I have had a paid gig at Microsoft as a technical evangelist for over 12 years. I find that many evangelists come into the role not because they read the job description and decided on a career change, but (finally!) found a job that describes what they have been doing all along.Wikipedia describes technical evangelism as:
“A technical or technology evangelist is a person whose job or role is to promote technologies… An evangelist promotes the use of a particular product or technology through talks, articles, blogging, user demonstrations, recorded demonstrations, or the creation of sample projects.”
I think the statement skews too much towards marketing as that is not what evangelism is about. Evangelism is about communication, both talking and listening. Evangelists are passionate folks that want to demonstrate or discuss something they find interesting and want to share it with you. It can be a movie, a band or messenger bag. They will tell you how it works, what types of things you can use it for. They also will want to hear what you have to think about it. Evangelists usually take on the role of “The Voice of the Customer” at Microsoft.
There is an open position on the team I am on for a Technical Evangelist who is excited about things such as Windows 8, Windows Phone, and Windows Azure and app development all-up. So with every open position you have to figure out what characteristics you are looking for in the person you want to hire. This is why we have an interview loop, to see if someone has these characteristics. Instead of keeping them to myself, I wanted to share them with you:
1. Evangelists speak different languages. I am not talking about programming languages; I am talking about different audiences. Evangelists might speak to developers one day, then a CEO the next. Evangelists understand how to excite someone about the technology they are evangelizing by relating it to the person they are talking to. Do you talk about a gadget to your geek buddy the same way you talk to your spouse about it? Don’t mistake this for talking down to someone; instead you are relating the benefits of something to their interests.
2. Evangelists look at technologies holistically. It is one thing to know how a feature works, but why is the feature compelling or valuable? Sometimes this is referred to as “business value”. For a feature, an evangelist should know not just how it works, but what the value of using it is. Does a feature make development faster or is it cheaper to implement or does it have more uses than its competitor?
3. Evangelists should understand the world around them. Many evangelists I know are voracious consumers of information. Robert Scoble is on the insane side with around 800 feeds he keeps an eye on, but Evangelists need to understand what is going on in their space. For example, what are the trends right now in the web space? What are competitors doing? Who are the influentials who are driving the thinking around this space?
4. Evangelists are not dogmatic. Contrary to popular belief, there are Microsoft evangelists who once in a while use non-Microsoft products, gasp!!! If you can believe such a thing, you will be surprised to know that I actually use an iMac in addition to my 3 PCs. I use Mac Office 2011, Windows Phone 7 Connector and Microsoft Messenger for Mac on it as well as a variety of other Microsoft software that runs on a Mac. Then I Bootcamp most of the time into Windows 7, which works really well on the machine. Although I get ribbing time to time from other evangelists, it is understood that we cannot be myopic about the world and it forces us to look at things from a different perspective which can only make things better at Microsoft.
5. Evangelists love demos and code. Every evangelist I know loves a new demo or looking at some code. We build a lot of demos on our team, in fact you probably have seen quite a few of them at Microsoft events. Demos are probably one of the best ways to show what something can do and create buzz and excitement. I always recommend to folks who are looking for an evangelist position to create a digital portfolio of some kind that demonstrates your skills (I always give bonus points for using GitHub or CodePlex). It also goes to show that you can actually see a project to completion and learn from it.
6. Evangelists tend to be humble. This probably is a surprise to you. You would think that evangelists would have HUGE egos, but surprisingly many that I know are very humble. Most evangelists feel like they are in a constant state of learning. Here is some advice, be wary of putting the “expert” label on your resume. If you do, I can guarantee that the questions will become much tougher as we will want to understand the true depth of your knowledge. I have done tons of interviews and have yet to find someone we hired who called themselves an “expert”. Always think of yourself as a lifetime learner.
7. Evangelists are sometimes cynical but always optimistic. Evangelists are usually a psychiatrists’ dream. We can be very pessimistic at times and give product and marketing teams a lot of grief, but it is only because we know the potential of a technology. We tend to be optimistic that our products can truly be stellar. We will always question, prod and poke, but in the end it is our optimism that usually shines through.
8. Evangelists love communities. Although I consider myself an introvert, I enjoy engaging with communities; especially those that are organically grown through meetups. I am always on the lookout for hanging out with these communities who are passionate about design or building applications.
Is there more? Of course there is. But let’s start with these. I would like to have you comment on what else you think makes a good evangelist. I also would like to hear what makes a bad evangelist (no need for names, we are trying to be constructive here). If you decide to interview for the open position, think about these characteristics and if you find yourself identifying with most of them, then apply for the position!