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Networking for Introverts: Body and Soul of IT Evangelism in Russia

Digitalization has revolutionized the way most industries work. New technologies allow different fields to overlap and borrow the best features of each other to answer specific demands of the ever-changing market. The profession of a technology evangelist became the product of its time, a perfect mix of education, sales, and marketing. It first gained popularity in the early 2000-s in Silicon Valley, where harsh competition between technological giants forced their marketing departments to look for better ways to promote their product. Mike Boich, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jobs made Apple the brand it is now, and efforts of Microsoft’s technological evangelists established Microsoft Windows as number one OS in the world.

  Traditional marketing tools prove mostly ineffective in explaining the complex technology or connecting with the IT crowds. Unlike a regular salesperson, the task of the evangelist is to promote the tech behind the product as well as preach the company’s philosophy. This way, the target audience will identify themselves with the values of the brand, supporting both the product and what it stands for. This type of marketing strategy works best in the technological field with its close-knit communities and widespread networking, as proved by the success of Apple (often called a “religion” by the mass media and researchers). How far the flames of technical evangelism have spread in Russia and what are some of the secrets of the profession, found out ipquorum.ru.

In the IT field, evangelism aims to create interest in the technology, engage users in the professional discourse and, as a result, make them ambassadors of the brand and its product. As senior technical evangelist at Microsoft Dmitry Soshnikov explained in his commentary to ipquorum.ru, “the main difference between a marketer and an evangelist is the latter’s in-depth knowledge of the technology. It should never be lower than that of their target audience. This is one of the biggest reasons there are evangelists in the tech field, and not, say, in the toy industry. You have to be “of the same blood” as your audience, you have to genuinely believe what you preach. Technological evangelist has to equally love tech and people.”

Soshnikov, a seasoned evangelist who took part in countless conferences and forums, firmly believes that being a good specialist is not only about being knowledgeable. “Usually there are a lot of introverts in IT and DevOps. It is just how the job is. If you want to build rapport with your audience, you need other, more “extravert” qualities – openness, communicability. You need to create and maintain your authentic brand. Stay true to your beliefs, do not compromise your integrity and do not betray the trust others put in you” – advised Soshnikov.

Famous futurologist, evangelist, CTO and chief of innovation at Snowfall Joakim Everstin talked with ipquorum.ru about his personal experience. «For me, it has been a journey figuring out how to connect the dots between the business you are in (in my case, the travel industry) with the latest technology. You have to increase the interest in your company by telling a story and weaving whatever your product is into it in an appealing way. All companies, startups and established IT brands alike, have to ask themselves what value they bring to the table. Evangelist is there to answer this very question.” 

Everstin actively travels the world (Russia included), participates in professional events, and gives inspiring talks about travel and enhancing travel experience with the help of cutting-edge technology. Speaking about his profession, Everstin shares the following tips: “first of all, you HAVE TO be passionate about technology and fully understand what you are presenting. This is important, as you have to be able to elaborate on all the things in your presentation, as there will always be questions and/or opinions on what you are saying. Secondly, you have to be able to tell a story in an understandable way. Lastly, you have to make your presentation yours and put your personal touch to it. If you do, your audience will remember you. My final piece of advice is: always come fully prepared and rehearsed (there are no shortcuts), stick to your vision and never give up!”

 In Russia, IT-evangelist is not a job title that can be seen often, despite coming to the Russian markets together with the big international tech companies in the mid-2000s. Similar functions are usually delegated to other senior management positions, and there is a reason for it. In the opinion of the Head of the IPEX Global project Artyom Tovbin, “in Russia, the term “evangelist” has a powerful religious subtext. It alienates people. It’s different in the States. When Apple and Microsoft introduced first evangelist positions, they were part of the sales team. Those who applied were usually people with a background in development, but who also wanted to branch out into marketing. They promoted new tech and earned their name. Why not? Evangelist as a job title sounds cool.

Since the profession is still finding its footing in Russia, there are some differences in expectations of what an evangelist should realistically do. Some companies believe that an ideal candidate would be someone who can best fit their brand identity and broadcast their values. Press service of the Avast Software shared with ipquorum.ru what they are looking for in an evangelist: the person should be tech-savvy and have excellent presenter skills. Moreover, the company is quite strict about on which platforms and how their evangelist should promote their product.

However, there is also an opposite view on how the relationship between the evangelist and the brand should work. CEO of Arkell IT-Solution, ideologist and founder of the sharing service for promoters LIMA Vladimir Serdyukov believes that “the IT market in Russia is oversaturated. It requires more focus on the individual. People tend to trust other people, especially competent and knowledgeable ones, rather than a faceless corporation. Evangelism offers a unique opportunity to share with wide audience information about complex technological solutions, to break the barrier between developer and user. This is not a task for the marketer. Evangelist is the face of the product, at it will be associated with him in the public eye.  

Ivan Yamshchikov, AI evangelist at ABBYY, thinks it is still early to make any kind of analysis of Russian evangelism as it is a fairly recent phenomenon: “the job has been on the market for about a decade. The title came from the USA, and even though it has religious subtext, it is still widely used there. The term applies to all specialists that actively talk about the benefits of the product, promote technological innovations and brand values. In Europe, though, “evangelist” still raises a few eyebrows.” 

Technological evangelist is someone who can equally well talk about technology and technological solutions to all types of people, from IT specialists to students and company CEOs. They have to solve a variety of tasks, such as the promotion of technology, strengthening brand power of the employer, building partnerships, and supporting sales in international companies. For example, in ABBYY I have to work closely with engineers and developers, marketing, sales, and product teams. One of the main requirements for the job is to have the knowledge and be able to share it with others” – concluded Yamshchikov.