On Wednesday, community managers and developer evangelists came together for a CMX Series event devoted entirely to developer evangelism. Developer Evangelism is a specific subset of community building that focuses on creating connections from developers to companies and tools that help them do their work better.
The three speakers – Tim Falls of Keen.io, Sarah Jane Morris of Mashery, and Andrew Mager of SmartThings – shared their insights on how to build developer community from the ground up.
Here are the key takeaways. You can also listen to the full talks podcast-style and get the slide decks.
Tim first started building developer community four years ago with SendGrid. He shared with the audience his entire story of building the community from scratch.
Tim is adamant that Developer Evangelism is not like other fields. It is a long-term investment that builds long-term loyalty. The value of the Developer Evangelist is that they build relationships with other developers, entrepreneurs, and company representatives.
“That’s the benefit that companies stand to realize,” Tim asserts. “It may not be something you can quantify, but the connections are meaningful and positive.” Tim argues us that Developer Evangelism carries through for months and years into the future.
Before you begin to hire a developer evangelist, Tim Falls recommends asking yourself:
What makes the Developer Evangelist really special and unique is that they are excellent communicators, explained Tim. They can speak and write well, and they can do it through different channels.
Obviously, a Developer Evangelist also must be technically capable. But beyond just being an awesome developer themselves, it’s about being incredibly eager to learn. Often, a great Developer Evangelist is someone who is a seasoned developer, circling back to get to know the community, or is someone right out of college with a background in development, who is ready and eager to learn.
Look for Developer Evangelists who are super active and who are building hacks. They are likely also “blowing up your support line” with questions you might have never even seen.
Create an environment for ambitious people, driven people, self-actualization through the workplace. Once you create that, they’re going to want to come work for your versus the companies who aren’t.
“This type of role isn’t one that is going to be many years long. It maxes out at anywhere from 12 to 24 months,” Tim concedes. “But keep in mind: once an evangelist, always an evangelist.”
Sarah-Jane Morris has been working in software product marketing and community for over 10 years. She’s seen the field grow and change over that time and also has an eagle-eye view of how they differ from other communities.
She took the stage with a strong, clear statement: “Developers don’t like BS.” They have no patience for it. That’s because developer community is “about solutions.” It’s about building things together, closer aligned with a community of practice than a community of any other type.
“She continued by explaining that developers, are “not opening your newsletter or your blog to just check it out. They are solutions-focused. Developers engage in community in an effort to discover tools, exchange knowledge, and solve problems.”
For both online and offline community building among developers, you must have:
Developer Evangelists are often called upon to participate in hackathons as part of an offline community building strategy, but how do companies know which ones are worth going to? How do they know they’ll be worth their while?
For starters, “Think long and hard about sponsoring if they call it a ‘hack-a-thon,'” Sarah-Jane jokes.
There has also been a collegiate hackathon focus for the last 6-7 months. Why is this important? Collegiate hackathons are amazing recruiting tools and the organizers at such hackathons are wide open to trying new things. She recommends checking out MLH.io for more information.
When organizing a branded hackathon, Sarah-Jane offered some useful actionable tips:
Sarah-Jane finished with one final word of advice to those building offline community events for developers: “Make it inclusive! Make women feel welcome, make all ethnicities feel welcome.”
Andrew Mager, formerly of SimpleGeo and Spotify, runs Developer Evangelism at SmartThings, which is the open platform for the Internet of Things. Andrew set out to enlighten the crowd on hacker retention.
In order to engage your developer community, you need to understand how they think about their work. Here is how Andrew describes “The Hacker Ethos”:
Andrew explained how to find and follow developers online so that you can start building a relationship with them.
It’s not enough to simply meet developers one time or to follow them online. Instead, you should seek to deepen your relationship with them over time by taking their projects and turning them into real product changes. Andrew offered a few ideas to get you started:
Like all communities, developer communities require incentives for participation. Among developer communities, these are widely recognized as the top five incentives.
When moving from community member to brand ambassador, there are a few key characteristics that you should keep in mind in developing this relationship. This is what that type of position should entail:
Together, these three developer community leaders shared a wealth of knowledge about developer evangelism.