Published on
November 6th, 2023

This post is my first Sonnet Summary that's not a summary of a pre-existing work.

I often get asked how my experiences as a theatre major and comedic improviser influence the work I've done in tech and DevRel. The short and simple answer is:

Developer advocates need to stay close to the developers they're advocating for.

They need to do the real work of those developers. Not just show that the work could be done.

In sonnet form:

The lowest form of DevRel is telling.
Ya gotta start somewhere, so tell me what
Your product does. Please refrain from yelling.
Too many get stuck in the telling rut.
One step better than telling is showing.
Show me a version of myself using  
Your stuff and I’ll follow where you’re going.  
Then I’ll remember next time I’m choosing. 
Above showing, with lower effort: be.
Be your buyer. Verisimilitude
Flows when you fully embody and free  
The forces that form your folks’ fortitude.  
When you can be, show, and tell, you will do  
The right DevRel actions with the right view.

To expand on the sonnet, I often think back a moment in a Chicago improv class when I was a year or so out of college. In that bar / theater I heard my teacher yell at a student: "Stop telling me that you're mad and show me that you're mad."

It's a common problem. Improvisers are simultaneously the actors, writers, and directors of the theatrical production that they're spontaneously generating. Given how mentally taxing that is for new improvisers, they will sometimes just tell the audience "I'm so mad."

That's boring. They're not mad and the audience doesn't believe them.

This dynamic comes to mind for me in my work world because marketing efforts, and Developer Relations in particular, is not effective when it is just telling. Show what a product does. Show the value. Don't just tell people something is great and expect them to believe it.

I want to aim higher than showing though. When that teacher yelled at that student to show instead of tell I could feel my college acting teacher's disapproving judgment. Showing might be an acceptable aspiration in a dingy improv theater but it was far below acceptable for serious actors.

In my college acting classes, the professor would commonly critique a performance by saying that the actor was showing. An actor shouldn't focus on showing the audience that they're mad. They should be mad and trust that the audience will see it.

Even better, do something the way a person who is mad would do it.

  • Open a jar
  • Comb your hair
  • Breathe

A person who is mad will do those actions very differently from a person who is happy. Doing any sort of action is an chance for the audience to see that you're mad, or happy, or really you should be picking something far more specific than "mad" or "happy." (Actually, if you're really focused on the character's objective the label on the emotion might be irrelevant)

I see the same progression available for Marketing, DevRel, and DevRel adjacent work. The conventional wisdom of "Show, Don't Tell" comes up short. To be effective in persuading a developer audience we gotta aim higher.

Sure, a typical demo is primarily an exercise in showing. But it's gonna be far more effective if it is produced by a person who is regularly doing the work.

An audience in a theater can sense when an actor in a theater is going through the motions and just showing what they're character is feeling. The audience checks out and doesn't buy the stakes of the situation. To keep audience engagement, you need more than showing. You need doing. You need stakes.

That's why even though I've been out of the full time web development role for the last eight years, I'm always looking for ways to stay connected to that real work. Yes, I can show how web development works. But to stay effective, I need to keep doing web development.

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