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Alvaro Montoro

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Twitter, Grifters, DevRels, and the end of everything as we know it

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This is going a rant. More of an "old man yells at cloud" type of moment... So, feel free to leave the article now before suffering it

Dev Twitter

Let me start by saying I'm not too fond of the concept of Dev Twitter. I find it ridiculous. It makes it look like all the developers on Twitter think and behave in the same way when, in reality, it is an incredibly diverse group, often divergent and contradictory. Yet, for simplicity, I will use the term Dev Twitter many times in this article.

In my time browsing Dev Twitter, I found many types of developers that could be classified based on what/how they post:

  • People who mostly read and rarely share about development.
  • People who talk about dev and share original content.
  • People who share original content (but mostly not theirs).
  • People who talk about programming (but don't share dev content).
  • People who mostly don't talk about programming, mainly feel-good and current topics (aka memes).

It's not a strict classification, and many users jump from one to another. But in general, at any given moment, most users fall into one of those five groups.

I will talk about people who fall in the last two categories: Twitter users who speak about programming, but mostly they don't.

Twitter Grifters

Twitter Grifters are people that are on Twitter to build an audience. They don't care about what, who, or how. They mostly care about numbers (and how to make money out of it). There are grifters everywhere, but Dev Twitter has a ton of them.

They could talk about software development or about the growth of sugar cane in the Himalayas, but they picked software development because it is far more profitable.

Grifters prey on people new to development. Learning programming is not easy, and it can be confusing at times: there are too many resources from too many places. It is difficult to find the right thing and easy to get lost. A person that combines feel-good messages with apparently well-curated information is appealing. Grifters take advantage of that. They present themselves as teachers and educators, but nothing further from the truth.

Here are some clues that you may be in front of a Twitter Grifter:

  • They post a lot. Like nonstop. At a rate that is unhealthy for an account.
  • Most of their posts are lists or threads that start with "👇 🧵."
  • Most of their content is not original, but refried content from various sources (often without proper attribution.)
  • Their content ratio of trending memes is incredibly high (they love these things and surf them like champs.)
  • They love open-ended questions that have a subjective answer and generate many responses (same idea as above).
  • They like and retweet (and re-retweet, and re-re-retweet several times more) their own content.
  • Their content ratio of inspirational messages is considerably high.
  • They may (or may not) talk a lot about development, but they don't actually share any development they do.
  • They talk more about their number of followers than about any other thing. This one has many variants:
    • "I'll do X when I get to Y followers."
    • "I'm X followers short to Y."
    • "I'll share X if this gets to Y likes/retweets."
    • "I made it to X followers! Now off to Y!"

My personal favorite is "I'll share more videos when I get to 1,000 subscribers on Youtube." Why 1,000 and not 100, 250, or 500? (which would be more realistic expectations). The answer is simple: a Youtuber willing to serve ads must have —you guessed right— at least 1,000 subscribers. It was never about the message or the audience. It's always about the money.

Some readers may say now, "I know a bunch of people that check most of those things, but they definitely are not grifters." And you are definitely right. Some are "regular people," and some others are DevRels.

DevRels

I call them DevRel for shorts, but they go by many names: Dev Relations, Evangelists, Advocates, etc. And it has been a trendy new position for companies to influence developers.

But DevRels are not "Dev influencers." Their role goes beyond writing about development or sharing inspirational quotes on Twitter. DevRels are a bridge between external developers and company developers. They need to engage with the audience, but not in the same way a Twitter Grifter does it.

Still, the fine line separating a DevRel and a Twitter Grifter is really thin and blurry. Some people jump between the two often: they build a large audience as Grifters, then they are hired as DevRels by companies trying to take advantage of the big number of followers as a promotion stunt.

DevRels post about programming, but many times without actually coding. They share encouragement and inspiring quotes, but mostly targeted and tailored to their audience, not developers in general, but some tool users in particular.

The end of everything as we know it

Dev Twitter has evolved through this last decade. Ten years ago, there was no Dev Twitter. Then, it was a nebulous idea that now concentrates on a group of people (call them Dev influencers) who talk and define the topics.

The problem is that the Twitter Grifters are hoarding the conversation, but they are not really contributing much to its progress: their topics are repetitive, their messages are void of meaning or depth, and they don't really care about their audience (as long as it grows). And that causes the Dev Twitter ecosystem to become stale.

DevRels could help, they are better, and they are active too. But many of them are not on Dev Twitter for the sake of being around other developers, but because it is part of their job at company XYZ. So they work with developers but ultimately for a company, presenting a (not always clear) bias in their interactions.

So, how do we prevent Dev Twitter from falling into the hands of the Grifters? I don't know, and maybe we can't. It's how the system was built. But, unfortunately, larger audiences mean higher reach to new audiences too. It's a vicious cycle.

Maybe, we could break this system by getting other (better) developers more involved and focusing on them. But that's not always possible. The best developers I've known are not too active on Twitter. They read and comment here or there, but they don't participate in the conversations that much. The actual development and teaching are not done on Twitter but in their jobs. They don't have the time or interest to play a role online.

I don't know what needs to be done. But whatever it is, we cannot pin it on individuals. It should be a collective effort from the whole community. The Grifters could be helpful given their high audience. But will they want to change their ways and move forward?

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