Going Beyond ROI: Finding Balance in Developer Relations

Why you can't depend exclusively on metrics to measure a DevRel program.

In the beginning, DevRel was all about driving empathy and awareness. Just a few years ago it was a “give devs pizza and t-shirts, and they’ll come try our software” approach.

This gave rise to the stigma that Developer Relations was nothing more than a “travel and party” subculture with little understanding of the value that they could bring to the business. Leadership at the tech companies started asking for justification, so DevRels boarded the ROI metric train.

Conversations quickly changed from a focus on how to help developers be successful with our software to proving that the programs we are running are adding real value to the top and bottom line. The developer programs had to show irrefutable proof of case deflection, increased sales, reduced support engineer headcount, and ideation-to-dollars success. Serving pizza at a MeetUp? Better measure how many slices it took to gain a paid customer.

As I was listening to Adam Seligman, VP of dev relations at Google give his “DevRel: Are we Doing it all Wrong?’’ talk at the Evans DevRel conference earlier this year, I found myself nodding eagerly and thinking about happy mediums. He argued that making dev relations all about growth hacking and adoption metrics is just suffocating the practice and not delivering the value to developers that they need. And I am someone who not too long ago gave a “Show me the Money” talk at a DevRel conference. So, what’s changed?

A lot.

A New Way of Looking at KPIs

First, there is a more mature understanding of KPIs. For instance, we know that in a developer community your typical marketing metrics (like bounce rate) are not the same. It’s actually a good thing if a developer doesn’t need to poke and peel her way through every nook and cranny of your website. It means she found what she was looking for quickly and is back to being a productive (and presumably), happy user of your software. Yes, there is more to it than just a bounce rate and we can get into measuring search analytics as well, but the point is: On the surface, we can’t simply apply the same metrics we use for a corporate website to an online developer community.

Second, we understand now that metrics will change and evolve as a company grows (and as our understanding of the developers in our communities grows), something we detail in this blog post. What is critical to measure as you are launching a dev relations program or community will change as that community matures. Know that as you start to show the business an engaged community of developers, your marketing team will start to get really interested! You’ll need to hold them off until they are ready to tackle developer marketing as its own use case; you don’t want to turn over all your loyal developers to the marketing team straight away.

Finally, we now understand the more critical force at work that we need to pay attention to – we simply have to support developers. We need them. And they need to be more productive without working crazy hours and burning out. “Crunch culture” needs to be eliminated.

Businesses in every industry are increasingly dependent on developers – from health care companies to insurers and media firms to industrial equipment providers. More companies are hiring developers every day. More than a few CEOs of non-tech companies have come to the realization that their success, even their survival, is predicated on their software developers so we need to keep the focus on helping them grow … which was what we set out to do with DevRel in the first place.

Whether you are selling to developers or keeping your own developers productive, understanding that helping developers stay productive and happy is perhaps the most important KPI of all.

It’s why we need to find balance.

How Do We Provide Better Support for Developers?

To me, balance is letting DevRel engage developers in a helpful, positive way that is focused on assisting the developer achieve success with their product – not just peppering them with marketing messages and new products to buy.

Don’t just give them a product, give them a platform to fall in love with. Apple has been known for its cult-like devotion to making developers productive when building in their environment. And we’ve all seen the results. It’s not just that Apple benefits from what developers build on their platform, the developers also benefit. And we end up with amazing new technology that makes our lives better. Who would have ever thought we would be looking at our watches to provide an on-demand EKG reading? Developers are changing the world and we need to give them platforms that help them make their vision a reality.

Make sure your products are dev built, designed, and deployed. Full disclosure. I hashed out the idea for this blog post with a writer whose entire coding experience consists of 14 lines written in college. The good news: She isn’t designing our products. Nor is a finance guy, or a non-technical product marketer, or a committee of business consultants. We aren’t trying to trash our right-brained colleagues – we love them. Goodness knows we need those creative souls (if I designed the world everything would be square!). That said, there is a reason that an increasing number of developers have the authority to buy stuff in the enterprise – they know whence they speak. Commit to dev relations by being dev-centered in your product mix.

Make their life easier, their job more efficient. I write and talk about community a lot. After all, it’s core to our own products and a personal passion of mine. Our founder built the product by seeing the need to capture knowledge for re-use and observing that developers work best when they can ask each other questions and share answers. They get accurate answers from other experts, which helps them get back to what they were working on – quick and easy.

If you’re thinking of helping out your devs, here are some things to think about:

  • How do devs on your team communicate and collaborate?
  • What is the average amount of time it takes them to get answers?
  • What if you could reduce the amount of time your team spends hunting down resources and resolving issues?

Support developers everywhere and at every stage of their career. The world needs more developers. Whether they are career changers going to coding camp, live in a country far from the tech giants of the world, or are not from demographic groups that traditionally embrace the coding life, we need to foster, encourage, and grow this community to meet the demands for new and innovative technology.

Whether you mentor, host MeetUps, work with groups encouraging children to take up coding careers or answer questions in online communities, it’s important to support developers.

If you’re in the DevRel space or are running a development team of your own, strive for balance when building and designing your community. Yes, the business needs to ensure that there is value in the community, and it’s your job to show that. It’s also your job to make sure that the developers are learning, growing, and doing amazing things with your products. After all, life is really all about relationships and helping one another out – let’s help first and the value will be easy to show.

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