Hi! I'm Adam Gordon Bell

Balancing Developer Identity

Published 8 months ago • 3 min read

Adam Gordon Bell

September 2023

Balancing Identity

Hello, CoRecursive newsletter subscriber,

It’s September now, and I have a new episode out here:

It's a look behind the scenes to the creation of Chef - the game-changing infrastructure automation tool. Adam Jacob created Chef, and it became a massively popular DevOps tool. But despite Chef’s success, Adam constantly battled self-doubt.

In this raw episode, Adam shares how the pressure of going from sysadmin to start-up executive caused an identity crisis. He opens up about the motivational speech that left him in tears, realizing his self-worth was too tied to Chef’s outcomes.

Adam explains his journey to separating work and self-identity. How he learned to overcome imposter syndrome and “just do the work.” His story shows that even those at the top face self-doubt, but you can overcome it by focusing on your craft.

Balancing Developer Identity in a DevRel Role

So I’m now in my third year of working in Developer Relations. What is Developer Relations? It varies a lot, but for me and my role at Earthly, it means writing, speaking, and talking with developers to generate interest in our open-source build tool.

The job is excellent, but I’m not on the feature development team. I’m not a line software developer. I’m not pulling tickets, fixing bugs, and pushing the product forward. Being a developer in a marketing role makes me anxious. So much of my career has been about building products, and now I write code, but when I’m feeling self-doubtful, it feels like it’s all pretend. It’s not real work, and I’m no longer a real developer.

Adam’s story was about a similar struggle. He wanted to be in the weeds of all the technical decisions for way too long at Chef because of this self-identity issue. Now that I’ve heard him explain it, I see how it affects me.

For instance, many things I do at Earthly don’t fit under the heading of Developer Relations. I occasionally participate in design doc reviews and product planning meetings. I am on a special projects team, where we build quick proof of concepts of potentially impactful features. And I have very very occasionally contributed bug fixes to Earthly core.

I feel proud to say I contributed to all those things, but maybe I shouldn’t be because they are not my job. It’s a small start-up, so I can get a chance to wear many hats. But also, I do these product/development things because I want to maintain my identity as a software developer. And there are better sources of motivation than that.

When I transitioned to working as an engineering manager - several years back, at another company - another engineering manager was struggling with the fear of losing his technical skills. And I remember telling him: You are an intelligent person. You have skills. If you want to go back to being an engineer in the future, you can. So don’t worry about it for now. Just focus on your current role.

I’m not sure if he listened to my advice, but I’m trying to listen to it now. And it was Adam Jacob’s advice as well: Do the work for your role. If you want to do a different position at some other point, you can. But right now, you need to embrace the job you have.

You have to be where you are at.

Other Links

Other content I’ve published since the last newsletter:

These are part of the content I produce in my role as a head of Developer Relations.

But really, you should check out my interview with Adam Jacob. For me, its been super impactful.



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