Jarek Jarzębowski
12 minutes
January 23, 2024

Aditya Oberai's Journey: From Champion to Developer Advocate at Appwrite Heroes

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In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the role of a Developer Advocate is pivotal, blending the realms of coding expertise, community engagement, and creative communication. In this insightful discussion on the Advocu Podcast, we had the privilege of hosting Aditya Oberai, a dynamic Developer Advocate at Appwrite and participant in various tech community programs. Aditya, with his unique blend of experiences ranging from being a Microsoft MVP to a Twilio Champion, delves into the nuances of developer relations and community building.

As someone who ventured into developer advocacy right from the outset of his career, Aditya brings a fresh perspective to the field. His journey offers a compelling look at how one can transition from being a community participant to leading initiatives that shape the future of tech communities. In this conversation, Aditya shares his insights on the importance of community-led growth, the balance between transparency and business acumen in developer programs, and the evolving dynamics of tech communities.

Join us as we explore the multifaceted role of a Developer Advocate through the eyes of Aditya Oberai, understanding the challenges, the triumphs, and the continuous learning that comes with being at the forefront of community engagement in the tech world.

Key Takeaways from the Conversation

Role and Impact of Developer Advocates: Developer advocates play a vital role in bridging the gap between the user community and the product team, especially in open-source environments. They are tasked with enhancing the developer experience, fostering community initiatives, and generating insightful content. This comprehensive role demands both technological expertise and strong communication skills.

Transition from Ambassador to Professional Advocate: Experiences in ambassador programs lay a foundational skill set for a career in developer relations. These programs provide essential learning in technology and community engagement, which are transferable and beneficial for professional advocacy roles. Understanding the business impact and aligning advocacy with company goals become crucial in a professional setting.

Challenges in Program Management and Growth: Managing and scaling community programs pose unique challenges. As a program expands, maintaining effective communication and adapting strategies to accommodate a larger community become key. The approach that works for a small group may not scale efficiently, requiring constant evolution and feedback incorporation.

Importance of Transparency and Mutual Benefit: Transparency in ambassador programs is critical for success. It's important for participants to have clear insights into product development and company goals. Programs should create value for both the participants and the organization, ensuring a mutually beneficial relationship.

Focus and Purpose in Ambassador Programs: For ambassador programs to be effective, they need a clear focus and purpose. Generalist programs often lack a sense of direction, while focused programs aligned with specific tools, technologies, or goals tend to be more successful. Participants should choose programs that resonate with their personal and professional interests.

Conversation with Aditya Oberai

The shortened transcript below delves into the intricacies of launching an ambassador program, its progression over time, and the significance of recognizing contributors. For a comprehensive understanding and to grasp the finer details of the discussion, make sure to listen to the entire episode available on Advocu Podcast.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Hello, Aditya. Welcome to Advocu Podcast. It's very nice to have you here. Before we dive into the conversation, please tell us a few words about yourself, who you are, and what you're currently doing.

Aditya Oberai: Thank you, Jarek. I appreciate the invitation. It's a pleasure to be on the Advocu Podcast, and a warm welcome to everyone else tuning in as well.
I am Aditya Oberai. Currently, I'm a Developer Advocate at Appwrite, an open-source backend-as-a-service platform. I've been with them for a little over one and a half years. This role is both my first in the DevRel and my inaugural job in general.
It's been an enjoyable experience. Apart from this, I've been active in the Tech community, Hackathon spaces, and have collaborated with technologists for about four years now. My collaborations span across different communities in India and, more recently, internationally.
Beyond that, I've been part of various Super User or Champions programs. For instance, I've participated in student programs like the Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors, Google Developer Student Clubs, and MLH Coaches. Currently, I'm still active as a Microsoft MVP and also a Twilio Champion.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Great. You began a few years ago and have been involved in various spaces and programs. Now, you're involved in both external programs and have the role of an internal developer advocate. Let's begin with your current role. Since this is your first job and you can't compare it with any other , could you describe to our listeners your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities as a Developer Advocate at Appwrite?

Aditya Oberai: Certainly, Jarek. Developer relations and advocacy at Appwrite hold central significance for us, especially being an open-source organization. Our community consists of open-source developers, so it's essential for us to facilitate effective communication between the team behind Appwrite and those who utilize it. In essence, as Developer Advocates, we act as this bridge.
Our roles span a broad spectrum. We work on enhancing the developer experience, launch various community initiatives, and produce content. We also have our community programs which aim to assist individuals in their growth journeys, akin to a Champions or Heroes program. On a personal note, I invest a lot of my time in our developer ecosystem, particularly those actively building with Appwrite. This involves collaboration, supporting them in events like hackathons, and frequently using the product myself.
Lately, I've been involved in creating sample applications with Appwrite. This hands-on experience has provided me numerous opportunities for public speaking about Appwrite, collaborating with various communities, and disseminating knowledge. Additionally, I contribute to other initiatives, like our newsletter. At present, a significant portion of my focus is on the growth and evolution of the Appwrite Heroes program, our Champions initiative for Appwrite experts within our community.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Okay, since you've participated in various programs before Appwrite, would you say any of these programs share similarities with your current professional role? Or was it a completely different experience?

Aditya Oberai: There are definitely similarities. When I speak, create content, or take on ambassadorial roles as a champion, it's quite akin to what I do now, which I've done within the Microsoft MVPs and Twilio's Champions program. However, now I gain deeper insights into the inner workings of these programs, the supportive activities behind them, and how they influence the product.
There's this additional layer of understanding, but at the core, there's familiarity with the ambassadorial roles. A distinct difference would be the accountability. As ambassadors, we engage in these roles voluntarily, often in our free time. But now, as full-time Developer Advocates, it's a central part of our jobs.
There's an added responsibility to comprehend how our actions, my team's actions, and our collective work can impact the business. This definitely adds another dimension. But the influence remains positive and rewarding in its own way. I genuinely relish experiencing both perspectives in this journey.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Has your experience in ambassador, champions, and super-user programs significantly influenced what you're doing now? Or did you need to learn many new skills and grow when you joined Appwrite?

Aditya Oberai: That's a great question. Many of my experiences in ambassador programs gave me a solid foundation, which eased my transition into a full-time developer relations career.
At the heart of being a developer advocate, you must be a technologist. For instance, I need to work with technologies, dive deep into them, and truly understand them. This understanding is pivotal for empathizing with the community.
As an ambassador, I had similar experiences. For instance, within the Microsoft MVPs, I contributed to .NET and some of Azure's PaaS offerings. This required me to build a certain level of expertise to discuss, share, guide, and educate others about these technologies. These skills naturally transitioned into my role now.
Similarly, communication skills and the ability to collaborate with people globally are quite transferable, moving from being an ambassador to a full-time developer relations team member.
While being an ambassador did lay down some foundational skills, one significant distinction I've noticed is grasping the business impact our team creates. This understanding, I believe, truly matures only when you engage in developer relations full-time. You get insights into why a team supports specific activities, how these activities benefit the community, and how they influence the perception and usage of a product. While the business impact side of things became clearer to me after joining the DevRel Space full-time, many of the foundational skills, from being a technologist to community engagement, seamlessly transferred over.

Jarek Jarzębowski: And is there anything else that you think other program managers should focus on to create a better experience for the champions, to create a better impact, and to essentially craft better programs? Since you have been on both sides, do you think there are some rules, guides, or recommendations that we can give to other program managers?

Aditya Oberai: One thing we've been trying to practice a lot is aside from creating a space where our heroes can contribute, we're also trying to ensure we're creating a space where they can relax, enjoy, and engage with each other and collaborate with each other as well.

In many ambassador programs that I've been a part of, collaboration across ambassadors often becomes a responsibility of the ambassadors themselves. We're trying to decrease the friction on that front for sure.
We're also attempting to humanize these situations more. We understand that they have their own lives, work, problems, and stresses. These programs, aside from being places where they contribute, should also be places where they're comfortable and which don't add any burden on them. We're making proactive efforts to ensure that.
I'm not saying champion programs inherently add burden. I've been part of programs where I've had healthy experiences, and there have been others where that wasn't the case, causing me to limit my contributions. In the two programs I'm active in right now, I've experienced healthier scenarios. We're making more proactive efforts in this direction.
One thing to note is that we're still a relatively smaller program, focusing on ensuring we grow properly rather than rush the scaling process. However, I remember as part of the Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors, we carried out many activities to help engage, connect, and communicate.
I believe activities can be done on a larger scale as well. This is something many ambassador programs could focus on, creating a healthier community within their champions.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Okay, I want to focus on your program as well, but first, I'd like us to be a bit more tactical. You mentioned the potential benefits of creating a healthier space where connections and relationships can grow. But how can program managers really foster this? Do they set up communication platforms like Discord or Slack? Organize events? How would you approach this?

Aditya Oberai: Some of the strategies we've adopted include having separate communication channels within our Discord designated for Heroes only. We've also implemented a regular communication plan. For instance, we initiated a daily communication routine where, post-weekend, there's a celebration where individuals share what they're proud of every Monday.
We've allocated specific days for feedback, allowing participants to discuss what they like, dislike, or wish to see change, whether that's in the program, product, or the community at large. Additionally, we've established a showcase day where members can present more than just their direct contributions to the program. This recognizes that the creative process can sprout from various experiences.
So, if a hero, for instance, delivers a talk at a conference independently, that experience could be the seed for content or ideas. Our emphasis is on frequent communication. While participation isn't mandatory every day, the space and emphasis on communication are consistently present. Moreover, the focus is more on their personal opinions rather than purely on our expectations or needs.
Furthermore, we conduct monthly calls, which we're considering increasing to twice a month. In these calls, we share updates, gather feedback, and ensure there's always room for open communication. We usually conclude with a fun activity, like a game of Geoguesser or Scriblio. This approach lets Heroes team up, compete, and build camaraderie.
This approach has spurred increased discussions and collaboration. We're observing multiple Heroes partnering to create content or organize community meetups. The impact is evident and positive.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Okay, and how big is your community?

Aditya Oberai: For the Heroes, we have a measured scaling plan. We began our pilot batch with about seven individuals. However, we intend to expand this on a quarterly basis. Since we're a newly established program, only around three months old, there's constant evaluation and feedback collection underway.
We've been actively incorporating feedback to enhance our program. For instance, there have been suggestions for improved access to our product roadmap, inquiries about the effectiveness of certain activities, and discussions about the distinct support different heroes might require. We're making an effort to address these suggestions at a detailed level, and it's certainly proving beneficial for both Appwrite and its surrounding community.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Can you share any goals or KPIs you set for the program's initial phase? I assume there were specific objectives in place, although I'm unsure if you can disclose them.

Aditya Oberai: When it comes to contributions, we approach them diversely. One key area is content-related activities. We're keen to track the volume of content being produced and the array of projects developed around our platform. Additionally, we're interested in observing its influence on interactions and discussions within our community. We do have certain goals in mind. However, at this stage, we're using these more as guiding markers for our aspirations, rather than rigid benchmarks that determine the success or failure of our initiative.
Currently, our primary focus lies in gauging how our efforts are shaping the educational ecosystem and the kind of product feedback it generates. We're continually assessing this aspect.

Jarek Jarzębowski: And what has been the biggest challenge so far starting a program?

Aditya Oberai: It's an interesting question, right? Because I think for Appwrite it's still a product in its nascent stages and of course, having a community that is so globally distributed to build a system that works equitably for everyone across different regions, being able to prioritize on different people.
Like for example, we've got people ranging all the way from US to India at the moment. Time zones can be a concern, but fortunately for us, because we are a company rooted with asynchronous practices, that is something we're trying to navigate through and solve.

Jarek Jarzębowski: And do you think that totally different challenges will appear in the future, like in the remaining months of 2023? Because since you are only three months old, I think that there might be different challenges.

Aditya Oberai: I definitely think there will be. I do expect that as the program scale is, we will have to observe how some of these communication practices, how the daily activities plan and so on works. Right, because it's one thing when you look at a group of seven people, it's another when you add a zero to that or two.
Now, I don't expect there to be two more zeros by the end of this year, but we could get closer to having at least 10. I definitely foresee different challenges as the program scales. And of course, one thing we will also consider at that point is finding someone who can dedicatedly help just with the program as well as the program grows and scales.
But yes, that being said, I'm definitely excited about the challenges that brings because that's a good problem to have, in my opinion. Right. Problems coming because you've got more people who want to be a part of this program. So I'm definitely looking forward to those.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Yeah, definitely having seventy people on board in the program will be completely different than having seven of them. But fingers crossed, you've got experience from much, much bigger programs.

Aditya Oberai: I think that's one thing we're fortunate about because Tess, our head of DevRel, helped work and build out Cloudinary's program, the MDES program. So she comes in with some of that context.
I am currently participating in a few and I've worked in other community-centric capacities. So we do have a lot of insights and contexts into what works and what doesn't. And we're definitely trying to take a lot of inspiration and apply the best of what we've experienced through different programs and what we see in different programs.
And hopefully, that sets us on a good path because there's a lot of programs that have innovated and a lot of teams that have done a lot of good through these. So we're all up for taking inspiration all across and trying to apply the best of what different programs bring to the table for this community.
And of course, as we see challenges, we will definitely tackle them as they come.

Jarek Jarzębowski: You mentioned that you have seen what works and what doesn't work. Can you share some examples of things that will probably not work or at least in your opinion will not work in your case and other programs use or program managers use or are present in some programs?

Aditya Oberai: I think one challenge that always comes up with these sorts of programs is the amount of transparency, right both into product insights, into the roadmap, into some extent the business as we talked about it earlier as well.
And I think as the program grows, we will definitely continue, of course, our transparent methods, but we will continuously evaluate how communication works through this because as the program evolves, so will, of course, the company and the product as well.
While I don't expect that to be a problem yet, I think it will be interesting to see how our communication methods evolve through this process. Transparency is something that I always value across different programs.
More so than for us because we have the fortune of being an open-source company. And I think because we've come up through the open-source space, we do tend to see transparency as a very core value regardless.

So it's a little easier for us to exercise across a lot of organizations. This can be tricky, though, and that is something I have seen in a few programs in the past. So that's something that I would call out for most programs in general around evaluating how that works.
Because you don't want a scenario where you've created activities that solely benefit one side, but it seems like you're trying to create value for both. And I have been a part of such activities in the past and I've realized that later on, of course, as I have matured through this space. So definitely that's one thing we want to make sure we keep doing, creating enough value for everyone in the program to make sure that they grow through this, they learn through this. This benefits them as well, just as much as it benefits us.
Only if it's mutually beneficial for everyone here will a program like this succeed.

Jarek Jarzębowski: You've mentioned a couple of times that transparency is a value and in your case, transparency is ingrained in your company culture. Do you think that company culture translates also to the program? So if someone wants to be part of a more open program, like being an ambassador, should they go to companies with programs that are more open?

Aditya Oberai: Absolutely. It's crucial to relate to what a company is trying to achieve. For instance, my fondness for Twilio's Champions and Microsoft's MVP programs stems from their product impact and organizational values like empowerment and diversity. It's about whether the company's goals resonate with your own.
Choosing programs should be based on personal alignment with the products and the company's culture. Like, Google Developer Experts is excellent, but it doesn't align with my focus, so I choose differently. It's not about the program's quality, but about where your interests and the company's objectives intersect.
When considering ambassador programs, it's essential to understand the company's goals and see if their culture suits you. You won't enjoy contributing to a community or team that doesn't align with your values, regardless of the program's general benefits.
Intrinsic motivation is key. It's not just about external rewards but finding a program that resonates with you personally. This is why understanding 'why' you want to join a program is as important as knowing 'how' to join. It’s a piece of advice I often share with students exploring different programs.

Jarek Jarzębowski: What, in your opinion, are the key benefits of participating in ambassador or champion programs, regardless of the specific program?

Aditya Oberai: There are several benefits I value in these programs. First, having access to product groups is significant. Joining these programs often stems from an interest in specific products, so being able to interact directly with the teams working on them, sharing feedback, and receiving guidance is incredibly valuable.
Being a designated champion also opens doors to more intimate conversations, which I've experienced in various programs and try to facilitate in our own. This access to engineers and product teams is a major advantage.
Another benefit is the proactive communication and feedback opportunities, not just with product groups but also among fellow champions. My time as a Microsoft Student Ambassador was particularly enriching due to the learning and growth from interacting with other ambassadors. The exchange of perspectives and education within this network is a tangible benefit.
Lastly, added visibility is a significant advantage. If an organization supports and promotes the work and contributions of its champions, it elevates their visibility. The Twilio Champions program, for instance, regularly showcased events or content I created, giving me access to a broader audience and opportunities that might not have been possible otherwise.
These three aspects – access to product groups, networking with fellow ambassadors, and enhanced visibility – are what I look for and appreciate in any program I'm part of.

Jarek Jarzębowski: As we're nearing the end of our discussion, I have a question for you. In your opinion, do we need more ambassador or champion programs, or do we have enough? Should more companies create these programs?

Aditya Oberai: I believe there is room for more programs, but it would be beneficial if these initiatives were more focused rather than being too generalist. When a program is too broad, it can lose its sense of purpose. Programs like Twilio Champions, which are focused on specific tools or services, tend to be more effective. For example, Odd Zero Ambassadors focus on authentication services, and Appwrite Heroes have a specific focus as well. Generalist programs often miss this clarity. So, while there's definitely scope for more programs, they need to have a clear focus and purpose.
Transparency is always a challenge in such programs. As Appwrite is an open-source company, we naturally value transparency, but it can be tricky for other organizations. It's important for programs to create value for all involved. Programs succeed only if they are mutually beneficial; otherwise, they don't last. My advice is to maintain a focus and purpose for the program and ensure mutual benefits.

Jarek Jarzębowski: So, to wrap up, do you have any final message for our listeners and where can people find you?

Aditya Oberai: As my parting message, I'd say that ambassador and champion programs have been instrumental in my growth, but it's important to join these programs for the right, intrinsic reasons. If the motivation is just to emulate someone famous, it won't be sustainable. Regarding where to find me, Twitter and LinkedIn are the best platforms. I'm also active on my newsletter, which you can find on my portfolio website, Oberai.Dev You can find all my social profiles and newsletter there.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Great, thank you very much, Aditya, for sharing your knowledge and experience. We hope to talk to you again soon when your program expands.

Aditya Oberai: Thank you for having me, Jarek. It's been a pleasure!

Appwrite Heroes Program Overview 

Heroes program is an exclusive group of developers who are experts in Appwrite and dedicated to creating valuable content to assist other developers in achieving success. Appwrite Heroes excel in creating video tutorials, written guides, blog posts, or providing support in our fast-growing Discord community.
Appwrite Heroes

Key Components

Contribution Mechanics: To become an Appwrite Hero, applicants showcase their engagement with Appwrite and the developer community, typically through their contributions on various platforms. Unlike just mastering Appwrite tools, the emphasis is on active participation and helping others in the community. This includes building projects with Appwrite, writing guides, creating video tutorials, and supporting fellow developers in the Appwrite Discord community.

Awards & Recognition: Appwrite Heroes enjoy a range of exclusive benefits. This includes access to special in-person gatherings with the Appwrite team, a unique digital badge to display on Discord and LinkedIn, and the possibility of having travel expenses covered to attend developer conferences. These perks are designed to recognize the significant contributions and leadership of Heroes in the community.

Resources: The Appwrite Heroes program focuses on continuous learning and community engagement. Heroes have the opportunity to beta-test new Appwrite releases and gain special access to an in-depth roadmap, providing them with a deeper understanding of the platform. This program is not just about the perks; it emphasizes ongoing involvement and the desire to assist and lead within the Appwrite community.

🔗 Further Information

Closing Thoughts

As we wrap up this insightful conversation it's evident that the journey through various ambassador and developer advocacy programs is not just about technical expertise, but also about building meaningful connections within the tech community. The dialogue with our guest reveals the layered complexity of navigating developer relations, the critical role of intrinsic motivation.

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