photo at DevRel Summit 2017

DevRel Summit 2017

Building Bridges in Seattle

Charles Morris summarised developer relations quite nicely during his talk at DevRel Summit 2017, it’s all about building a bridge between your internal development team and the developers in the community using your product. The ‘Rel’ in DevRel, short (because techies love shortening things) for relations or relationships is critical in building up a strong community who love your product, but the human aspect of the relationship is often overshadowed by the technology.

This was the second year in which DevRel Summit was held in downtown Seattle and I was fortunate enough that it dovetailed nicely into my ‘I need to escape winter in Melbourne’ travel plans. The basement of the Galvanize Seattle campus had a very ‘Melbourne’ feel to it (or do all the exposed brick basement style venues in Melbourne have a ‘Seattle’ feel to them?) and made for a great venue for a single day summit, focused on all things DevRel – building bridges. Sandra Persing and Barry Munsterteiger run their event in their ‘spare’ time, bringing together those in the Seattle area to share what DevRel looks like to them.

The day took on the format of talks, lunch, hands on workshops, more talks finishing up with drinks for those who wanted to stick around. The summit format of the event was emphasised with small breakout groups between talks giving everyone a chance to get to know each other, reflect on the content and contribute to the day.

The opening talk by Bear Douglas from Slack looked into the way in which a developer community changes over time in terms of size and how to accommodate this growth. Given Slack has grown into a $4b company in the last 4 years, I feel like she understands the growing pains in a developer community quite well. My key take away from her talk was the anti-pattern of ‘shipping your org chart’. Your developer community shouldn’t be exposed to changes within your organisation, and a role of developer relations is to buffer your community from this.

Following Bear was Charles Morris from the Microsoft Edge Team – yes, that means building up a community of developers who love Internet Explorer and more recently Edge. As mentioned, his talk focused around theme of building a bridge to your product, and then encouraging developers to cross that bridge. How do you do this? Be human, be transparent, create a connection. For example, publish your roadmap to your community – and if you don’t deliver 100% to that roadmap, explain why. Assume those listening are rational and reasonable, more often than not they are! ‘Relations is the art of telling a story’. Tell your story, explain of how you got to where you are, the issues and roadblocks you faced – share and be open and be comfortable saying ‘I don’t know’.

photo of Charles Morris at DevRel Summit 2017

Charles Morris at DevRel Summit 2017

From the other side of the fence, Kyle Paul who runs the Google Developer Group (GDG) Kansas told his story (see above…) about the support and resources Google provide to developer communities across the world. For him, building a community around Googles products helps him to scratch the ‘developer itch’ we all have.

The DevRel bridge goes both ways. In one direction it’s a great way for developers to receive information about your products and offerings – and in the other direction is a great mechanism for them to provide feedback. AJ Glasser, in an enthusiastic and engaging way (you’re awesome) described feedback as a gift. As we receive feedback from our community we need to wrap this feedback up in a way in which those in the business will be enjoy receiving it. It was great fun listening to AJ present, describing building and releasing software as a negotiation was interesting. In the context of developer relations – keeping up your end of this negotiation is critical to keeping people in your development community.

Hackathons are a core part of developer relations, and Damon Hernandez gave us an overview of his experiences with building grass-root style community hackathons centered around AR/VR – a passion of his.

After lunch we broke off into two workshop sessions, with each session having three workshops to chose from. The first workshop I attended was run by Laura Yecies on using Mobilize to help manage a developer community – explaining how the product is modelled on the ‘snowball framework’ for building a community. The second workshop was run by Justin Dorfmanfrom StickerMule. He provided demonstrated a few simple ways in which to engage with developers, such as including messages for curious developers in your software using an x-hello-header or console.log. Another more practical examples is using GitHub search to find developers who have developed something with your product and then reaching out to them – swag anyone? Obviously this is a tactic to use while your community is small, I’m not sure it would be effective for Google or Microsoft.

Following the workshops were three more talks, first up was Linda Xie from SourceGraph who took us through what it takes to build an awesome product for developers – giving them what they want. Making your product ‘shareable’ is an important part of adoption in the developer space.

Robert Nyman (or was it Cypher from the Martix?) from Google touched on a theme that was common through all the talks during the day – measuring the success of a developer relations program is hard, which was comforting to hear. If Google haven’t worked it out, what hope do us mere mortals have?

Angelica BanksAlicia Carr and Beth Laing spoke of their experience in running We Rise. A women in tech conference held in Atlanta earlier in the year put together with the aim of being the most diverse and inclusive tech conference where all attendees feel comfortable and included – a very noble goal!

Jessica Tremblay and Sam Richard from IBM closed out the day, giving us a sneak peak into the front end focused developer community inside IBM, FED@IBM. FED has grown to a community of 1,000s globally at IBM, all helping each other learn, develop and network with hackathons and virtual meetups held by the IBM FED community. I love the idea of inviting experts from various other companies into IBM to present at their virtual meetups – where teams across the world dial in, some over breakfast, whilst other teams are having dinner.

The summit format really suited the curious, engaged and chatty crowd in attendance – great work to the team for pushing this and making it work. Personally I would have preferred to have questions asked out loud to the presenters after their talks instead of over Slack to generate a bit more conversation in the room, however the Slack rooms created for each talk were pretty busy throughout the day.

Great job Sandra and Sandra Persing and Barry Munsterteiger, I hope that in the not to distance future as the concept developer relations grows in Australia that I’ll be attending a DevRel Summit in Melbourne soon – and of course I hope to see you in Seattle again next year!


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