At one point in his life, Michael Sage was a monk living in a monastery. Nowadays, though, he practices a different kind of evangelism in his job as a chief evangelist at BlazeMeter, a software load and performance-testing company.
You may have heard the term "evangelist," or even have such a role in your own company. The role is becoming increasingly important in a technology-driven economy where applications, software and Web platforms all compete for users' attention, says Michael Doonan, a partner at executive search firm SPMB.
"Specifically in technology, the evangelist role is becoming much more important. Imagine if you're a platform-as-a-service startup, and you come into the market with a platform on which applications can be built, or software or services delivered, that removes the need for companies to develop their own internal, proprietary platform. Small companies, like startups, will take you up on that because it's cheap, it's easy and it's flexible. But part of the problem is growth and scale -- how can you move up-market into larger enterprises and get that customers base? That's where evangelism comes in," Doonan says.
Becoming an advocate
By definition, an evangelist is someone who advocates for the use of a specific technology, and then elevates it as a standard within the industry, Doonan says. The earliest technology evangelists were high-profile names in the tech industry like Apple's Guy Kawasaki and even Steve Jobs.
The role itself is an interesting mix of technology, sales, marketing and even a bit of psychology and theatrics, says Sage. You not only need the technical chops to demonstrate what technology can do, but you need to be able to sell others on ways it could help them in their jobs or in their day-to-day life, he says.
"You're drawing on aspects of a bunch of different fields, technology, sales, marketing, psychology, even acting. You not only have to have technical depth and credibility, but also polished sales and marketing skills so that you can handle objections, you can promote messaging in a non-threatening way. And you have to know a lot about the business climate you're operating in -- what's the market like? What are the circumstances that have brought a company to where it is?" Sage says.
There's no one right educational path to becoming an evangelist, says Heidi Ellis, professor and chair of Computer Science and Information Technology at Western New England University. The role involves such a unique combination of skills that educational background could be anything from computer science to marketing and sales.
"You need enough hard-core technical background to speak reasonably about the technology, but it's just as important to speak well, and have great communication skills. I'd also say that business-focused people who know a lot about the inner workings and culture of a company that developed that technology could do extremely well in a role like this," Ellis says.
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