Building a diverse dev rel team


Jen Sable Lopez

You’re looking to create a diverse and inclusive space for your developer community.

OutSystems’ Jen Sable Lopez shares her experience and argues that we need to think of diversity in terms of a much broader range of attributes, in her talk from DevRelCon San Francisco 2019.


Throughout the day, we’ve heard discussions and mentions and stuff of diversity, that’s the theme of the conference. And I’m going to take us on a slightly different journey when it comes to diversity.

But diversity, you know, we want to create an open space in our communities, where anybody, no matter what, you know, whether they’re just brand new to the product, whatever it is, you know, or somebody who’s been using it forever, we want them to feel safe and comfortable. Oftentimes, we’re looking at, you know, gender, race, country, those are the things we’re looking at when we’re thinking of diversity.

Opening up our definition of diversity

Well, I also want to go through, and what I’m going to focus on today is really skills and strengths, and about your team. So not the community itself, because I think that to build, to have a diverse DevRel team is going to help you do your jobs better and help the community, and know how to guide them and understand them and all of that good stuff.

So, I’m going to start to dig in a little bit into diversity of skills and strengths on your dev rel team. So, how many times have you… you’ve looked at a job description, you go for a job, and, you know, you see all the skills and whatnot, and maybe you get hired for this job and you’re like, “Okay, my job is the things on this list?”

Have you ever actually had a job description that you applied for and then your job was that? Like, it doesn’t seem to happen. In a perfect world, people want it to, but it doesn’t work like that. And a lot of it has to do with the stuff I’m going to talk about today, because it’s not so easy to say, “We have three developer advocates, and this is their job,” because they’re not all three going to be able to do the same things, because they’re different people, with different strengths, and different backgrounds, and they come from different places, and they’re going to think about things differently.

Getting your team down to a T

So that’s what I’m going to talk about today. Have any of you ever heard of the T-shaped skill set? That’s a very hard word to say at 5:30 in the afternoon apparently. So, it’s the idea that… so, on your DevRel team, the idea that there’s going to be some areas where everybody has to know a little bit of something.

This is fairly general, but maybe there’s a little bit of marketing you need to know, there’s a little bit of community management you need to know, there’s some UX, everybody has to be able to write a little bit, maybe speak a little bit. So, there’s a little bit of everything. You need to have a base knowledge of all the things. But then it starts getting interesting because everybody, maybe every person, every role is going to start digging a little deeper.

You see, it’s a T. It’s a T. It’s not always a T, but sometimes it’s a T. Where you have someone on the team or a specific role on the team that you need to dig into certain areas. You dive deep into community, you have a community manager who focuses on moderation and, you know, public relations type of things with your developers.

And then you have…they happen to… maybe they were a developer before, so they’re super technical, and they can dig into the technical side. And maybe you have someone who’s on the team, and they’re not actually all that technical, but they’re really great at marketing, and they’re really great at communications and that sort of thing. And see, this is not a T. But when you put them all together, and you start working with the team, and you’re moving and shaking, and you’re putting everybody like, “Oh, you’re good at this, and you’re good at this, and you’re good at this,” you end up with something that looks more like this.

That’s like, “Oh, we have a team that is whole that can do all the things.” Now, how many of you live in that world? Nobody lives in that world. Because your team…how many of you are the DevRel team of one? Okay, I started out in community management, I was the one person who had to do all the things, and you have to be resourceful.

But thinking about it in that same way, so maybe you don’t…your team doesn’t really have design skills, so you lean on the designers, and I’ll show you a bit how to take that, you know, how they can give you templates and things so you can succeed and look like a designer without having to be a designer, let the person who’s good at it be really good at it. But working across those teams to sort of build out what that diversity looks like, and going through the necessary steps of saying, “What is important to our team? What are the skills that we need? What are the things that we need?”

Leaning into your strengths

And I’ll show you here in a minute, I have a template that you can download, take a look at, and use for your own teams. So the other thing is strengths. I am a huge proponent of working towards your strengths, because things that I suck at, I will always only be mediocre at. But things that I’m already really good at, I’m going to be super awesome if I keep working on this.

So, right. And yes, thank you. Like yes. So, I really love this, this is a study from Gallup that specifically talks about…now, it specifically says “Americans,” but I’m pretty sure it can be “for all people.” But when people actually use their strengths, they’re less stressed. How many of you are stressed at work?

Oh, that is a lie. They’re like… I know, I’m sorry if your boss is here. I know you’re all stressed. It’s all right. But most of us aren’t working towards our strengths. Sometimes, you know, stuff’s just got to get done.

So you’ve got to jump in, and you have to say, “All right, I’ll do that thing that I hate, or that I’m really bad at, whatever.” You do it because you got to do it. But if you do that every day, you’re going to hate life. And how many of you have changed jobs because you hated life, because you were forced to do something you didn’t like or that you were really bad at?

Okay, now you’re working with me people. So, one of the tools that is really great for this is the Gallup StrengthFinder test. Has anybody taken that test? All right, good. We have a number of folks in here. What I loved about this is, several years ago I did this with a fairly big team, and what cracked me up…so this is me.

I don’t know if there’s a pointer. Me. How do you like that? Zero percent relationship building. I was like, “What the heck? What does that mean? How am I a community manager and I can’t build relationships?” But I’m like, “And what’s this influencing?”

Yeah, it was very confusing to me. And, again, this is only my top five, so maybe I was…you know, my number six, I was better at relationship building. But what happened when we started adding the team, we’d look at the team, then we’d start looking at…you get this lovely relationship building is actually a pretty big number because they didn’t need me to do that work.

I needed them to do that, because they were really good at that. And if you look at the influencing, 17%, a lot of that was me. So the team as a whole needed my strengths in that way to make us a whole team. I really love the way this worked out, and how it showed that we needed each other to perform really well, to be a high performing team.

So, most of us don’t have a budget for that, let’s be real. So there’s this other test called HIGH5. Has anyone one taken the HIGH5 Test? So, you can do it…at least we’ve got a couple of people. So, you can do it pretty quickly. It’s kind of a fun test.

There is…at the end, if you want more information, you can pay, because, I mean, they’ve got to live. So this is my HIGH5, storyteller, coach, empathizer, catalyst, problem solver. I’m like, “Yeah, I can get behind all of these.” None of it is like, “You don’t know how to talk to people.” So that makes me feel a little better.

So now, we’re looking at my current team. So, first one, I’m like, “Okay, we actually have a couple that are in sync, empathizer, catalyst.” And when you read what catalyst is, catalyst says, like, you’re a doer, you’re like, “Get me out of this meeting now so I can go do the work.” Like, “Stop talking, let’s do it.”

So I’m like, I’m kind of excited, like, “Yeah, we got two catalysts.” Soon, I add one more, she’s also a catalyst, she’s also a storyteller, she’s also a coach, but she, by far, is our timekeeper. She is the one that is all over Asana, she loves everything about Asana, she will make sure that dates are updated, and she will check in on you, and she will…you know, I never close tasks, I’m horrible at it.

I’m horrible at opening… I’m horrible at it, Asana. Clearly not my strength. She’s really good at this. And it was so funny when we did this, we were like, “Of course, she’s the timekeeper. Like, duh.” Then we’d look at it and it’s all together. So we have a lot of different strengths, but the one that really shines is the catalyst.

And it is so true of this particular team, we are all about, like, “Can we stop talking and just do it?” And we actually have to count on other teams to help slow us down and say, “Okay, we need some data behind this. We need to look at this. We need to write, like, you can’t just jump out and do everything.” And we’re like, “But…but… but we want to.” So another great way to learn your strengths.

I mean, you can take all the tests in the world, and that tells you, you know, generally, what you’re good at, it doesn’t tell you the exact tasks, the exact skills that you’re good at. And one thing that I love to do with my teams is let people try something out. So I had someone a couple years ago who told me…you know, I asked her, like, “Can you help me put this report together?”

And she was like, “Yeah, I don’t do data. I don’t really like Excel. I don’t really know how to do that stuff.” And I was like, “Well, why?” You know, and I kind of pressed her on it, and asked more questions. And kind of what I realized is, she just didn’t know how to do any of it. And so it scared her. And so she said she was bad at it. So she took an online course, it was…I don’t know if we paid for it, I don’t remember.

But I had her take an online course, and she came back and she’s like, “Did you know that you can take Excel data and put it into Power BI?” And I was like, “Yeah, I did know that. But I’m so glad you’re excited about it.” She was so excited. And the next thing you know, she’s like, “So, I took this spreadsheet and put it into Power BI, and I created this report, and it updates automatically, and…” and she went into… and she was super into it and loved it.

And the issue was not that she wasn’t good at it, it was that she was scared of it, and she needed that little, like, “Oh, why don’t you try it out?” Someone on my team right now, in Q1, we put her on a project, it was a brand new project, and she was like, “Yeah, this sounds great. It sounds right up my alley, I love it.”

About halfway into Q1, we were like, “This isn’t working,” like she’s great at a lot of other things and this project, it’s not working quite right. So in Q2, we actually moved her to a different project, and she is like practically a new person. Every time I see her and talk to her, she’s just like, “How’s it going?” “Yeah, I had a bunch of meetings today, and we talked through this, this, and this, and that.”

And she’s just like…she’s like me skipping around on stage, you know, all excited. And just by making that change of putting that task, giving that task to somebody else and giving her launching our user groups, which she’s very much the people person to go out and, like, launch user groups, she’s a whole new person working on this big project.

Backup tools for your team

So, I wanted to reiterate the fact that you can take all the tests in the world, but none of that really matters if you don’t actually try out and test what you’re doing. So, some of it also has to do with, how do you manage that knowledge? So, how do you take, you know, someone who is an expert at creating reports, and pulling data, and that sort of thing, I mean, they have to go on vacation, right?

They have to, unfortunately, get sick now and then. They have a life. You have to have a way to make sure that somebody can jump in and do that job even if that’s not their expertise. So I wanted to talk through a few tools that we use to help do that, and also helps with some of our… with distributed teams. So, how many of you use Figma?

Any Figma? Oh my God, Figma is like our savior. So, our design team creates all these amazing designs, all these templates with…you know, we tell them, “Okay, we want a template to be able to promote someone in the community for a great answer, or promote a component that somebody created, or whatever the case is, create a new training.”

I think that’s what one of these up here is. And so, now, we look super awesome because we can create images for social sharing, or banners to put on the site, or whatever the case is, and we don’t have to bug design team all the time. And it’s a really easy tool, you can… so, I would highly suggest Figma, and they have not paid me in any way, shape, or form, although maybe they now will.

And Grammarly, how many have used Grammarly? Yeah, Grammarly is a great one. So here’s the thing, OutSystems, we have I think half or more of our employees are in Portugal, and then it’s a small percentage of folks who are in the U.S., and the UK, and other English-speaking countries. So, Grammarly has helped us immensely because you can’t…you know, as much as we have an editor, you can’t have somebody editing every single piece of content that goes out, so this is a way…one of the ways that we help distribute that knowledge.

Although they often come to me and they ask me to “Jennify” things, I don’t know exactly what that means, but anyway. And some communication tools, specifically for when you’re working on a distributed team.

Helping communication to flow across time zones

So, in my last role, I actually had… this was my team across these seven different time zones, which was maybe why I have a new job. But it was really what was necessary, was to figure out, you know, where I would constantly…so,, I believe it was actually built by Buffer, by somebody at Buffer.

And it’s a great way you can go in and put your team, and you can see where everyone’s at, and at any time of the day you go and look at it, you can see what time it is. And it’s so helpful for me to see, like, exactly where they’re at. And this world chat clock gives you sort of a visual and says…you can say, “Find a time when everybody can meet.” And what was really funny, in this team, there was never a time that everybody can meet.

Kudoboard is another great one. Anybody use Kudoboard? Kudoboard. Okay, so this is a great way…you know, like when you’re in the office and it’s somebody’s birthday, or anniversary. or whatever the case is, you can go around and you try to hide it, you try to hide the card, nobody signs the card, well, this is a way to do it online.

So this was actually a really nice… they made me this Kudoboard when I left a previous role, but we used it for everything, because the team was completely distributed. And that helped to make sure that the team is feeling like they’re a part of a team. And Boomerang, I use Boomerang a lot in Gmail to make sure that I’m not sending emails at 9 pm Lisbon time, because what happens is my team will respond.

And I’m like, “I don’t want you to respond.” I will even say, “Do not respond to this email information.” They still respond. So I use the tool to send it later so they don’t feel like they have to respond. And some productivity tools that we use, have you have you used Toggl or RescueTime? All right.

What we use these for is…specifically, what I like about RescueTime is it sort of automatically tracks sort of what you’re working on. Now, you may have security issues and whatnot, you should look into that, I’m not a security expert. But what it does is we…every Monday when we have our team meeting, we take a look at what we’ve worked on, the amount of time we’re spending on things.

And we have found, like, “Oh, I spent way too much time on this thing because I had this blocker and this blocker,” and it helps us to recognize where we’re struggling and where we’re spending too much time, so that we can say, “Okay, let’s get you off of that and moving on to this other thing while I clear the blocker.” So, measurement, measurement is always a big one, everybody wants to measure all the things.

An evaluation template that goes beyond number crunching

Of course, measuring diversity in this sense isn’t necessarily just a bunch of numbers. You can look at how you’re reaching your goals and that type of thing, but it’s not as easy as just taking a look at a bunch of numbers. So a lot of it comes down to evaluation. And that first aspect is figuring out what the team strengths and skill sets are, understanding, first, what the tasks are that your team needs, who has the skills to do them, and what their best strengths are.

I’ll show you here in a minute, I have a template, again, I think I mentioned it, that you can download, that is going to…that will help you sort of build this out. Once you have that set, you can determine where you might need additional help, what you need to modify. Do you need to reach out to the marketing team and say, “Can you build us a few templates to help us so that we can launch? We have a few landing pages we’re going to need to launch, and, you know, we don’t want to have to come to you every time, can you help us out with that?”

That sort of thing. And then reevaluating every quarter, it could be monthly, it could actually be half year, whatever the case is, but knowing that you’re actually…your team is going to feel safe and happy to know that if they’re working on something that they’re really struggling with, that at the end of the quarter, they might be able to say, “I’m dying here. Like, is there anything we can do? Is there a change that we can make?”

If they know that there may be an end to their hell or…maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, Jen, but, you know, they may be able to sort of work through that a little easier. And also checking in, so, when you have your weekly one-on-ones or maybe this is on a monthly basis, checking in on, you know, are they meeting their goals?

And how do they actually feel about it? I know sometimes people are like, “We don’t want to talk about feelings.” But that’s how you’re going to know if people are…you know, if they’re really using their strengths, if they’re really loving the work they’re doing as opposed to just being bored, and not challenged, and, you know, not happy with what’s going on.

And then you might have folks that… somebody who’s maybe not meeting their goals, maybe they’re meeting their goals, but they hate what they’re doing. Usually when somebody is unhappy with the work, they’re not going to meet their goals. And instead of putting them on a PIP or thinking, “Oh, they’re not working out,” maybe it’s simply that you have them on the wrong task, or maybe they didn’t get the training that they needed, or that sort of thing.

So this is the template, it’s Bitly dev rel team template with capital…camelCase. So one of the pieces is to look at each of the tasks and understand who is the owner and who is the backup, that’s what the ones and twos are. There’s about five different tabs in there, and there’s an explanation on the first page on sort of how to use this. And I hope that will help you out quite a bit.

Final takeaways

My main takeaway is, I wanted to say diversity goes beyond gender, culture, race, all of that which we should all also be striving for. But I feel like that’s a whole conference on itself. Understanding your strengths and really deep diving into those skills, leveraging those strengths across the team, and evaluating and measuring.

Here are all of the resources, I’m pretty sure all of these slides go out, so you can take a picture or you can get them in the slides. But thank you very much.

Leave a comment

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