Healthcare Software Systems

Episode 14

The Power of a Developer Advocate: Jen Looper with Telerik

Show Details

Hello Tech People.

Today I’m joined by Jen Looper. Jen is a Developer Advocate at Telerik. Telerik by Progress writes tools to make developers lives easier.

In our time together we speak about Jen’s background, what Telerik specializes in, what a Developer Advocate is, and what is the measure of success for a Developer Advocate?

We are honored and please to have Jen with us today.

Topics we discuss:

1. Jen’s background.
2. What is Telerik?
3. What is a Developer Advocate?
4. What is the measure of success for a Developer Advocate?

Related Links:

1. Telerik
2. Progress
3. NativeScript
4. JavaScript
5. Pokemon Go
6. Auth0
7. Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell, Holden and Butler
8. The Illusion of Life
9. AngularConnect
10. Paris Web
11. Connect.Tech
12. All Things Open
13. Jen’s Blog on Telerik
14. Ladeez First Media
15. Twitter @jenlooper

Show Transcript

Carlos:  Thank you for tuning to Tech People, where real-life tech practitioners share their professional experiences. Hello and welcome to another episode of Tech People. Today, we have Jen Looper from Telerik on the show. Jen is a developer advocate and she’s joining us to help us understand a little bit more about what a developer advocate does for an organization. So without further ado, please welcome Jen. So Jen, thank you so much for joining us. How are you doing today?

Jen:  Thank you. I’m doing great. Thanks for inviting me, it’s a real honor.

Carlos:  Oh, no, it’s my honor to have you. I’m really excited about the work that you are doing at Telerik, and basically all the work that Telerik is doing for the angular community overall. I think you’re going to add a lot of perspective to a lot of the people who may be wondering, what is Telerik, all the work they have … You’re probably known more for the product names that you guys have, but also, for your role overall, because your role seems to be kind of mystified still, it’s a new role in the last couple of years. Having a few people that are basically excelling at this role, such as yourself, is going to add a lot of perspective, for a better word. Anyways, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Jen:  Thanks. It’s really, really fun. We’ll have a nice chat.

Jen’s background.

Carlos:  Awesome. All right, so tell me a little bit about yourself and how did you get into tech?

Jen:  That’s a great question, because I have this kind of bizarre and esoteric background. Although, the more people I talk to, the more I realize that, especially people without computer science degrees, a lot of them have, actually, really esoteric backgrounds. Mine is actually, I was absolutely sure ever since I was 16 and went to France the first time, that I would become a professor of French. The plan was, get your degree, get your masters, get your PhD and then jump right into the academic job market and get a tenure track job. It’s a beautiful dream. It would’ve been nice if it would’ve happened that way.

What actually happened was, I did go through and I did get my PhD and then the bottom fell out of the academic job market. It was almost like they discovered adjuncting right when I got on the market. An adjunct professor is someone who is basically shifting from school to school with no benefits. Basically, I was paid 1500 bucks a semester to teach French every day, and that wasn’t really covering my childcare costs at that time, so I thought, “This is a little crazy.”

Carlos:  It’s a little apparent … Would you take adult students to learn French? Hint.

Jen:  I’d have to brush up, but I could possibly, yes. Actually, a cheap way to do it is to hop on Skype and find a French speaker to talk to.

Carlos:  There you go.

Jen:  Yeah.

Carlos:  All right, sorry, I interrupted you. I just had to catch on because it’s really interesting. From that jump from, again, wanting to follow that dream of becoming a professor, what made you think … Of course, we’re going to get to how you even got to Telerik. How did tech become an option?

Jen:  Yeah. Right at that time, when I finished my degree, which was in about, let’s see, 98, I finished my PhD in 98 at Cal-Berkeley. That was the tail end of the dot com boom. I had had friends drop out of grad school and go straight to Yahoo! Scandinavia, for example. My friend from the Scandinavian program at Cal-Berkeley, he jumped feet first into tech because it was a huge thing in San Francisco at the time, certainly it still is. I just caught the tail end of it in Boston and jumped into a small startup called Closing Counsel dot com. I thought, “Maybe I can do graphic design.” I’m pretty good at drawing things, get some software, Photoshop, learn Illustrator, learn Fire Works, learn Photoshop, and maybe I can become a graphic designer. That’s kind of artsy, a humanities kind of thing.

It turns out I’m not that great at graphic design, actually. I started getting more and more into the code aspect of it. That startup shut down and so did most of the dot coms, so I jumped into a nonprofit at that point. That’s where I learned, actually Cold Fusion. My introduction into tech and into actual programming was Cold Fusion. I’m sure some people are, the hairs on their arms is raising up talking about Cold Fusion. It paid the bills for a lot of years for me. All the love to Adobe and their software.

It was just working my way up for 14, 15 years from, let’s see, from startup, to nonprofit, to medium sized company, to big corporate, Sun Life Financial, as a programmer analyst there. Then, a smaller company, tiny company, and then Telerik. It’s been 5 or 6 jobs. It’s been quite a wild ride and a really interesting one. I learned a lot about myself in the process and this field, in the process. It’s been really interesting and fun.

Carlos:  It’s interesting. Somebody who didn’t have a computer science background, basically started … The reason I say it like that is because people need to know out there, that you can become an engineer, you can come into the tech world without having that CS degree.

Jen:  Oh, yeah. It’s a big question now, “Do you have to?” Maybe times have changed now. Maybe things are a little less flexible and people are expecting more? In which case, my niece got out of creative writing, she majored in creative writing, and went to a boot camp and now she’s doing data science. Maybe that’s the path that people would take in modern times.

Carlos:  It certainly is an option. In fact, I’m going to tell you a story just because we’re touching on the subject. Last year, I want to say in October, I had to run an errand very early in the morning and I just called an Uber, it was maybe 4 in the morning, 5 in the morning. I didn’t want to drive and I didn’t want my wife to drive either, so anyways, I just took an Uber. As I started talking to the guy, he starts asking me a little bit about what I do. We started having a conversation over it all. He’s talking to me about what he’s doing in his life, just a little bit of that catharsis.

He says, “Well, I am studying to take my real estate license test.” Which, okay, that’s pretty cool. I asked him, “Do you like that? Is that something you have a background with?” No, he says, “I have a background in computers, I used to do a little bit of networking here, or also, fix computers and so forth. I can’t find anything in that area and they’re not paying well.” Et cetera. My recommendation was, “Well, there’s this place called, it’s this local boot camp essentially, called Iron Hack and I’m friends with the owner. Why don’t you go there?” This is an unknown guy, somebody I just met at 4 in the morning.

It was an off-the-cuff type of recommendation. Maybe 2 and half months later I’m having lunch with the owner of the boot camp and he’s like, “Come on over to the office.” We were out having lunch somewhere outside and he’s like, “Come into the office, I want to show you our new space. I have a surprise for you.” As I go in there, we’re talking, and then he’s like, “Here’s the surprise.” This kid comes out and it turns out he enrolled in the program and he became an engineer. Now he’s working, I think he’s working at AT&T or something like that, local here in Miami.

I think boot camps are not for everybody, you can’t just expect the boot camp to train you into an engineer, a deep, time will do that. The time, and training, and experience. It will definitely give you enough basics for you to start working, for you to become functional, even if you’re doing very early type of stage work, and very junior work. That’s how you work your way up. Anyways, back to you.

Jen:  Never be afraid to, if you have to step down to become junior, and you have to retrain, just put your pride in your pocket because you’re just going to have to do that for a little while. It’ll get better. You’ll mature and you’ll learn. As long as you’re willing to learn, that’s really the secret of life, I think, keep learning.

Carlos:  It is. Sometimes, also, it’s more than just the secret, it’s also part of the enjoyment of life. What is life without, at least to me, life without learning and wanting to … I’m always reading something or trying to expand my, just become a better person overall.

Jen:  Evolve. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carlos:  Right, you’re just a Kardashian. Kidding.  I need to be politically correct.  All right, so tell me a little bit, Telerik, we know you’re a developer advocate, but what does that mean? How do you translate it, in generic terms? Then we’ll specify what it means to be a developer advocate at Telerik. What is a developer advocate in general terms?

What is Telerik? 

Jen:  Sure. Probably, I should backup and say a couple of things. One is that Telerik was actually acquired by Progress Software so I’m technically an employee of Progress. Telerik is a very well known brand name, so we can use them interchangeably, that’s totally fine. Telerik is famous for developing, what I like to just say is, that we are famous for developing tools that help make developer’s lives easier. Instead of having to write your own grid with all of the interesting little tweaks, and sorting, and filtering, and date parsing capabilities, we have such a thing for you, ready to use within your app. You can use that depending on what flavor of web technology you choose.

We have large and extended product lines that will help developers get where they need to go, faster. That’s what we’re trying to do. Our product, NativeScript, which is our newest product, it really is all about making cross platform mobile apps as performant, and as easy to build as possible.

What is a Developer Advocate?

My job, as a develop advocate, is to explain, I’m like how Lucy has to explain things, I’m always explaining myself. We explain our technologies to developers in ways that will help them understand whether or not they would be helped by our products or not.

If not, that’s totally cool. If so, I can help integrate them, or help with finding quirks, get feedback, send the feedback back to engineering. A developer advocate is a liaison between the product marketing people, the engineering folks …

Carlos:  When you say developers, are you talking about, let’s say me, somebody outside of Telerik? You’re talking about the, in your case, your customers, right?

Jen:  Yeah, yeah. The larger development community. They might be working at, for example, at Sun Life, and they might need to create a website that has beautiful charting and beautiful grids, in which case they might turn to Kendo UI. I can help them make the decisions that will help them the most. You know how we’re not supposed to be always closing? We’re always supposed to be helping. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Carlos:  Understood. It’s interesting, there’s a lot of a marketing support role, if you would, from a developer point of view.

Jen:        Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carlos:  It’s also in the sales, I say say sales in a very general term. It’s a little bit of that support. Does it impact, or does it interface, to be an advocate for internal engineers or internal engineers, or is it more, you know how you have a product consumer advocate? Is it more of that role, consumer advocate versus … When I hear developer advocacy I’m thinking of the engineers of a company.

Jen:  Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely talking to the engineers within a company. Of course it’s also sending those people’s feedback to our internal engineers, so it’s like a whole dialog between engineers that we’re facilitating. I guess you have to remember that developers are highly suspicious people and they don’t like to have marketing pushed at their face, and they don’t love to watch ads, they all have ad blockers anyways. They’re just a very savvy and suspicious group of people and they really don’t want to be sold a bill of goods and they don’t want to be marketed to.

A developer advocate is a person who can provide some authenticity around this discussion, what products might help them. Understanding that we have to, we try to avoid the word shill, we try to explain various solutions that might work better. While understanding, yeah we have to pay the bills and maybe or maybe not our solution might be the one that will help you the most.

Carlos:  Got you. What is your favorite thing about your role? I’m using Telerik as the name, but also Progress. What’s your favorite thing about working there?

Jen:  Yeah. Actually, I’ve always said this is … I worked as a programmer for 15 years. This is really my favorite job. I was recruited into it by a friend, I had never even really considered doing it, but I was a little bit burned out as a programmer. This has really been a couple of years of fresh air for me because I get to get out, go to conferences, meet people, talk to people. I get to travel, and I get to write, and I get to build demos, and I don’t have to be opening and closing tickets 24, 7. It’s a very freedom, a little bit of freedom for me that I really appreciate. It’s really, really nice.

Carlos:  That’s very cool. Do you think your background, and that, let’s call it, a little bit of more general knowledge that you have of the world than say somebody who only studied computer science, who’s just, again, opening and closing tickets. I don’t mean to diminish them in a way but computer scientists, that is your role.

Jen:  That’s a big role.

Carlos:  That’s what they love, right?

Jen:  Fix the things that are busted. That’s, of course, a wonderful and valuable role for sure.

Carlos:  Do you think that your experience in, let’s say, what you went to school for, has it helped? Has it been somewhat strengthening of your profile for your role?

Jen:  Yeah. I think a couple of things come to mind. One is that I’ve always said that syntax is syntax and whether it’s JavaScript of thirteenth century French, which was my specialty, if you are willing to learn a language, then this a plus in computer science. It’s just another language and we can do it. The other thing is that I have a lot of classroom teaching experience so that might help a little bit in getting a nice slide deck together and expressing ideas, and writing a syllabus, or putting a webinar together. I think that has helped a little bit too. Then, just getting up in front of a crowd of somewhat hostile people and speaking, or people with some hostility and trying to get them excited about something that might be useful to them.

Carlos:  Every time I get up on stage, their little Apple logo is my enemy because …

Jen:  Close that thing and sit up and listen.

Carlos:  Yeah. When you see a little Apple logo light up you’re like, “I’m done.” Once you start seeing them shut down you’re like, the more you start seeing it, they’re not paying attention to you. It’s interesting how that humanities training, being able to give a speech, to teach, teaching is a skill, it’s a skill. You can’t just become a teacher over-night. Me knowing how to do something doesn’t mean I know how to teach that thing.

Jen:  Yeah. I think the most effective developers that I know, actually, who are working in this kind of evangelistic role, they don’t actually have computer science degrees. I have people on my team, let’s see, we’ve got a communications major, history, French, I think Todd Motto has an art background. Also some of NativeScript develop experts, we have a musician, he’s quite good actually, all kinds of people with all kinds of interesting, really different backgrounds. A lot of self-taught folks out there who are really, really skilled.

What is the measure of success for a developer advocate?

Carlos:  One thing of interest to me is how do you know whether you’re doing a good job? What’s the measure of success of someone in your role?

Jen:  That is a very, very difficult and fraught question because this is a lot of time, when a company will be a little crunched for budget, they’ll look at that dev role team and they’re like, “What are you guys doing?” It’s hard to measure. What we do is that we actually count, what we call, wins. A win might be, for example, I run the Telerik develop expert program so I’m counting my wins, piggybacking on their wins because when one of my people writes a blog post talking about our products, then that’s extended the reach of dev role. If someone’s done a webinar, or if we complete a nice webinar and we have a whole of bunch of people watching it, that’s a win.

Every month we make a list of all of our wins and pass it up the chain. Hopefully, they’ll agree that they are valuable and useful. It’s a little hard to quantify because you can’t put real goals against it. You can a little bit, but not too much. You can’t really put a monetary value, a lot of times, because even if we have a lead come through, we’re going to pass it straight to sales engineering and they’re going to make the deal.

Carlos:  Right. A true leader will recognize activities and how certain activities yield certain results. You are creating those activities. Maybe let’s say, for example, and I would hope that this podcast is a win for you because …

Jen:  It is, actually, it goes on my list.

Carlos:  There you go. We’re expecting this to go out to 32,000 people listening to this show. Hopefully it’s a win, hopefully. Again, it’s interesting because, for example, and I’m just going to translate what you’re saying into how I’m experiencing it as we speak. We, in my company, in fact, I am actually, I’m guessing that I’m the developer advocate at this stage. For example, I’m working with some of the folks from our engineering team to give us 2 articles per month each, so that it’s somewhat of the same thing, we need to create content for our authority and all of this stuff, the reasons that you write articles. At the same time, they need to be genuine. They can’t have a marketing goal only. It has to have a real goal of teaching somebody how to get from point A to point B.

Even though I’m an engineer and I can write those articles, I don’t have the bandwidth. I need help from other folks in our company to help us do that. Is that some of, am I doing a little bit of an engineer developer advocacy by …

Jen:  Yeah, absolutely. By doing anything that’s customer facing and something that might be … Even if your customer is your larger company. Absolutely. You’re totally being an advocate. Actually, the most beautiful piece of develop advocacy I saw recently was done by the Auth0 people, I don’t know if it’s Auth O or Auth Zero. They have this platform for managing the security and the sign-ins of your app. Right when Pokemon Go came out with the security flaw, they were gathering a whole bunch more data than they needed to apparently, someone on their dev role team wrote this beautiful article saying, “Here are the problems, here’s what you need to do, here’s what to watch out for. By the way we have a solution.” It was at the bottom, it’s like, “Check out Auth0 for a great way to manage your own app security.”

It was just really nicely done, I thought. It doesn’t have to be shilling all of the time. You can explain, in a very concrete fashion, in a very timely fashion, how something that you are building helps solve a problem.

Carlos:  Right. That’s interesting. How many million people are playing that game now and are probably search for that thing? It was right at the opportune moment …

Jen:  It was beautiful.

Carlos:  Wow. By the way, just as a parenthesis, that Pokemon Go thing caught me by surprise. I found out maybe a day later and I still haven’t played it. I don’t think I will play it. What are your thoughts on that?

Jen:  Yeah. We recently had a Slack chat actually, trying to put some parameters around it. My take is that, I think it’s an amazing convergence of brand nostalgia and tech, with that augmented reality aspect of it. I would love to see other apps use this kind of new combo. Our conversation on Slack was with some of my develop experts, was try to figure out maybe a fitness app could leverage a Pokemon gym. You’re walking to a Pokemon gym and you’re doing an activity, and maybe we could incentivize people to actually do push-ups. This kind of thing. To build on this momentum, like, “What could we do?” It’s very interesting.

Carlos:  As basic as maybe running from point A to point B with …

Jen:  Yeah, speed.

Carlos:  Yeah, measuring that. Oh, I just had an idea, you remember how we used to play Go Kart, Mario Kart? Can you imagine a version of Mario Kart where you’re running and you’re collecting points as you go? You need to go, over there there’s a big coin, I’m going to run through the coin so that I can get the coin.

Jen:  You’ve got to catch them all.

Conclusion

Carlos:  You’ve got to catch them all. Interesting idea. All right, I have now, 3 questions, that are more, again, towards yourself. What advice would you give your younger, less experienced self? Let’s say, 10 years ago, you’re still on this road of figuring out what to do. Now that, looking back, what would you tell yourself?

Jen:  Yeah. I had this weird career shifting thing, but let’s assume that I’ve already made the shift and gone into tech, what would I tell myself? Probably, to jump on the JavaScript bandwagon earlier than I did. I probably stayed on Cold Fusion a little bit too long because that was the comfort zone. We did Flex for a little while, there’s just a lot of the Adobe stack. I think, now, the JavaScript world is just so exciting and if I would have jumped on it a bit earlier, and learned it more deeply a longer time ago, I think I would be in a slightly more advantageous position, just for my own knowledge. That’s probably my 2020 vision looking backwards.

Carlos:  It’s an interesting answer because maybe 10 years ago people were thinking, around 2006, “JavaScript is dead. Oh, Rails is where it’s at.”

Jen:  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Carlos:  By the way, we turned into a JavaScript shop from being a Rails only type of shop. We understand exactly what that means. At the same time, let’s say right now, somebody told you, “Hey, do more Cold Fusion because in a couple of years it’s coming back.”

Jen:  Right, right.

Carlos:  It’s weird. It’s interesting, a lot of people I talk to also say that they were caught by surprise by the sheer strength of what JavaScript has …

Jen:  Yeah. This idea of having JavaScript from front to back, and then also Mongo, these new databases, that whole stack has changed. It’s really hard to have foreseen this kind of thing. Hey, this is job security and it’s all good fun in the meantime. The thing I did right, which I’m happy I did, which was, early on take a course in database design. It was one of these little online courses and I’m really glad I did that because I always think that’s a really solid skill to have, to know how to manage a database. It’s basically the brains of your company, you need to understand how all these things work. By the way, if you’re getting into programming, it’s not the dumbest idea I ever heard to become a DBA, that’s a solid job right there.

Carlos:  That’s solid advice right there. What’s a book or resource you’d recommend on some of these subject we discussed today?

Jen:  Yeah. The book that I had in mind, actually, that’s on my table right now is this book by Lidwell, Holden and Butler, on the universal principles of design. It’s on Amazon and it’s one of these old classics and you can just flip through it once in a while and become a little inspired on some of the standard ideas behind creating something that’s well designed. It doesn’t have to visual design, it can be also the way you might design your software, the way you might lay out a room, or the way you might put away your silverware. It’s just something, it’ll refresh your mind a little bit just to flip through once in a while.

Carlos:  Can you say the name again just so it sticks?

Jen:  Yep. Universal Principles of Design, it’s a blue and white book. It has a picture of a violin, and a shawl, and Michelangelo’s man on the front. It’s by Lidwell, Holden, and Butler.

Carlos:  Perfect. William Lidwell, Christina Holden, and Jill Butler. Perfect. We’ll have that on the show notes also. That’s the first time I’ve heard of this book by the way.

Jen:  It’s an old classic.

Carlos:  The thing is, I love books. It’s one of the things that I won’t save money on. If I want a book … There’s some books that are, let’s say this book right now, is hardcover, I can only see the used on Amazon for $8. Come on, buy it. If all of a sudden you saw it for 200 bucks, no, too much. Some older books, that’ll happen. Don’t try to skim on books, it’s the thing that will improve your life 10 fold.

Jen:  The one I’m looking for is actually the original animation book. I do not remember the name. I think it’s called The Art of Movement or something. It’s by the original Disney animators from the 40s I think, and it’s out of print. If I could get me a copy of that …

Carlos:  Interesting. Hey, by the way, now just to add to this, I found an updated version of the Universal Principles of Design.

Jen:  Interesting. I have the older one. The Disney one is called The Illusion of Life.

Carlos:  The Illusion of Life. All right, that sounds like an interesting one.

Jen:  This is a hardcover for … You know what, I think I might grab this. I have a weakness for animation, I think it’s really interesting, especially for game design, and also UI animation and how things move around. This is a classic.

Carlos:  There we go. People are listening to us geek out on books, I love it. Well, Jen, this has been an amazing interview. Thank you so much for taking the time, you’ve given us a good understanding of what it is that a developer advocate does and how we can benefit from doing some developer advocacy, even if we don’t have that full-time role, if we can’t afford it. We do understand that it is a role to be fulfilled whether it’s by somebody in the company, or whether it’s by a full-time developer advocate.

Jen:  Definitely.

Carlos:  It’s really interesting to hear your background.

Jen:  Oh, thank you. Yeah, talking to other people at conferences, one of the gentleman I talked to said he’s basically doing advocacy because his employer basically let him out of his desk, and let him come to conferences, and let him write papers. I just thought that was brilliant because, yeah, you can certainly enable your developers to become their own advocates. It will make everyone happier, I guarantee it.

Carlos:  Well, Jen, thank you so, so much. Now, actually, before I … The most important question, I was already saying bye. How can people find you and find your work?

Jen:  Oh, sure. You can follow me on Twitter, I’m at Jen Looper on Twitter, that’s L-O-O-P-E-R. Then, I have a website, which is Ladeez First Media dot com, that’s L-A-D-E-E-Z First Media dot come. I’ve got a lot of my mobile apps, I have a big portfolio of mobile apps that I’m working on consolidating right now, but I also blog occasionally. You can always find me in a conference, giving a talk, or I might be writing blogs for Telerik as well.

Carlos:  Do you have any upcoming conferences, let’s say, in the next 6 months, we need to be looking out for, where we might find you at?

Jen:  Yeah. Let’s see, I’ll be at AngularConnect in London, Paris Web, TechConnect, All Things Open. Those are the 4 that are in my mind right now. All Things Open is in Raleigh … TechConnect, Connect.Tech, sorry, is in Atlanta. Those are in October. Then, AngularConnect is in late September and Paris Web is in early October. A lot of travel coming up.

Carlos:  I’m jealous. I actually might see you at AngularConnect.

Jen:  Oh, cool.

Carlos:  Also, in Paris. I think we’re going. I know we are sponsoring AngularConnect.

Jen:  Oh, awesome.

Carlos:  The things, there’s 2 in Paris and I forget.

Jen:  Yeah. There’s ng-Europe coming up in Paris.

Carlos:  ng-Europe, right? That’s the one, that’s probably the one.

Jen:  Yeah, yeah.

Carlos:  If anything, I hope to see you at least in London.

Jen:  All right, that sounds awesome. Thank you so much.

Carlos:  Thank you so much Jen. Looking forward to see you soon.

Jen:  Okay, awesome. Thanks a lot.

Carlos:  Thank you so much. Have a good one.