Technical Evangelists: Forces of Nature or Products of Nurturing?

I’ve been having a fun on again, off again background discussion with a few super experienced Technical Evangelists (TE) about whether it’s possible to train someone to become a successful TE, or are they really born with the skills in the first place?  Truth be told, I think we all agree it’s a little of both, but, there’s not a simple “it’s nature” or “nurture” answer.

When I think back over my own experience, each Evangelism or Ecosystem org I’ve been in has required a different mix of skills based on the type and release stage of the product, maturity of the ecosystem and whether the team itself is new or existing.   Because of this, it’s hard to describe an exact profile of the TE you need to hire and what to look for in the wild, or even what skills to help them polish up.  I also realize, this is probably a multi-part post, today I’ll describe a general background profile that I commonly see in my most successful evangelists.

  • Development skills – this is a given, all my TE’s are first and foremost experienced developers, maybe not just of mobile apps or services, but are highly technical.
  • Connectors – ala Gladwell’s Tipping Point book, they participate in people oriented things, meetups, groups etc.  Usually they lead one or more of these group activities and are known in their locale for doing so.
  • Entrepreneurs – my most successful TE’s have either been a founder of or have run a startup, which makes them well suited to talk to other startup devs or startup wannabes.
  • Social media – they constantly use these tools for info sharing and ideas are the principal currency of exchange in their  interactions via social media.

You probably noticed I don’t look for individual skills like “public speaking”, “great PowerPoint” ability or “sales” skills, these are skills that can be polished.  Sure, the candidate needs to be able to do stand up talks, but, if they are “connectors” they’re already doing this, albeit maybe to smaller crowds than my team typically addresses.

So back to my conjecture, are they born this way or is this learned?  I think from the profile it’s clear that it is both, learned skills and experience and a predisposition to work well with others.

When you’re looking at the resumes in front of you, have a framework in mind to quickly assess whether this person is a great developer, a great networker and a business builder.   If you check off all three, my guess is you’ve found a great candidate for your next TE.

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