This blog is not meant to judge anyone, nor to make anyone feel guilty in any way. Apologies if it comes out the wrong way.
What I mean to share here is a personal journey we've embarked on as a family a couple years back. I do realise how privileged we are to be able to have such a position. Oh and by the way I'm always looking for ways to do better, so please do voice your opinion if you have good ideas.
It's quite clear by now that we humans have a strong impact on the Earth's climate. And it's also quite clear things aren't changing as fast as they need to to make a meaningful difference globally.
As a new Developer Advocate (I've only been in the field for two years officially), my impact on the world around me is something I keep in the back of my head pretty much every day. I want to go with you through some of these thoughts today.
Advocating through individual actions?
As an individual, there are a few directions you can go to reduce your impact on climate:
- Individual actions : That's the easiest thing to do, but also what has the least amount of impact. Reducing your footprint might feel good, but it doesn't really help in the grand scheme of things.
- Group actions : Voting, supporting political groups, protesting, boycotting, ... Basically helping change the system any way you can as a part of society.
Thing is, part of my job as a Developer Advocate is to be public. Of course, I'm not a Kylian Mbappé, or a Rihanna, ... I'm pretty much a nobody. But I still have a voice in certain niches. Through my job I am spending some of my time in online communities. I like to believe that my individual actions (and those of my family) can ripple to others because I have a few means of promoting them around me.
In this blog, I will focus on the individual actions that I do to reduce my impact on the climate. I'll also limit myself to the ones that have a relationship with my job as Developer Advocate. I won't go into investing or producing food for example. I have enough other blogs on these topics 😊.
Traveling, conferences and the airport's life
Most of the Developer Advocates I meet are public folks. They travel A LOT. If you want to maximize your presence as a Developer Advocate, you want to participate in as many events as possible; which typically means flying. The funny thing is, often the public figures are the same from one conference to the next; meaning that as a speaker 60% of the folks you meet are the same in Germany as they were in UK the week before.
I can't help but think how destructive we are as a group living this completely unsustainable way of living. "it's part of the job". When I see " ATL ✈️ CDG ✈️ TYO✈️ WLG ✈️ AMS ✈️ ATL" on my favourite social media, the first thing I think is that this flight path alone would place me in the top 1% of flyers worldwide.
I've managed to not board a plane since 2019. Not for holidays, not for work. If I go to a conference, I'll take the train to go there. If I can't, well then I'll either send someone who lives closer, or simply not go. And it's not even a sacrifice, actually. I love the train. I can work in it, read books, no security gates to go through, or rough passport control, not dumb dumb 2 hours before rule, no shoes removal involved. The only thing I may miss is the mini bar, but that's a me thing 🍾.
I'm not saying I'll never fly. That'd be hypocritical. For example I dream of visiting Korea. But I want to reduce it as much as I can, for as long as I can because it's by far the easiest way to cut my emissions. Flying accounted for 40% of my yearly footprint until 2019. And I wasn't a Developer Advocate yet back then. This is something I made clear when joining my current employer, and they agreed. If we have to go to many conferences overseas, we'll hire a developer advocate over there to do the work.
And to be fair, it's not like our company suffers from this. Instead of travelling, we're releasing more samples, more content, more experiments, and I sincerely think we're simply serving our customers better. Most of them don't go to conferences. They want stuff that works well, with a good developer experience, that is well documented, and feel welcome with the product. Heck, it's even more inclusive in a way : Not everyone can afford to take days off and travel to go and see you. Online content is available for everyone to see, and it's more scalable by definition. Of course, this is personal experience and your mileage may vary.
One of the things that infuriates me though, is that even to this day flying is the cheapest option anywhere. Taking the train from Amsterdam to Barcelona takes me 2 days and costs 400 euros, while flying there is 30 euros and only 2 hours. Our governments have to do better...
One last thing : Until about 100 years ago, we've never been used to travel that much. People would do one trip to Italy in their life, and be amazed. Travelling has become a complete commodity. But we've also never been as connected as today! Phones, internet, apps, MOOCs, videos, ... There are so many ways to stay in contact with each other. There has to be better options than flying somewhere to do my advocacy!
The picture is not all dark though, I've seen several people doing so much better than me, like Liz Rice biking to go to a conference in April 🤯. There are many other folks as well taking the train to travel.
About conference planning
Conference planning is a hard problem. Most people go to only a few conferences a year. And they're going to the most appealing ones. If you can get huge names to come to your conference, it's typically a nice way to ensure your tickets are sold. I hear that problem very much, especially post COVID where many conference organisers have piled up huge costs due to unexpected cancellations.
At the same time, I have seen some things at conferences that sometimes disturbed me. Without having to be political, conferences are definitely a place where organisers can send a strong message. The huge majority of the talks I have given that were climate related either happened in the very first slot of the morning before most people wake up, or in the last slot while most of the attendees were already enjoying some beer.
In one instance, I gave a climate related talk at 8h in the morning. That talk was followed by 3 cryptos talks. In another case, I've seen someone give a "reduce your CO2 emissions in the cloud" talk. That person flew all the way from South America to Europe to give a talk to 40 people. As much as I appreciated the chat, I found it hard to believe that one of the main cloud companies in the world didn't have someone in Europe at the ready to give that talk. That hampered the message of the speaker by a lot to me.
Again, I'm not complaining at all about my spot in the conferences here. There are gazillions of speakers better than me 😊. My main point is that the programmation of talks is definitely sending a message to a huge amount of humans at the same time. Conferences aren't typically very clean events in terms of emissions or amount of waste produced. Maybe we can make them matter even more?
The past years, I've been part of redaction commissions for magazines, and in the review committee of a few conferences. Without being completely biased, that's one of the places where I can help sending a message. Having more local speakers, inviting speakers with strong topics on stage, .... (And this goes for much more than climate by the way, diversity, inclusion, ...).
Again, the picture is not completely dark. I've seen great examples of conferences who really outdid themselves to make sure that all the messaging was aligned from one end to the other. There are many great examples, but the best I have seen is DevFestLille. Vegetarian options by default, with reusable cutlery, an adapted programmation, speaker dinner in a local restaurant using locally produced food, sustainable gifts and more... They go much deeper than this, putting accessibility and inclusivity at the core of their values. I admire that conference. Check it out.
Who to work for?
Here's another one of my main struggles: As a Developer Advocate, you're by definition at the forefront of your company and how it presents itself to developers. As such, it is crucial that you're in line with the values they represent.
I am fortunate with the fact that this is something that I really find at Adyen today. Of course, Adyen is here to make profit, but that's obviously OK and I'm definitely here to help. What's important (for me) is that it does it in an ethical, sustainable way. And in this sense it does much more than the large majority of the companies I've been working for. I don't want to blatantly sound like I'm promoting Adyen here, but "building an ethical business and driving sustainable growth for our merchants" is one of the core principles of Adyen since its inception. And it also adds words to action. For example Adyen dedicates 1% of its net revenue to programs that are meant to positively impact ESGs in line with the UN SDG commitment. And it combines global action like this, with local actions on the ground. It also accomodates with my travel choices, as long as it doesn't impact my work. Of course, it's always possible to do more. But it's more than I've ever seen in my career so far.
There's a whole lot of other jobs in DevRel in the industry and I can't say that I associate with all of them. There's been a large amount of advocacy positions open in Web 3, Crypto and NFT related tech lately for example. Historically, those technologies are not particularly known for their clean or efficient computing. Finding positions that line up with my values, is something that I personally struggle with at times,
I do see some VERY interesting positions as well though. For example, I admire Asim Hussain's work and the Green Software Foundation he founded. Most cloud providers are heavily invested in reducing their and their customer's footprints. That's partly why they love your serverless workloads so much 😅.
Another example who brightened my day a while back is Jamund, finding his way into sustainability at AWS :
I have been looking for opportunities in the sustainability domain, but fact of the matter is there doesn't seem to be much yet for Developer Advocates (and DevRel in general).
We're in a great position to challenge the status quo
It may not be true for everyone, but turns out most of us are compensated very well. Of course, I'm not saying we're rich. There's still rent to pay, tuition for the kids, supporting folks around you, ... Especially given how shaky the industry has been the past year. I'm not saying any of us has it easy. That being said, looking at the world inequality database humbled me. I am in a favored position to make a difference on the market, simply because I have enough wealth to have all my major needs fulfilled and I have a platform available to me.
I was impressed to see the impact that many Developer Advocates did supporting Ukraine the past year for example. People like Alina are inspiring. As I was saying above, Asim is also a great example for substainability. As shown in the past, we are in a position to help make a difference.
Educating yourself, and listening to others
One of the nice things of being a Developer Advocate is that whether physically or virtually, you get to meet a lot of people. And your job is pretty much to learn new stuff and share it. I like that as part of my profile I get to share some of the things I've learnt about climate and sustainability. I've given talks on the topic, I've raised awareness internally and externally. I've been sharing our journey online.
Of course, many are doing it much better than me, and I am very well aware that posting photos of potatoes won't fix the climate crisis. But I've met people along the way who gave me energy to do more, try new things, learn new stuff. We animated a panel last years with 3 other folks on sustainability in tech. I've helped run an online conference dedicated to Simpler and Cleaner Tech.
In France we say "les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières" ("They say that small streams make big rivers."). My only goal is to be surrounded by many more of those little streams 😊. Not to feel good about myself and not feel guilty. But more as a way to do ever better every day.
But why do this job at all then?
Some of you might ask "but after all those issues, why be a Developer Advocate at all then"? And that'd be a great question. I ask it to myself every day.
And the answer is relatively short as well : because I absolutely love my job to bits, and it took me years to find something that I liked, that someone would pay me for, and that I'd be good at. I do think that we're also something the world needs. Human seek connection, and we have a role to play there. Given all of the positive examples I've given above from all those inspiring folks, I do see a way to do my job in a way that lines up with my internal voice. You all inspire me to do better every day.
That's it for now. I really hope this blog doesn't come as moralizing; that really wasn't the point, quite the opposite. I'll be at DevRelCon next week, maybe we can chat there (or in the train on the way 😛). Or any other time, you can hit me on Twitter, Mastodon, or by subscribing :).
And if you've recently been laid off, and are still searching for a new gig; I'm so sorry. The industry hasn't been great for us the past year. If that helps I know that Adyen is searching for a Team Lead Internal Developer Advocacy and a friend of mine at DHL is searching for an internal Developer Advocate in the Netherlands to kickstart their advocacy program. Hit me up.