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!
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