What is all the fuss?

It’s hard not to love Gilda Radner or SNL. And I’ll go one step further: for me, it’s impossible not to love Emily Litella. She never understood why people made such a fuss over things.

EmilyLitella

In 2015, I think Emily would be asking what all the fuss is about remote working (or maybe she’d ask what the fuss is about demote twerking…hint: you need to watch those episodes to understand).

Distributed teams really got their legs with the advent of open source projects and are becoming increasingly mainstream…but are not without their drama. My short presentation at yesterday’s always-awesome Forward 2 conference dispels some common fears and myths about remote work, and provides some tips on making distributed teams awesome. Enjoy!

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!

    Congruence

    This week I had the opportunity to help out the inimitable Dave Nugent and his conspirators Brian and Taylor with their first-ever ForwardJS conference. It felt great because:

    (1) It aligns perfectly with what Mozilla is all about

    (2) Mozilla could support the conference directly by offering a room for a “JavaScript Clarity” class and of course, lanyards!

    (3) I could share about all kinds of ways people can contribute to the web at Mozilla with zero sense of opportunism, because contributing to Mozilla *is* contributing to the web.

    Super glad Dave & Co are continuing the ForwardJS charge next February 4. And if you’re curious about what I shared, you can see the specifics below: