What is Developer Evangelism?

“Developers hate being marketed or sold to” per the muse of common knowledge. It’s not surprising, then, that those charged with doing just that have a job title that explicitly omits any mention of this kind of activity. Oddly, stirring up images of religious zealotry was more palatable for those in the tech world when Apple Computer kicked off the idea of technical ‘evangelism’ in the last century.

Of course, things have changed since the Mac SE. ‘Developers as customers’ is becoming increasingly mainstream, no longer confined to the stodgy enterprise with long sales cycles and formal necktie cultures. D2D has gone indie along with the web and mobile devs it targets.

I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to attend a few events at the developer-centric accelerator (or more precisely, “community for developer-focused entrepreneurs”) HeavyBit this year thanks to my brilliant developer marketer content strategist journalist friend Dana (us biz people deal with job title complexities as well). Today they helped produce DevGuild, an unconference dedicated to unpacking what in the heck this “developer evangelism” thing really is.

So what happened? First, the introductory talks:

  • Josh Dzielak of HeavyBit alumni team Keen.io kicked the day kicked off, challenging attendees to remember that as important software is, the people behind it are what makes it live (exact quote: “software may be eating the world, but community is feeding it”).
  • Github’s KC Shearon shared more of her signature awesome slides to parse out the reasons the term ‘evangelism’ is so problematic for her; specifically, she believes the term implies religious zealotry, emotionalism, and manipulation (see first paragraph above ^^). Interestingly some discussions later in the day talked about how evangelism is often most credible when the evangelist simply “tells their story” with the technology. That sounds like “evangelical witnessing” to me, of course absent any call to action (buy this product, or come to the front of the church).
  • Returning to the people-trump-software theme, Heroku’s Leigh Honeywell talked about how dev communities organize and intentionally choose to dis-organize with poor results. The message to people in the developer world is to be intentional about the environments they create (she assigned us some required reading).
  • Expanding on community was Electric Imp‘s Matt Haines, reminding us that it’s not the “things” we build (particularly relevant reminder for an IoT company), but rather the people we empower, that matters.
  • As a metrics geek, I particularly enjoyed another Keen.io-er, Tim Falls, who admonished us to not go nuts on the numbers. Basically just because you can (measure something) doesn’t mean you should (measure whatever you can measure). Tim also quoted some people you just can’t question, like Albert Einstein (“Many of the things you can count, don’t count. Many of the things you can’t count, really do count”) and Oscar Wilde (“People know the price of everything and the value of nothing”). But my favorite quote from him was his own, captured by Mashery’s Sarah Jane Morris: “You can’t track a handshake to a hug to a $500 subscription two weeks later.” Yes yes yes.
  • Finishing the theme of the “nots” of Developer Evangelism was a summary of “The 7 Deadly Sins of Evangelism” outlined by Salesforce’s James Ward (big thanks to Laurel Kline for the tweet summary:
    1. Not fully knowing your product
    2. Not creating a feedback loop between your audiences and your product teams
    3. Too much coffee (I totally don’t understand this one but apparently it can make you a jittery presenter 😉 )
    4. Not practicing enough (you must know your code inside and out before demoing it)
    5. Not allowing your audience to help you answer objections
    6. Not venturing out of your comfortable social circle
    7. Not being a good host aka BUY THE BEER

    Next we shifted into our Unconference segment. Here are some of my takeaways from both the two breakout sessions I attended (metrics + using “non-marketing speak”) as well as the whole day:

  • Always put the developer first. Otherwise you look like a corporate hack (which may be what you are, but you won’t be effective 😉
  • It’s not sales engineering. Evangelism is really advocacy – advocating for the needs of the developer over the needs of the company.
  • Examples of good metrics include the trust level among developers with the resources and talks you give; the level, quantity and quality of your engagement with them; and (if possible) nirvana metric would be “DLTV“.
  • Your org structure matters. Who you report to often defines how you are measured (and thus, what you do and how you do it). If your manager doesn’t support the two immediately-above points, you should consider proposing a totally different measure of success, a reorg, or look for a new org.
  • At Mozilla, we think of much of our work (and certainly our evangelism work) in terms of “quality relationships.” This definitely syncs up with the thinking at DevGuild. And we can always do better. Thankfully as social media becomes woven into the fabric of all kinds of corporate outreach, the job of evangelizing in ways outlined above grows easier, as evangelists become less broadcast mouthpieces or talking heads, and emerge instead as accessible individuals who struggle themselves with the tech and engage in conversations rather than marketingspeak.

    I like how my colleague and now-Microsoftie Christian Heilmann expresses this:

    In German, there is a distinction: “Werbung” could mean advertising, but also trying to get someone on your side. “Reklame” means pure advertising. We should do more Werbung and less Reklame.

    Thanks to HeavyBit for putting on a great event. If you want to see others’ Tweets, check out the Eventify tweet summary (great tool, not because I’m listed as top contributor ;).

    With Our Eyes Wide Open

    In 2008, the U.S. economy tanked. The devastation revealed how little even the “experts” understood our increasingly complex financial system, which we gradually understood to also be gamed by the foxes running the hen house.

    Now six years later, the institutions who profited while individuals lost everything are going strong, thanks to some bailouts and a lack of regulatory response.

    Humanists may hope that people can self-improve; unfortunately, the passage of time and events does not demonstrate any evidence to support this assumption. In 2014 we seem to be “outing” unethical behavior earlier (that is, before we are plunged into a macroeconomic crisis), but it appears to be technology rather than human virtue or evolution that is driving this phenomenon.

    A recent example is the revelations emerging from the recent hack on Sony’s IT systems. These uncovered executive racial biases and, more conspiratorially, an all-out effort (in cahoots with Comcast…) to launch both a smear campaign and what The Verge blog labelled “legally ambitious” efforts disrupt the mechanics of the web to preserve their hold over entertainment content.

    Such brazen attempts at manipulating markets may be unsurprising coming from industries that are effectively monopolies; yet they are actually rewarded when they come from those seeking to “disrupt” monopolies. One need only to reference obligatorily-referenced bad Bros at Uber, a firm that sometimes overtly, sometimes obscurely, breaks laws, laughs at the notion of ‘ethics’ and obfuscates commerce for market share. The primary consequence for such repulsive practices seems to be ongoing funding driving increased market share and multi-billion-dollar valuations. If you’ve read about the growing interest in social enterprise, you won’t be reading about Uber.

    The tl;dr? Provided the end-game involves lots of cash, anything still goes regardless of whether you are a startup or an established Wall Street player. In an age where all is now available for the public record, shame on us for being shocked when bankers continue to ring in profits after scores of their customers have foreclosed, when crooks get funded, and when politicians back legislation funded by their own campaign funders.

    Because it’s all there for us to see. True progress would entail us moving beyond outrage to actually doing something about it.

    On a more positive end-note, I would like to end with some hope. Specifically, you can help stop the money trail in politics and business by supporting Mayday. It’s the most fundamental way I know of to address the root cause of so much that is broken in our country today. Merry Christmas!

    D2D Is Coming Out

    Over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Adam Benayoun and the Binpress team. Their mission to clarify the meaning and value of “free and open source” resonates well with what we were doing at WebFWD.

    In Q1, I continued to support developers when I joined Mozilla’s Developer Relations group, and continue to support Binpress in its efforts to help open source developers build sustainable businesses.

    The latest iteration of this support came this week, when the team asked me to participate in its first event, “Marketing to Developers.” Lest you think this sounds specious given the Developer DNA aversion to anything smelling of marketing (read Microserfs as classic reference point). While I thought I was novel in spontaneously describing many of our WebFWD startups as “D2D” in 2012, my friends at SFBeta industrialized the term earlier this year. The startup world is deciding that is ok to be explicit about something that has been happening for years: marketing and selling to developers. There’s even a D2D program in SF (and probably lots more popping up).

    The team was able to attract 150 people to this event, along with some great speakers. Neeraj Gupta kicked things off with an overview of how Appcelerator has built their developer community over time. Next up was Kelly Shearon, who did a fantastic job sharing some basic tenets of marketing (e.g. if the product is bad, no amount of marketing lipstick will help; marketers must have empathy, etc.) – all shared with some fun edgy Github-esque slides.

    Rounding out the evening (and hopefully a complement to Neeraj’s kickoff talk) was our panel featuring Amber Feng, Slava Akhmechet and Thomas Sarlandie. As the panelists represented Stripe, RethinkDB and Pebble respectively, my job as moderator was to tease out some of the good, the bad and the avoidables for building developer communities.

    Some of the takeaways:

  • Building and supporting your community needs to be a company-wide ethos. It’s not something you just delegate to a community manager, because at heart your community cares about and contributes to your products. RethinkDB means this: in an era where tech talent is insanely difficult to find, they are willing to let a talented engineer go if they are not supportive of the community.
  • Community does not equal consensus. Many developer communities consist of members with very strong and often conflicting points of view. Navigating this without sacrificing your own brand voice is a challenge. Share how you will address what you’ve heard. But it is not feasible to let the community dictate every decision.
  • Diversity is hard but attainable. Clearly the developer community is not a diverse one at the moment, but healthy communities are built by intentional efforts to reach out to different populations, crafting documentation and messaging that is not exclusionary or tone deaf (last description is my paraphrase ;), and enforcing a sound code of conduct policy.
  • Community-building is a long-term play. While marketers to consumers and users establish clear funnels for acquisition and retention, these funnels can be trickier to track when you are working with developers, who tend to have longer time horizons to contribute. This makes “Developer Acquisition Cost” models tricky to realize ROI, but the models are still a worthy goal for which precedents exist.
  • Bonus Point: The Hacker News Heuristic. Hacker News was cited multiple times as sort of a filter or benchmark for communications. “Will it fly on HN?” is sort of a filter heuristic for dev communities.
  • Interested in keeping the learning up? Join Binpress’ newly-formed “Marketing to Developers” meetup group where the slides will be posted and future events will happen.

    Just in: Binpress’ recap of the event with decks and photos, and another recap from attendee Laura D’Ambrosio – great sanity checks!