Welcome to Meet a Descoper! This interview series shines a spotlight on app builders – whether they are Descope employees, community members, or users of our service. In these chats, Descopers chronicle their daily work, highlight stuff they are proud of, and share advice for developers wishing to pursue similar careers.
Today, we’re delighted to talk with developer relations wunderkind Kevin Gao. Kevin spoke to us about his childhood passion for building, being close to the customer, and the benefits of seeking “real-world” experiences while in college. Take it away, Kevin!
How I got here
Q. To start off, can you tell us something about yourself?
Hi everyone, this is Kevin! I was born and raised in the Bay Area and started getting interested in computers from a very young age. My dad built hardware and had a factory in China that manufactured computer components and sold them to startups in Silicon Valley. I remember putting together computer components and installing and playing the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse game when I was little – there was no looking back after that!
Some friends of my parents were car aficionados and I remember going to their house to help them customize their cars. Those experiences also kickstarted my interest in engineering.
Q. How did you decide to become a developer?
When I was in middle school and high school, I was actually more interested in physics. I was part of the rocketry club and wanted to become an aerospace engineer. But the more I went down that path, the more I realized that I wanted control over what I built and I also wanted the ability to rapidly experiment and “put things out there”. Software engineering seemed like a path much more aligned with those goals.
My time as a developer so far has been very enriching. Being a developer lets me test out any idea I have, build the tool, and gather real feedback quickly. My work and personal projects over the years have only increased my passion for CS and software engineering. I enjoy doing things with lean teams, in less time, and with an experiment-focused mindset.
Q. How and why did you make the switch to DevRel?
I was a software engineer in my previous role at a sales and revenue ops company. My work involved lots of conversations with sales and customer success teams about what features need to be developed and prioritized. I also had lots of good conversations with customers.
I enjoyed this level of interaction – learning how the software was being used, understanding common use cases, and getting a more holistic view of the product rather than just building the nuts and bolts was exciting.
I researched the developer relations role and learned that – at the right company – this role contained a bit of everything and balanced my passion for building things with my interest in speaking with business-facing stakeholders.
Q. Why did you join Descope?
I was aware of Descope after the company launched from stealth. I had spent the last three years in engineering and was looking for a change of pace. Once I spoke with Rishi and learned more about what the day-to-day in this role would entail, saying yes was easy!
Working in DevRel at Descope is creating strong foundations for me whether I continue in DevRel or do more core engineering work later in my career. I’m close to the product and its users, and I also have the freedom to build my own projects to help our customers.
What I especially love about Descope is how knowledgeable and technical all the founders are. I have the opportunity to be very close to the founders – their input and guidance teaches me more in a day than I would otherwise learn in weeks.
Day in the life
Q. What’s your favorite part of your day-to-day work in the DevRel team?
I like that I do a wide variety of things. Every week or two, we work on new things because there are so many things to do. A typical month in Descope DevRel includes attending developer conferences, working on docs and tutorials, troubleshooting and assisting users on our AuthTown community, and building sample apps for new use cases.
I think there are broadly two types of engineers – one type that likes hacking things together right away and the other type that thinks carefully (especially at the outset) about what they are building. The DevRel role lets me balance both these types of work while always executing with high quality.
Q. What’s one piece of work you are most proud of?
The work I’ve done with OpenID Connect (OIDC) at Descope over the past few months is something I’m really proud of. This project became important as we had to figure out how to integrate with other auth providers and systems of record for authentication to enable customers to add Descope as a federated IdP without changing their primary IdP.
I learned a lot about OIDC and worked on the project end-to-end:
Building out sample apps for testing and demonstration
Figuring out how to securely merge and link user identities across auth methods.
Answering user questions on AuthTown.
Building out docs.
Evangelizing the capabilities to developers.
I’m grateful to have learned a lot about OIDC through this process and feel happy whenever customers can easily add Descope to their authentication flows without changing their IdP or making major configuration updates.
Q. What’s something you wished you knew when you started your career?
The world of technology is changing so rapidly that you have to take initiative early on to be exposed to as many different things as possible. In my first job, I wish I had spent more time learning new things rather than just focusing on “doing a good job” based on what I had already learned. It worked out in the short term but it would have been much better to expand my horizons then for the long term.
This has changed at Descope because I’ve worked on and learned so many things in the short time I’ve been here: OpenID Connect, NextAuth, Nuxt and Vue, and so on.
Q. What advice do you have for developers or DevRel folks who are just starting their journey?
If you’re in college, my advice would be to interact with developers in the industry as soon as possible. While you learn a lot in college, the things you learn in the professional realm are quite different. Since things are changing fast, it’s always a good idea to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s needed to thrive in the workforce.
As an example, try attending hackathons along with working developers. The challenges posed in hackathons often offer different and more work-relevant experiences than college projects.
Q. How do you like to unwind from work?
I love watching movies, keeping up with the news, playing board games with friends, and going for drives. I also like to work on personal projects. For example, I’m working on a Next.js app right now that gives users an interactive map highlighting which properties make sense as a rental property. Spending time on personal dev projects is a great way to learn by doing.
We hope you enjoyed getting to know Kevin a little better. For more DevRel chats, authentication concept overviews, and developer tutorials, subscribe to our blog.