June 17, 2012

By some strange turn of events six months ago, I started being responsible for developer relations at TokBox. This wasn’t something I’d asked for; when we first started contemplating this function, I pushed hard for it to be managed by Engineering. (That’s how it’s done at Google, I said, so that must be how it goes).


But when the option was laid out to me more recently, I agreed enthusiastically to pick it up. Rewind two years and I wouldn’t have believed that some of the most fun I have at my job is working with developers. Good developers I work with are smart, creative, and productive. And while some can be demanding, they’re demanding in ways that make the product better and are generally easy to work with if you’re straight with them about what you can and can’t do.

It’s possible that I like it so much because the brunt of the hard work gets done by the team I manage. ”Manage” is a misnomer. The developer evangelists on my team are energetic, goal-oriented, and pretty much manage themselves. And they’re all smarter than me.

This isn’t false modesty. That I accumulated a team that’s smarter than me is something that I brag about, a lot. The only problem I have with working with people smarter than me is when I don’t understand what they are doing or their points of view on key decisions. The other day Ankur and Jon were having a lively discussion about a change we are making to our developer onboarding process. I remember thinking: gosh, I understand 25% - maybe - of what they’re saying. As much I appreciate learning from my team, the gap between my getting the general idea vs. the level of intricacy and nuance that my team operates at looms large.

Managing a developer relations team without myself being a developer strikes me with occasional bouts of panic. I trust everyone on my team but am a believer in what the Russians say: doveryai, no proveryai.

How do you verify when everyone else is smarter than you?