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There are many aspects that contribute to being successful in Developer Advocacy. Branding is probably one of the most important elements of a successful advocacy career. During my years as an Advocate, there are some collected wisdoms I’ve learned which I’d like to share:

Believe in what you do

This may seem quite obvious, but if you don’t believe in the product that you’re advocating for, it’s going to be very difficult for you to project any confidence to people when you’re talking about it. Not only will it be hard, but it negatively damages your own brand. People can sense your sincerity.

Practice what you preach

Every single person that I’ve interviewed, and I’ve asked why they want to join advocacy, tell me that it’s because they’ve been doing “advocacy on the side” and have so much knowledge they want to write and speak about it. They say they love the idea of being able to do it full time. Forgetting for a moment that advocacy isn’t just about content (in any form), one of the greatest challenges in Advocacy is continuing to have that input stream of “stuff” to talk about. See, when you’re a full time developer or consultant, you’re constantly faced with interesting challenges that sprout new ideas in your head. When you’re a full time advocate, this no longer happens. Once the well of ideas you brought with you dries up, what’s next?

That’s when you risk becoming a pundit, and consequently damaging your brand. This is why it’s critical that you continue to do “stuff”, not just talk about it. Whether it’s internal projects, whether it’s working on OSS, or helping customers with issues, having hands-on experience is key to keeping your brand credible.

Work on your brand internally

As an advocate, our primary goals (at least at JetBrains) are to educate folks and provide feedback to product teams to improve our products. As important as it is to work on your brand externally, it’s also important to do so internally. Make sure that your colleagues understand the work you’re doing, communicate with them, bring them digests of what you say in the community, help them improve the product by showcasing workflows or things they may not be aware of. Build your reputation just as you would with the community.

Have integrity

If you think a competitor’s product is better than yours, say it. Don’t deny it. If you feel something in your product isn’t right, accept it. Take the feedback and help improve it.

If your company is doing something you don’t agree with and feel it’s wrong, don’t look the other way when someone asks you about it. I realise that it’s not always easy to speak your mind, but at the end of the day, we all have to make our choices as to where we draw the line of what is or is not defensible.

Be yourself

Avoid having multiple personas. Don’t play one character online and be someone completely different offline. It speaks volumes to your character, your integrity, and of course your brand. Trust me, word gets around.

Stay humble

No matter how successful you are, and how well you work on your brand, stay humble. Don’t forget your beginnings. Don’t ignore people because your time is too valuable. Treat every person with respect, and not by how far they may take you.

As sad as it is, I’ve seen folks grow their brand in the community only to become unapproachable. Don’t forget, no matter how famous you may be, you’re still a nano-celebrity.

Everyone starts from nothing

It seems that in the IT world, advocates are in high demand, judging by not only the job offers but some salaries that go with it. Every other company seems to be competing for the “big names”.

That leaves you wondering - how can I get into this field if I don’t have an established name? First off, not all companies just go for names. Secondly, it’s not that hard to make a name for yourself (trust me, to more or less extent I’ve done it so everything is possible). Find something you love and work on that - whether it’s speaking, doing screencasts, doing a podcast, writing, helping people in the community. It doesn’t matter if you’re not even an expert on the topic. I’ve seen so many folks start from nothing, learn in the open, and build their brand in this way. Inspiring people isn’t always easy, but you don’t have to be an expert to do it.

Lastly, it’s important to understand that whether we like it or not, our brand and our company’s brand are intertwined. Especially when it comes to negativity. If we do something that damages our brand, ultimately it can hurt our company’s brand also, and vice-versa. No disclaimer that says “opinions are my own” will fix that.