Q&A: What’s the Right Time for Building a Developer Community, Proving Community ROI, and More

Jesse Davis fields questions that are top-of-mind for DevRel pros and developer advocates.

Jesse Davis, Chief Technologist for Devada, recently hosted a webinar on why it’s important to build a developer community. His talk sparked some really good questions from attendees regarding specifics on getting buy-in from stakeholders, how to juggle multiple sharing channels, and what size your company needs to be before a community is valuable. The conversation was great, so we’ve decided to share it here along with the on-demand version of the talk. Enjoy!

Attendee question: I’m interested in creating a community for my organization. Who in what department do I need to get in touch with that can advocate for a community with me?
Jesse: If you’re looking to start an external community, then a good place to start would be the marketing department. Marketing is invested in getting web traffic, and communities that have expert user-generated content are wonderful for doing just that. Also, product managers typically get excited about having direct user feedback on products, so they can help advocate as well.

If you’re looking to start an internal dev community then some great people to get on your side are the developers and development leadership (Director/VP/CTO).

Attendee question: What are some community ROI numbers I should cover in my initial presentation for the executives?
Jesse: Great question! When you first start out, you want to have the typical growth metrics: how many users signing up, how many questions answered, time to get a question answered, etc. Then, you want to move on to the hard ROI metrics that we demonstrated in the webinar: for internal communities, multiply productivity gained by the number of development hours saved, and number of cases deflected and the corresponding dollar value for external communities.

Attendee question: Once you implement a community, what are some metrics that we can measure for developer productivity?
Jesse: See the question above – it comes down to the amount of time you save for a developer to work a problem to its solution. Eliminating duplicate questions and reducing the need for a dev to work a problem from 4 hours to 2 hours is huge as you scale.

Attendee question: I work for a fintech company and I’ve been seeing a trend in developer communities in the fintech and insurance industry. Can you explain why it’s becoming a trend and why it’s important?
Jesse: Sure thing! In the webinar, we talked about “every company is a software company,” and that’s true for fintech as well. First, financial institutions have to provide software for their users as well as software to transfer money, make trades, communicate with partners, the list goes on and on. As software powers the financial industry you need the developers who write it to be capturing and sharing knowledge so that new developers can pick up and help accelerate these projects. Additionally, the EU passed something called PDS2 (Payment Services Directive 2), which means that all banks in the EU must offer APIs to talk with other financial institutions to share and manage individual user’s financial data. What this means is that every EU bank is now an API company and must write this software — driving up demand for developers and also communities so that developers can learn their new APIs and share with each other how best to implement software that takes advantage of it.

Attendee question: If my company sells B2B software to a very narrow market where the total community size is less than 1000 at best, and currently around 50, where many are direct competitors, does it still make sense to have a community?
Jesse: Yes! If you have a community of 50 people you can still have a vibrant community that makes progress together and captures knowledge about your industry. I know that many people think that communities have to be large but they don’t – I’ve run development teams as small as 10 people and we still found a lot of value in having a community to share ideas, help each other solve problems, and codify how we worked together.

Attendee question: What tools would you recommend if you are getting started with creating a developer community?
Jesse: Obviously, I’m biased, but I really like AnswerHub as a platform for a developer community. It was built to operate the way developers’ minds work: with Q&A, ideation, and knowledge base articles all built right in. You can easily follow and share information, write tutorials, and gather customer feedback – with some great analytics to show the value of your community to your management team. You’ll also want to plug it into your JIRA system to integrate with bug workflows. We also use RingCentral for our video conferencing and voice service – it helps to facilitate disparate teams that may be in different parts of the world, and we also use Slack. We don’t use Slack for knowledge capture, but it’s great for a quick chat or to work something out in real-time that can be captured and preserved within the community. Hope that helps!

Attendee question: Do you have any advice for being efficient in keeping up with questions between company forum, Stack Overflow, and Slack?
Jesse: This has always been an issue as we pesky humans like to communicate in different ways. I like to use a Slack plugin to our community where someone starts the question in the community – then that notifies a Slack channel so people know that they can click over to the community to help answer that question and keep the knowledge there instead of in Slack. Stack Overflow is great for general programming questions, but companies tend to want to keep their own data, brand, and information on their own Q&A site. We’ve had one industrious team use AnswerHub together with a federated search that would search AnswerHub for the answer and if it was a general coding question it would search Stack Overflow as well and redirect the user to the correct site based on the question. I realize that’s probably a bit more complicated than what you’re looking for but it was a neat solution to the problem.

If you have other questions about community, please reach out to me and I’ll make sure you get the help you need.