Two weeks ago I gave a talk at The Lead Developer called How To Succeed at Hiring Without Really Trying. This is pretty much the blog post version of my script/speaker’s notes for it! Check out the full slides or watch the video.

Imagine: you’re shopping for groceries and need to buy strawberries. You have two options. The first one comes in this completely closed off box – you can’t look into it, there’s no pictures on the packaging – you have no idea how the strawberries actually look like. The second option: a transparent plastic box with some handy labels on it: you know immediately what the nutritional value is, where the strawberries are grown and you even get some a nice recipe for strawberry pie to try. And you can exactly see what strawberries you get.

Which box do you choose?

Now of course choosing what company to work at isn’t on the same level as choosing which strawberries to buy. But in the same way, we should be thinking about how we expose and promote our teams as places where people want to work. Not doing anything and remaining a black box that no one can look into doesn’t help at all. So how can we be those strawberries that everyone wants to choose?

For the past 2 years, I’ve taken a lead within FutureLearn to do exactly this type of stuff – I’ve been responsible for trying to raise awareness about our company within the tech and design community.


How to define what I do?

In the past I’ve always struggled trying to explain what it exactly is that I do and finding the right phrase or word or title that encompasses it. Developer evangelism. Developer outreach. Developer relations. Developer advocacy. All these terms are used within our industry to describe these roles that are much more outward facing, but none of them felt quite right to describe what we were trying to do here.

The way I see it this area typically is about creating a relationship between your company and potential customers – you have a product, be it a platform, apis, tooling – it’s something that you want developers to use. There’s a good overview from Phil Leggetter about the different goals and approaches within developer relations, but in the end all of them are about shaping that space, so you can have conversations with those outside of your company about your product.

And that doesn’t quite work here for 2 reasons: 1) it’s not the product we’re trying to evangelize, it’s our team, and 2) we’re actually not just targeting developers, we’re targeting the wider product team, so also designers, UX researchers, product managers. It’s about more than just developers.

So the phrase I’ve started using recently to capture this is employee evangelism. In the same way that developer evangelism is about creating that conversation between your company and the outside world, employee evangelism is about creating that conversation between your employees and the potential employees outside the company. It is about raising awareness about the team – and comes from the team directly.

Rather than having a single person be the employee evangelist, you want the entire team to contribute to this evangelism, making sure that this loop is constantly happening:


Now we have other people on the team who take care of the hiring process, and I like to think that everyone on our team does awesome stuff, so my focus tends to be on getting people to share that awesomeness with the community. I’ve always seen this as a team role: I’m not the only person in the company going out and talking at all the events, I’m not the only person writing all the blog posts. This has been very much about supporting our entire team to do all this, helping them learn the skills they need for this and helping create the type of environment where everyone feels encouraged to contribute.

How to encourage your team?

So having defined this idea of employee evangelism, what can you do to encourage and support your team to practice this?

A couple months back I read Badass: Making Users Awesome from Kathy Sierra and in it she explains how the best way to get your product being used by people, is understanding that it’s not necessarily about your product, it’s about making your users awesome. If they feel they are being badass, when using your product, they’ll be more passionate and motivated to share what they can do with your product.

Kathy goes on to create a framework of sorts to help your users become badass. And I realised that most of what she describes in there can be adapted to how we can encourage our teams. How we can make our teams badass.

Using her book as a base I’ve adapted it specifically for getting your team to share more, but I think it can applied to a lot of other ways of making our teams better. I want to focus on 4 areas, and I think all of these combined can help you encourage your team:


Give them a compelling context

This is about creating that right type of environment where people feel like they can share. Start with the company culture first. Now let’s go back to our strawberry example.

Remember the packaging of the transparent box?  The retailer could have put anything they wanted on it – nutritional benefits, the claim that they’re the best strawberries in the world, adorable recipes. In the end though the main thing that matters: whether or not they are good and tasty strawberries. Whether or not they’re the type of strawberries a person would buy again. Whether or not they’re the type of strawberries a person would tell their friends to go buy.

So: be great. The first thing about getting your team, writing or talking about your company is having something that’s worth sharing, something that’s worth getting excited about. If you want potential employees to see what a great company it is to work at, then it does need to be a great company or at least have elements of greatness within it. If there isn’t a single thing that you can think of that is great, that is worth sharing with others, then most probably your focus should be on fixing that first.

The second thing is to be authentic. The stories that your team will tell need to come from them – you can’t give them a script or a brief and tell them to go and evangelise. It needs to have that human voice.

“On their deathbed, nobody will say: If only I’d engaged more with brands.” – Kathy Sierra

Remember this is about employees starting conversations with potential employees. It’s not The Brand having those conversations, it’s actual humans.

Third, be open. Be willing to share information and stories and data about your company. Not every company will be able to share everything – but get a good understanding of what things your team can talk about and share, and make sure they’re aware that they can.

Give them a compelling reason

The second area we need to look at is giving each person a compelling reason. With this I mean look at the personal motivations for each team member. What will drive each of them to share what they do with others? I’ll give a couple examples of what I think are the most common motivations.

Helping others – these are the people that share what they know, cause it will directly help someone else. They might not necessarily want to stand in the spotlight, but they know that if they do, they can make someone’s life easier.

Building confidence in communication – in most of our day-to-day work we rely on communication to others . Doing a blog post or giving a talk or workshop are extreme examples on that spectrum, but becoming a better speaker or writer will help people in their job, and for some this is the main reason why they will want to get better at it.

Building personal reputation – these are the people that want to stand in the spotlight and have the focus on them. A variant of this are the people that want to be experts in a specific thing – they want to show that they have mastered a specific topic.  

These aren’t the only motivations that people have, but I think these are the most popular 3 especially when it comes to getting your team to share what they do. Understanding which of these apply to each team member ties in with helping them actually build the skills they need and understanding what types of stories and problems they want to share.

Help them keep wanting to

Now that we know what each team member’s goal is how do you encourage them to keep working on this? I think there are 2 sides to this:

First: what makes them stop? You need to understand what each person’s fears and blockers are. I often hear things like I’m not an expert, I can’t write, nothing I do is worth sharing. They’re all valid fears and reasons why someone will stop or will never get started. But once you know what their fears and blockers are, you can help them come up with a plan to overcome them.

The flip side of this is: what pulls them forward? Make them set a goal, like speak at a conference in a year’s time or write a full length blog post in 2 months time and help them break this big goal into more manageable chunks. I haven’t quite done this with my team yet, but am in the process of creating some progression paths for writing, speaking and workshops, so that people can pick and choose from these when setting their personal goals with their line managers.

Finally: lead by example. Make sure your team is not only aware of the things that you do, but also how you got there. For instance, when I started this 2 years back, I hadn’t ever spoken at a conference before. Even now I still get super nervous giving talks. So I know the types of fears my team were feeling – I’ve been there – but constantly sharing with them what my journey has been and how I deal with my fears and nerves, it shows my team that this is just as attainable for them as it was for me.


Help them actually get better

The final and largest area to look at is how to help your team actually get better. How do you help them improve their skills?

The first part of this is perpetual exposure. This is the idea that to become better at something, to become an expert at something, you need to be exposed to high quality examples of the things that you’re trying to get better at. In this case of getting people to share things make sure your team is exposed to good examples of other people sharing.

So to start: have a library. This doesn’t have to be just books, but also blog posts, articles, screencasts, videos, basically any content that is worth sharing with your team. What are good examples of content that other people have created? Besides that we’ve also got lists of recommended material to help people get started with public speaking and writing.

Another thing we organise is Talks We Love – in this we watch a recorded video of a talk together that one person on the team really enjoyed or found useful, followed by a discussion on things we might want to do ourselves.

Beyond highlighting external content, you also need to try to highlight existing good internal content. Our teams are already creating content: just think about good commit messages, or emails or slack messages explaining things. Most of the time it just requires someone pointing out to them ‘did you consider turning that into a blog post? Or a talk? Or a workshop?’. Be that voice that champions the work that they’re already doing.

The second part of helping your team get better – is giving them the time and space for deliberate practice. Rather than throwing them in the deep end – you need to allow them to build these skills gradually. I’ll give a few examples of how we support practice with speaking and writing. They’re not the only things we do, but it’s just to give you a sense of what types of activities and support you should be thinking of.

Lightning Talks: These happen every 4-6 weeks and anyone in the company can give a quick 5 minute talk about anything they want. This is a great way to get people to recognise that they have something worth talking about and it gives them the experience and confidence to do more talks.

Learning Hours: In these one person on the team, teaches something they think other people might find useful. These tend to be more hands-on and workshop like. And these can be about anything – past learning hours have been about command line tools, how to run retrospectives and understanding database indexes better. Rather than learning to speak in front of a larger audience – this allows people to practice these skills in front of a smaller group of people they’re already working with.


Conference Club:  This is an internal meetup for everyone that wants to speak at conferences to get together and help each other with everything that goes into creating a conference talk. So coming up with talk ideas, helping write proposals, giving feedback on practice runs. It’s making sure that people aren’t doing this completely by themselves.

Collaboration blog posts: We pick a specific topic, like women that inspire us or foreign words that we like, and ask for paragraph submissions. So rather than having to commit to a full length blog post, we get people started with writing small snippets.

Internal Blog: Another thing we have is our internal blog, for sharing problems or stories with the wider team. Again rather than having to publish something immediately for the entire world, we basically provide a stepping stone inbetween.

So give your team the time and space to practice these new skills. These won’t grow overnight and you need to create a supportive environment if you want to get everyone involved.

What was the effect on our team?

So what was the effect of all this on our team? Now when I started this role we barely had anyone from our product team writing blog posts or speaking at events. Here are some stats of where we got to now.

Not including the people that joined our team recently, about 35% of our team have now done an external talk. That percentage rises to 60% when we take into account the lightning talks and to 78% when we add the learning hours. With blog posts we’ve got 75% of our team that have written full length blog posts, and 89% when we include the collaboration posts. And the awesome thing is, if we combine this all, this means that everyone in our team is sharing their knowledge in some way.

Tying it back to the start of this post – from the last round of hiring, 50% of the interviewees explicitly mentioned having seen a talk or read a blog post. This wasn’t us asking them if they had – this is the percentage of people that brought it up themselves in their conversations with us. So the actual number might actually be higher.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 17.32.40

Final thoughts

If there’s one thing you take away from this blog post, let it be this: Every team can do this, but more importantly I think every team should do this.

While I think employee evangelism is great for your company, in the end it’s about making our community great. Embedding these type of practices within every company means that we get more people sharing what they do, and what they love. If we want to see more diverse speakers at events, if we want to see more diverse writers share their stories, we need to support everyone to learn these skills and as tech leads we are in positions to change this.

So I want you all to think about this – the next time you came across something that one of your colleagues have done that could help someone else, help them to share it with the world. And maybe next year thanks to you, they will be somewhere on a stage sharing that story and trying to make the community a better place.

Enjoyed this post and want more? You might like: Blogging tips: How to start writing , How I got into conference speaking and Imposter Syndrome: How we act and work together.

Curious about how we do more things at FutureLearn? Read our “Making FutureLearn” posts.

Tags: Geeky

2012 vs 2016

June 25th, 2016



It’s Thursday, July 19th 2012.

That evening after sunset there will be a fire garden installation at the National Theatre, to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic Torch in London. My friends and I plan to check it out, cause pyrotechnics (do I need to say more?). Since it’s lovely weather, we agree to meetup earlier that evening at the Southbank and have dinner somewhere around there.

Now up until this day I think we all felt slightly cynical about the Olympics. In the past few months there have been constant subtle reminders that this is going to happen, but to us it’s mostly materialized as station closures, roadworks and other disruptions to our daily lives. There’s this wary acceptance that ‘yes, this is going to happen’, but it’s mainly going to throw the city into turmoil and be an annoying thing that we’ll need to deal with while we continue with our day-to-day. The Olympics are an event that we Londoners need to weather, not enjoy.

That evening those feelings disappear.

The moment I emerge from the underground tube station at Waterloo, I can sense that the city feels different. Just walking through the buzz and busyness of the Southbank you can tell that the cynicism has been replaced with this feeling of anticipation and hopefulness. Everywhere around me people are laughing, random strangers are enjoying conversations and there’s a general vibe that everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.

The air is full of not just excitement, but this collective feeling of pride of our city, of our London. The Olympics are coming and we’re going to show the world what it means to be a Londoner, to be a Brit. We’re going to welcome these athletes from all of the world and cheer them all on as they set their records and do amazing feats.

In the weeks that follow, my friends and I get thoroughly swept up in the Olympic spirit. We manage to get tickets to several of the actual events, watching various sports up close – and when we can’t get tickets, we attend the fringe events at the parks and Olympic Houses. Everywhere you go the city is cheering on the triumphs of the world.

This is our city and our city is celebrating.


It’s Friday, June 24th 2016.

That evening after work, friends of mine have pre-organized a meetup in the pub, jokingly mentioning the chances of needing a drink that evening. It’s been in my calendar for a few days, but I casually dismiss it as a fun moment to meetup with friends, not expecting that maybe I might actually need a drink that evening.

Now up until this point I think we all felt worried that Brexit could happen. It’s not until I wake up that morning and see that the result is LEAVE that it truly sinks in that today is a turning point.

Walking through London that morning – it feels like a city in mourning, with people expressing their grief in different ways. My trip on the tube, while never a very social experience, seems full of much more solemn quietness than usual. While catching up with friends and colleagues at the conference where I’m at that day, I can see the panic and defeat in their eyes. My entire Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of finger-pointing and blame and distrust, tons of voices lamenting the fact that we could ever get this far. And at the end of the day, there’s a flurry of people flocking to their closest pubs hoping to drink away the end of the world as they know it.

I’m not going to comment on the politics of this all – there’s still a lot that seems super vague to me. There are much more knowledgeable people than me out there who can explain what might happen and what we can do. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know what effects this will have on me, on my friends, on my colleagues.

But: I want my city back.

I want that London that we got during the Olympics. A London that is hopeful – a London that can stand strong and show the world that ‘yep, things suck, but we can get through this’. No matter what happens, this entire pointing fingers at each other, blaming this group or that, criticising the things we could have done differently, it’s not helping. If we keep looking back and bemoaning the things that could have been, we’ll wallow in the world of ‘What-If’ and never make a difference.

We’ve had our day of mourning.

What’s next?

I initially wasn’t that interested about this movie, but after watching the teaser and hearing Alan Menken’s score… Beauty and the Beast has always been my favourite Disney movie (I mean: a bookworm that always has her head in the clouds? Come on!) and this just makes me want to sing along to all the songs again. I can’t wait for this now:

I also initially thought it was going to be another live-action but-slightly-different adaption like Alice in Wonderland and Malificent, but it turns out they’re keeping most of the songs from the animation! Plus the cast sounds amazing: Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens as The Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Ewan McGregor as Lumière, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Kevin Kline as Maurice, Josh Gad as LeFou… yeah, I’m totally onboard for this!

A couple of weeks back I got invited to share my blogging tips for the Women Hack for Non Profits monthly meetup. I couldn’t make the event, but since I’ve been helping friends and colleagues recently quite a bit with their blog posts, I thought it would be useful to write up some of the advice I found myself repeating quite a bit.

These tips aren’t really about how to get you blogging more often or how to set up your blog – rather, it’s about how to write a long form blog post/article. There’s also a lot of overlap here between how I approach creating my blog posts and my talks: you could easily apply a lot of these tips to creating a talk too!

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 18.08.56

What story are you trying to tell?

Before writing anything, I try to sit down and think through all the different aspects of my blog post. For starters, who am I writing this post for? Are they other developers? Users of my product? Fans of a TV show? What’s their background, what do they know? Knowing who you’re writing for frames the entire article – for me, it makes it easier to understand and define the scope of what you’re attempting to write.

Once you know who you’re writing this post for, think about what story you’re telling them. What is it that you want them to take away from this post? What’s the key message? Are you trying to convince them of something? Are you sharing something that you did? Have an idea of what effect you want to have on your audience.

Create an outline

My process of writing typically begins with post-it notes. I’ll start with all the key points I want to make, including some of the answers I came up with to the questions in the previous section. Once I’ve got all those post-its I start grouping them and moving them around to create different sections. What I like about this method is that it allows me to play around with how I tell the story – it’s easier to move post-its around and come up with the structure that works best without being bogged down in paragraphs and paragraphs of text.

When done right, the groupings of post-it notes give me a good idea of the flow of my blog post. I’ll know what points I need to make in my intro and conclusion, plus the groupings will give me a rough idea of headings and their paragraphs. Of course, you might not necessarily have any post-its handy, but I think the main lesson is to think about the overall structure before diving in to write something.

Write the part that comes easiest to you

Once you know what to write, actually sitting down and writing can be quite tough. For me, it depends on the type of blog post, but often I’ll find that it’s the opening and intro I struggle the most with. In those cases: I initially just skip it and leave it for last. Start with whatever section is most clear in your mind and write it! There’s nothing stopping you from writing the post in the same order that somebody reads it.

Refactor and rewrite

It’s rare I’ll write something that I’m completely happy with in one go. Typically I’ll have an initial draft and go through it completely again – cutting parts, moving paragraphs around and turning it into a better story. Just like with refactoring code, you need to keep in mind that it’s all about making the end product better. Sometimes I’ll have written a sentence or paragraph that I completely love, but I know I need to cut, cause it just doesn’t work.

It will never be perfect

Finally, the main thing I’ve had to accept is that whatever I do none of my posts will ever be ‘perfect’. It’s sometimes super tricky to hit that publish button on something that you feel could be better, yet at the same time you can’t keep every single post in a drafted state forever.

Even now, just looking at this post, I feel as if maybe I’ve forgotten something, maybe there’s something else that should be included in this list. But it’s been hanging around in a draft state for about 2 weeks now and I haven’t made that many changes.

Waiting for perfection just gets in the way of sharing you know and helping others.

Tags: Geeky

Trailerrific: Obduction

March 4th, 2016

I backed this about 2.5 years ago on Kickstarter and now we finally have a trailer and a release date: June 2016!

It’s been ages since I last wrote a blog post about TV, so today I’m sharing my favourite recent geeky TV shows. All of these 4 shows aired their first season sometime in the past year, and they’ve all been renewed for second seasons. I love each of them and can’t wait until their next seasons begin!



What if 8 people each in different parts of the world were suddenly mentally connected? That’s pretty much the main premise of Sense8. It’s created by the Wachowskis and J Michael Straczynski, and they’ve gone on record saying they have all 5 seasons figured out. Whether or not we’ll get to see all those seasons… Hopefully! The first season starts off a bit slow and the characters initially feel quite sterotypical, but stick with it. I think this show really made me question my own beliefs about the world, the people around me and how I see myself, which is a rare thing to find in a TV show.


Mr Robot

Most of the time when TV shows or movies feature ‘hackers’ or ‘developers’, chances are they won’t be portrayed very realistically and that’s putting it mildly (case in point: Scorpion with their Ferrari + airplane + ethernet cable). In Mr Robot though, we find a reasonably realistic hacker in our main character, Elliot (Rami Malek), who’s recruited by the mysterious anarchist Mr Robot to take down one of the largest corporations in the world. It’s a great show and thoughout the entire first season I couldn’t quite guess where the story was going. Still can’t. I’ve got my own theories of where it might be headed, but am so curious to find out whether I’m right or not.


The Man In The High Castle

Based on the Philip K Dick novel of the same name, The Man In The High Castle is set in an alternative 1960s America where Germany and Japan have won the Second World War. The east coast of the US is controlled by the Nazi’s greater reach, while the Japanese empire rules the west coast. The pacing of the show is a bit slow, but I think that helped build the atmosphere – there are a lot of scenes that maybe don’t necessarily move the main story forward, but they show what this alternative world is like – how would people behave? What would people aspire to? How would our world have changed?


The Expanse

Another show based on a book series (written by James S.A. Corey), this show is set two hundred years in a future where humanity has colonised the Solar System. The first season follows several characters: the main ones being Detective Miller (Thomas Jane), a police officer on Ceres; James Holden (Steven Strait), the executive officer of the ice trawler Canterbury; and Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), the U.N. Deputy Undersecretary. Again, it takes a couple of episodes to get into, but I love that we’ve got a proper space SF show on TV. The cinematography, visual effects and set design are all awesome, creating a believable futuristic yet somewhat grim world. The next season won’t be airing until 2017, so I’m super tempted to read the books now!

What are your favourite shows you’ve watched recently? Let me know in the comments!

Tags: TV Series

Who you gonna call?

Ooh, this is looking like fun! There’s also a really cool hidden link to Paranormal Studies Lab within the trailer (apparently hidden within the physics equation): so geeky!

This 10 minute talk by David Marquet got shared last week at work and I just love the ideas behind it. David tells his story of when he became captain of the USS Santa Fe, and started treating his crew as leaders, not followers:

Marquet has also written a book about this topic called ‘Turn The Ship Around!‘, which goes into more detail on how to apply Marquet’s approach to create a workplace where everyone takes responsibility for their actions. I’ve just started reading it and so far it’s great.

2016-03-02 18.11.07

Can I just replace my entire wardrobe with all of these, please? I only just discovered this dress collection from Shenova and it’s so gorgeous, amazing and absolutely geeky!

I’ve featured my 4 favourite dresses here, but check out the entire 16 dresses of the collection, they’re all wonderful!

LB Code Print Dress

It’s a dress with code on it! And not just any code: it’s the source code of DOOM. Want.

Also: if you want your own code on your dress, you can get that for an additional fee.


Fibonacci Sequence Dress

We use the Fibonacci sequence for our estimation sessions (to give a rough idea of how much work we think certain features will involve) and I just love the idea of wearing a Fibonacci dress specifically for those!


Circuitry Print Panel Dress

If you want something geeky but a bit more subtle, go for this dress. It features a lovely circuitry print and doesn’t obviously scream geeky as much as the others.


Blueprint Rocket Scientist Dress

I love this dress: it features NASA blueprints of Apollo lander on the front and the Saturn V rocket on the back. Check out the photos of the back, cause it’s awesome.


As I said at the start of my post, I’ve only featured my 4 favourite dresses here, but check out the entire 16 dresses of the collection!

Video of The Day: The Present

February 11th, 2016