Back to blog

Episode 2 | Under the Hood of Developer Marketing | Developer Events with Katherine Miller

Stathis Georgakopoulos · September 20, 2019

Listen to the audio episode.

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

[Jo] Hello and welcome to “Under the Hood of Developer Marketing”, a podcast from SlashData. I’m Jo Stichbury, one of the senior analysts in the team and today I’m joined by Katherine Miller. Katherine and I worked on a book together recently, Developer marketing: The Essential Guide. We published the book in September last year and it aims to be the de facto text on the up and coming field of marketing to software and hardware developers. I have a fair amount of experience in this field as I’ve worked as a developer and in marketing for Nokia, Sony, Ericsson, Symbian, and in various publishing fields. More recently, I’ve moved into technical writing, working on documentation for developers and those that want to attract them. But Kattie, tell me about yourself. What’s your bio and background?

[Katherine]    Thank you so much Jo for having me on the podcast. I am currently the lead of the events team within the Cloud developer relations organisation at Google. I’m going on about 13 and a half years now at Google and have worn many hats, across our ads and agency and developer marketing and developer relations businesses. Today I am here on behalf of myself and I’ll be speaking about my experiences that I’ve gained through my years at Google as well as in my other experiences. But prior to Google, I actually had a career in higher education. I ran the admissions office at a dental school in Boston. What I really like to think is the common thread that runs through all of the work that I’ve done, whether it be developer relations and marketing, ads, customer service or convincing people to go to dental school; It’s all about building programs and communication experiences that help people get the information that they need to make decisions and be successful. Whether that’s where they want to become dentists or what technology they want to use to build their applications.

[Jo] Okay. Wow. That is quite a journey though, isn’t it? Did you think that you’d end up in this area? How do you think your younger self would see your current role?

[Katherine] I reflect on that a lot particularly, and I’m going to age myself now. I’m coming up on my 20th reunion for university and I reflect back on what I said I wanted to do when I graduated and, amusingly, I would have jokingly said I wanted to be the education secretary for President Hillary Clinton and run the Boston marathon. So, I guess I had some foresight back in the late nineties. Fortunately I have completed the Boston Marathon, so that’s that. But my initial career did take me down the path of education and that’s actually what brought me out to California in the first place. Working in the tech sphere in any capacity would have been so far removed from what I was doing in the late nineties. In fact, not only did much of this technology not even exist for us to comprehend, but also when I even look at the journey that I’ve had over the last 13 and a half years, the vast majority of the technology that we’re talking about and that we’re marketing didn’t even exist at the time that I started at Google 13 and a half years ago.

[Jo] So that is quite the journey. So, within Google, what would you say has been your biggest challenge in your roles there?

[Katherine] That’s an interesting question and I don’t even know if I would say that this is something specific to Google or is just something specific to tech, which is, I think twofold. I think the first is how as a brand and a product suite, we can really think about not just differentiating offerings, but really thinking about how to do so in a way that really is thoughtful and sensitive to the user. So, really putting the user at the center in the heart of everything, and helping them really understand the benefits of why to pay attention to what we’re saying in the first place. So, really that user centric journey. And then, I think the second is – again, more of an observation across the broader tech sphere and not specific to my work at Google – how we really think about bringing diversity and inclusive experiences into the products that we build, the events that we create, the marketing experiences that we put forward out into the world. I think that those are two really interesting challenges when I just reflect on the 15 years I’ve spent in Silicon Valley as a whole.

[Jo] That’s really interesting. I’ve actually just been writing about women in tech. When we’re talking about diversity, it’s one that I think a lot of people would immediately think of. Though obviously not the only one. I was quite surprised to see that there was about one in 10 developers at the moment women. I thought we go beyond that now. And that it was more parity, but it seems not. That’s a global figure. I’m sure things are a bit different in your part of the world. Would you just say so or, or is 1 in 10 still kind of a common statistic?

[Katherine] Observing the events that my team has run and the events that I’ve been able to attend and participate in, I think it varies quite considerably across the platform and across the geographic location. A lot of what we see, and this is again observational, and observe in tech is really related to what we see and observe in terms of diversity in the workforce as a whole within those particular regions and cultures.

[Jo] Yes. I think that must be very true. Let’s go back to the challenges that you’ve experienced. Something that we were very strong about when we wrote the book was that we didn’t just want the glitz, we wanted the mistakes, we wanted the secrets of how you overcome the obstacles. What would you say is your biggest mistake? And what did you learn from it?

[Katherine] That’s such a good question. I have 13 and a half years to dig into. And even beyond that, if I think about early stage career. I think the biggest mistake is… And this applies across the board and I can’t think of necessarily one specific instance. I’m two and a half weeks out from a major event, so I’m probably being very self critical of all of the things I haven’t done in preparation for that event. I would say it’s that, I haven’t taken the extra five to 10 minutes to ask the questions and to listen and to really understand the audience and the stakeholders when I wanted to do that. In that true tech mindset, run fast, fail fast, act and ask for forgiveness. And every one of those instances, taking that extra bit of time to pause and say, “what are we really trying to accomplish here? Who are the people that we’re trying to reach? What are the goals of this? Is this the best strategy? What are the trade offs of what we do?” And I think in those moments we’re in an effort to just keep pushing, pushing, pushing, and to meet deadlines, sometimes there are moments in there where maybe we should have paused. Maybe it would have been a deadline slip, but in the end it would have been the right thing for the internal stakeholders and for the event attendees.

[Jo] Yeah. I see exactly what you mean. I think as a technical writer I’m guilty of much the same in that. Sometimes in my rush to get down what I want to write, I stop thinking about what the problem is that I’m trying to solve for the reader or even who the reader should or would be. And certainly in, you know, in my past career as a tech writer, we Symbian, perhaps I was always solving the wrong problems. We were writing to the converted rather than looking at the external developers and trying to pull more people in. Because of course Apple came along and Google with your Android devices and the Symbian platform just wasn’t really ready for third party developers in the same way. And I was the one that was writing the content for a lot of developers at the time. So absolutely, the problem that other people are trying to solve has got to be right at the top of the list, isn’t it? It’s not always the problem you’re trying to solve, unfortunately.

[Katherine] I love the way that you reflected on that because it really made me reflect on the experience of collaborating on the book and on the chapter where it was a lot of me getting down my ideas and experiences and you all were really pushing me to think about the readers and all of those different angles. And so, in many ways that’s what made the experience of working on the chapter so positive.

[Jo] Oh Great. I’m glad you enjoyed working on it because your chapter was so much fun to review because I learned so much about, well why don’t you tell us, what did you choose to talk about in your chapter?

[Katherine] So my chapter was about producing events for developers. In my time at Google thus far – and that is really where I have built up the muscle around developer events – even though again, the perspective is my own. I have worked on everything, from small meetups up to large tent pole marquee events. And so, it was an incredible opportunity to share the wisdom, the strengths, and the failings of the work that I’ve done to hopefully open people’s eyes and minds to what developer events truly can be. Oftentimes, people think about events as very difficult to measure. Very difficult to measure. They can be expensive. What’s the ROI out of them? And I really truly believe they’re such an incredible vehicle for delivering other programs, other initiatives, other campaigns, and in a really human way. I’ve been really lucky that over the last 13 and a half years, events keep coming to the top of what I’m doing within my particular roles. And it’s just a real passion. It’s something that I really believe in, in terms of it being an effective mechanism of developer marketing.

[Jo] Absolutely. So, this week I think is GDC in San Francisco. I’ve got very fond memories of that event. It’s one of my favorites and also WWDC at the Moscone Center. Those are two really iconic events I think, in the developer calendar. But what do you think makes them so attractive?

[Katherine] Such an excellent question. When I reflect on events like that, when I reflect on events like Google IO, even some of the more emerging ones that you have, Facebook has F8, Amazon and Microsoft have their events, the ones that have been done really effectively are the ones that really understand the different audiences and craft experiences and content that match the needs of those audiences. So that, you know, as an attendee, whether you’re there as press, whether you’re there as an analyst, whether you’re there as a partner, whether you’re there as a practitioner, there’s a place for you at the event and you know how to find it. And you feel, when you walk away from the event, from an ROI perspective that you have gotten out of the event that what you’re looking for. And I think for those ones that are done really well, people are going looking for deep technical content. They are looking to connect with one another. They’re looking to connect with the experts. They’re looking for that balance of wow in amazement because oftentimes the attendees are also fans of the consumer brands, as well as the developer brand. And so, just that sense of being respected as brand ambassadors on both the consumer and the developer side and that they’re able to walk away and say, “I was inspired, I was shown what was possible, but that I also now have new information to do my job better. And I’ve made really personal, meaningful connections to help me do my job better, to help me think about my next step in my career, to feel supported, to feel recognised”. And I think all of those iconic events understand the different audiences. They understand the type of content and experience for them. And when you go, you get out of it what they intend for you to get out of it.

[Jo] I think that’s so true. I think, you said in the book that you should come away only understanding 2/3 of the technical content if you’re a developer and it gets you fired up to learn more. And I think, certainly with WWC DC you would by far exceed that in terms of not understanding things. I definitely walked away with a very long reading list. I’m not so sure about connections for everybody though. I think there’s quite a perspective that developers are introverted and certainly I find in my experience I’m definitely an introvert and I don’t always find it easy to make connections at developer events because I’m in my own little bubble and I don’t really want to talk to people and it’s a bit embarrassing and I’m British and all this. How do you go about bringing people together so that they do actually interact and engage with one another or engage with the staff that you’ve got on the booth or doing the teaching so that you find that people do actually get the most out of it?

[Katherine] That is such a fun question. Ιt’s something that I really keep top of mind. I’ll answer it in two ways. One is more on the technical experiences side and one is more on the community and social experience side because I think they’re in many ways equally important. On the technical side, when I reflect on the events that we do, we’re really thoughtful about the staff that we choose to be present at the event and really rely heavily on individuals from developer relations. And there are people who are known within the community and by bringing them there and bringing them in, attendees can relate to them because they’re the same. They get one another. And these developer advocates and developer engineers really know how to both create digital technical demos and experiences that welcome and invite people into the conversation. Then, once they established that, they have a sense of how to communicate and relate with one another, I think that’s a really important part of it. On the social and community side, it is really about creating those spaces and making sure people can find them. If it’s birds of a feather, having a very visible and obvious schedule that’s pushed out to them so they know where to be and when and who’s going to be present. And even in the social events, and this gets to the inclusivity piece, is thinking through how are all the different ways people like to interact. And that comes down to everything, from as simple as drink choices that are available, to having quiet spaces within, an event that it’s not one type of social interaction or activity. So I would say that those are ways that I’ve really approached it both in terms of connecting from a technical standpoint and connecting from a social and community standpoint.

[Jo] Yeah, they sound great. I’ll definitely be coming to one of your events.

[Katherine] I hope you will. We still need to meet in person!

[Jo] So before we turn to smaller events, because we’d been talking about some real flagship events, I wanted to talk about possibly the most, glitzy event of the technical calendar, South by Southwest (SXSW), which also happened fairly recently. It’s definitely kind of next generation in many ways, or maybe even like a Ted event. What do you think are the hottest trends in events and, where are we going to get to next, when it comes to the developer events so that we can mimic Ted and SXSW a bit more closely?

[Katherine]     Really good question. I will be frank. I’ve been to SXSW. That was in 2012 while I was still in the ads organization and I gave a lightning talk on the porch of a house on innovations search ad formats. I was in Austin for 24 hours and it poured the entire time. So I had a quite uniqueSXSW. Following along with it in the media, when I think about the developer experience and I think about the type of experiences that are created there and that really resonate, some of it is pushing the boundaries. And while developers are incredibly pragmatic, I think when boundary pushing technology and ideas are presented in a really authentic way and in a humble way, it really does resonate with them. I think that one thing, one lesson that I take from those things is at events that we do, we can’t be afraid to push the envelope, but we need to do it in a way that shows humility. This, again, is my personal reflection, that it needs to show humility. It can’t necessarily promise the world. It needs to be put out there and say, “we’re going to try this thing and we think that this is the direction”. So I think that that’s one element to really take from those, which is: we want to armor attendees with really practical information to do their jobs and be successful, but without losing that they are technologists. And part of what this space is, is always thinking on the bleeding edge and in balancing the innovation and the opportunity. That’s one thing that I think to take away. About the second, I love the use of space at SXSW. I actually really reflect on a time that I spent in Edinburgh Scotland during the Fringe Festival, which for those listeners who haven’t participated in it, it’s a month-long festival of festivals in Edinburgh, Scotland. And one of the most special things about it is where the content is delivered, where the performances are, could be everything from a pub to the basement of a church, tο a car, to a street. I like the different use of spaces and really thinking about how to create large vs intimate, loud vs quiet, learning and connection experiences through the use of space. That’s the second one that I think as I’ve gone to a melange of events at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, is really seeing how the producers of the event are using space and bringing, instead of a city, how do you recreate that within the confines of a conference center or conference space. In terms of the TED talk piece, that’s again, really thoughtful attention to the curation of content. It is that balance of deep technical content, right? Recognizing that people need to free up their brains and learn in different ways. Dipping back into my education pedagogy from that time in higher ed is people’s attention spans are limited and the ability to continue learning diminishes pretty quickly. I can’t remember if it’s at the 40 or 50 minute mark within something. So, having a really nicely curated content list, where people will use their minds and brains in different ways depending on where they are at the stage and their conference journey is really important. I think that’s something that SXSW and Ted do really, really well. The mix in how content is delivered in and who’s delivering it.

[Jo] I see. Yes. I think your point about humility is absolutely right. And it goes back to your point of making the people that are attending, the ambassadors, really. You’re always speaking to them and saying, well, what do you think? You know, where should we go next? This is not us telling you, it’s us working together. And I get the sense that Ted is very much the same, it’s a conversation isn’t it? And light wires coming together and as much it’s done behind the scenes, it happens in front of the camera as if it were part of the presentations. I loved the use of space you mentioned and looking for different venues. I mentioned this on the last podcast actually, but I’ll share it with you as well. There was a game developer event recently in Finland, using quantum computing emulators and they were working in the Saunas and on a Ferris wheel. And I think that’s got to be the most bizarre pairing of locations to work. But you know, why not?

[Katherine]  You know, there’s that line that everyone shares, that the most important track at a conference is the hallway track. And your point of how do you help people connect when you have people who run the scale of extroverted to introverted at an event? It is by creating those spaces in nooks and crannies. If somebody knows they’re going to be more relaxed on a Ferris wheel, create an opportunity for a couple of people to sit together and have a Ferris wheel journey. And I am sure that the quality of those conversations, if they were in their zone, must’ve been incredible.

[Jo] Absolutely. Yeah. So let’s turn a bit to smaller events now, because in some ways they must be more difficult in the scope. You know, when you have a smaller group of people to work with. I’ve done events, for example meetups, where it’s a startup, so it’s all hands to the pump. Everybody has to be involved from the most introverted kernel developer through to the marketing team. Everyone’s got to get out there and press the flesh and take names and it was uncomfortable for us doing that because some guys, had never been to an event before. You know, the young actors, they’re not really into it. So how do you, how do you work with a meetup and get people to come together in the same way that maybe a more professional team that’s had that experience, would automatically sort of dive into things. How does this event work? Say if you had a group of people that said “hey, we want to do a meetup on something. We’ve all got day jobs, but we’re all fascinated by code and computers and we want to work together”. How do you guide them?

[Katherine] That’s a really good question. I feel like in the moment, we’re quite spoiled and how we answer that because platforms like meetup.com have come to be what really facilitates that connection and that discoverability. Even reflecting on what the experience would have been like 5 to 10 years ago, I think my answer would have been quite different. When we think about community work, we think about all of the things that you just said: which is what is the minimally viable product (MVP)? What is the time, the location, the space, the food that is going to make people want to take those two hours out of their evening to come and spend time with one another? Really having that critical mass of individuals who have a shared affinity. My experience with meetups has been quite fortunate, not only because of the platform technology side of things, but it’s been done through other larger scaled community efforts, whether it be through Google developer groups or having event managers who are supporting different chapters of open source communities. So, my experience is probably a little bit different, but I think my advice for people would be to really leverage platforms, things like meetup.com because the search functionality makes it discoverable, to really leverage connections and relationships within networks. I think that becomes such a huge piece. If, you know, someone knows someone who works there, “Hey, can you ask if we can get that space?” And especially if it’s at larger companies or incubators and shared coworking spaces, many of them are now set up with event request processes to actually make it quite easy and somewhat turnkey for those meetups to come into this space. And so, probably in the same way that folks deliver career advice, I would give very similar advice back from the meetup space, which is, really to think of the folks that you’ve met throughout your journey, introductions and connections that they can make, to give you that space and that foundation to then be bringing people together. And then, I think as well, on the content side, many of the large tech companies want to be finding scaled ways to get into these communities as speakers, as contributors, as community builders. And so not just to be tapping into the network for space, but also to be tapping into them, because companies are really hungry to be present and to help foster and grow these groups.

[Jo] Yeah, that’s very true. I think people don’t realize just how much help they’ll get if they ask for it. It can make a big difference between people coming home and say, you know, I met somebody from this company and I asked a question and I now understand why this book hasn’t been fixed or why this speech is being delayed. And they’ll go back and they’ll keep going back because, that’s what you want, isn’t it? You want people to give up their time and come to my event. It’d be awesome to think that, you know, if we’ve talked through this, that maybe somebody listening is inspired to run a user group meeting or a meetup and, you know, just give their hands to it and see who turns up. I’m almost tempted myself I must admit. So yes, if you’re out there listening and you’re interested please let us know on Twitter it will be fantastic too. Anyone that wants to set up an event, particularly if they want to tell us about it or get any advice. I think we’re pretty much closing Katherine. I suppose I wanted to ask you before we go, what do you think the hottest trend will be in developer marketing couple of years, from your observations over your 13 years prior to that?

[Katherine] Wow, that’s a great question. I know I keep saying that, I must sound like a broken record, but this is just really fun. I enjoy being challenged with these questions.

[Jo] For example, do you think it will be Ferris Wheels?

[Katherine] Uh, I don’t know about Ferris wheels, but when you challenged me to ask that, and this is actually the historian in me that says – actually what I studied in university is – I actually look back over the years that I’ve done developer marketing and developer relations to say what has and has not changed in terms of the practice. And, to me, perhaps this isn’t where I see it going, but more where I hope to see it going. I think the things that have really worked and that have really stuck have been when, when technology is really invested in by a company or if it’s something that’s very experimental, that it’s really positioned as such. I think that there’s such an opportunity to lose trust from developers. If something doesn’t work or doesn’t have longevity and isn’t stable. And so, to me, my hope for the future, if you will, is just companies and platforms continuing to focus on that. That again, it’s kind of that really, really radical pragmatism if you will, just continuing to make sure that it comes down to what do the users really need to be successful? If I extrapolate on that, where I hope to see that trend is, is really thinking about what those next million or billion users are both from the consumer side of how do we think about how technology is used globally and how people can access that technology and make sure that we’re developing platforms and APIs and tooling that allow developers to actually create experiences that can be used globally.

Whether you’re a farmer in Kenya that has a weak mobile signal or somebody sitting in the luxury of Silicon Valley. That’s one, one direction I hope to see it continue to go. And then I think the second is in terms of building up those next million or billion developers is really inviting and welcoming into the fold a diverse and inclusive set of technical practitioners. That’s the way. We’re not just going to get there and making technology pervasive and accessible and thoughtful by having the platforms that work globally, but also making sure the people building that technology, understand and think and know who those users are and what they need. And, and the way you do that, is having a diverse and inclusive set of developers. So those are the trends that I hope for.

[Jo]  Yes, yes. The people and communication. It’s such an important part of it. And let’s hope that you have this wish granted, even if you didn’t get to work for President Hillary Clinton, at least this is one thing that does come true.

[Katherine] That’s what drives me every day when I come to work. So…

[Jo] Well, it’s been fantastic talking to you. Thank you so much for taking the time out to take part in this “Under the Hood of Developer Marketing” podcast. And it was a pleasure working with you on the book and I’m sure we will be updating and continuing to write great content about this topic for many, many, more episodes to come. So thank you so much. I will close now by saying thank you to the listeners. 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 any other episodes, you can subscribe at developermarketingpodcast.com and follow us on Twitter at @slashdataHQ for regular updates. Thank you.