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!...