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Evangelising Technology


Now there’s a job I’d probably be terribly good at ;) I already just love taking up something new and latching on to it and finding out all I possibly can about it and telling everyone who has a mind to listen what I have learnt or sell them the idea!

Ok, now seriously, so what is the idea behind taking a practice commonly associated literally exclusively within religious circles and yanking it into the world of technology? That’s exactly the question I sought to answer after seeing the title ‘Technical Evangelist’ against someone’s job description.

The general idea is that an Evangelist is someone who believes in a certain cause which he just wants to go out into the world and tell everyone about. So, really it could be said to be a form of marketing but not very conventional marketing. The term has been in existence for a while now, and there are some pretty famous TE’s out there including Scoble and Guy Kawaski. According to a post by Guy Kawaski on his blog, the fundamental principles of Technical Evangelism are:

  1. Create a cause...A cause seizes the moral high ground. It is a product or service that improves the lives of people, ends bad things, or perpetuates good things. It is not simply an exchange of things/services for money.
  2. Love the cause. “Evangelist” isn’t simply a job title. It’s a way of life. It means that the evangelist totally loves the product and sees it as a way to bring the “good news.”…
  3. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists. A good evangelist can usually tell if people understand and like a product in five minutes. If they don’t, cut your losses and avoid them…
  4. Localize the pain. No matter how revolutionary your product, don’t describe it using lofty, flowery terms like “revolutionary,” “paradigm shifting,” and “curve jumping.”… People don’t buy “revolutions.” They buy “aspirins” to fix the pain or “vitamins” to supplement their lives.
  5. Let people test drive the cause. Essentially, say to people, “We think you are smart. Therefore, we aren’t going to bludgeon you into becoming our customer. Try our product, take it home, download it, and then decide if it’s right for you.” A test drive is much more powerful than an ad.
  6. Learn to give a demo. An “evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron. A person simply cannot be an evangelist if she cannot demo the product…
  7. Provide a safe first step. The path to adopting a cause should have a slippery slope. There shouldn’t be large barriers like revamping the entire IT infrastructure…
  8. Ignore pedigrees. Good evangelists aren’t proud. They don’t focus on the people with big titles and big reputations. Frankly, they’ll meet with, and help, anyone who “gets it” and is willing to help them…
  9. Never tell a lie. Very simply, lying is morally and ethically wrong… Evangelists know their stuff, so they never have to tell a lie to cover their ignorance.
  10. Remember your friends. Be nice to the people on the way up because one is likely to see them again on the way down. Once an evangelist has achieved success, he shouldn’t think that he’ll never need those folks again. One of the most likely people to buy a Macintosh was an Apple II owner. One of the most likely people to buy an iPod was a Macintosh owner. One of the most likely people to buy whatever Apple puts out next is an iPod owner. And so it goes.

Well, Scoble apparently did not agree with some of these ideas and he once said that he’s not a Guy kind of TE.

My personal opinion? I’d rather be a TE than a sales person any day. Perhaps it’s just the title, but the picture that comes to mind when i think of being a TE is much more exciting than the one that comes to mind when I think of being called a sales person. I mean it’s simply about passion; not just looking at the product but seeing it, understanding it and it’s not really selling, it’s bringing out the value and accepting criticism if necessary. Understanding the technology enough to brainstorm with the designers and developers and yet understanding it even more so that you can bring out it’s value simply and effectively to the business executive who simply looks at you straight in the face and asks ‘So, where’s the value in this for my business’. It’s recognizing a cool platform and a valuable proposition at the same time!

Like I said, Evangelism is passion, it’s commitment! ;)

According to Mike Swanson, here’s what it takes to be a TE at MS:

  • Undeniable passion for technology – if I tried to remove any digital devices from your home, you’d say something like: “over my dead body!” Or, you’d pick up your light saber replica, stun gun, or Zero-Blaster and threaten me.
  • Ability to communicate with non-developers – yes, there are people out there who don’t write code (I know it’s hard to believe), and you need to be able to translate simple product features into a language that business decision makers can understand. If you find the phrase “business value” to be nauseating, this might not be the right job.
  • Enjoy public speaking – yes, you’ll find yourself in front of large audiences, industry influentials, and CxO-level executives. If you thrive in situations like this, a TE position may be right for you.
  • Out-of-the-box thinking – to help drive adoption in their areas of expertise, Technical Evangelists constantly push the envelope and define new strategies for tackling problems. There’s nothing wrong with the “tried and true,” but you understand that real innovation demands creative thinking.
  • Technical experience – TEs spend a lot of time talking to hard-core developers, internal product teams, partners, and customers. Although you don’t necessarily need to start out as an expert in the technology you’re evangelizing, you absolutely need to have technical credibility and the ability to grok concepts quickly. If you don’t have this, you risk being marginalized.
  • Persistence – no, I’m not talking about serialization or permanent storage (but extra points if those came to mind), I’m talking about your innate ability to push forward despite setbacks and frustration. Your friends probably use terms like driven and unstoppable to describe you, and in rare cases, maybe even annoying. Hopefully not too much of the last one.
  • Expert juggler – a good TE finds themselves (frankly, puts themselves) at the center of a lot of activity and needs to be able to respond and react to surprises, unexpected situations, and a torrent of electronic communication. If you’re able to slow the world down à la bullet time, you may consider this your Ninjitsu Zen. Think Cato and the Pink Panther, but with a lot more poise and grace.
  • Opinionated, yet diplomatic – you’re not afraid to share your opinion and maybe even change your opinion based on new information. Yet, you also understand that without diplomacy, your message may lose its effectiveness.

Here are some interesting articles/blog posts i dug up on Technical Evangelism:

From http://corporatespices.blogspot.com

From http://www.alpern.org/weblog/

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