Silly Sit-Downs with Rohan (SSD-04): An interview with Sohail Pathan, Developer Advocate at Apyhub
Hi everyone, hope everyone is safe and sound, I, Rohan Singh welcome you again to May month of Silly Sit-Downs(SSD) with Rohan — an interview series with industry professionals irrespective of their genre; the purpose of these interviews is to have insightful conversations, understand people better and get rich perspicuity into career and community.
This month we have Sohail Pathan with us currently working as a Developer Advocate at Apyhub. I know Sohail personally and professionally since my college time. Sohail has been contributing to communities for more than 5 years and started and running GDG Nagpur successfully for more than 3 years. He has great experience in tech, product and support communities and has taken numerous sessions globally on technologies. His passion for communities since college time is larger than the pacific ocean.
I would like to thank Sohail Pathan for taking out time from his schedule for this interview :)
Rohan: Hi Sohail, thanks for doing SSD with Rohan. How are you?
Sohail: Hi Rohan, I’m fantastic. First of all thanks for having me a part of the series, I was actually exploring your previous SSDs with Rohan and got excited. How are you?
Rohan: Wow, glad to hear this, it’s quite motivating I’m also doing well. Maybe you want to introduce yourself.
Sohail: This is Sohail Pathan. I’m currently a Developer Advocate at ApyHub. I’m currently based out of Nagpur, Maharashtra and have been contributing to the developer relations space for more than 5 years. Communities have always been an integral part of my life and I really enjoy helping others by sharing knowledge and experience. That’s how things are going on right now and I’m pretty much enjoying that part of my work.
Rohan: Thanks for the short and-point introduction, Sohail. I want to talk about ApyHub. What exactly do you guys do?
Sohail: Yeah, my goodness. ApyHub, we call it as a Developer API Utility Belt, It’s an API catalogue where utility functionalities are offered as a service. Utility in a developer’s life is a very essential and common thing that a developer builds whenever he creates any application, so we wanted to basically provide all these utilities that developers need under a single catalogue. The benefit to the developer is that they don’t have to spend enough time building those utilities. Let me try to simplify this, examples of utility functionalities can include data validation, file conversion and file generation etc; let’s say there are 40 utilities that a developer has to build by themselves and where he/she is investing their time, cost and other resources as well; why not give them the whole utility catalogue under one single catalogue and use them as a REST API, easy right? That’s how ApyHub comes into an equation and at the moment we have right now more than 20K users in a span of just 3–4 months. Looking forward to more acceptance, and challenges with enthusiasm.
Rohan: Wow. that’s new. If I use an analogy, ApyHub is like a GitHub/Amazon of Utilities. Did I get it right?
Sohail: Well, correct. Like GitHub is a provider of repositories, our goal is to make ApyHub a provider of Utilities for developers.
Rohan: And, 20K in just three months. I think it’s a great start. Wish ApyHub and you the best of luck.
Sohail: Yeah, Thanks a lot, Rohan! I believe the credit goes to all the team members
Rohan: Sohail, I’m curious to know — How did you end up as a developer advocate, why not a software engineer or maybe a DevOps engineer?
Sohail: If you ask me how did I land here — it’s purely accidental[chuckles], it's just I figured out what I like and what my passion is and it turns out to be that developer advocates something that I want to pursue.
Ahh, the story goes back to my college life per se. I somehow figured out, I’m a person who can’t just sit in front of the 16-inch screen and do the code. I’m more of a front-end guy. This doesn’t mean I didn’t like development, I was an Android developer though. It turns out to be that I want to tell people more about what I’m doing and building currently. Help them to get educated, so educating them is one of the attributes that I wanted to pursue just like the way I have learned from the community what we call a community-driven way, it has made me what I am right now. From college itself, I have been part of communities. I have been part of some good communities and college clubs and that gave me the confidence to identify myself as a person who can share ideas, share knowledge with them and take acknowledgement from the audience itself — simply a torch bearer. When when I understood how these kinds of roles, how these kinds of responsibilities get into the particular role and I figured out that developer relations have all the requirements that I’m currently doing right now. I begin my career as a Community Manager, it’s one of the roles under the developer relations umbrella. A community manager listens to the community, reacts to the community and always stands on behalf of the community. A community can be related to anything — product, support, travel or anything; but when you are a person who handles the community, or who becomes the face of the community, you call yourself community manager itself. So I have been a community manager for an ed-tech startup for more than three years which boost my confidence in building a social presence, writing code, and writing content and walking out in that particular way I landed into the developer advocacy.
Rohan: I strongly believe a person should wisely do what they found a passion for. Make your own world and live on your terms and find joy. I have quite a similar story.
Sohail: Yeah, you always aspire to become something but when you go in that direction, you understand, that’s not meant for me and discover something new.
Rohan: I read somewhere that Developer Advocates are good storytellers and not a seller. Do you reckon this?
Sohail: Well, I would say this is apt. This is a very valid term to define a developer advocate; when you say an advocate or advocacy, you are speaking on behalf of something. In my case I’m speaking on behalf of my product, so I want to let the users know what currently you are doing right now, how it can be improved and how it can be optimized, maybe not with my product, but I have my job is to tell you how that can be improvised. You have to tell them the story and that’s how you become the storyteller. If you even writing content, speaking at conferences or talking with developers, you have to be good at communication skills and whenever you speak, you always take the reference and that’s how it becomes a story.
Rohan: You know what I’m wondering if Developer Advocates are storytellers, what Cloud Infrastructure Engineers are??? Surely I’m not a storyteller.
Sohail: Haha, you gotta find yours man.
Rohan: [wondering motivatedly] Yes. I have to find it.
Rohan: Is there a job super technical; are you supposed to know every single thing?
Sohail: I would say yes, being into Developer Relations or Developer Advocacy, you are advocating for a developer product, if your target audience is developers, then you should have a sound understanding of programming and tech or programming terms because that’s how they communicate and understand; so in my part of a daily job, I do coding, I do community and I do content, create tutorials, document guide etc. For instance, if I’m trying to explain anything to a web developer I have to use programming terms and use code snippets as well. The point I want to put is that until and unless I don’t know and understand my developer product deeply how am I supposed to explain or convince others to use it? So, yes you need to be a technical guy. This is the case for developer-oriented products. However, if you advocating for a product which focuses on or represents let’s say low-code/no-code product, in this case, people or users don’t need a sound understanding of tech therefore a developer advocate can be super techy or less techy.
Basically, a Developer Advocate is super technical or not, depends on the company, the product they are advocating for and with whom audience they advocating. Based on this you need to have the required set of skills.
Rohan: Where a Developer Advocate fits in a company ecosystem among product managers, customer engineers, marketing managers, business development, community managers and etc?
Sohail: That’s a really good question, Rohan and you know what I think this question has been asked multiple times to developer advocates specifically developer relations people. For any developer-focused product, let’s say a company which is primarily focused on the developers, they do have multiple verticals in their team — engineering, marketing, support, and operations. For early-stage companies or startups, they add devrel [Developer Relations] as one of the verticals along with other verticals. How does that particular vertical help them? Let’s take an example of a marketing team — the marketing team is more focused on a general audience, or you can say an audience which is not very approachable. So, a marketing team has the responsibility of creating content visuals for social media. And you can’t actually have a very detailed analysis of what kind of people you are going to focus on. It’s like, you are in the dark and just going on.
But assume, you now want to talk to a developer, if you are a developer and I’m a founder of a company or engineering manager, I need a person to communicate with you and provide me with product feedback or drawbacks or what my product needs more, is there something that you need and I’m not able to be able to solve or fulfil. Taking those feedback and converting them into technological and programming term and passing it to the engineering team, you need a person who has a sound understanding of things and has a skill that helps him to communicate with you as well. What I’m trying to perceive you is the developer relations vertical which establishes support with the target audience, as well as the company DA works for.
Now let’s say you want to educate your audience on how to use your product because evidently, it’s not very easy that someone lands on your tool and they will end up being understand everything. You need a person who actually handles all these types of tasks, making tutorials, creating content, working on documentation and sometimes improvisation. UX/UI also plays an indispensable role in that. All aforementioned responsibilities entail a DA role.
Community is also a very crucial part of it. Managing a community of your product goes around developer advocacy. Roles such as community manager, technical community manager, support community, evangelist etc can vary by technical or non-technical role, a developer advocate is a person who speaks to the user of the product.
If you go on the very bigger level, I give you an example of GitHub. GitHub has developer advocates, who closely work with enterprise clients, closely work with them to handle their infrastructures or let them know how the product fits into the requirements whereas for small companies or early-stage product companies who don’t have enterprise clients. For them, general users are the customers and they have to basically work around them.
But remember Developer Advocates are not sellers.
Rohan: I guess this is one of the biggest myths about DA's role around. People have speculated that DAs are technical sellers.
Sohail: Couldn’t agree more, a DA is indeed not a seller, for selling, companies have different people. We are here to let people know how certain things can be improved and that’s how it works in the community.
Rohan: I’m not sure how this myth has originated but yes it’s here.
Sohail: I mean every job has myths so as Developer Advocates.
Rohan: Moving on to my next question; there must be certain techniques or methodologies exist that developer advocates employ to grow an ecosystem. Can you bring those into the limelight?
Sohail: Well, if anyone thinks that there is a playbook of how developer advocates should behave and work, he/she is wrong. Apparently, there is nothing like this exists. Highly depends on what’s your company vision or you can say north star metrics and what role you are playing in achieving this star.
Although one factor we always consider is that — when you scale up, you need to know how you will also manage that particular scale. You must have a strategy. Let’s say today you are 100 users community and tomorrow you become 1000 and more. Whatever the content, whatever, the amount of bandwidth you were serving previously, it was for 100 members now you have 1K+ audiences as your community base. You always must be capable of handling more users as gradually user base would grow. This is to ensure your community base doesn’t suffer because of a lack of bandwidth or resources. You must formulate a strategy for managing your bandwidth and resources upon getting scale. As I mentioned previously you need to have a good rapport with the community and engineering team so workings on a proper schedule and proper strategy are required but it’s on you how you will draft or formulate your own strategies depending upon vision, bandwidth and schedule it varies a lot.
Rohan: Tell me — Traditional engineering vs modern engineering
Sohail: Traditional Engineering versus Modern Engineering — we use this term while explaining to people as well. I mean that’s my personal overview. As a software engineer, you learn from the community. When you ask me, I was part of the community. Somehow we become part of the community. When you say community — there is content that has been followed for a long time that itself becomes a practice. Someone is doing something, it turns out to be the result is good and he put it on the internet and that becomes the resource and people are following them to get their work done. But there’s always room for improvement. There’s always space for getting improved surely with a pace and that’s how the people who were developing software applications five years or 1 decade before and the way they are doing right now, they are building right now has a drastic change with an abundance of resources. Example — Generative AI, has made some rockstar entry and changed the whole game and will change the way of doing things so far. I always connect this thing like the way we used to the traditional engineering thing and right now, what we are doing, is modern engineering — has a massive space and gap, but a lot more impact. Right now, we have a suite of tools, people, specializations and very approachable things which actually help people to do their work faster improve it and build a customer-centric product. Take your domain example, several decades ago having an on-premises server was normal but now it’s not feasible and expensive. At that time, there were people called System Administrators, and still do but comparatively lesser; today, those are converted into DevOps Engineer, SREs etc so you can easily relate to this thing more than I do.
Rohan: You know my question becomes redundant after your last line[loud laugh]. But yeah, things are evidently changing or evolving at a rapid pace. Absolutely Generative AI is a game changer. Traditional Engineering was obviously advanced comparatively to more old ways of engineering not advantageous to what we have right now. I got a chance to converse with one experienced engineer, coming to an experience for over 22 years and we talked about engineering pathways, he mentioned when he was an intern back in the 90s he had foreseen that the way of deployment will be faster and more efficient in future but this feasible never imagined and with the introduction of newer stacks and technologies things are way different. He has seen growth from launching an application in a hard way to an absolutely low-code/no-code way. With one snap you deploy an application and with the second snap, bingo, you move to production. Back in those days, there were no snaps. Even this will change I think in the coming years, if not changed then evolved.
Sohail: That’s exactly how I feel. We saw every time its evolution came up in the tech space. The task that currently requires the participation of 10 individuals can be accomplished with a reduced number of people. The future is exciting and equally challenging, jobs getting redundant or not is unsure, even I’m not sure whether I’ll be required or not.
Rohan: Haha, moving ahead, let’s talk about community because community management is one vital component of DA.
Sohail: Community is very important to me and I’m also very passionate about it. Reason — what I have earned today and what I am today community has played a very substantial role in it. If I want to exemplify to anyone — community is people with the same ideas, same knowledge coming together and sharing their experiences, could be any: tech, product, travel, music, food, non-profit, moral, education etc. People having a delightful time are coming up and they just sharing things. Every community has a Community manager which we talked about prior. Why this role is essential; because you need someone who listens to you, acknowledges it and takes action accordingly. I have prior experience in Education, Product and Support Communities. Working in the three different flavours of the community one thing I comprehended is that you have to provide a value proposition to your members who are coming up. There are numerous communities, specialized people and resources but if someone is coming up in your community or he/she is a part of your community, they have something in their mind they want to achieve and it’s your job to give them that particular requirement or get it resolved. It’s always a requirement and supply. The supply could be anything, one-to-one engagement, forums, tech events, blog publishing, could be anything which led the attendees or let the community members feel that they are getting listened to.
That was one, second is appreciating or felicitating the community members, because if they are coming up and spending their time in the community, creating content for you or for the community without even getting paid, without even getting asked. The best thing or the only thing you can do is felicitate or acknowledge them. If you are good with these two principles your community can be really engaging, flourishing and long-lasting.
If you become a part of a community, it’s always that you will get something new, and exciting that you never heard of because you are listening to the people who are talking to the people who have been in your way, for more than a while, having more experience than you and they’re sharing the experience to the world. You corroborate me as you were and are still also a part of several different communities since college.
That’s a good side. Let me be honest also, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. My eyes have caught the people who don’t really understand the way how a community works with no vision except monetization. I’m not against it, okay, as it could be a business community or if someone is having a business in that particular domain and it’s very likely you see the premium communities and to be part of that you have either to get paid membership or achieve some levels. It’s just I don’t like it, my personal point of view, for others it may work but not for me at least.
Rohan: True, I started with communities back in 2017, preliminary I listened to people, senior and experienced personalities, grasp maximum things out of it and once I had enough experience I started giving back to the community for newbies or freshers, it’s not like I’m grasping things, I still do but along with contributions. That’s how we all grow and the community flourishes and stay stronger. I believe this applies to all the communities that exist today.
Rohan: Thank you Sohail! Really appreciate your time and answers. Thanks a ton again for doing this interview. Have a nice day ahead.
Sohail: Thank you Rohan and nice day you too. Bye!
Here is the resource shared by Sohail Pathan for the readers:
I hope readers would have enjoyed this interview with Sohail Pathan.