Creating and nurturing developer community advocates


Francesca Krihely

Francesca Krihely

MongoDB’s Masters programme recognises those members of the MongoDB developer community who have made a significant contribution.

In this talk, recorded at DevXcon 2017, MongoDB’s Senior Manager of Developer Advocacy, Francesca Krihely, discusses her approach to creating and managing champion, ambassador and MVP-style programmes for developer communities.

Transcript of Francesca’s talk

To get started, I wanna give a shout out to Tamao who’s one of the organizers here, because a couple of years ago I went to Jono’s Community Leadership Summit and Tamao led a conference session called “Gamification Sucks For Me, Does It Suck For You?” And we had a really honest conversation about how a lot of our leaders were asking us to do gamification to inspire community advocates and create more engagement. And we were trying and it wasn’t really working. And I think a lot of the reason people want to do the gamification is because they think it will bring you a bunch of these things that we wanna get out of our advocates, like product feedback, open-source contributions, bloggers, customer testimonials, online reviews, things like that. And while gamification works really well for companies like Stack Exchange and for games like Candy Crush, it doesn’t work as well for a lot of developer relations communities.

Have you tried rock climbing?

And so I was thinking about this a few years ago and trying to figure it out, and now when people ask me, “Hey, do you do gamification?” I say, “No, but have you tried rock climbing? Because I think it will work really well.” And you might feel like why on earth is she talking about rock climbing? What does that have to do with developer relations? Well I started rock climbing, and I realized it actually taught me how to be a really good developer relations person because a lot of the things that get people really into rock climbing and a lot of the things that make rock climbing so addictive are a lot of the things that you can do to your community to bring a human face to community engagement and inspire advocates to do things like what Chelsea was saying, become an extension of your team.

So I, as Matt said, I work at MongoDB. I’ve worked there since 2011, so I’ve seen a lot of things. And now I run the developer relations team. And at MongoDB, we’re an open-source document database. And running a database community comes with a number of challenges that we’ll talk about today. So first of all, really competitive market. Do you know…how big do you think the database market is? Anyone? All right, it’s $40 billion. That is insane. And that is a… So that’s a really competitive market, and the relational database, which is probably our biggest competitor, has been around for over 40 years. So naturally, we come with a lot of legacy knowledge, a lot of people are certified to run relational databases, a lot of companies have invested a lot of money in relational databases, there’s a whole ecosystem of tools around it. So the one thing that we had to our advantage was a really strong developer community that loved us because we made their lives easier in a number of ways. But the only problem was there was no way to scale it. We had a really hard time figuring out who are these people that are gonna be amazing advocates for us? That was really challenging. And so I’m gonna walk you through parts of that journey today and tell you how you can find those people in your community even if you are up against challenging problems similar to that.

A clear path for your developer community

So three things we’re gonna talk about today and three things you’re gonna walk away with. First of all, how to offer a very clear path to your developer community so they understand how to get from one phase to the next. Secondly, how to give them tools and resources to help them grow. And lastly, how to give them what they really want, which is an awesome community and belonging that they wanna be a part of. And so we’ll go through examples of each of these things.

So first off, giving them a clear path. So I’m gonna use the rock climbing example because a lot of people when they get started rock climbing, and just by a show of hands, does anyone actually rock climb? Okay, so I feel like you might feel me, but rock climbing is super addictive. Why? The first time you go rock climbing, you will see this. There’s a very straight up rating system as to how difficult a problem or a route that you will take will be. And so the first time you get to the top of your 5.5, which is the first one for novices, you are gonna feel really pumped because you just climbed up a 20-foot wall and you touched the top and you feel like a superstar. That’s amazing. And then anytime I’ve ever taken someone rock climbing, after they do their first one, they start looking around to people and they say, “Oh my gosh, he’s doing a 5.10, she’s doing a 5.11, that’s crazy!”

So what I love about this is that you can actually see how difficult something is and how skilled somebody is, how experienced somebody is based on the route that they’re doing. And I thought about that and I said, “How can we bring that into our community?” And we actually hadn’t done a good job of this. I think a lot of developer relations people, they have a lot of content for their community, a lot of programs, but maybe there isn’t a clear path to getting from one place to the next. And so I mapped it out with some people on my team. And I said, “Okay, first somebody downloads the database, they go to the documentation, maybe they go to a MongoDB user group. After that, they might take a MongoDB University class,” which is a free online education class on various database topics, and then there’s a lotta people that get certified.

So I said, “Hey, this is probably where we should start. If we want to engage community advocates, why don’t we go here, because there’s already this huge group of people that say, ‘I wanna invest my professional career in MongoDB?'” And so I talked to the woman that ran the certification program and I agreed to let her give me her certified professionals. And we invited them to this platform that we were testing out called the Influitive AdvocateHub, and this is a customer advocacy platform. It was used by a lot of B2B companies that were in marketing and things like that, but we were one of their first developer companies that we’re using it. And it’s a way to ask your community…it’s sort of a community, you invite your community there, and then you ask them and complete certain challenges, you can have them engage with one another, and it’s sort of a nice place to bring everyone together that’s not a forum.

And so we brought our certified professionals in, and we said, “Okay, we know that they want professional development because they invested in MongoDB for their professional career. So now that we know that, what do we want out of them?” We understood that we wanted them to spread the word about certification. We really wanted them to start writing blog posts about getting certified and referring certified professionals. And so after about a year, we have a quarter of our certified professionals are now in this AdvocateHub, and just as one metric for success, one of our certified professionals wrote this blog post. And I remember when this came out, I was so excited, and somebody said to me, “Francesca, this is like one of the coolest things…one of the coolest validations of you as a community manager,” and I was like, “I didn’t even think about that.” I just thought it was so cool that he wrote a blog post, because when he first joined, Daniele, he’s a consultant, and right now he’s consulting at Cisco. And when he started, he was never blogging. But then he went through a bunch of our challenges that inspired him to blog, and then he wrote one, two, three, and then this was his fourth blog post. So I felt like this was an amazing opportunity for him because he got what he was looking for. He was able to find some sort of professional development opportunity to get him to do something challenging that he hadn’t done before.

What motivates your developer community?

So, what are next steps for you if you want to give a clear path for your community? First of all, figure out what motivates them. For us, we knew that our certified professionals were motivated by professional development. And so we motivated them and invited them to our AdvocateHub by saying, “Hey, this is the next step to your MongoDB professional development.” Secondly, build your customer journey or community’s journey. A lot of the time you do this in product development. If you need help, ask your product manager. But oftentimes you have a sort of a natural lifeline that you just need to build, sort of like what Jessie showed you before. And then finally, show them how to make it to the top. Show them how to become really successful. For us, we showed Daniele one of the next things you can do to be successful is to start being a blogger. And so he took the time to learn how to do it and he did it on his own.

So, those are some next steps around that. Then, give them the tools to grow. So again, back to the rock climbing example. Rock climbing is really intimidating when you get started because, for example, I am terrified of heights, and you also need a lot of equipment, it requires a lot of skill. And so when I first started rock climbing, I took this class called…sorry, bought this package called “Beginner To Badass,” and it gave you three classes, a fitness assessment, free gear for a whole month which is a huge deal, and a bunch of other resources and people to get in touch with. And this was actually the only reason that I became a good rock climber, is because I had all of these resources bundled in one. Normally when you join a gym, they’re like, “Oh, great, here you go. Just go in.” And a lot of people don’t go to the gym, but when I joined, I got gear, classes, community.

So I thought, “How can we do this for our community?” We had done a few things like this around our user group program. We built resources around that. But one of the things that we were really focused on was blogging. We wanted to get our community blogging more. And this is hard because for like a lot of activities you want your developer evangelist or community advocates to do, a lot of developers just aren’t good at blogging because they’ve never done it before. So what we decided to do was ask some of them, “What are some challenges you have around blogging?” And we had answers like this. I don’t know where to host my blog. I don’t know what to write about. I don’t know how to share my story. I don’t know what title to pick. And, you know, just a host of other questions like that, that somebody who worked in developer relations or in marketing would know all the answers to.


So we, again, went to our AdvocateHub where we had a ton of advocates. Right now we have over 3,000 advocates in there. And we decided to run a bunch of challenges around blogging. So instead of just saying, “Hey, write a blog post about MongoDB,” we were a lot more prescriptive about that, and we answered some of these questions with challenges. So this is what one of them looked like. We referenced a blog post by Major Hayden. It’s actually awesome, it’s called “Why Technical People Should Blog,” highly recommend sharing this with your community, it’s very inspirational. And so we shared this challenge with people who had already opted in and said, “Yes, I would really like to learn how to blog. I’m really scared of doing it, can you please help me?” Or people who said, “Yes, I would love to join a challenge and challenge myself to do something different.” And we had a bunch of challenges like this, and then eventually after people had gone through a bunch of them, it was sort of like a choose your own adventure, we then challenged them to write blog posts on specific topics. We didn’t just have one general topic, we had things like indexing, aggregation, data pipes, things like that.

And as a result, we got a few people who excelled all the way to the top. So this is the final challenge in one of our most recent challenge month’s themes around our new product. And we had a bunch of challenges that ended up leading into content creation, and we gave prizes to people to the top three people who participated. We had about 100 people participate, and the top 3 were people who did a blog post, did some sort of…they ran some code with our new feature called $graphLookup. They actually did “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” with our new $graphLookup operator and a bunch of other activities like that. And so we try to reward people when they get to the top and when they do something that’s excellent.

So as a result of the first challenge we did, the very first challenge where we decided we’re gonna get our community to blog, 15 of our advocates created blogs who had never had blogs before. I was like, “That is a huge win.” There were tons of… There was a huge demand for this, but maybe nobody believed in these people, maybe they didn’t have any resources succeed, either way that was a huge success. And in the past year, we’ve had over 120 blog posts written as a result of challenges that we’ve posted. So you might see the numbers, we have about 3,000 advocates, 120 posts, there’s still only a bunch of people who, you know, are interested in that topic, but for all the other advocates, we have tons of other activities that we engage in with them that are similar to this but they might not be around blogging.

Obstacles to community engagement

So your next steps. First of all, uncover the obstacles to community engagement. So for us, we knew that there were certain advocated that just didn’t have expertise in blogging, so we built a bunch of resources for them. Second, offer them the resources to help them get started and help them get started really fast. This should be, you know, part and parcel of your life as a developer advocate. You know that getting people started fast is really important. Developers love easy frictionless opportunities. So try to make this your product. And then finally, give rewards to people who excel. So last and final thing, give your community what they want, which is a community. People want to feel a sense of belonging. Oftentimes, the reason they engage with you in the first place is because they wanna feel a part of a community. And one of my favorite examples from the rock climbing community, is this thing, which is the… The resolution’s not that great on here, but that’s okay.

So this is a bouldering problem called the friendship problem. And it’s called the friendship problem because you cannot do it alone. You need to get up to this spot and hold someone’s hand in order to get to the top. You genuinely cannot do this alone. And some of the best rock climbers in the world cannot do this challenge. This is a very difficult one. But this just shows you, rock climbing is not a solo sport. It is something you need to do with other people and you need tons of help to get there to the top. And I think software development is really similar. A lot of developers need support from other people when they’re getting started or even when they’re, you know, later on in their development.

So a few more examples on making communities, making people feel connected. This is a community I’m a part of in my rock climbing gym, it’s called Climb Like a Girl, pretty straightforward. It’s a community for women that love to go rock climbing. And this community exists because rock climbing tends to be very white and male as a sport. And so getting started as a woman might be challenging, so there’s a night every week where…and sometimes there’s a certain wall reserved for women who wanna climb like a girl. And there’s tons of people who are really good at climbing who have been climbing for 14 years who help out people who are brand new. And it’s a really nice inclusive way to get people to try something new and to get better at something that they love. Similarly, there’s another initiative at my gym Brothers of Climbing, and this aims to get more black men into climbing. There’s actually a documentary about it, it’s really great. But these are two examples of making communities inclusive, which I think is something that a lot people care about. It’s very important, especially in tech industry where, you know, it’s not…it hasn’t been the most inclusive place historically.

Inclusivity in your developer community

And so how have we dealt with this at MongoDB? So we ran a program last year in 2016 that offered free tickets to women who win this female innovator nomination. And so we had hundreds of nominations come in, we picked 50 women, and they all were invited to come to our Annual User Conference on our dime. And they loved it. They had the best time ever. And our metric for success was, you know, how many women will be coming next year and how many women will be speaking? And so out of those 50 women, 2 of them are now speaking at our 2017 conference, which is awesome.

So when you create spaces for inclusion and make places where people can thrive, there’s a lot of…you know, they’ll kind of pay it forward and they’ll, you know, speak at your events and give back in that way. And of course, they’ll get engaged. And of course, our advocacy hub is a great place and a great space for our advocates to connect with each other and for them to figure out, you know, what is the way that I wanna be part of this community? Because one thing that I always tell community managers is that this is your community that you run, but it’s also their community that they’re a part of. So it’s important to make it about them and make it the place that they would like to be a part of.

So your solution and next steps, make spaces where people can connect, whether it’s online or in person. And then, of course, aim for inclusiveness. Make sure that your community feels like there’s a place where they can connect with other people that are like them and where they feel comfortable. So think about the Brothers of Climbing, Climb Like a Girl, female innovators, how can you do that for your community? As you can see, all of those three examples are not that hard. Giving away free tickets to your conference, 50 of them, if that’s difficult, you know, talk to your team, but that’s something that you as a developer evangelist should be empowered to do.

More to community than gamification

So now I hope I’ve inspired all of you to go rock climbing because I think it makes you a great developer advocate, but also I hope you can see how even though gamification might not have worked for you, there’s a ton of elements out there not just in rock climbing, but everywhere, that make people feel inspired to do things that are really challenging and challenge themselves to do better. So if you are excited about any of these things, I am actually hiring a developer advocate in the Bay Area, and looking for someone amazing to join the team. You don’t have to rock climbing, but it is a plus. No one on my team likes rock climbing right now, it’s very hard, so. But if you are interested, you can talk to me. I’m Francesca at MongoDB. If you Google me, I’m the only Francesca that’s ever been at MongoDB or ever been a part of MongoDB, very easy to find.

But just to go through what we talked about today. So creating an amazing community advocacy program, there’s three main elements that I see. First of all, offer a clear path to help people get to the next step, give them the tools to help them grow, and of course, give them what they really want, which is an amazing community. So I hope you guys enjoyed that. Thank you.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.