Dev rel in the time of coronavirus: Uttam Tripathi


Uttam Tripathi

Uttam Tripathi

Google’s Head of Global Developer Programs, Uttam Tripathi, shared how his team and company are adjusting their work in light of Covid-19.


Matthew: Okay, Uttam, thanks very much for joining me. I’d love to talk to you a bit about how this current situation we’re going through is affecting developer relations at Google.

Uttam: Hey, Matthew, yeah. Great to be here. I think this situation is impacting everyone across the world. So definitely we aren’t immune to it. When it comes to some of our DevRel work, it has taken an impact, especially not being able to have physical events in literally…across the world. So a lot of our physical events are getting impacted, a lot of meetups that our communities do, those are getting impacted, in-person meetups in particular.

And in many geographies, there are restrictions for people to gather, right, like folks can’t gather together, and for very good reasons because I think health and well-being are super important. So that’s some level of impact that I think we’re all dealing with. What’s most important for us, my team, and all of our developers and developer community is health and well-being.

So that’s number one, right? So that’s where we are, super prioritizing that. And even before some of those restrictions came into place, some of the larger public-facing events were already either changed in format or canceled. And health is two-factor, one is the physical health, the other is mental health as well.

And even if it’s not directly impacting your region, your country, a lot of folks are thinking about it. So these are the ways in which it has impacted some of our work.

Matthew: So, I wonder then how important to your plan for the year were the meetups and the conferences that you were involved in? And how do you replace those now? What are you doing instead?

Uttam: Yeah, that’s a good question and we’re all in the process of working through because there’s more and more new information that gets presented as we move ahead, right, like last few weeks. Six weeks ago, it was a completely different situation than what we have right now. For any DevRel organization, and Google I think is one of the companies we can count in that is… it uses multiple channels to engage with their developer community.

In-person meetups, in-person events, of course, is an important channel and I think it will be in future when things get back to, hopefully, a regular rhythm of business and normal lives. I think those will be an important channel because replacing in-person connection, in-person interaction is difficult. But the additional channels that we have in place are really helping us stay connected with our developers.

These include our social channels, our online channels, using technologies through which you can have people connect virtually onto a meetup. We’re seeing a lot of engagement through things like Hangouts and Meets where we are having developer meetups happening virtually. YouTube Live is another format where we’re seeing a lot of our own team members and our developer community, like, really getting together and connecting with each other.

And in this phase, it’s also okay if some of those conversations are just about personal well-being and, like, checking in on each other and making sure that everyone is okay in this phase. So those are the channels I think we’re seeing more engagement in the short-term. And as the situation unfolds, we will see how long that trend will last. So from a connection point of view, I think we have good channels through which we stay connected with our developers and our developer community.

Just a mix of those channels, it’s less of in-person right now as we clearly are seeing, and a lot more on virtual, and through things like videos. Even podcasts are interesting format. A lot of team members and also developers out there are experimenting with podcasts, blogs.

The good thing is working from home and hopefully, if your commute hours were too terrible, then you’re saving some of that time and reinvesting that in creating content. So those are the channels we’re seeing more engagement in.

Matthew: And you have the Google Developer Groups around the world that are run by often people who don’t work for Google. You know, they’re run by members of Google, the broader Google community. So have you heard back from them about what they’re doing within their own local regions?

Uttam: Yeah, they’re… For us, like, all of our GDGs, Google Developer Groups are run by non-Googlers. So they’re not run by a Google users in almost all the cases. And we’re seeing like a wide range of experiences and stories being shared with us, stories where there are a lot of developers in local countries, local communities trying their best to create solutions using technology that can help us fight against the challenge that we have with COVID.

In other places, we are seeing, like, a lot of them getting together virtually. Like, there was a YouTube Live that our community hosted in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago with more than 200 people joining. And then there was another one in Mexico, over the weekend, actually, in which one of my team members hosted it.

And again, like, almost 1,000 people participated at some point in time. So we’re seeing a lot of that trend. So broadly two levels, one, a lot of solutions coming up in which developers actually want to use technology to fight back, to contribute to solutions towards COVID.

The second is we’re seeing a trend in which developers are finding ways to connect with each other and find virtual channels to do that. We’re also seeing a trend where some folks are taking this time as an opportunity to learn something new. If you are disconnected, if you have to work remotely, work from home, you might as well make the best use of that time.

So learning a new language, learning a new skill, learning a new technology. We had a GDG group in Toronto over the weekend that started running virtual meetups for having their community members learn about machine learning. So we’re seeing some of that trend emerging. And I think that if the situation continues for some more time, I think we’ll see a lot more of those things happening across our community.

Matthew: You’re responsible for quite a large program, to put it mildly. What would you say then, what have you learned from this rapidly evolving situation that you would share with other developer relations leaders and practitioners?

Uttam: Yeah, and I think there are lessons that leaders across industries are taking from this, right, like the situation. One is unpredictability of the environment that we operate in. We do take a lot of assumptions in our operation, but this situation has helped us question a lot of those assumptions.

And I think going forward, people will not take a lot of things for granted. So that’s clearly one. The second is importance to have multiple touchpoints and multiple channels. That has helped us stay connected with our developers in this phase, right? And the third is really caring about health and well-being of the team members, putting that at front.

Our team members, our community leaders, and our developers out there, just making sure that we do the best to prioritize health and well-being of everyone. Yeah, from a strategy point of view, a lot of assumptions that you make, they do get thrown out of the window immediately when a thing like this hits you.

And therefore, also to have fast-moving contingency plans that you can switch to as needed. Also just keeping things in context. This is not an isolated incident that is a fault of an individual in a company. So the idea is not getting too harsh on yourself.

Like, “Hey,” like, “Oh, my God,” feeling too terrible, because it’s not just your DevRel function that might have been impacted. There’s a lot more going on across the industry. So those are some of my lessons out of this. And as I said, like, we’re not out of the situation yet. So I think we’ll all learn a little bit more as this unfolds.

Those are my lessons so far.

Matthew: Okay, thanks. And I guess my last question is, and you’ve touched on this a bit already, but once all this is over and we’re back to normal life, let’s hope soon, what do you think the longer-lasting outcomes of this will be for developer relations?

Uttam: Yeah, I’m actually very optimistic of the longer-lasting outcomes because there are certain things that we, as DevRel practitioners across the industry have figured out over the years, and I would say have done a decent job. A lot of that is based on in-person engagement, events, meetups, some of those activities.

The area where I have felt that as an industry we needed more to be done is how do we continue those conversations in virtual environments, online meetups, online communities, engaging with developers when you don’t have all of them in the room, right? And I think the lesson that we will have in this phase will help us build that muscle for future.

So when things are back to…you can hold your meetups again, you can hold your events again, it’s safe to do so. So doing that, but then augmenting that with additional useful resources for our developer community through additional channels that we will build our expertise in. This situation is, in a way, forcing all of us to understand those channels, to build expertise, to start being more present in those channels.

And I think if we keep those learnings, that will be a positive for us in future.

Matthew Awesome. Well, Uttam, thank you very much.

Uttam: Thanks so much, Matthew. And again, all the best. Stay safe.

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