August 24, 2022
DevRelCon founder and CEO of Hoopy, the content agency for the developer economy.
How do you motivate the most active members of a developer community?
For many DevRel teams, one answer lies in creating a developer champions program. And that’s the route taken by the developer community team at Elastic.
But unlike many developer champion programs, the Elastic Contributor Program doesn’t focus only on experts. Ully Sampaio, Elastic’s Contributor Program Manager, explains:
“We want to encourage people that are in their early journey with Elastic. Some people think they have to be experts to share whatever they know. And we are trying to change that mindset because we also need beginners content. Sometimes the way a beginner explains something makes more sense for other beginners.”
Beginners are only one part of the Elastic Contributor Program, though. As Ully says:
“We encourage all levels of knowledge in our tools and technology. Our main challenge is to communicate that everyone can be a contributor whether it’s basic content or super advanced. Then we find the people that are already active and encourage them to contribute through our platform.”
For a mature open source community, such as Elastic’s, people’s activity can be spread across multiple places. And that can make it harder for developer community managers to find candidates for their champions programs.
The Elastic team have relied mostly on word of mouth, supplemented by some advertising. Olivia Petrie, who looks after the Elastic community in the western and central United States, shares what they’ve been doing to recruit new Elastic Contributors:
“It’s very organic and word of mouth. We’re trying to get creative with promotion. Before Covid, a lot of our promotion was through meetups but more recently we’ve been using YouTube content, too. We also just started a paid social campaign on LinkedIn with the help of our paid social team here at Elastic.”
Existing Elastic Contributors have proven to be a good source of new members, too. A recently launched referral program incentivises existing members to introduce new people for consideration.
So, what does it take to become an Elastic Contributor? Ully shares that a transparent process is crucial to making it fair:
“Some developer recognition programs select people by committee. We wanted to be more transparent, so we created a set of challenges that people must pass in order to gain the Elastic Contributor status.”
With a repeatable process, candidates know what it takes to gain status and it reduces the chance of bias or personal relationships influencing the process.
Another challenge for developer champion programs is that they risk demotivating previously active members. Daniel Pink’s book Drive has a lot to say on what motivates people. In short, if someone has already been contributing to a community for their own reasons then introducing some kind of “payment” can make people less rather than more motivated.
With that in mind, the Elastic team structured their recognitions to help members in their careers with Elastic. Ully explains:
“We offer training and opportunities to become an Elastic certified engineer. And recently we added a MacBook. All the incentives are related to the person’s journey as an engineer.”
So, why does Elastic the company invest in a developer champions program? Olivia sees many ways in which the program directly benefits the company:
“One unexpected benefit has been that we had a couple of roles in the company that just happened to be ideal for people we’d met through the program. The program isn’t a hiring pipeline but the fact that two of our members got jobs with the company really demonstrated what deep connections we’ve been building with the Elastic community. On a more day to day basis, the program is ideal for strengthening our regional community. In particular, it helps us find user group organisers and to keep people engaged during a time when in-person events were non-existent.”
The Elastic Contributor Program has helped the company reach more developers, while providing a framework to help their most active community members achieve their goals.
So, what’s next for the Elastic Contributor Program? For Ully and Olivia, one goal is to make “Elastic Contributor” recognised across the broader developer community as a mark of expertise, while making sure they’re providing the best possible experience to their members. And with 90 Elastic Contributors recognised each year across the world, it looks as though they’re well on their way.