Intro to DevRel: 5 Reasons Why DevRel Teams Fail
Although Developer Relations (DevRel) defies traditional marketing strategies, prioritizing enhancing developer satisfaction ahead of promoting numbers that contribute to a sales funnel, it is still possible for DevRel teams to fail at delivering desired business objectives. And unfortunately, more often than not, this leads to the dissolution of DevRel efforts, and sometimes even role elimination. Below, I’ve compiled a list of five of the top reasons why DevRel teams fail. 1. Lack of Leadership Buy-In DevRel requires buy-in and support from executives and stakeholders within the company. Without buy-in, being able to work cross-functionally across the organization, get access to data needed for measuring success, have the ability to influence change within the organization, or get the budget for necessary activities to engage developers will be impossible. I asked Jason Lengstorf, the host and founder of Learn With Jason and previously on the Developer Relations team at Netlify and Gatsby, where he has seen companies fail at DevRel before: “Companies that want to invest in DevRel can collect as many well-known developers as they can, but giving them zero dollars and zero autonomy will force teams to rage quit or become content farms because that’s all you can do with no budget.” Other examples are departments not willing to share or give data that helps enable DevRel to understand the metrics they need to effectively baseline and track the success of their efforts. By not doing so, the DevRel team will not be able to justify their work to leadership, which will lead to those positions being cut first when budget cuts come around. Chris Woodruff, Founder of Advocatus, a Developer Relations consultancy, says “DevRel is seeing a lot of layoffs. It’s the easiest team for management to let go because they don’t fully understand the ROI and metrics. These are the holy grails of DevRel, and because they do not understand, they will always be the first teams to let go if management can’t see the actual return or how it affects the bottom line.” 2. Company Culture Fit If an organization's culture does not value collaboration and resists the presence of a DevRel team, DevRel will not be able to effectively advocate for developers or help teams be more successful with their target audience. Francesco Tisiot, Senior Developer Advocate at Aiven, an open-source data platform that makes setting up cloud databases simple, shared one of his experiences in his Developer Relations career. “I was one of the first DevRel hires in a company and we were in the marketing organization. Initially, there was pushback from engineering and product teams on our product feedback and feature requests since we weren't seen as experts. But, DevRel is about breaking barriers and building bridges, so, in leading by example, we demonstrated our technical knowledge and now have a strong impact on all the teams.” Michael Liendo, Senior Developer Advocate at AWS, an online platform by Amazon that provides scalable and cost-effective cloud computing solutions, shared how he was able to find the company culture fit within organizations he has served in the past. Being in a position of Developer Advocacy, and quite literally trying to advocate for developers that use the platform, he says, “Some of the biggest challenges for DevRel are actually internal. Engineers at many companies often focus on one piece of the product. As they're testing features, they may be creating workarounds without realizing they're workarounds. This means they often miss what a proper Developer Experience flow looks like. I've had to push for them to include me in design meetings, and get them to understand that I'm the Lorax--I speak for the community! A phrase I have been known to say is ‘this solves the problem, but it's not a solution’. I'm known for having a high bar for what is considered ‘good enough’ and though the end result is accumulated trust, it's a challenge to get there.” 3. Operating in Isolation DevRel cannot operate in isolation without integration with development, marketing, product teams, sales, or a subset of these. The team will struggle to make a significant impact. DevRel requires a collaborative approach and alignment and synergy with other teams. Francesco Ciulla, Developer Advocate at daily.dev, a professional network for developers that provides the latest tech news and articles, shares his thoughts on how DevRel organizations can be successful within larger organizations: “DevRel organizations can thrive within larger organizations by establishing clear communication channels and fostering meaningful collaborations. They must align their objectives with the company's goals and illustrate their value by sharing tangible outcomes from developer engagement.” 4. Lack of Strategy Proceeding into DevRel without a clear strategy will make it difficult for a DevRel team to establish its purpose within an organization and set priorities that will make an impact. There will not be a clear vision the team can drive towards, leading to wasted efforts and the inability to produce tangible outcomes. If DevRel does not have any goals set, they can only do their best to assume what efforts they should invest in to provide value to the organization. Worst yet, if they do not have any goals set, they may not choose to focus on providing value to the organization, but to a community that the organization has no interest in. Many DevRel experts have seen this happen time and time again in the community, and are always left scratching our heads. Many times, the “strategy” for an organization is to hire DevRel, but that is where the strategy stops. Decision-makers want DevRel professionals to come in and just “do what they do best”. Unfortunately, when decision-makers say this, they typically have an idea of what outcomes they want DevRel to drive, but don’t want to share those thoughts because they feel like DevRel professionals should know what to do. Expectations left open to interpretation often lead to a poor impression of the performance of the DevRel team by decision-makers, and those teams are never able to establish a sense of trust or direction within that organization. Jeremy Meiss, former Director of Developer Relations at CircleCI, says, “One of the biggest problems we have seen in this industry is the startups that were counseled by their VC, founders, or board that they need a DevRel team because the other similar companies had one and it was great for them. They push for it, and one of the early hires is DevRel. Generally, that DevRel hire is someone relatively new in the industry, so you can coax them to start at a new company without clear goals or objectives. New hires like this come in without a lot of experience in the field of DevRel and have not experienced it at different levels of companies. They are heavily pushed by marketing, the CEO, the CTO, and other departments into thinking DevRel should look a certain way, but don’t have the foundational knowledge to be able to push back because they are not yet in this area.” Jeremy’s illustrative explanation of why a lack of strategy ultimately results in the failure of a DevRel team within an organization is one that is common across many devtool startups that have popped up in recent years. 5. Lack of Metrics and Reporting A well-rounded set of DevRel metrics typically comes from multiple areas of the organization, whether that be marketing, sales, product, customer success, or customer support. Without free access to cross-functional team data, it is difficult to show the value and ROI of DevRel. Establishing a baseline set of metrics if you’re new within an organization, or understanding the baseline metrics that currently exist is critical in ensuring the success of your job in DevRel. Tessa Mero, Head of Developer Relations at Appwrite, has a very specific set of metrics her team focuses on. She shared a few of those metrics: - Growth of our GitHub Repo (stars) - Growth of our Discord Community - Improved engagement in Discord community - Growth of our Twitter followers and engagement - Growth of our Appwrite Cloud developers - Number of views or impressions on any video and written content, whether it's internal or externally created - Amount of content created weekly (written or video) - Number of projects created with Appwrite for Hackathon sponsorships - Number of attendees / questions at a conference talk - Number of connections at conferences - Number of community support questions answered, improving rate of responses AND rate of how fast we respond, in all public forums - Number of support tickets responded to - Number of community feedback taken and moved into our DX/Product discussions - Number of feedback from UI/UX perspectives and working with design team to follow up with the devs/users with what we did with the feedback - Number of engagement/activity from our Appwrite heroes/ambassadors This is just one example of and a subset of metrics a DevRel team should consider tracking, but what you track and how you track it is dependent on your goals and the product. Metrics and what your leadership considers a good ROI can vary greatly from organization to organization. I spoke to another Developer Relations expert in the industry and she shared her experience with the company she just left and the reason she left - and it was focused around metrics. She was initially interested in joining the team because of the lack of metrics. However, over time, as she got more experience and as she became more visible, her workload became difficult to prioritize. Since there were no metrics, there were no objectives to measure against to say what was good and what was bad. She felt like she didn’t know what she was doing well or not doing well. Once metrics began to be implemented, the company started pushing her to do more, and she had nothing to push back with because the high-level goals were not there. There was no way to prioritize the workload. The company started tracking things like page hits, unique visitors, unique views of videos, number of subscribers, activity on twitter, and other similar numbers, but it was hard to tie any of these back to the ROI for the company. How do you quantify and determine if 100 new subscribers on YouTube is better than 100 new subscribers on twitter? If you can’t quantify it, how do you prioritize it? What Successful DevRel Teams Do Differently With the nature of DevRel and the multitude of levers and factors that determine success and failure, it’s important to allow space for a team or set of individuals to experiment and iterate before making judgment calls. One company that serves millions of developers on its platform is starting up a new meetup program and testing the ROI of sponsoring meetups around the world. Since they are in the testing and experimentation phase, they don’t yet know how to measure success, and that is clear to leadership. The current strategy is sponsoring local meetups for a few months and seeing what the result is. Why are they so seemingly laid back in their approach? Is it the right approach? The reason for the relaxed nature of the testing phase is that they don’t want to be pushy to the meetup organizer to find something out or measure something. They are not expecting anything, but will evaluate what metrics they could use to establish success criteria. This approach is a thoughtful and empathetic one, and clearly, the DevRel team has an understanding of how to approach community members in a way that will not turn them off. Internally, the simple numbers they are looking at are the number of RSVPs, the number of attendees that show up, and the difference between the two. DevRel is naturally iterative and requires a team to experiment, test, and refine their strategies. Effectively engaging developers is not black and white, and a strategy that works for one community or company may not necessarily work for another. Furthermore, building domain expertise and gaining a deep understanding of the developer community they serve takes time. Experimentation and iteration help teams refine their knowledge, identify patterns, and develop strategies that resonate with developers. This expertise becomes an asset in driving long-term success. It’s also important to acknowledge that building domain expertise within a segment as well as building relationships and trust with developers in that segment takes time. The technology landscape changes quickly and new technologies are being released weekly. Developer sentiment is fickle and changes just as quickly regarding favored approaches and products. That being said, the above pitfalls remain common causes for DevRel teams to fail, and by remaining mindful of and vigilant against them, DevRel teams both new and old can succeed in supporting key business objectives like developer retention, community growth, and product development....
Feb 14, 2024
Intro to DevRel: What's the Difference Between External and Internal DevRel Programs?
Developer Relations (DevRel) is a proactive, multifaceted discipline that bridges the gap between developers and companies to drive adoption while cultivating an energetic and supportive developer community for their product, service, or technology. The term and the profession are often misunderstood even among those in other technical roles. Some have never heard of DevRel before, and others believe it’s a kind of tech support for developers. Many organizations even think starting a DevRel program means just giving away free software and hoping it catches on. But DevRel is none of these things. At its core, a successful DevRel program builds strong bonds within their target market to ensure that developers can interface with a company or organization behind the product they’re using. Great teams establish authentic connections with developers, cultivate trust, and actively engage with them. DevRel defies traditional marketing strategies. Instead of prioritizing numbers and eyes that contribute to a sales funnel, it focuses on enhancing developer satisfaction. This creates a feedback loop between users and a company to better meet their needs, and foster a sense of collaboration within a product’s user community. The Two Main Domains of Developer Relations DevRel is split into 2 main domains: external and internal. External: Accessing an existing developer community If a company already has a product with an existing community or a product that may appeal to an existing community, and they want to establish a DevRel program around it, this would fall within the external domain. A successful external program will establish credibility and support developers through a number of evangelistic measures like blog posts, tutorials, webinars, giving talks at meetups and conferences, or creating useful code examples to teach concepts. These activities and their goals are rarely product-specific. Instead, they incorporate a number of technologies within their product’s technical ecosystem to demonstrate its value to a developer’s workflow. I had the pleasure of working with Doron Sherman during his tenure at Cloudinary as VP of Developer Relations. Doron has extensive experience with building developer communities, and successfully advocated internally to build a website called Media Jams, a learning resource for developers working with media in their apps. By having this initiative live under Developer Relations, and not under Product, Marketing, or Engineering, Doron and his team built quickly and created a site that prioritized education, without needing to meet the business objectives of other parts of the organization. > “Media Jams has had great organic growth as a community resource. We were able to attract non-Cloudinary users as well as organic search traffic of those looking for media use cases who would have otherwise gotten lost in the Cloudinary docs and/or could not find help through the Cloudinary blog or knowledge base.” says Doron. Internal: Building a developer community In order to support the adoption and retention of developers using a product, companies must have a space where developers can interface with them. Building their own community around a product is the best way to do this. By creating open lines of communication, developers can provide immediate feedback about a product in a productive way to product and engineering teams thereby shortening the feedback loop and improving the speed at which a team is able to innovate based on user needs. This strategy falls under the internal domain. These forums also provide synergistic opportunities for developers that are using a product to learn from each other. By working on similar problems, developers are able to bond and feel more ownership or excitement toward a product, increasing user retention. Danny Thompson, a developer influencer and mentor who has built a community of over a quarter million followers, says that he admires Appwrite’s DevRel program, helmed by Tessa Mero, Head of Developer Relations: > “The Appwrite DevRel team is great at answering questions. They are on Discord, jumping on calls with developers, answering questions, and doing office hours, all of which are super valuable in building that community. The main difference between Appwrite DevRel and other teams is, a lot of communities are run very passively and not always available or taking an active approach within community forums to help out.” - Danny Thompson on Appwrite. > “When we think about how to become successful as a company through DevRel, our first consideration is, what made us successful in the first place? Appwrite became an open-source company and a successful open-source project because of community, so we focus on a community-first approach. Contributors and developers that have supported us since before we were a company are what led us to where we are now. Every initiative, every planning, and everything we do on our team, we consider the community's feedback and perspective before we make any decisions.” - Tessa Mero at Appwrite. The Value-First Approach to Developer Relations Successful DevRel programs prioritize delivering value to cultivate credibility among developers and support product adoption free from reciprocal demands. External efforts involve engaging with existing technology communities, establishing credibility through various evangelistic measures, and delivering value to the community. On the other hand, internal programs build communities around their product, facilitating direct communication between developers and the company. These internal forums not only enhance user retention but also foster a space for developers to learn from each other, creating a sense of ownership and excitement around the product. And by diverting equity to these two programs, DevRel teams find new users, retain them, and receive invaluable feedback. Real-world examples, such as Doron Sherman's work at Cloudinary and Tessa Mero's leadership at Appwrite, showcase the effectiveness of DevRel in action, and highlight how DevRel programs contribute to the success and sustainability of developer-focused products. In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, DevRel emerges not only as a bridge between developers and organizations, but as a crucial driver of innovation, ensuring products remain relevant, adaptive, and deeply integrated into the communities they serve. If you’re thinking about building a successful DevRel program for the first time, the best place to start is to reflect on some of your favorite brands and how they connect with the developer community. Do they simply distribute discount codes and free swag, or are they reaching out to their users, and providing them a platform to learn, collaborate with others, and contribute? If they are, what methods do they use, and how do those methods coincide with your team’s existing strengths? And if you ever have any questions or want to connect with a DevRel specialist, do not hesitate to reach out!...
Nov 22, 2023
How to Start a Developer Relations Program
Developer Relations (DevRel) is a role that’s often misunderstood, undervalued and underrepresented. Some think it's just a marketing department, while others believe it's solely responsible for developer relations. In fact, DevRel is a key part of your company's product team and should be involved at every stage of the product lifecycle—from inception through launch and beyond. The goal of this article is to help you understand the basics you need to start a DevRel program so you can hire the right people, build an effective team structure, measure success, and report on it effectively. What is developer relations? Developer relations (DevRel) is a cross-functional role focused on building relationships with developers, who are users of your product. DevRel plays a critical role in helping teams build and promote their products, by providing support and advocacy for developers. A DevRel team may also be responsible for enforcing developer guidelines, building examples or integrations into your product, or curating content about your product or platform. All of these combined help create a great and sustainable developer experience. How does DevRel fit into your organization? Simply put, DevRel is a strategy and set of tactics that can be used to launch products and platforms aimed at developers. DevRel is not a replacement for product marketing and community management—it's an extension of both, and usually overlaps with these two other practice areas quite often. In smaller organizations, you may have a team doing all three simultaneously! Nevertheless, any DevRel team should be focused on keeping developers engaged in your product throughout its lifecycle. While many companies have developer relations teams, many companies also do not do so intentionally. Some DevRel focused team members may have started out as developers, community managers, or even customer success managers who did outreach to developers on their own initiative. The DevRel role has also been known as Developer Outreach or Developer Marketing; some companies use these terms interchangeably with DevRel. Regardless of what name you choose for this function at your company (or if you choose none), remember that the job is fundamentally about relationships: engaging with people who are interested in your technology through communication channels such as events, blogs/forums/discord/slack/social media accounts, github, etc. When should you start building a devrel team? You should start building a developer relations team when you have a product or platform that is ready to launch and you have a clear strategy for how to launch the product. You should also be able to answer the following questions: - Who is your target audience? - What does your product do? - How does your product work? - What goals are you trying to achieve? If you don’t have a clear answer to these questions, then you need to figure out the answers before you start building a developer relations team. A DevRel person can help you refine how a customer learns about your product, where they can learn more about it (building out developer onboarding experiences), and help you refine the strategy to create a more cohesive developer experience for increased stickiness and adoption. How do you measure success and report on devrel? You can create metrics to measure the success of your devrel program, but you should also keep in mind that it's important not to get too hung up on numbers. When you're tracking impact, it's easy to obsess over data; however, there are other important factors that need to be considered as well. For example, if your developer relations team has been working hard for months and has acquired only a few new customers, that is still worth celebrating because it takes time to build community! You cannot force community and community adoption. It is something that grows with time. When starting, and throughout your devrel program, you want to measure the success of your devrel efforts by looking at more top of the funnel metrics like how many people are visiting or downloading your public-facing content, your social media profiles, and communities. How much value are they getting from your content? Focus on providing value, because consequently, if developers find your content and product/ platform valuable, they will share those links. You should also do competitor research and general industry research in your specific niche and create a baseline! How often are product updates being shared by influencers? How are other products getting developer adoption? These metrics will help give you an idea of what works best for your particular industry. The key is experimenting with different ways of gathering data until something sticks! Conclusion At the end of the day, developer relations is a complex field that can be difficult to understand. But, it’s also not rocket science. It requires an understanding of the market, best practices, and most importantly, authenticity. Luckily, there are many resources out there to help you learn more about it! If you’re interested in learning more about devrel and how it can benefit your company as well as your customers, take a look at some of our favorite articles: - Defining a career path for Developer Relations by Bear Douglas, Developer Advocacy Lead at Slack - What Is Developer Relations? by Justin Warren for Forbes - What is developer relations? Understanding the 'glue' that keeps software and coders together by Owen Hughes for ZDnet - What is Developer Relations by Sam Julien - What is Developer Relations? by Kim Maida We also help with this at This Dot! If you’re interested in learning more about our developer relations program, send us an email anytime! firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!...
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