DevRelCon 2017: Are developers still ‘The New Kingmakers’?

Keith Varty

19 December 2017

In his classic book ‘The New Kingmakers’ Stephen O’Grady described how developers are conquering the world. Since the book was first written in 2013 the pervasive spread of technology is clear for all to see.

Adopting technology and also embracing the people that build it, is no longer a choice but a necessity. However marketing to developers has always been a thorny topic, largely because developers are immune to - some might go so far as antagonistic toward - traditional marketing techniques.

We have run developer programs for twenty years, and are familiar with this audience but it is good to hear new ideas and opinions. So a week or two back, I headed to DevRelCon 2017 in London. I was keen to find out how organisations like Google, Shopify, GitHub and IBM are managing their developer networks and the role of marketing within these programmes.

Erin: educate don't market

First up was Erin McKean, founder of Worknik and a Developer Advocate at IBM. Erin is very smart and entertaining. For starters she taught me the word ‘epistemology’ - (in this context) how do you teach people on their terms, pertinent for this audience I thought.

Erin talked to us about the use of tutorials and demos (standard developer assets) and told the audience that they should focus on what developers are going to use them for, before designing and publishing them. As a marketer, you are constantly reminding yourself to look through the lens of the audience. Erin reminded us to hold that thought always. She also had fun slides..

Ade's Four Key Principles

Ade's Four Key Principles

Next up was Ade Oshineye, who leads the Developer Advocate team at Google.  Ade’s view is that to be truly effective at developer relations you need what he calls ‘bi-directional advocacy’, translated as: the ability to manage the needs of the developers on the outside who want to build for you with the internal dev and product teams who are shipping code and product.

Ade also shared his four key principles:

1. Articulate your purpose – why do you exist? A consistent theme through the conference is that developer relations teams often feel disconnected from the objectives of the business and without quantifiable metrics to measure their effectiveness. That can make life hard if, and when, you are trying to find a home for your costs and your budgets. Ensuring your goals are connected to your purpose, that metrics are connected to goals and that activities are laid out to support the goals is a smarter way to set up your operation.

2. Map your organisation to your ecosystem  focus on driving awareness, adoption and consumption and you aren’t likely to go too wrong.

3. Identify points of leverage  where can you have the most impact and really make the difference? Answering this will help shape what you do. Ade talked about structuring your org based on the lifecycle of the product:

  • Outreach
  • Samples
  • Support
  • Partnerships
  • Community

4. Help your people grow and manage stakeholders – this one is less of a specific to DevRel and more just general good practise for effective managers.

Ade is clearly a man that any team would enjoy working with. He has a warmth to him that evoked great buy in from the crowd. Ade finished up by referencing the ‘Hawthorne effect’ – the impact that observation has on behaviour and productivity. Clearly something that he practises and finds effective.

I wasn’t able to see all the speakers at the event, the day job got in the way a little, so only have abbreviated notes and quotes from some.

I liked Liz Couto from Shopify, a content marketer with a strong pedigree in modern marketing who said: “You can’t hack it, if you can’t track it,” making the point that data and, more importantly, quantifying outputs are critical if you want to be taken seriously.

Joe: five stages of developer relations programmes

And then there was Joe Nash from GitHub. Joe is a man who speaks very quickly (which is a good job as he had 110 slides) but also very articulately in a presentation packed with fantastic content. Joe's presentation title ‘scale without losing your sole’ hits right at the heart of what developers care about vs. what your business needs. The upshot is that Joe believes there are five stages to scaling your developer advocate programs:

1. Groundwork – get yourself a strategy and this will give rise to needs.

2. Outcomes – this is defined as the criteria for meeting user needs and business goals.

3. Trust – empowering users to make the right decisions.

4. Operations – build for scale and automate everything.

5. Iterate – grow through iteration.

Joe told us that being there for your developers is absolutely key and that GitHub had achieved this through a network of student leaders that GitHub trains, empowers and supports along the way.

Anil: a 'developer bill of rights'

And then there was Anil Dash from Fog Creek, who presented the ‘developer bill of rights’. Anil is a highly experienced entrepreneur, technologist and blogger. The ‘bill of rights’ is essentially a developer relations blueprint:

  1. A clear set of business goals
  2. A well-defined place in the organisation
  3. A structured way to impact product and platform
  4. Open lines of communication to marketing
  5. The right tools designed for the job
  6. Explicit, ethical and social guidelines
  7. Support for building inclusive communities
  8. Distinction from sales engineering
  9. Ongoing resources for professional development
  10. Connection to a community of peers

And finally, as if to confirm that developers are still very much the ‘Kingmakers’ Anil told us that that the choices we make in software development really matter and when we realise this, the stakes for our businesses become much, much higher. 

Anil ended with the statement - ‘Developers shape culture’  - a call to action sure to leave this crowd highly motivated and ready to put theory into practice.