Scott Hanselman

11 essential characteristics for being a good technical advocate or interviewer

August 08, 2018 Comment on this post [11] Posted in Musings
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14265784357_5b2773e123_oI was talking to my friend Rob Caron today. He produces Azure Friday with me - it's our weekly video podcast on Azure and the Cloud. We were talking about the magic for a successful episode, but then realized the ingredients that Rob came up with were generic enough that they were the essential for anyone who is teaching or advocating for a technology.

Personally I don't believe in "evangelism" in a technical context and I dislike the term "Technology Evangelism." Not only does it evoke unnecessary zealotry but it also implies that your religion technology is not only what's best for someone, but that it's the only solution. Java people shouldn't try to convert PHP people. That's all nonsense, of course. I like the word "advocate" because you're (hopefully) advocating for the right solution regardless of technology.

Here's the 11 herbs and spices that are needed for a great technical talk, a good episode of a podcast or show, or a decent career talking and teaching about tech.

  1. Empathy for the guest – When talking to another person, never let someone flounder and fail – compensate when necessary so they are successful.
  2. Empathy for the audience – Stay conscious that you're delivering an talk/episode/post that people want to watch/read.
  3. Improvisation – Learn how to think on your feet and keep the conversation going (“Yes, and…”) Consider ComedySportz or other mind exercises.
  4. Listening – Don't just wait to for your turn to speak, just to say something, and never interrupt to say it. Be present and conscious and respond to what you’re hearing
  5. Speaking experience – Do the work. Hundreds of talks. Hundreds of interviews. Hundreds of shows. This ain’t your first rodeo. Being good means hard work and putting in the hours, over years, whether it's 10 people in a lunch presentation or 2000 people in a keynote, you know what to articulate.
  6. Technical experience – You have to know the technology. Strive to have context and personal experiences to reference. If you've never built/shipped/deployed something real (multiple times) you're just talking.
  7. Be a customer – You use the product, every day, and more than just to demo stuff. Run real sites, ship real apps, multiple times. Maintain sites, have sites go down and wake up to fix them. Carry the proverbial pager.
  8. Physical mannerisms – Avoid having odd personal ticks and/or be conscious of your performance on video. I know what my ticks are and I'm always trying to correct them. It's not self-critical, it's self-aware.
  9. Personal brand – I'm not a fan of "personal branding" but here's how I think of it. Show up. (So important.) You’re a known quantity in the community. You're reliable and kind. This lends credibility to your projects. Lend your voice and amplify others. Be yourself consistently and advocate for others, always.
  10. Confidence – Don't be timid in what you have to say BUT be perfectly fine with saying something that the guest later corrects. You're NOT the smartest person in the room. It's OK just to be a person in the room.
  11. Production awareness – Know how to ensure everything is set to produce a good presentation/blog/talk/video/sample (font size, mic, physical blocking, etc.) Always do tech checks. Always.

These are just a few tips but they've always served me well. We've done 450 episodes of Azure Friday and I've done nearly 650 episodes of the Hanselminutes Tech Podcast. Please Subscribe!

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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August 09, 2018 11:23
I don't like the term 'evangelism' either, probably for similar reasons to you, but 'empathy for the audience' should apply to your readers who are religious, too. I bet some of them may belong to the Evangelical church and that they may feel a lack of empathy from you by the way you passively belittled their beliefs.
August 09, 2018 11:43
You took that one to a weird place pretty quickly. Technology and teaching technology is not religion. In fact, religion has no place in my teaching of technology as the two are unrelated, so I’m not sure how you could object to my removing of the word evangelism. Additionally, I’m not really clear how anything I said here belittles Evangelicals, passively OR actively. I am simply saying that “technology evangelist” are two words that should not go together. Be a techie. Be an evangelical. Or not. It’s all good.
August 09, 2018 11:57
Great article, Scott! I've watched/listened to a lot of interviews over the years, and the good ones stick close to the guidelines you lay out.
August 09, 2018 12:11
I personally don't mind the word evangelism. Its origin comes from greek and literally translates to "the bringer of good news" (etymonline)

Good news everyone! core 2.1 is released!
August 09, 2018 16:40
Ohhh: "Interviewer" as in talking to a guest on a show, not "interviewer" as in talking to a candidate about their qualifications for a position.

I clicked hoping for some good advice on the latter, as that's a place where I'm trying to improve!
August 09, 2018 19:02
Thank you for the reminder about these 3 core things which I believe summarize what you wrote (at least in my mind), be empathetic, self-aware, and do the work (and do it well).
August 09, 2018 21:51
Great post. I particularly like the part about evangelism. That's why I've adopted the Developer Advocate title for my team. Our roles are to act not only to "spread the good news" as @Synercoder points out, but also to advocate on behalf of the user (developer or other technical practitioner) with the engineering team. Our technical products aren't coming from God, they're not the bible. They're great, and we should be listening to the people who have to actually use them.
August 10, 2018 3:04
I've followed you for a long time, and met you a couple of times. I do a fair amount of technical speaking and writing in a PM role at a software company. I've used you as a model, perhaps a readonly mentor. I'm just writing to say thanks.
August 10, 2018 11:11
I'd agree that 'evangelist' is not a great term. It's very US-centric. It sounds religious and not in a good way ('TV evangelist' is perhaps the most common usage and that doesn't conjur a positive image for all people).

Technology is not religion. I'd also agree that "advocate" captures the idea that the relationship can work in two directions.

However, I don't agree that someone who is an 'evangelist' implicitly thinks that they have the only solution to a problem whereas someone who is an 'advocate' does not. I think that's assuming too much.

As an example, Microsoft now has Advocates. Cloud Developer Advocates.

I can see that they aren't trying to convert Java developers into PHP developers.

But I don't know that they'd advocate the best solution to a problem if that solution is IBM Watson or if it is Amazon's cloud or Google's cloud. They may not exhibit a PHP/Java bias but they'd surely exhibit an Azure/AWS bias?

I'd expect nothing less - Microsoft is paying them to get IAAS workloads into the Azure cloud and, right now, it's not about Java vs PHP as it's largely IAAS motions that are driving growth.
August 12, 2018 6:12
Please continue as well
Your writing is awesome
I'm taking energy
August 12, 2018 17:50
Your consistency in blogging and podcasting are an inspiration for me to continue improving and writing on my blog. Thank you :)

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.