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DevOps / Software Development

The 7 Guiding Principles for Developer Engagement

Seven principles that will act as a compass to guide an organization through the attracting and engaging developers.
May 4th, 2021 1:00pm by
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Barton George
Barton is leading the creation of Dell Technologies’ first coordinated developer program. He has worked in a variety of positions focused on open source and developers. He is also the founder of Project Sputnik, a line of Ubuntu-powered developer laptops and workstations.

In 2013, Stephen O’Grady published his treatise “The New Kingmakers, How Developers Conquered the World.” O’Grady explained the forces and conditions that enabled developers to evolve from beholden, to “the most-important, most-valuable constituency in business today, regardless of industry.” In the book’s “Final Thoughts,” the reader is left with the warning that the businesses that will succeed in the following 10 years will be those that not only realize the importance of developers, but who have a concrete strategy for attracting and engaging developers.

Since O’Grady’s book was published, the influence of developers has only continued to increase as the IT landscape has evolved.

The Rise of the Application Developer: From Circumvention to Modern IT

Before we get to the seven guiding principles for developer engagement, let’s take a quick look at the rise of developers from the early 2000s to the present.

It began with the advent of the public cloud and popularity of open source. By secretly leveraging these resources and circumventing operations, developers became noticeably more productive and innovative; and in turn, this increase in productivity led to the sanctioning of the cloud and open source. Given the central role developers played in bringing the cloud and open source to the enterprise, developers now found themselves being consulted in purchasing and vendor decisions. As the usage of these newly sanctioned resources increased, so did the influence of the developers.

Along with the cloud, a new segment of application developers began appearing. These new “cloud native” developers were those who architected and built applications specifically designed for a cloud environment. These applications they built became one of the key components of a modern IT environment, further increasing the influence of developers. Additionally, in this new environment, although application developers and operations work together as an integrated product team, it is the developers who lead the team and it is the responsibility of operations to support them.

So What Do You Do About It?

Eight years ago O’Grady concluded “The New Kingmakers” with a warning: If a business wanted to succeed, simply acknowledging the importance of developers wasn’t enough. Businesses needed to build and execute a strategy for attracting and engaging developers.

As we have seen above, the rise of developer influence didn’t plateau in 2013, but has continued to grow, making attracting and engaging developers even more crucial than it was then.

The question then is, what does a strategy to attract and engage this powerful constituency look like? What follows is a set of seven principles that will act as a compass to guide an organization through attracting and engaging developers and the building a broad developer strategy.

The Seven Guiding Principles for Developer Engagement

  1. Understanding: For many employees, developers and open source software are foreign concepts. To lay the foundation for a broad strategy, you must provide team members with an introductory overview of the world of developers and explain how it affects them and their roles. The material should include a high-level overview of the norms, responsibilities and central roles that application developers, infrastructure developers and the open source community play in today’s modern IT environment.
  2. Incorporation: Developer requirements need to be integrated into your company’s overarching business processes. In addition, these requirements need to be included in the efforts of individual teams, such as those working on product development, marketing strategy, sales material, targeted offerings and more.
  3. Coordination: To gain and maintain developer trust, it is essential that they see your organization’s efforts as coordinated and not contradictory. To ensure this, you need to establish a central developer support team who, besides handling relationships with the developer community, serve as internal advisors and coordinate your enterprise’s developer-related efforts.
  4. Participation: Developer engagement isn’t a spectator sport. All employees should in some way participate in the developer community. Beyond contributing code, community involvement can take a variety of shapes ranging from documentation and governance models, to promoting a project, attending industry conferences or meetups, as well as joining conversations in forums or via Twitter.
  5. Transparency and authenticity: When communicating with the developer community, it must be an open dialog characterized by plain-speak and transparency. Conversations with community members should be more intimate and direct than those with traditional customers. When communicating broader news, rather than making a big splash announcement, which will be viewed with skepticism, take an agile approach: Begin the conversation early and add details as they become available. Remember, authenticity trumps budget and transparency builds trust.
  6. Accessibility: Before they recommend any software technology, developers want to kick the tires and get their hands on the code. They expect to be able to access this code barrier-free, at any time of the day or night. Requiring them to first fill out an online form or contact a sales rep is a sure way of losing them. Beyond code, this applies to all material for developers, such as APIs, SDKs, thought-leadership assets, papers, and getting-started guides.
  7. Inclusion: Community input is key in helping set the direction for products, projects and strategy. While almost all companies solicit input from existing or prospective customers, input from the community should be solicited publicly via social media rather than through a closed conversation covered by a non-disclosure agreement. Including community input helps you to deliver a better product, build trust and awareness among the community, and provide a sense of ownership.

Putting the Principles Into Practice

The principles above are simple, straight forward and fit on one sheet of paper. Not surprisingly though, getting them bought into and adopted across your organization will take time. The same is true of developer trust.

As you move forward, remember: start small, start now, and keep at it!

To learn more about DevOps and other cloud native technologies, consider coming to KubeCon+CloudNativeCon Europe 2021 – Virtual, May 4-7.

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