How Effective DevRel Helps Build Great Companies


Brandon West

Job title

Advocacy Team Lead




DevRelCon Prague 2022

Building trust with company developers is great for your product, but it’s also great for growing your team and establishing credibility for your business. In this talk from DevRelCon Prague, you’ll hear from Brandon West on how an effective DevRel program can showcase and reinforce culture and values, attract top talent, and build trust in a brand.

Learn what makes tech companies attractive places to work, which aspects of the DevRel job can be most effective for building your brand, how to take advantage of opportunities in the field, how storytelling can demonstrate company culture, how internal advocacy can help tie all these things together, and more.

Many DevRel teams passively help with recruitment and reinforcing the company brand. For those that have the resources, actively pursuing these goals can have a long-term impact on both company success and the visibility and credibility of a DevRel program. Often there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit to be picked and even just small tweaks to existing programs can go a long way.

Key Takeaways

  • Establishing a good relationship with your company developers leads to team growth and improves business.
  • Showcasing your organisation’s brand and demonstrating your work culture helps to attract the best new talent to your company.
  • Developer relations is uniquely positioned to make a big impact on employer branding, as the field represents the values of the company externally, while being close to the day-to-day work.
  • Reinforce your brand with developers passively via products that you already use. Add parts of your company culture to the product via blog posts and workshops etc. 
  • Use events as an opportunity to put a spotlight on your company and recruit. Be active at conferences. Ensure staff are well prepared to talk about the organisation.

Brandon’s talk

Watch Brandon’s talk on YouTube



Brandon: Thank you. Good morning everyone. I hope you all had a great time at the party last night. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I wasn’t feeling great. I had some slides to refine. I have a favour to ask all of you before I start. If you see a super adorable dog walking by, please interrupt me so I can turn and look. I love dogs. I’ve been away from home for two weeks. I miss my dog. So if you see a cute dog, please just interrupt me. You have my permission. 

So I’m going to be speaking today about how effective DevRel helps build great companies. And that boils down to a couple different things, and I’m going to give you some hopefully practical tips. A lot of this stuff you’re probably already doing, but hopefully you’ll learn a thing or two as well. 

So to start, you don’t have to close your eyes, but imagine a company that at some point in your career you’ve wanted to work at. Maybe it was a big tech company, maybe it was a company that made video games and you were really into that or something. Why did you want to work there? What was it about that company that made you interested in being an employee there.

What makes you want to work for a company?

I know that in the past I had ambitions to work at a lot of companies because they had great brands, but then I later came to learn that the culture maybe didn’t actually make it a great place to work. So you also maybe at some point wanted to work at a company, and then decidedly did not want to work at a certain company. Maybe a narcissistic billionaire acquired the company, fired everyone, changed the culture overnight, and things went terribly. 

So in my personal experience, the reason why you want to work at a company usually comes down to three things. The brand, what you know about them, how present it is in your life, and if you associate good emotions with the logo and all of the marketing copy and things that you see in the culture of the company. And of course, your own personal interactions with people from that company, the product itself, support reps, and all of those sorts of things.

Brand and culture

So before I go further, I want to briefly talk about what brand and culture mean. Hopefully this isn’t news to most of you. So, brand is how people perceive your culture, and this is not necessarily reality. As I mentioned, you may have played a video game and thought it was awesome, and then later learned that that company was actually really terrible and toxic in many ways. And it’s also about products more than people in many ways. If you use a product and it’s good. If you enjoy the phone that you’re using, you might think that the company is cool and you want to work there, right?

This is why developer experience is important. If you have a good experience using a product, you tend to think well of the brand, right? It takes time to establish, right? You don’t start out with a brand other than maybe what the brand consultant created for your logo and your press pack, but brand develops over time. Culture on the other hand is how things actually get done, how work happens at a business, right? What are the values? How does that translate into the processes? And what behaviours are rewarded and discouraged?

 I have an example of what that might mean from my experience at Datadog. We recently had an employee who was affected by some severe weather with very short notice and had to evacuate his home while we were preparing for our biggest party event that year. We had lots of dry runs and rehearsals with customers, and partners that were speaking at this event. And those were things that we couldn’t drop. 

When we found out that this person wouldn’t be available, we all just opened up his calendar and started copying the meetings into our calendars to make sure that nothing got dropped, and it was a good experience for everyone. That, to me, demonstrates how we collaborate, how we have people’s backs, how we give people the space to live their lives and handle emergencies. That’s very valuable to me and different than brand. 

Your culture is there from the very beginning, whether you want to have one or not. So you need to think about your culture from the start. It is never too early to think about the culture of your company. Even if you’re a six person startup, you should probably have your values defined and then start to find aspirational values, model those behaviours and bring them into the way that you actually do your work.

Showcasing brand, demonstrating culture

So there are obviously different things that are better suited for showcasing your brand and demonstrating your company culture. So what are those things? Which things are better suited for building your brand versus showcasing the culture?

For brands, product announcements, as I said, this is usually more related to the actual product and how people are using it, more so than how the work actually gets done. So product demos, product announcements, that sort of thing. Ad campaigns, association with other brands, co-marketing, how you partner, and how you actually get your brand out into the field, right? That’s I guess redundant, but demonstrating culture is different, right? 

There are different things that are effective for demonstrating culture and these tend to come down to telling stories. One, defining your values, telling stories, actually getting to sit down with the people doing the work, figure out how they’re doing the work, and then going out into the field and saying: ‘Here’s how we do things and that represents our values’. Whatever those values might be.

And very, very importantly, and this is something I’m going to talk a lot about today, is who you hire and how you hire them. And some of you have probably heard the cliche statement that A players hire A players and B players hire C players. And I think that’s misguided because, like, where did the B players come from? But I think the sentiment there is valuable, right? Top talent wants to work with top talent. If you can make your culture such that awesome people want to work there, that will scale up and they will also attract other people that want to work there.

The hiring process

How you hire them is important. Again, to go on a little story, how many people here know Nick Quinlan, one of the C-level folks at Major League Hacking? Yeah, lots of hands. So we hired Nick out of university at SendGrid and we made that poor guy do 12 rounds of interviews, including going to a hackathon and representing us at the hackathon so we could see how we would actually do the job. And thankfully he put up with all this because he really loved SendGrid. We had no idea what we were doing. We were a very small company at that point. Our hiring process was bad. 

Even if you get great talent in the door, if you treat them poorly during the hiring process, they’re going to run away and that will negatively impact your culture. So make sure, even if you’re a small company, you have good hiring practices in place. Oops, too quick. Now, inevitably when I talk about this, people say: ‘Oh, how do I measure brand? How do I measure brand and how do I measure culture?’

And I want to say, don’t worry about that. That’s not your job as developer relations. But do not use net promoter score. NPS is a joke. It’s terrible, it’s not scientific. It’s snake oil. There’s a great blog post by a guy named Jared Spool. If you’re using NPS right now, please read that blog post, send it to all of your product folks, and, interestingly, your culture can become part of your brand over time. Who remembers when Google said that they would not be evil, right? That was part of their culture leaking into the brand. 

Who remembers the Twilio track jackets? I think they still have the Twilio track jackets, right? You would see them, they’d say: ‘Oh wow, I want that jacket. How do I get it?’ ‘Oh, well you have to work at Twilio, and then you have to create an app that uses Twilio, and then you get the track jacket’. But be wary of this because that ‘don’t be evil’ thing can kind of come back later and maybe cause problems. I’m not sure if the clicker is responding the way it should be. 

But, if there’s one thing you take away from this talk today, I want it to be this. Advocates are public spokespeople for your business, and they need to be model citizens representing your company values and culture. That is an extremely big part of the job.

 If you hire someone because of their existing platform, you are endorsing their existing brand and associating it with yours. You need to be intentional about that. And you need to have everyone who’s coming to work for you as an advocate or a DevRel professional understand what they’re getting into. I’ve hired people who then get up on stage and they receive public criticism about the thing that they spoke about and they’re surprised by that. But you’re on stage, you are a spokesperson, that’s part of the job. So you have to understand that as well.

DevRel impacts employer branding

Developer relations is uniquely positioned to make big impacts on employer branding, and that’s for a few reasons. One, because we are the model citizens of the culture. We do represent the values of the business externally, but unlike C-level folks or PR folks or comms folks, we’re closer to the actual hands-on keyboard day-to-day work. And that gives us more credibility with a certain kind of audience. And that usually means that we’re treated differently, with a different kind of respect. Now there are people who will block everyone with Dev or Dev advocate in their title on Twitter. Don’t worry about them. They have a distorted worldview, but otherwise it tends to be a benefit. And we also have unique skills, storytelling abilities that help us unlock stories from within the organisation to share them more broadly. And that has a ton of value. So you have to make sure you focus on the right things. 

As I said, culture is there from the beginning, whether you like it or not, and you really shouldn’t worry about your brand until your product is good. So make sure that you establish a good culture that will hopefully lend itself to good ways of doing business, which will then make your product better, which will then give you the opportunity to start building the brand and investing the money that it takes to build the brand.

Being able to worry about your brand is in many ways a luxury of scale and success. It doesn’t matter what people think of your company, if your product doesn’t work and the way you build things is dysfunctional, you’re going to fail as a business. So you must do the things that don’t scale. I think people have heard that a few times over the last day full of talks. But you’re trying to build relationships with individuals and those things do have cumulative impact. So if you put in the effort to build a relationship with one great person, you’re able to attract them to come work at your company. They will bring others in with them, hopefully. 

Take advantage of the resources you already have

All right, now let’s move on to some hopefully more practical takeaways. So there’s good news for most companies. There’s lots of things that you are already doing as developer relations teams that can help your employer branding help you attract top talent with just a few small, small tweaks. So there’s a lot of low hanging fruit to be picked.

There’s opportunities across all the channels – blog posts, docs, events, giving talks, code samples, training, workshops, all of that. I’m going to talk about a few of these things, and most of the advice here is hopefully meant to scale, but it doesn’t always work that way. Things that don’t scale are still very valuable. 

So regardless of the channel, regardless of any of this, you have to remember you are model citizens of the culture. So that means you have to treat people with respect. You have to be inclusive, you have to be accessible, you have to be a nice person. 

I used to work with one advocate who reported to me, and this person would get up on stage and oftentimes start the conversation by talking about how much better a certain framework or language was than another one. Python is great. JavaScript is a joke and a toy, right? A lot of people will think that’s great. A lot of people will immediately be offended and put off, right? They’re not going to start releasing oxytocin. So that’s more limiting than it is helpful. 

I don’t think you always want to be your authentic self as a developer relations professional, but you want to be a person that people generally like. Abrasive personalities, a ‘love ’em or hate ’em’ kind of person is probably not suited for that role.

So now I want to give you a few examples of how you can reinforce your brand with developers passively via the products that you use. And you’ll probably be familiar with some of these. How many recognise this little guy? If you ever right click ‘view source’ on, you’ve seen this little version of their logo inviting you to come work with them, right? And sure, that doesn’t tell me much about their culture of Reddit, but it does tell me that they’d know a certain way to appeal to developers. They’re starting to earn my trust and my credibility. So these are little ways to sprinkle some of your culture throughout the product.

Here’s one that I saw a few years ago that I really liked. It was unique to me. This was on Wayfair, which is a way to get cheap furniture. Not really recommended, but I thought it was very clever. I had developer mode enabled on my Android phone. They had a simple ‘if then’ to say: is developer mode turned on? Cool, this person’s a developer, let’s potentially, or just messing around with their phone, but let’s get in front of them and see if they want to be hired. And then I really appreciated the opt-out that they gave me. Google used to do this a lot. They would put little hidden bits of breadcrumbs in the source code of their websites and things. You would follow those along. Those would lead to code challenges, which could potentially get you added to the recruiting pipeline.

You can do this quite easily. Just meet with your product teams. Think about how you can intentionally start putting these bits of culture into your product. You can have messages in the developer console, that’s very easy. You can print successful messages on a successful install of an STK via mpm, that sort of stuff. 

Don’t be annoying. Don’t break developers’ workflows, but get in front of them these ways and they’ll start to believe that your culture is one that they might want to work at. So, make the time to meet with your product folks, you’re hopefully all doing that already, but consider how to put some of these Easter eggs throughout your product. They’re really fun when you find them.

Blog posts 

So, now I want to talk about posts. Again, do the things that don’t scale, right? The blog posts that you write about a small meetup that you went to recapping the event won’t have great reach or a huge audience, but it forms a connection with the organisers of that event and the people who attended it, and makes them feel special because you’re on a big platform talking to them specifically. 

No-one’s going to get mad at your blog for having a post on it with a narrow audience. I’ve seen this kind of go out of fashion and I would suggest everyone bring it back. Post those event recaps. Talk about the small meetup groups. Celebrate all of those people that are actually making the community work, and do it very publicly.

The first blog post I ever wrote, a long time ago when I was still working as a developer, was how to get a certain kind of modem from a certain South African cell provider working on Mac, because there were no instructions for it. And it took me four or five hours of hacking to make it work. So I was like, ‘oh, I’ll write this up, put it in a blog post’. Very, very niche content, but I got dozens of comments from people who found that blog post and said: ‘Wow, you solved my problem!’ 

So even if it seems like something small and specific, it can be super valuable, and those people will start to build trust with you over time. Make sure that you provide a way in your blog posts, your demos, all of that, for people to follow up and join a community, have a further conversation with you. Find a way to continually release the oxytocin over time so that people fall in love with you, right?

And also, I want to call out guest post collaborations with other companies. You can highlight and associate your brand by bringing out other brands that are respected, having people learn about those via your blog, and those collaborations can also go a long way. Something a little stickier than ‘please join our Slack channel’ is recommended. Try and talk to someone. Many of these same concepts, in my opinion, apply to demos. 

Make sure your staff are prepared to talk about the company

There are few things that are foundational to do regardless of the channel, right? So one, train your team, your staff, on meetup etiquette. Make sure that they have the product pitch, the one minute version, the five minute version. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a Dev advocate: ‘So what does your company do?’ And they don’t have the elevator pitch just ready to go. Not acceptable.

Make sure that you have technically credible people at your events as well so that you can answer the tough questions that come from developers. And you don’t have to know everything. If you don’t know something, just say you don’t know, then route them to the right place to get the answer right. Solve their problem. You don’t have to know everything, but you should be technically credible. And then also have a good, thorough, honest answer to: ‘What’s it like to work at X?’ because that conversation usually has implications, and you want to make sure, again, be honest, but it’s shocking how many times that question can catch people off guard.

Follow up

When you meet smart people at events or via blog posts, whatever, then make sure that you actually follow up with them. Send them to recruiting if you’re not comfortable with it. You don’t have to tell the person that your recruiters are going to reach out to them, right? 

Sourcers are good at this kind of thing. But make sure that you’re actually following up and getting those people into the pipeline somehow, and try to find ongoing connections rather than just the transactional exchange of business cards. I stopped carrying business cards years ago, because it’s a much stickier relationship to say: ‘Hey, send me an email real quick. Hey, connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter’. Then you have a way to continue that conversation later in case you lose the business card, or whatever it might be. 

And again, reiterate this, treat everyone with kindness. Treat everyone with respect. That means everyone from the staff that’s cleaning up the coffee cups, the tables, at the events, the AV folks. Word gets around when you’re disrespectful to people, to other speakers, to event organisers.

‘DevRel: Model citizens for culture‘

So again, this is the main takeaway I want you to get from this. You are model citizens for your culture. Take that responsibility seriously. Alright, now I’m going to talk about events. I’m going to talk about a few different ways to interact with events. I have a few minutes left, so this might be going a little quick. If you’re hosting events, this shouldn’t need to be said. Don’t get a lineup of ten white dudes and call it a conference. Doesn’t go well. Just don’t do it. If you have an office space that can host events, be generous with it. 

If you’ve ever gone to an office, I remember when I visited the Twitter office back in the day and I saw the cafeteria and I was just like: ‘What is this?’ They were hosting an event there, but it really made me kind of interested in the perks and the culture and why they do that. And sure, maybe I am interested in applying for it. Twitter, not anymore. 

Make sure that you have, you know, gifts for your speakers, travel budgets. Make things as easy as possible, and then be extremely careful about who ends up on marketing lists. Right? At Datadog, we have lots of events that cater specifically to marketers or to developers, and we have made it very clear that there’s a strong boundary between that and what gets put into the contact lists marketing team. You might have to set these boundaries with those folks, but it’s worth doing. Do not burn that developer trust.

Be active at events

Now, when you’re attending events, be an active participant. This is less true than it used to be because people are like live tweeting the events and stuff, but it doesn’t feel good when you’re on stage and you look out and everyone’s down on their phone. You know, be present. Pay attention, ask questions, make that person feel like they actually matter. Tell speakers that you appreciate them and why after they get off the stage, don’t offer unsolicited criticism. 

If you have feedback that you think is important, then there’s probably a better time later to share that feedback. And then also set the stage, the context. Make sure that you ask if it’s okay to share that feedback. And then again, say thank you to everyone. Now, when you’re sponsoring a talk or sponsoring an event, same thing, show up, be an active participant.

Provide value other than just the logo on the board, right? Help educate some folks and then look for other ways to figure things out. At a well-run event such as DevRelCon, there’s a few opportunities for this, but have you ever been at a meetup where the food was bad, or there wasn’t enough? It’s very easy if you have a corporate credit card, you just be like: ‘Hey, I got 12 pizzas on the way,’ right? Those sorts of things can, can go a long way. People will very much appreciate them. And yeah, no pure product pitches for your sponsor’s thoughts. It doesn’t do much benefit for your brand.

Okay, running out of time, but I’m almost there. So if you’re giving a talk, put in the time to make it good. I hope this one’s pretty good. I’m sorry if it’s not. Be inclusive, right? Don’t alienate people on stage. Don’t get on stage and tell people that JavaScript sucks, it’s just not appropriate. You’re not done when your talk is over. When you get off stage, there’s a bunch of people that are waiting to talk to you, they thought you were interesting, they want to give you a compliment. You need to go talk to them, that’s part of the job. I know the adrenaline leaves. You want to go outside, you want to grab a cigarette or whatever it might be. Don’t do that just yet. 

And then give those folks an actionable way to follow up, right? Build a relationship. Unless you have a very good reason, don’t just parachute in, give your talk and leave. Bad look. If you’re famous, alright, cool, most of us are not famous. Go to the speaker dinners and networking events if possible. Those are very valuable. I know it can make for long days, but it’s worth the time. And add call to actions, mention that you’re hiring. I know most people know this already – hiring lots of roles at Datadog. I really like it there. Come chat with me later if you’d like to learn more.

Recruiting via events

Alright. So, quick story. I’m going to go slightly over in my time. Sorry. Is Dan Mayer in the house yet? No, possibly not. Anyway, I want to talk a little bit about recruiting engineers via attending events. So, one of our senior advocates, Ryan McClean, attended an event called ‘Papers We Love’. Anyone familiar with ‘Papers We Love’? So they read academic papers about computer science, and this topic was related to in-memory caching. And it was deeply technical and someone was very interested in this topic. Ryan mentioned that we were working on a long-term internal project that was getting very deep in this technology. And that engineer has now been working at Datadog for a year and a half on that project, because it was something interesting, something cool, and that level of sophistication, that event, created trust among people. 

So, even if you’re just attending events where you’re not sponsoring anything, you can get tons of value out of them. Ryan got hired because he watched a recording of a Devopsdays South Africa talk by Dan Mayer. But the key point is, after the talk, Dan went into the Slack channel and said: ‘By the way, we’re hiring. Here’s all the roles. Reach out to me’. So be intentional, right?

I’m going to go over time here, so I apologise. So there are a lot of things that you’re doing that can help other teams. This was covered a lot yesterday. We had a great talk from Dan, right? Yeah, thanks Dan. 

So I just want to briefly touch on this. If stories are one of the best ways to share your culture with the world, then the way to scale that up is by creating more storytellers, right? We do this at Datadog as an advocacy team. We train people from other teams to give talks. We have a selection of prepared talks across all of our products. We will give them active coaching. We have public speaking workshops for both virtual events, in-person events. We’ll teach people how to improve their delivery. We’ll teach people how to have a better stage presence, everything. And it’s great when someone gets up on stage and shares a story for the first time.

We also have a series called ‘Datadog on’, which is where we talk about Datadog on Rust, Datadog on how to create an event store, Datadog on SRE, where we talk about our culture, how we do things, the unique challenges we face at the scale that we operate on. These things are mentioned often in promotion announcements for engineers. So they create visibility for people internally. They create awesome content for interested engineers externally. They help engineering, they help our audience. It’s a win for everyone. And also make sure that you actually sync with recruiting, on the events you’re attending, what you’re doing. So that they can say: ‘Oh, actually this looks like a great audience for these roles’. And you don’t want them to be surprised. You’re going to miss opportunities if you don’t have those touch points. 

So recruiting is your friend. Stay in touch with them. And for your more specialised roles, like some of the ones that we’re looking for, open telemetry and so on. Make sure that you work with them to set a baseline so they can understand what a good candidate works like. That goes a long way and advocates are usually well suited to help them establish that baseline.

So, there’s a ton of other channels. I am glad I deleted the slides because I’m already over time. But things like training and internship programs and, of course, champions programs, are a great way to make people feel good, show your culture to them, invite them into the fold in, and eventually hire them. I worked at AWS with so many people who were hired out of AWS Heroes programs, and that is not a unique story. Same with interns, right? 

If an intern becomes an employee, they’re very likely to bring other people into that internship program. So, the things that don’t scale, kind of do scale in the end. So, here’s the main takeaways. If you’re going to remember anything. Advocates are model citizens of your culture. Culture first, then product, then brand. And, when you’re doing all the things that you’re already doing, just ask yourself each time the question, what’s the low hanging fruit here that we’re not picking when it comes to employer branding and recruiting top talent back to our team?

So, I want to say thank you real quick to Hoopy, to all of the excellent sponsors of this event, to the AV staff, to the staff working the coat check. Thank you to Datadog for giving me the opportunity to be here on stage. And thank you to everyone in the audience for your time and attention. I’ve enjoyed this presentation, and if you would like to continue this conversation, learn more about how things work at Datadog, you can find me on LinkedIn. Less so on Twitter these days, but I am B West on Twitter if you’d like to follow me. And I hope everyone has a great day. Thank you.

Presenter: Okay, we got three questions, as promised. Does anyone have a question? Number one, the leader will come around with the microphone.

Audience member: I have one quick. Okay, Brandon, thanks a lot. I will be super quick. It was amazing, with all the Twitter jokes also. About those Easter eggs. I remember they were quite popular in 2015, 16. Is it still like working? Do they still do that? Can we still use that?

Brandon: I think so. I mean, I still think they’re cool when I stumble across them. I think they’re, the way you reach developers has changed slightly. I think there’s fewer people just right clicking and viewing sources on html, but if you’re a beginner, that’s still probably the place you’re starting, right? So, yes, I still think they’re super valuable, that the example I showed with the Android popup, that was from 2019 I believe, and that was one I hadn’t seen before. So I still think there are a lot of opportunities there. And those, again, they’re usually quite easy to implement. They provide value over time passively. They’re a great investment. Thank you.

Presenter: Anyone else?

Brandon: You guys are being easy on me. Thank you!

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