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How I polywork: Developer Advocate Brian Douglas

How I polywork: Developer Advocate Brian Douglas

Brian Douglas is the Director of Developer Advocacy at GitHub and the brain behind Open Sauced, the project helping emerging software engineers become open source contributors.

When Brian’s not plugged into his 9-to-5 gigs, he’s also:

  • Proactively speaking at industry events and conferences
  • Hosting JAMstack Radio, a podcast for Heavybit Industries
  • Sharing his skills online via live streaming, YouTube, and TikTok

We sat down with Brian to hear how he makes it all happen, as well as why Polywork has become his platform of choice for unifying his increasing number of outlets for expression.

What Are You Polyworking On?

Officially, I lead developer relations at GitHub, which means meeting developers where they are to best engage with them and to encourage them to leverage new features or utilize our existing products in ways they’ve never seen before.

I accomplish this, in part, by creating a lot of examples via content. I’d estimate:

  • 5 to 10% of my time is spent doing pure coding and building up a repertoire of stuff I’d like to discuss or dissect in the future
  • 25 to 30% is spent creating content, often while I’m tinkering between morning meetings
  • Everything else is dedicated to engaging communities — writing emails, chatting in Discord channels, even watching Twitter (and now Polywork) throughout the day

Developer advocacy is about being in the right place at the right time, all of the time. In turn, you know what certain folks and communities are up to — and also who could answer your questions well when you have them.

Why Do You Polywork?

I’ve always been motivated by curiosity. For instance:

  • On TikTok, I spent time researching and seeing who was making developer content. Then I grew to 1K+ followers by simply observing what works and what doesn’t.
  • On YouTube, I spent an enormous amount of time in 2020 investigating why so many tech companies weren’t providing quality video content. Then I started shipping.

It doesn’t matter what interest area, I tend to jump in and out. I’m a hobbyist.

I didn’t go to school for computer science, though I did get into the rabbit hole of online gaming. I didn’t go for music either, but I spent so much time self-teaching instruments through YouTube or even recording and playing shows — but I had no intention of trying to become famous.

I still have so many guitars and other hobby equipment scattered around. I guess I like picking my brain in this way because, growing up, I didn’t have access to these things. And now that I have a reliable income, I have the privilege of being able to go buy a product and then learn it.

Polywork as the New Portfolio

I swear by Polywork because all of the types of work people are doing on this platform are so different, and I’m able to represent all of mine with multiple content tags on my profile. To be honest, my work is all over the place.

And that’s not bad by any means. I think it’s a great thing.

Polywork is the only community that feels like a natural setting for sharing all of my interests.

  • I’ve tried LinkedIn and Twitter but I’ve always felt self-conscious about the approach. People don’t follow me to see me list every single thing I do — and I do a lot.
  • So I thought, “Let’s keep a newsletter!” And then those emails got way too big way too fast with way too much content.

I started creating content while learning to code. I would write a blog post almost every day to keep myself accountable — but also to help myself remember what I did yesterday. Now, Polywork has become my de-facto place where I still love to share what I’ve been learning.

When Do You Polywork?

My schedule fluctuates quite a bit depending on whether I have to take the kids to school or run errands along those lines. Maybe they should add a label for parents on Polywork. Most of my flow state happens in the mornings.

I’m a 5 AM riser.

If I can work out and hammer out a quick blog post before my kids wake up, that is the most consistently high-quality content I produce — during the early morning with coffee next to me.

Otherwise, I try to find “unbreakable” time, when I can have my head down without any folks flooding into my inbox with questions. That’s after 2 PM — which is the West Coast end of day when the East Coast has finished up — or during the last parts of my day. I’ll get video and audio content done.

Who Do You Polywork With?

I’ve been running a Twitter Space for almost four months now.

It happens every single Wednesday at lunchtime and the goal is to find someone I admire but don’t know within the developer community — through Twitter itself or Polywork — then I invite them on and ask three basic questions across a 45-minute conversation:

Who are you? What do you do? How did you get here?

It’s helpful in both directions:

  • The more people share their success stories and journeys, the better and more educational the ecosystem becomes for folks trying to come up
  • Meanwhile, someone who’s successful usually gets asked the same question on an individual basis on LinkedIn, Twitter, or whatever all the time: “How’d you get that job? How’d you build this thing?” So I can help them amplify and share the story publicly.

This process, rinse and repeat, of successful people agreeing to join me in conversation has built my entire network. And every job I’ve gotten has resulted from my growing network.

That’s been the fundamental goal since I moved into the developer relations arena: Meet as many people as possible while being as helpful as possible.

Networking for Communal Good & Representation

Along those lines: While I love talking to folks in the limelight, I also like identifying and getting to know people who are up and coming while having been historically excluded. I’ve worked throughout my career to reach out to folks who look like me.

I’m a Black engineer.

And it’s easy to find conversations with dudes who look like me, but I’ve also had to be very intentional about then also reaching out to women or non-binary folks who are doing great work.

I’ll keep in mind moments like, “Hey, this person who’s not a dude would be a great podcast guest or person to reach out to when GitHub’s hiring.” I think it’s one way to avoid running in circles with the industry conversation of “not enough women or non-binary or Black people are applying to our roles.”