The Relicans

Daniel Kim 🪐 for The Relicans Prime

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Learning by Teaching, My Journey into Developer Relations

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My name is Daniel Kim, and I am a Senior Developer Relations Engineer at New Relic. I get a lot of messages on LinkedIn, Email, Twitter, etc asking about my journey into tech. So this is that post - my journey diving headfirst into the tech industry.

Humble Beginnings

Believe it or not, when I started school, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I had an aptitude for math and science but had no idea the type of opportunities out there. After seeing Wall-E amongst other robot movies I ended up picking Electrical Engineering to pursue my love for robots.

Sadly to say, the first year of my college life was filled with integrals, circuits, and practically none of the exciting NCIS-Hacking-adjacent activities I expected going into school.

Side note: this scene was awesome, but boy was it misleading.

During this period of my life, I wasn't very confident in my abilities. I failed my first programming course (Shout out to ECS-40 at UC Davis). I had a constant stream of rejections from internships. I wasn't confident in my ability to "make it".

Then, one late-night study session in the library, I was helping my friend with his Math homework. After I walked him through the steps of Greene's theorem, he told me "Daniel, you should be a teacher."

I brushed it off at first. I knew since I was younger I always found tutoring and teaching rewarding, but I had always wanted to do something bigger, something that can perhaps change the world.

Wings Take Dream

One day after struggling particularly hard on a program to replicate Monopoly with C++, I was talking to a classmate with a lot of coding experience, and he exclaimed "The stuff they teach us in class, it's too easy. I learned most of this when I was in high school".

I was both scared and nervous to admit that I was struggling with my programming assignments. I knew there were others like me out there.

I vividly remember a technical interview I had with a startup founder. He asked me about APIs. I candidly replied, "What is an API?". Needless to say, I was immediately rejected. I remember getting the rejection email within hours of the interview. Wiping off the disappointment, I ordered myself an unholy amount of bubble tea and wrote an outline for a new student organization, which is now Bit Project.

I wanted to create a safe space for students to learn from each other and get the necessary skills to be hirable. During many of the interviews I had failed for internships, they asked me about APIs, Toolkits, Frameworks, and I had no idea how to even push to Git!

I got some of my friends together - Shreya, Kevin, Bryan, Long and started a student organization right at UC Davis.

Walking the Walk

The student organization I founded was small at first. We were a few students teaching each other basic skills we picked up as we were pursuing internships. We would find out about amazing frameworks like Gatsby.js, Flask, and React and teach each other the amazing things we could do with open source.

We translated that into building open-source educational content, partnering with amazing folks at Twitter, Postman, MongoDB, and Microsoft to create amazing workshops and learning experiences for students like me at school who were struggling to find a community to feel like home.

On top of doing all this community building, I gave my first talk at Gatsby Days, where I met my fellow coworker Aisha Blake (She is as cool in person, as she is in real life). Let me tell you, public speaking is scary. While I was terrified when I was up there on stage, I felt amazing afterward.

Founding and running Bit Project helped me realize I had skills and knowledge unique to me and helped me realize the joy I have for teaching others.

Developer Relations?!!!!!!

I still remember when I first heard the words "Developer Relations. As I was starting to get Bit Project off the ground, I cold emailed a lot of folks. One of the first people to get back to me was Smit, a director at Postman who invited me to Post/Con, the Postman user conference.

Me and a few friends packed our bags, grabbed plenty of snacks from Trader Joes, and headed to San Francisco (only a 1.5 hour drive).

Daniel and Friends at Postcon

I was mesmerized by going to a tech conference. There was free food, coffee, amazing technical conversations. Basically a college student's dream. There, I got to meet some really cool students who were also involved with Postman, as well as engineers who gave me and my friends some amazing advice about pursuing careers in tech.

One of the most engaging talks I heard that day was by Mary Thengvall, the current Director of Developer Relations at Camunda, the author of "the Business value of Developer Relations", and a celebrity amongst DevRel folks.

In the talk, she talked about a new job category being created in the tech industry called Developer Relations. She talked about the importance and impact of building a technical community in building amazing products by providing feedback loops and creating content, amongst other things.

I was hooked. I realized that what I was pursuing in my student organization was Developer Relations. That day, I wrote in my journal. I am going to be in Developer Relations.

The Future

Long story short, I became a Developer Relations Engineer! I realized the dream I had since I was a young lad (literally 2 years ago), making a difference in the world and helping fellow developers level up.

If I were to give any unsolicited advice to a newbie looking to break into tech, I would recommend finding your niche in tech. I can tell you with 100% certainty, I am not the best developer. But I bring a lot of other things to the table, like organizing programs, putting on events, building communities, and teaching.

Ask yourself,

  • What makes me happy?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I want to do?

As my mentor/friend Chloe Condon @chloecondon says, there is room for you to belong in tech. The meteoric rise of a theatre major that had Jerry Springer the Opera and Xanadu the Musical on her resumé is now a famous developer advocate at Microsoft, helping students around the world level up with Azure. With enough hard work and dedication, you can be successful in tech.

I am super excited to continue my passion of teaching and breaking down barriers in tech as a Relican. #relicanstrong

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