Spider-shaped DevRel

19 Aug 2023 in Business

The “T-shaped people” theory states that people generally have a wide understanding of an area, or a deep one. It’s very rare that you find someone that is both wide and deep at the same time.

First team discord illustration
First team discord illustration

When it comes to Developer Relations, I’ve found that most companies expect us to be spider-shaped. Slightly less wide than a lot of professions, and slightly deeper than most others:

First team discord illustration


Working in DevRel, you need to fulfil multiple roles. You might build a demo, provide UX feedback, think about product integrations, manage a community, give presentations, build marketing messages, write blog posts and talk to customers. You’re not expected to be the world’s best engineer, or writer, or marketeer. You’re expected to know the most impactful 20% of each of those roles.

First team discord illustration


As an engineer, it’s likely that you need to know your language in depth. You need to know the ecosystem, how to write unit tests, the best way to deploy your code. You need to know which package to depend on, and which to avoid. You need to ship robust code.

As a developer advocate, you have to ship a demo that works. It usually doesn’t even have to work in 6 months time. You’re showing a capability today.


Working in marketing, you need to understand MQLs/SQLs, attribution, drip campaigns, marketing automation tools, copywriting, SEO and paid advertising.

As a developer advocate, you just need to know what messaging resonates with your target audience. There’s usually someone to help you get it out there.


Being a product manager is a lot more involved than “tell engineering what to build”. You have to watch market trends, deal with customer escalations, build requirements documents and figure out pricing and packaging for your product.

As a developer advocate, you have to provide product feedback and suggest integration opportunities with other parts of the ecosystem.

Be a spider

You know more than most people about a wide range of topics. You know less than most people about their specific topic. Being a great developer advocate is about maximising the impact you can have with that 20% knowledge.

Be a spider. Get involved in as many cross functional initiatives as you can and help get the ball rolling. You can connect the dots in a way that very few other people can. Then once things are going smoothly, get out and leave it to the professionals. There are always more projects that need a hand to get started.