A developer advocate is someone who promotes the interests of developers and works to make it easier for them to use software to achieve their goals. Developers in this role are “the voice of a community of developers who may have an idea of how to improve or change a product,” according to ZipRecruiter. “Their duties are to listen to the problems that developers have.” […] investigate possible ways to address these issues and bring it to the attention of the company that makes the product.”
To become a developer advocate, a person must have spent several years working in the application development and user experience fields, says ZipRecruiter. You also need to be able to understand the issues developers may face when trying to use a particular platform. Other attributes include strong communication skills and the ability to listen to people’s concerns and develop practical plans to address them.
To find out what it takes to become a developer advocate, I spoke with Hubert Nguyen, senior developer advocate at database software company MongoDB.
Early education and interests.
Nguyen attended HEIG Marnes La Vallee, a private school near Paris, France, where she studied computer science for two years with a specialization in databases. There is no personalized equivalent to a US degree, she says, but the US government considered the French degree she earned in 1995, along with four years of professional experience in France, to be equivalent to a bachelor of Science. in computing.
“I found out about this during my immigration process in the United States, when my immigration attorneys arranged for my diploma translation and evaluation,” says Nguyen.
As a child, Nguyen was interested in architecture, but upon seeing the first video game consoles, he wanted to become a game programmer. “I’ve always liked building things, and software engineering is a career where I do just that,” he says.
High school didn’t offer much in computer science at the time, and computers were still expensive, Nguyen says. “However, I was fascinated with the pixel graphics of arcade games and early consumer computers and consoles,” she says. “I’ve always had a knack for drawing on paper, and the possibilities of computer graphics seemed promising, if not limitless. It’s ironic given how primitive these graphics were.”
Passion for 3D graphics
While still studying at HEIG, Nguyen worked for game development and publishing company Cryo Interactive Entertainment as a research and development software engineer (R&D team).
“At the time, there was no formal ‘game coding’ curriculum and everyone was self-taught,” says Nguyen. “I was part of the small R&D team tasked with writing the company’s next-generation 3D engine. My area of focus was 3D rendering code, primarily in assembly language, a skill I had picked up from coding contests.”
In 1999, Nguyen joined computer hardware company 3DFX Interactive as a Senior Software Engineer. He spent a few months doing developer support work, then joined the Developer Technology Group to code 3D graphics applications and techniques to demonstrate the power of the 3DFX graphics processing unit (GPU).
“The PC graphics business was booming, but it was also extremely competitive, and one day before I was due to leave for a nice vacation in Europe, 3DFX announced that it would go under and all its intellectual property would be acquired by its arch-rival NVIDIA.” Nguyen says. “What a great start to my vacation.”
But while Nguyen was on vacation, NVIDIA offered him a position as a graphics engineer on their demo team. “This group is also destined to do the same type of research and development in next-generation 3D graphics rendering techniques,” he says.
Such techniques would inspire game developers to adopt new GPU 3D features in their next games, which would spur new GPU adoption, Nguyen says. “This was a great way to speed adoption of new hardware at a time when GPUs were [not] but capable of general computing,” he says.
The position at NVIDIA was essentially the same type of work he was doing on 3DFX, says Nguyen, but with better and faster 3D hardware. computer graphics educational material, such as the NVIDIA developer website, publications, and conferences.
Becoming a Developer Advocate
In August 2007, Nguyen left NVIDIA to start a new company, Ubergizmo, a consumer technology media company that he co-founded as a hobby. “The site quickly became popular, garnering mentions from the mainstream media and amassing a huge following,” she says.
With his experience, Nguyen could write about technology from a different perspective. At the same time, his programming skills allowed him and his team to profitably run the website with near-perfect Google Speed performance scores. In 2014, they created a database of products with complex data structures typically found on much larger websites. “That database was built using an impressive and promising developer data platform, MongoDB,” he says.
And this led to Nguyen’s current position as Senior Developer Advocate at MongoDB. “During the pandemic, I helped a few companies increase their online presence, and I really enjoyed helping other developers and entrepreneurs improve their immediate technical skills,” he says. “I wanted more. I tried to freelance and it was nice, but the jobs were repetitive because people tend to hire you based on something you’ve done before.”
Nguyen heard that MongoDB was looking for developer advocates, so he applied for a position that seemed like a perfect fit for his skills and interests. “As a paying MongoDB customer, he already knew important aspects of the product and was able to bring that organic customer perspective with me,” he says.
In his new role, “there’s so much more to learn because the MongoDB platform is so broad and deep,” he says. “I need to be able to help the widest possible spectrum of developers.”
Typical work day or week
“At a very high level, our job as developer advocates is to make other developers better and more productive,” says Nguyen. “On a daily basis, it could be implemented by writing technical articles, code samples, or applications in the MongoDB dev center.”
Nguyen could also present at a conference that includes the company’s MongoDB World. “Our team also runs a podcast, produces YouTube videos, [and] contribute to our developer forums and in-person developer community events,” he says. “These are the most visible aspects of developer advocacy. Internally, field engineers, sales, and marketing reuse demos and workshops from some developer advocates.”
A typical week involves working on a mix of these activities, based on the ever-changing needs and desires of developers. “At any given time, I have about five projects going that I juggle,” says Nguyen. “This is also a team activity, and it is common for several of us to work on a project.”
After the onboarding process into MongoDB, “our team has an internal training program to help new developers quickly understand the most critical aspects of MongoDB,” says Nguyen. “In my case, I joined with some experience in the MongoDB platform, but as a third-party developer I only had a limited set of knowledge needed to make my product work. As developer advocates, we need to have a much broader understanding of “data” in general. Developers have been using all kinds of legacy data systems, and we need to be as informed as possible to engage with their issues and show them how they can be more productive.”
Memorable career moments
In 2000, Nguyen was on stage at the 3DFX Immersion event during the Game Developer Conference. “It was my first professional talk and I presented [two demonstrations] to hundreds of developers, including my former Cryo colleagues sitting in the front row,” he says. “The audience gave me a standing ovation and that is something I will never forget.”
During the original launch of the iPad, Ubergizmo was at the event and introduced a “live blog” site with up-to-the-minute photo and text updates. “Consumer interest was so great that other tech sites were crashing one after another, so people flocked to Ubergizmo,” says Nguyen. “Our infrastructure was maintained and in that hour we had accumulated more than 6 million visits. Wonderful!”
“As a child, I was fascinated by animated films and anime, so the creativity of people like Walt Disney or the prolific Japanese manga author Tsukasa Hojo have been sources of inspiration for me,” says Nguyen. “At nine years old I could accurately draw the poster for Disney’s ‘The Rescuers.’ In my teens, I often drew characters from the ‘City Hunter’ manga.”
Nguyen says it was the introduction of 3D gaming that changed his life and career path. “The work of talented game developers like Yu Suzuki (SEGA) inspired me to be one of the first hobbyists to create 3D animated fighters in a coding contest,” he says. “See the programming geniuses [showed] how much a small team could handle in the mid 90’s and 2000’s. They inspired me to write my first 3D engine from scratch. From a business standpoint, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang is the most talented and visionary leader I’ve ever interacted with. It was amazing to see it operate and motivate thousands of people towards a clearly defined goal.”
The best professional advice
“My mom always told me ‘find a job you enjoy,’ and I certainly followed through,” says Nguyen. “The NVIDIA Demo Team taught me to be a team player as it was a colossal group effort where individual contributions are celebrated and credit given. No one was ever left behind. One of my employers emphasized being confident but humble. It’s okay to accept failure if you learn something from it. It is impossible to innovate without often failing along the way”.
“Listen to others and have empathy,” says Nguyen. “It is very important to listen and understand others to find out what others may be struggling with before helping them. You need good communication skills to educate and help developers improve their knowledge and skills. I love to learn. Be curious. You are at the forefront of a technology that moves fast and it takes a lot of work to keep up.”
Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.
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