before I was actually doing the job. This combined with my networking led to bigger and better speaking gigs, which allowed me to network more, which became a positive feedback loop.
At this point I was a member of a pool of likely candidates for the role. I had applied once before. I knew everybody involved and had shown I could do the job. Then my friend Adam Lehman got hit by a car in London and was travel limited for a few months creating an opening for a replacement. And just like that my 5 year plan happened in 2. Luckily Adam recovered, and went on to do great things in product management. But it’s a terrible way to luck into a job.
For me it came down to being the right person and the right place at the right time. Some of that is preparation, and some of that is luck. You can control being the right person, in my case prepping for the role. You can have some control getting yourself in the right place, getting myself on the short list was partially in my control, by networking, but someone else made the call to keep me on that short list. And I had no control over Adam being hit by the car despite what some people may claim.
Some of these things would have to be updated for the current moment. Do you have to blog? Or is tweeting a combination of gist’s and github projects enough? Maybe, maybe not, but the main point here is that you have to explore tech and then share your findings. Are corporate sponsored users groups still as impactful? Or do you need to focus on meetups and regional conferences? Again the details aren’t as important as the fact that you are finding where peers and trend setters are, and engaging with them there.
So there you have it. Pretty much the way you get any other role. Figure out you want it, prepare your skill set for it, network with the people who do the hiring, and then
assassinate anyone in your way be ready to take the opportunity if it comes up.