I often get the question of what does a Technical Evangelist do? Is it Marketing? Sales? That question has come to me even more now that we have an open position on my team, so I thought I’d take a moment to explain here.
I’ll start with a big caveat. Evangelism can mean very different things depending on the company. And at a place as big as Microsoft, it can mean different things depending on what division you work for and whether you work “in the field” or at the corporate office in Redmond.
Even in our group at Microsoft, called Platform Evangelism, the activities and results for each evangelist can vary depending on their evangelism style and that of their manager. I suppose I could title this post as “What does a Technical Evangelist on Drew Robbins team do?” :), but I’ll write some of the general activities and expectations here.
1. Build Great Content
Lots of what we do starts with building great content. We work with technologies very early in the product cycle. As soon as they can be installed internally, we will begin testing the technology and thinking about what content we need to build. Being one of the first people to get your hands on technology is pretty exciting.
The content we build will be used to start initial conversations with early adopters. It will usually make its way into a training kit that is used for delivering events around the world. The training kits are also made available to the community for use in user groups, code camps and other community events.
Many of the technical evangelists contribute to the content that is on Channel9. Some evangelists will start a regular show on Channel9 where viewers can get an update on the technology they are focused on. Other evangelists contribute to broader shows like the popular This Week on Channel9.
- We all contributed to the Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4 Training Kit
- Jonathan Carter created the TailSpin Travel Demo
- James Senior drove many of the Web Application Toolkits
- Ron Jacobs on EndPoint.TV Show on Channel9
- Brian Keller on This Week on Channel9
2. Drive Depth Adoption
Another regular activity of technical evangelism is driving adoption with strategic customers who are willing to become early adopters of our products. This early adoption drives specific feedback to the product teams on how the product is being used and what issues customers are running into that need to be addressed before the product ships.
These customers often join Microsoft on stage at events like PDC, MIX and TechEd to talk about their use of the technology. They also show up in case studies and press releases and become examples for other customers that the technology can provide value to their business when the technology is released.
- Jonathan Carter was behind the Netflix OData catalog
- Brian Keller drove a Technology Adoption Program for pre-releases of Visual Studio 2010 with over 100 customers
3. Scale Through The Field
There is typically only one Technical Evangelist in our group focused on each technology at Microsoft. There is no way we can reach all the potential customers and markets in the world. An important part of being a Technical Evangelist is enabling the worldwide field by giving them great content and supporting them in depth adoption wins. We do this by working with the many evangelists that are in the field.
Part of enabling the field is helping the field understand the strategic value of the technology to Microsoft and the value that it will bring our customers. The field must evangelize a lot of technologies, so having focused and actionable content for them to deliver in events and customer engagements is critical to the success of the evangelism of a technology.
- James Senior organizes Web Camps with the field around the world
- Brian Keller is a top presenter at our internal technical conference for the field
4. Impact The Product
Technical Evangelists are often the voice of the customer for the product team, especially when the product is early in development. Through the early adoption activities, we give opportunities for customers to provide feedback and let the product team know where a product is not meeting their need. Many of the technical evangelists become virtual members of the product team, meeting with them regularly to contribute to planning and updates.
- Ron Jacobs created the first version of the WCF REST Starter Kit which helped defined features in .NET Framework 4.
- Jonathan Carter attends design meetings for product teams to provide feedback from his work with top websites adopting the Open Data Protocol.
- Brian Keller organizes weekly roundtables with key customers to review product plans for our ALM products.
5. Deliver Great Events
We also help with events that Platform Evangelism produces such as PDC, MIX and TechEd. We help organize the content that goes into the track and we often will build the demos that get shown in the keynotes. In fact, a lot of our work ends up getting delivered for the first time at these events before they spread into other activities.
In addition to the big events, we drive smaller events around the world that help raise awareness for our technologies and identify early adopters.
- Our team owns the Framework & Tools track at PDC and MIX and organizes the product teams presenting in that track.
- Jonathan Carter drove the Tailspin Travel demo that was in the PDC keynote last year. He also delivered a demo on OData for Doug Purdy’s keynote at MIX this year.
- We created the content for Jason Zander’s foundational session at TechEd US.
Growth and Opportunities
The Technical Evangelist is a challenging and fun role at Microsoft which requires a lot of experiences. It also requires a lot of self-awareness and willingness to stretch and grow in the role.
As a Technical Evangelist you’ll work on a lot of skills. You’ll improve on your technical competency as you’re challenged to understand and explain technology at the value prop level and also dive deep under the hood. You will learn to communicate effectively both internally and externally to Microsoft, to audiences of 10 and audiences of 10,000. You will also learn to influence – to bring people together around a common idea, strategy and game plan. Many of these skills translate into becoming a leader inside Microsoft as your influence and scope increase.
Although we love our jobs, Technical Evangelists don’t necessarily stay Technical Evangelists forever. We have evangelists who have stepped into senior Product Management and Program Management roles. Other Technical Evangelists have moved into Sales or Marketing and others have moved to other teams within Developer & Platform Evangelism that focus on specific verticals or industry scenarios.