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 ;).

    The Future of Mobile is the Web

    I had a fun chance to share my thoughts on mobile and the web with my friends at Metavallon.


    The world is going mobile. Of course, this shouldn’t be news to anyone remotely dialed in (to use an anachronistic term) to the developments of the Internet. In case you wanted to picture exactly how this is transpiring, here’s some big picture context:

  • Clear scenarios from developing countries using mobile far differently than we do in developed countries.
  • Very juicy global stats collected by Mozilla evangelist Robert Nyman.
  • And Robert drawing heavily from our market research partner VisionMobile – definitely check out their very handy reports (App Annie also rocks in this area).
  • As you start to immerse yourself in the world of mobile, you’ll notice a conflation between “web” and “apps.” Here’s a stark example:

    Note that this search is related to learning, so this likely represents either aspiring developers or – as the ensuing Twitter discussion elucidates – economic opportunists as opposed to technologists.

    If you are an economic opportunist, be sure to read the VisionMobile Q3 2014 Developer Economics report, and take two aspirins. Yet despite the bleak outlook for economic payoff from apps, many portend the death of the web on mobile.

    Now counter this with the fact that the pendulum from some (the?) significant players shows a swing back to becoming more “webby”:

  • Facebook introduced App Links (‘app-to-app linking’) this April.
  • Google is broadening the reach of its Android apps, supporting them running on Chrome.
  • Apple is making HTML5 friendlier than ever on the iPhone.
  • Why the shift?

    Among the strong voices is Benedict Evans, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz who has written extensively about the value of proprietary mobile ecosystems Evans concedes that apps are by necessity becoming more weblike. The reason is that the mobile app ecosystem lacks two things the web has:

  • You can link to any resource.
  • That resource will be there i.e. you don’t need to install anything.
  • Those two statements highlight that at its essence, the web is cross-platform and device-agnostic. That’s not true for mobile. Check out slide 8 of Robert’s deck. For mobile, device fragmentation has serious consequences for building, testing and deploying (let alone partnering) anything.

    At Mozilla we know the web wins on both merit and precedent, but it’s being threatened by mobile right now. So Mozilla is building the web in today’s world, and driving towards a future where we defend the web from threats of closed app stores and protocols and return it to the hands of developers who can link and publish to anything, anywhere.

    We’d love for you to join us!


    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: