No matter what you call the role — developer community manager, developer evangelist, developer advocate, developer relations, or, cheekily, developer avocado — it’s got two things in common: It’s one of the most expensive, travel-heavy roles in a tech org and it’s one of the hardest to measure. That combination means metrics often make or break your job.
But first, what is this role? That’s a good question to which there are many, many answers. In this episode of The New Stack Makers podcast, Camunda’s Director of Developer Relations Mary Thengvall talked about her definition. And she should know, she wrote the book on the business case for developer relations (“DevRel” for short).
To Thengvall, the DevRel arena is “anyone who is responsible for enabling developer audiences and making them successful.”
Thengvall breaks this into three buckets:
- Awareness: making sure people know about the product.
- Enablement: the developer experience side, from tech writing to documentation, tutorials, and anything that makes sure the developer is successful in getting started and using the product.
- Community: engaging over forums, Slack channels, Meetups, and events, introducing different aspects of the community to each other.
How this is done often varies by industry. These activities are a no-brainer if you are open source, an API-based product, or if you’re a SaaS with many integration partners. It’s a bit harder with proprietary software. Sure, you still have to have the awareness and enablement pieces, but the community bit is more of a challenge. Thengvall says that’s when you pursue the thought leadership angle.
She offered up the example of PagerDuty. While the company doesn’t release its source code, it has set itself up as the go-to place for the principles of quality incident response and issue management. It offers educational resources accessible to all tech audiences.
It’s also important for all developer relations to make sure customer feedback gets back to the right members of the product and support teams. It’s an essential part of contributing to long-term customer success.
But how do you measure all this?
“Any of the tasks that DevRel should be doing need to be directly tracked back to the corporate goals,” Thengvall said.
She argues every DevRel person should be leveraging customer resource management software (CRM) to track all that she previously dubbed “warm hand-offs.”
Thengvall says a CRM helps support a mix of measurability and owning your community — instead of risking them just getting dumped into the newsletter list. These “DevRel qualified leads” are owned by the developer advocate, who then makes introductions. Does someone have a great use case? Introduce them to marketing to produce a blog post. Somebody giving really solid feedback? Intro them to the product team as a beta tester. Someone really enthusiastic about your product and great at coding? An intro to HR may be in order.
Like all things culture plus tech, this type of audience evangelism is only going to expand beyond a developer audience into AnyOps — you know DevOps, AIOps, DataOps and anything else that will need a good storyteller and translator to bridge the gap between tech and business.
Unsure if you want to make the change from coding to this nascent community? Thengvall says try blogging or helping run a booth at a conference — no one’s going to turn down that help! And once you’ve found a DevRel position, join the DevRel Collective and connect with others in your industry.
For Thengvall, whether you’re competitors or colleagues, the developer relations community is all about embracing empathy, good listening, inclusivity and “the desire to make other people successful and advance your careers.”