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Episode 1 Transcript: Under the Hood of Developer Marketing with Mary Thengvall and Andreas Constantinou

Miljana Mitic · July 17, 2019

Listen to the audio episode here.

[Intro] Hello and welcome to “Under the Hood of Developer Marketing”, a podcast from /Data. This is the podcast to come to for best practices and insights on the developer marketing world. In each episode we meet a different guest each with a background in technology, who shares their experience, success stories and lessons learned. We are /Data and our mission is to help the world understand developers. Stay tuned for more episodes by for signing up at developermarketingpodcast.com.

[Jo] Hello, welcome to “Under the Hood of Developer Marketing”, a podcast from /Data this is the very first episode and today I’m very lucky to be joined by Mary and Andreas, who are both heavyweights in the world of developer marketing and developer relations. I will get them to introduce themselves so Mary, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do and your career to date and your book.

[Mary] Sure, thanks for having me today. My name is Mary Thengvall and I’ve been working with various developer communities for a little over a decade now. I started at O’reilly media have a lot of experience around DevOps and the performance basis there and then worked with Jack infrastructure, working with their community team, a company called SparkPost here in San Francisco as well which is the email API company building their DevRel team. I have noticed a lot of patterns and trends along the way, over the last few years especially, as developer relations cannot come into its own. And so, for the last year and a half now I have been working with consulting companies that are trying to figure out what developer relations is and how to build these technical communities. I have been helping them build a team or work on a strategy or figure out the business value of what there are doing, building a community with their developers, with their technical audience. And released a book back in October, called the business value of developer relations, that’s split half and half between how to define the business value for your company and how to figure out what that is. So, that you have the metrics and you have the value you can take back to the stakeholders. As well as practical application now that you have a DevRel team, what do you do? How do you handle it? How do you connect with the community? Some best practices along the way.

[Jo] Thanks I’ve been looking at your book. And I have to ask, I was gonna ask later but I have to ask now. What is it with the avocados?

[Mary] Sure thing. When I was back in SparkPost, about three years ago, we had one of our product managers who had a hard time saying developer advocate when she got to talking quickly and so would come out developer avocado every once a while. And all on our team loved avocados so we kind of embraced it and it became our internal team name. And then couple of us where sitting chatting about it one day and realized that there’s an actual analogy around it that might help our coworkers understand the value of developer relations and what they can get out of that. The basic idea, and I have a blog post about it is that and giving a talk about it this weekend, is that DevRel can be viewed as a kind of fatty department or an expensive department with sponsorships and swag and community events and all these things. But used in the right time, in the right ways, in the right combination is incredibly healthy for both the company and the community and beneficial to the longevity of the product.

[Jo] I see, right and yet it’s only stone hard on the cover.

[Mary] The avocados on the cover of the book are folks that I did case studies with throughout the book and I have snippets for each of those case studies throughout the book with that particular person.

[Jo] I see, well the cover is very remarkable and memorable, and we’ll put a link to the page of the podcast so people are able to see that and read more about the analogy. So, Andreas turning to you now. I know a little bit more about this because I worked with you on it and it’s got a more more post-modern cover I would say and can you tell us a bit about what’s inside it and how you came to write it and about yourself please.

[Andreas] Yes I’ll start with myself. I used to describe myself as a developer once, I also was a strategist, these days I am more of an entrepreneur and CEO. So, the book came out of probably a conference. Our Future Developer Summit (futuredeveloper.io) which we run for the second time in 2017 and there we had a few folks who were giving talks in what was essentially a relatively small audience. It was invite-only as well we didn’t publish any videos. We thought how we can get the word out to a wider audience. And I think it was one of the attendees that mentioned it together with the Nicholas Sauvage, my co-editor for the book. And so we said let’s find the medium through which we can spread the word more widely for what speakers in this conference, the future developer summit talk about. At the conference we had quite a few senior practitioners, director level people, VP level people, your usual suspect companies, the big platforms speaking on whatever they were an expert on, whether it is email marketing or hackathons or building communities and so on. So, we thought let’s invite them to write a chapter of the book each. So, we created a book that essentially is best practices from the experts. And that’s how the book came about. It was published at our September 2018 conference. We are also working at a version 2 I should say as a teaser that will come out in the next few months. Basically, it is as close as it gets to a definitive guide on developer marketing, by the experts and the practitioners in our field.

[Jo] I am, yes we have two very different books about a similar kind of build. There is a developer marketing book from experts in the development marketing stage and then Mary your book with the case studies is something that you wrote solely with a technical reviewer Jojo Bacon, a very well known in the field. Looking at the two subjects, DevRel and developer marketing, Mary how would you define the difference between?

[Mary] I think there’s actually a lot of overlapping as I’ve been reading the developer marketing book. There’s a lot of times that I’m sitting there nodding saying yes I say the same thing to people all the time. One of the interesting things will developer relations and one of the things a lot of companies struggle with, is where it fits within the company. There are pieces of marketing in there, there are pieces of product in there, pieces of engineering in there and figuring out where DevRel fits is difficult. But I think because of that there’s things that we can learn from marketing, there’s things we can learn from product, there’s things we can learn from engineering. The focus on developer marketing is fascinating to me because it is helping marketers who don’t have a tech background and aren’t necessarily too tech savvy, understand how to approach a technical audience, which is huge and that’s what has been a problem for years in tech companies, that developers don’t trust marketing team because they don’t know how to speak their language. So, I’m excited to see the impact of the developer marketing book on the industry as more people start to read it and more people start to apply the principles in it to see how that changes the trust balance between developers and marketing teams.

[Jo] Do you think there’s a different skill set or a demographic required for that kind of work or do you think it’s something that anybody could pickup given that we’ve now got two books on the subject?

[Mary] I think it is something a lot of people could pick up and I think developer relations depends on the role that you’re pursuing. So, someone who is excited about technology and interested in doing some research and getting to know specific communities can absolutely pick up a technical community manager job or some of the other related jobs within developer relations. Developer advocates usually come from a developer background or a coding background of some sort, as they are those who really dig deep into the code with many members. And, while a technical community manager is absolutely expected to carry on a conversation, a technical conversation, that’s more of a high level than “I’ll pull up my laptop and open my terminal and code into the API alongside the community member.” I think there is a slight difference there of when someone can just step into a role versus having some things in their background that qualify them for it. But I think anyone who is interested in meeting the needs of a developer audience and is willing to invest in the time that it takes to learn the technical aspects of that can absolutely step in at least in some of those roles. and at least in some of those rules.

[Jo] Andreas I bring you in here, you have your own views I’m sure, for the differences and the overlaps. What do you say is the biggest area where there is an overlap?

[Andreas] First let me talk about marketing vs relations. I’ve been grabbing with that distinction for a while and we’ve talked about it with Jo, doing a blog post on this. To me, it maps roughly as marketing vs client relations would map any other field. In other words, marketing vs sales. Sales has a bad reputation in some developer circles as well and I think the closest analogy would be marketing and client relations. Marketing in my mind is about defining target audience, market plans, outreach channels. How are you going to reach those developers, the product marketing side, marketing communications and so on. Relations is all the field work, in other words working with developers to help them understand how to use your tools to build better apps. That’s one that’s going from the company to the developer and then it’s the opposite side which in some companies and circles is called specifically developer advocates, because it’s about going from a developer to the product manager in the company saying “I’m getting very strong feedback from people who use these tools that we should actually include feature X or Y and is very often the case that the product managers not get to listen to that feedback because a) they don’t have the means or b) because they are based on the words of big customer feedback and they won’t hear the guys in the long tails. So it’s a very important role, advocating on behalf of the developers to the product managers on the next features our product should include.

[Jo] I can see Mary’s nodding along to that.

[Mary] I completely agree. There’s a mantra that I tell people often: to the company I represent the community, to the community I represent the company and you have both those interests in mind at all times. So, it is a balancing act at times because you’re constantly going back to the company with feedback from the community or constantly turning around and explaining to the community why a product road map looks the way that it does and why those are the decisions you’ve made and there’s also some industry though-leadery tight pieces in there as well, as you’re explaining why we’ve made these decisions or what best practices are we following, here’s the reason why this fits within the current landscape of the tach industry. And so it’s kind of a mixture of all those things. There’s a lot of storytelling in there, not from a telling a white lie storytelling, but from making what you say fit to the perspective of the person that you are talking to. Taking the feedback from the developer audience and the technical audience and communicating that in a way that the product team and the stakeholders and the company are going to understand and vice versa, taking the business speak from your product team and the stakeholders and communicating that back out into the community in a way that they understand and because you are that bridge, you build trust on both sides. The biggest thing that I see developer relations being responsible for is building connections, both community member to community member and community member to coworkers. Then making sure that those connections are strong and then stepping back and letting the other people do their jobs. I’ve been calling that DevRel qualified leads along the lines of MQL because it’s a business phrase that people understand. But I’ll make an intro of a community member to a recruiter and it’s not my responsibility whether or not that person gets hired but I’ve mad that connection so I can claim that connecting piece or connect the community member to someone at the marketing team, a community member that is active in our forums and is posting the longer posts in there and they might be able to write a blog post but it’s not my responsibly if that blog post actually gets published on the site, There might be a three-month long for content or that community member might not have time to do that but I’ve made that connection and is a qualified connection that could bring value to the company and so focusing on how many of those connection can make how many of those connections am I responsible for vs what’s the actual work output so we aren’t getting saddled with sales numbers or marketing numbers or traditional business metrics that don’t really fit within the developer relations structure.

[Jo] I see. It sounds like you are doing a fantastic job there and clearly love it. We came up in our book with some experts we thought represented the best of developer marketing. Which companies or individuals do you think are doing a brilliant job in the field so that, for example, if you were building a new team, the stars, the key players that you would want to put on that team?

[Mary] This is a hard question because there’s so many good people in the field right now.  It’s been really exciting to see as the industry has grown, people have become more passionate about it and more understanding of the value that we bring to the table. To see the people who are really leading the industry in doing really really awesome things and pushing the industry forward. I don’t know, narrowing down that list difficult.

[Jo] Yes, no need for names of course because somebody always is forgotten. What do these guys and girls have in common? What could you say really makes them shine?

[Mary] So what I think is the biggest thing is they’re passionate about their community. Those who want to enable the developers and community they are working with to do their best possible work. That comes up in different ways. Might be best practices for APIs or best practices for incident response or any variety of things. But they’re very passionate about how I mean how do I make this the best possible experience for them so that their job is easier, their life is easier so that they have a work life balance, any of those types of things. That passion leads them to give talks about best practices or connect more people because they’re interested in digging those relationships within the community. And so it leads to all of these someone going down a rabbit hole and researching a topic because a community member is really passionate about it and now I want to understand how that fits into the overall structure of everything that we’re doing. That passion for their community really drives and then you can see it on the technical work they’re doing, and the community work they’re doing.

[Jo] I’m gonna move to Andreas now about the book. We published “Developer Marketing the Essential Guide” in September last year, so technically just before Mary with her book. So ours was kind of the first book on the subject. Why do you think there weren’t books before and why now is the right time to be publishing this book? And why is it so important? Why has developer marketing become so important?

[Andreas] Firstly, developer marketing practices are substantially if not fundamentally different from consumer marketing or even if you take B2B marketing in any vertical. One of the reasons is that the audience is extremely technical, extremely demanding and critical of any marketing activity. I would say much more critical than any of all other audiences. It’s often recognized that if you have experience in developer marketing, then any other marketing field is downhill for you, it’s much much easier. It’s exactly about developing a practice of client relations by supporting and not selling to the community. So, this subtle way of creating friends and advocates and evangelists within the community is much harder than actually getting people to buy something. The reason why there wasn’t something like that before? I guess the field started practically when Windows was introduced with Microsoft pioneering this platform economics model and Steve Ballmer dancing on stage with famously “developers, developers, developers”. But, most people saw the opportunity as a business model to start with and there has been tens of papers in the academia on how you build platforms and innovation platforms, if not hundreds of papers, but not on how do you get the these people, that community to engage. Because you’re not buying an audience hitting people with ads. We need people to interact, to engage. People who contribute back in most cases.  I think that aspect of the community engagement was largely underhyped and not paid enough attention to. This has changed perhaps in the last year or two, because it’s not just the big platforms that are in this game. You know, the likes of Microsoft and Google and Facebook and Amazon that we have authors from in the book. Its many more smaller companies, companies across verticals, you have car makers, you have sports companies, lifestyle companies, retail and so on, all creating developer communities. Because they now see that their APIs or whatever they have out here, their SDKs are now getting action, they say “cool, how can we get more of that? How can we get 10x, 100x the traction?” I can see communities being created in the wild. I was talking with a payment service provider recently and they said “We have use cases of our API out there which we had not thought of and are very cool. Can we have more of them? How can we market to get more developers building those use cases systematically?”. The practice of developer marketing is new because we just hit that inflexion point going from early adopters to mainstream if you like where companies are realizing that this is a systematic process, a process that can be systematized in building developer communities.

 [Jo] Yes everyone’s a software developer these days or having software development teams. We had the example in in our book about a bank creating a software product. And I guess all of these companies need the expertise. Not everybody has it, not everybody gets it the right way.  Mary? Do you have any examples of when you go to a community site, one that appears to be failing? What you look for in a good site or a bad site and how do you spot where the problems are?

[Mary] One of the biggest or the easiest ways to spot a company that isn’t investing in it, is companies who set a developer site and then it’s static and not updated. There are many companies who say “what we need is developers.company.com and it will maintain itself and developers will see we’re on their side and we never have to do anything else for that”. So, you go on a site and it’s very obviously a static site, hasn’t been updated in a while, there’s no activity, no investment. It’s very easy for developers to see that a glance, they checked that box and walked away; and go see someone who is investing in the community on a regular basis. But it’s interesting to see, I think you asked Andreas about it, the timeliness of these books and I think there’s been a lack of resources for the last few years there’s a stat I always like to go back to “Why is developer relations such a big thing now?” it’s had a classic hockey stick growth over the past few years, because startups have become a big thing again. A lot of the startups that are coming up aren’t consumer audience startups. They are B2B, working with other companies. The developers are now responsible to build that software and make that integration. And there’s a stat from 2015 that basically says there is a new startup about every second or around that amount. Not all of those succeed of course but out of that amount even if we say 10% have a developer faced audience, the amount of companies who need to market to developers and need to build relationships with developers just need to skyrocket. I had an interesting conversation with a client the other day, I was trying to get at the bottom of why you’re really wanting to build a community into the foundation of the company. Which is a question I ask all my clients, to make sure they’re not just checking the boxes, they actually have a direction they need to be going and why they want to include this. And his response was “I know that I can absolutely build a successful company without a community behind it, but that’s not the company I’m interested in creating” like “I want to build a company that has a solid community, I want to get feedback, I want to be selling to people’s needs and I want to be solving these problems for people. You’ve got a lot of startup founders these days, especially in Silicon Valley where the founders are developers themselves. So the focus is shifting to knowing that type of marketing is not working that type of sales isn’t working, that type of relationship building is not working. We need to be connecting with developers one on one, we need to be building those relationships. Or else, no one will even think twice about using our product because they know we aren’t investing time in them and why should they invest their money on us.

[Jo] Yeah absolutely. I’m not gonna ask you to give away all your secrets of how to build a strong community and from my own experience, I’ve worked in a number of companies where we set up communities, some more successful than others.  I recently did an interview and they were saying that, really, you don’t need a huge amount of documentation, you don’t need a forum, what you need are answers. A knowledge base. This is a problem you might experience, this is how you solve it. Some on your site and a really solid StackOverfolw presence. So the people can go there and see all the different manifestations of their problem and how to solve it. Would you agree that less is more? What would you think would be the basic quick wins to build a strong community?

[Mary] I definitely agree that less is more if your resources are limited. Focus on the top questions people are asking and more importantly than answering those questions over over, fix those issues within your infrastructure. So if you’re seeing the same questions pop up all the time on all support sites, then your documentation isn’t great on your website or maybe there’s an easier, clearer way to communicate that in the actual work flow, setting up an integration. So paying attention to what are the common questions, not just to prove the documentation but to improve the developer experience overall. One of the fascinating things that I always love hearing from clients and always a very interesting conversation afterwards is when they say well we don’t have a community, we need to build one from scratch. And my answer always is, unless it’s a brand new company that hasn’t even gotten started and has a long way to launch the product yet, “you do have a community, they’re out there you might just not be engaging with them”. They will be on StackOverflow, they will be on Twitter, they will be on Facebook, Reddit, they will be in all of these different places talking about this company and talking about the issues that they are having or the experiences they are having, bad or good. Whether or not the company is connecting with them is a whole other question. Your community is out there so it’s just a matter of how and when you’re going to engage with them and engaging with them where they already are, is your starting point. Then bringing them back to your site or creating a forum, if that’s even necessary, is the next question to ask. But figuring out where your community exists is the first step in where they’re already talking so you can be engaged in the conversations of the platform where they already are.

[Jo] I see, yes. Andreas you have a different overview of this because /Data surveys 40.000+ developers a year about developer resources among other things. What people typically tell us about what they value from a community.

[Andreas] I’ll answer that straight away let me first add a comment on Mary which directly popped into my mind as she was going through her story. I remember, probably 2008 or 2009, Nokia days and Nokia had a developer program, at least early stages, or very early stages, I think it was probably only documentation. The prevalent thinking was that “developers would come to us” because at that time Nokia had 40% market share of mobile phones globaly. It was number 1 and was no number 2. And of course, they assumed that developers would respect that market share. And of course, it was nowhere near that and the fundamental reason that Nokia and to an extend Windows lost was because of lacking developer love and developer traction. I think people still will make the same mistake and saying “ok, we’re kind of big enough, no need for developer APIs because we exist, and we have investors” and whatever else. But that’s not the case. Back to your question Jo, on defining the most important things, a developer marketing or relations effort is nice to have and I think it’s extremely clear and very stable in our metrics. We run this study we call Developer Program Benchmarking and one of the things we measure is the features or marketing initiatives a company needs to offer to support developers. Among the top ones you have, documentation is core, which is hygiene. Then you have tutorials and how-to videos, answers in public forums like StackOverflow you mentioned and dozens of others and non-English speaking parts of the world. You have development tool integrations, training courses, official forums, technical support, more and more with that. And the most interesting is that the types of developers that go to each, vary a lot. So for more experienced developers, hackathons aren’t resonating as they are with newer developers. Documentation becomes more important as you are an experienced developer the more experience you have. Same goes for technical support so whereas it’s a set of hygiene factors if you like, they differ a lot by the kind of developer, the region and in some cases if you’re talking about IoT or cloud, or machine learning and so on, there’s a disciplined audience to target.

[Jo] Something that came across while we were writing the book, we had a chapter from Qualcomm talking about hardware developers and that really struck me how different are hardware developers from a software developer. It’s just one word and it doesn’t really seem like it makes a lot of difference but the background of people coming from and the kind of assumptions they make about writing code are very very different. Mary, have you had that kind of observation? 

[Mary] I’ve seen that a little bit, I’ve more heard about it in startups where a hardware startup gets an investment from a software VC and the advice that they are given and the ways that they’re told to approach things doesn’t fit their community, doesn’t fit their audience at all. Like you said, it doesn’t seem at a first glance that it should be so much different but it really is a different audience. And there’s people mixing them both, there’s a Venn diagram there, but I think the way that it’s set up, the types of events that you’re at, the types of places that you’re going to meet your community members can be very very different between hardware and software.

[Jo] Thank you. We’ve got to wrap up soon, so before that I’d like to ask you both for your top tips of the hottest trends in this space in 2019. So, where do you think we’re heading and what new things we’re going to see. Mary I’ll let you jump first.

 [Mary] I’m actually really really excited about this year and next year as well to see what happens and where we go. I think we’re finally hitting a point in the industry where people are starting to understand this is necessary. They might now understand why, but that’s the next piece and at least we’ve come to a point where companies go “ok, now we need developer relations, we need someone building a community here or checking that box and the next question that they’re starting to ask is “why do we need? And what does it do? What’s the value there?” and we’re starting to get more and more resources about it as well. So, I run the weekly DevRel newsletter and I did just a quick analysis of the data that I pulled in from my first year, based on the tweets and the blog posts and the things that I was collecting on the span of one year. It was fascinating to see some of the patterns and one of them was job skyrocketing throughout the year consistently. Another one was topics like burnout highlighted in April, which is after the first set of conferences for the year and then again in December, which absolutely makes sense. But, as we hit the end of last year there was a lot of pushback particularly on Twitter around the value of developer relations and “what is DevRel anyway? Is it really necessary?” and stuff from other technical community members, honestly. They weren’t understanding.  That went on for a while which was kind of discouraging but interesting to watch. But the fascinating thing that came out of it was that there was a whole slew of people posting about “here’s my experience with developer relations”, “here’s what I do”, “here’s why it’s valuable”, “here’s how it helped me”, “here’s how it helped other community members”. Direct feedback from community members of particular companies. How we were incredibly valuable in helping them use our product or make their jobs easier, all these different things. As more of those stories surface, more people start to understand where that value really is and the value in those DevRel qualified leads, the connections that we’re making. I think it’s not only continue growing as an industry, but there’s actually going to be an understanding of the value that we provide to companies and the advantage of building a community from the start and not just tacking in on at the end because “Oh, we don’t have a community and we need one t able to succeed.”. But the value of creating it from the start and making it a community-centric company and the advantage that this gives you over your competition.

[Mary] Yeah that sounds fantastic it’s exciting when you put it like that. I’m gonna share mine now and I’ll come to you Andreas. I recently spotted a quantum computing games jam in Helsinki which combines two of my favorite things. But the trend I was particularly excited to see was that the guy sat on a Ferris wheel writing code. So they went round and round on the Ferris wheel and occasionally hopped off and jumped on again, all the while writing games using a quantum computer emulator. I think that’s fantastic, so let me put my pitch in what I hope should be the hottest trend in 2019. Now Andreas I’ll come to you. Have you got anything more crazy than that?

[Andreas] The hottest trend that actually very few people can understand and code, right? I hope it gets more popular. I’m much more of an industry observer, always had a knack for that so I would point to three trends. I think that probably within two or three years developer marketing will be recognized as a field of B2B marketing, because of the sheer innovativeness of the domain. In developer marketing and with that I include relations, we have so many innovative ways of engaging people that no other industry has tried simply because it wasn’t that hard to engage an audience. Developer marketing has and will have much more than others fields of marketing. I was seeing in the news today that Salesforce is giving out its tools for training employees, including trailhead which is how it trains developers. They were selling those as an add-on on top of Salesforce. It’s a sign of that move or lending of experience and best practices from development marketing to other fields. That’s one trend. The other trend I see again from an industry perspective is that we now have the big five consultancies move into developer marketing. The first company I’ve seen do that is Accenture and they have a formal team. Last I knew it was over a dozen people, working with enterprises and their developer programmes. It’s visionary of course but I think it’s just a sign that the big consultancies and again the big enterprises as well are looking at this very very seriously and there is a demand for that. The third trend I see relates who developers more and how their needs are addressed by a developer program. In our research, the most and that’s by far the most under-funded marketing activity above all is answers in public forums such as StackOverflow. What developers tell us versus what development program managers tell us is that there is a huge discrepancy. For developers is very important to get peer support through public fora for developer marketing and relations folks it actually doesn’t receive a big part of their budget and this comes on comparing two surveys against each other. Because of it being such a fundamental need, I think we’ll see many more “StackOverflows” emerging, especially in countries where English is not the primary language. We’re seeing already there are companies with Q&A platform products and they’re successfully selling those. And I think we’ll see competition for where the person go to get supported by their peers.

[Jo] I think that’s very true and I think I am. It’s one of those things that will absolutely be growing constantly. I’d like to thank you both Mary and Andreas. We had a great conversation here and I think it’s time to wrap up, but if you would like to leave any questions, I am sure we can find a way to get them, maybe Twitter? Is this the best way to ask questions of you Mary?

[Mary] Sure, my DMs are open so feel free to send me a message my handle is @mary_grace

[Jo] Anyone listening out there that has any questions for Mary, direct them through Twitter. Andreas I guess the same?

[Andreas] Yes mine is @andreascon.

[Jo] Ok, and I am Jo Stichbury and I’m @fluffy_macoy on Twitter. Thank you both, it’s been great chatting to you.

[Outro]Thank you for listening to Under the Hood of Developer Marketing, a podcast devoted to developer marketing and relations. If you want to listen to other episodes, you can subscribe at developermarketingpodcast.com or follow us on Twitter @SlashDataHQ for regular updates.