As we reported previously, the Java community was knocked for six this month when the news broke that a number of Oracle’s evangelists had been “suddenly and involuntarily” pushed off deck. Understandably, given both the (apparent) abruptness of their dismissal coupled with prestige these Java evangelists held, there was a ripple of shock across the Javasphere.
On the flip side however, there were factions that expressed surprise that Oracle had continued to employ these evangelists as long as they did. No matter the credence you give to the programming ranking charts Java continues to top, with a 9 million strong developer community, it can be argued that the platform has well and truly succeeded in its goal to conquer the world. “Does Java need to be sold any more? It runs everywhere. it runs on everything,” one commentator wrote – and, as others beside pondered, once you’ve got the world hooked, surely the work of the evangelist is done?
Interestingly, just a couple of weeks before the Oracle news broke, Theo Priestley covered just this issue in Forbes Tech, in his piece, “Why Every Tech Company Needs A Chief Evangelist.” Reading through the reams of commentary around the departure of James Weaver et. al, it’s clear that there’s a certain lack of understanding around the role of evangelists and to what extent they can be dismissed as mere salespeople. Indeed, as Priestley comments when we speak, “It’s weird because there are a lot of developer evangelists out there in other organisations and I guess it goes down to the fact that nobody really understands what an evangelist is – or what they’re supposed to do.”
The rapid growth of social media and information sharing platforms has only served to complicate matters that bit further. Given this confusion, the time has come, Priestley argues in his piece, for evangelism to “evolve beyond its current definition.”
For Priestley, there are five core “themes” that an evangelist role must fulfil:
- Create a transparent story – this is key, Priestley writes, to mitigate the newly forged two-way communication channels for corporate and product marketing, building lifelong relationships with customers as their individual stories change over time.
- Create a real, inspiring story – evangelists need to inspire, employing their charisma to ignite passion and elevate their product above all the other market “noise.”
- Adapt constantly – marketers are confronted with new platforms for communication every day. It’s crucial they are able to keep up with the crowd, not only in communication preference, but in what they are demanding from their products.
- Be opinionated – “Without an opinion,” Priestley notes, “there’s very little passion.” In order to ignite passion, being able to surf the waves of trends and identify the messages that are going to resonate with developers is of fundamental importance -even if what you’re saying is a little controversial.
- Connect the dots – as Priestley paraphrases, “you have to start with the customer and work back to the technology.”
Regarding the Oracle news, Priestley believes the move is a misstep for the company. “Although it makes sense from a singular point of view regarding the maturity of Java, the fact that these evangelists have built up a rapport with the development community at large in general is a sign that Oracle really doesn’t want to engage with them with a human face,” he comments.
He also sees the move as potentially commercially motivated, explaining pointedly, “Evangelists don’t sell platforms, they engage communities and promote the company and its solutions through examples and stories.” Given this, from Oracle’s business perspective, “evangelism and community advocacy is a drain not a gain.”
With tech markets getting more crowded and complicated everyday however, Priestley identifies evangelists as the very human points of intersection between developers, marketing powerhouses, and products. For an example of this, just think about how hungry developers and enterprises have been to learn about the hugely disruptive container movement – and how to couple it with their favourite technologies. Although Oracle is one big facet of the language, within the sprawling ecosystem around Java, there are plenty of powerhouses who seem willing to embrace Priestley’s rhetoric.
Tellingly, both Mark Heckler and James Weaver have already been picked up by Pivotal’s evangelism mothership, and it’s more than likely fellow former Oracle folk will find similar roles elsewhere. Whilst it remains unclear just what the motivations are behind this recent trimming of Oracle’s Java ambassador squad (it should be noted that, though thinned, there are certain key figures still in rank), what’s certain is that, elsewhere in the industry, the faith in evangelism is holding strong.