Help, I’m taking over an award-winning developer programme!


Lieke Boon speaking at DevRelCon London 2019

Lieke Boon speaking at DevRelCon London 2019

In this talk from DevRelCon London, Lieke Boon describes her experience of taking over the GitHub Campus Experts programme and what she did to pick up ownership of the programme, including gaining the trust of the community, living up to the expectations set by your predecessor, and the benefits of taking over a programme rather than starting one from scratch.


Thank you all for coming, I’m so happy that you took the time to be here coz I know there are awesome talks going on. So my name is Lieke, pronouns ‘she/her’. I am the manager of higher education at GitHub and I’m going to talk to you about taking over a developer program. I think that a lot of talks you see now are about how to set up a program from scratch or what kind of programs exist so I was really excited to share with you my experience and I hope it’s valuable to you on what happened with me the last 11 months.

So this is what I’ll be talking about the next 20 minutes. So briefly about GitHub education and GitHub campus experts. So you have a background idea on that and then I will go into how to take over the program so what to focus on first and also the best parts in my opinion. And then I’ll share my biggest lessons, I’ll keep it a secret for now. And I have a bonus slide so this may or may not have dog pictures coz I have some friends here I’m not calling names, who said they’d only be here if I put dog pictures in my slides. So who knows, who knows?

So a little bit about GitHub education. GitHub education helps students, teachers and schools access the tools and events they need to shape the next generation of software development. Well that sounds like one big sentence. So what we do is we have programs for teachers, we have programs for schools and we have programs for students like the GitHub Campus Expert program. And this is a picture of me with campus experts at GitHub universe last month in San Francisco. And I chose this picture because one of those campus experts Alex, who is also here will be speaking today at 2:30 and I’m really proud. So check it out if you can. If you want to have more information on what we do you can go to And then about the program, this is the most important part.

So GitHub Campus Experts is for student community leaders. And we help students build a community on the campus or grow a community on their campus. And we do that by having them apply for the program and whilst they apply for the program we give then training on different kinds of topics, so it can be technical writing or content writing or public speaking, how to create a workshop. Software development skills and also about community management and my favorite module is when they have to write the inclusion analysis.

So they have to think about how inclusive their community is and also what they can do to improve their community and also make it more inclusive. And I think it’s very important to already work on those skills and the spirit when they are already, when they’re still in college or university. So it went really well, we have over 150 campus experts, around 20 countries are represented now so it’s very global and I think this is one of our highlights last year, It was in November, it was a day before DevRelCon and we were at the DevRel Awards so that is tonight again, I think today yeah, and we won the award for most welcoming developer community and that was great. And I think I wrote this tweet actually. And Joe is on this picture. Joe accepted the award, who doesn’t know Joe Nash? That’s what I mean, so great Joe, and it was I think a highlight for our program and then what happened is Joe left in January. And the program got kind of dropped into my lap.

So now you take over, which is, well this is what I felt. I was like, “Oh my God, but I’m not Joe!” Joe took the program three years ago I guess. He’s the face of the program, he embodied all of the campus experts so, if you said campus experts, you said Joe Nash, that’s how is was. So I felt very intimidated and I think this might be something that you might feel as well if you take over a program from your former colleague that’s already very successful, how are you going to do that?

So the first step I took is, I think it’s very important is to gain trust of the community, so when you have a community that’s relatively new to you and it doesn’t know you it’s so important to have trust, coz you’re there to support them. And if they don’t trust you with their requests or anything that’s going on, it’s very difficult to manage. So gaining trust of the community I’m like gonna advise you to just get involved, get out there, I don’t know what you use as platforms, so we use Slack. I can never talk about if that’s most convenient or not but we use Slack at this moment we have all the campus experts on there. So what I do is just send a message just like, “Hey, I’m new,” say a little bit about my hobbies what I did, who I was. Get to know the members as well of your community.

So I went through the training, just to check what communities they represented and what they’ve done in the past and also take some time to get them to know you. That is also something that is often forgotten, but it’s really important to have that coming from both ways. And be patient, like Rome wasn’t built in a day it’s the same with any relationship, trust is not there from the first day. Like this, I never experienced that so it takes time and it’s okay but a community without trust is very difficult to manage.

The other thing is picking up the program in-flight right, it was going awesome. You have applications coming in, folks are on training and we have campus experts. And then from one day or another you are responsible for the program and that happens also with your program that you’re going to take over, that you’ve already taken over, so the best advise I can give you on that is to just get involved. Just share your opinions or respond to messages, get your face out there, so they get to know you. Again read as much documentation as you can if it’s there.

So about the program, the background, the values, the goals and also take time to get familiar to the processes. So how does the application process work, how do you need to review your students or your community members, can be any audience. And be honest with your community, this is like something that really helped me. So I shared with my community like, “Hey, I’m new, “please bear with me while I get up to speed,” and I could not believe the messages I got, it was really great, there was so much support coming from the community and really, it was really awesome.

So most important is to keep them breathing. Like it’s completely fine to not be perfect the first day, or the first week of the first couple of weeks even. Just take your time, get familiar with all of the processes that are there and the community will not blame you, if it’s a good community they will definitely not blame you for that.

So these two parts are important to do and they are also maybe most stressful or most anxious in the beginning and then they actually are very good parts about taking over a program that is already there. I call them the best parts because it’s actually very cool that it is already working, it’s awesome, everything’s running, you don’t have to worry about promoting it to get more people to join it’s already there so that means you can look at it from above and you can feel everything that’s happening, you can see the processes and you can go and check what you want to improve or wanna do better or different.

So you can improve it because you’re now managing the program it’s all up to you. And that’s something that I underestimated and like it’s really nice to do. So what you can do for example in our case there was no track of budget so there was a budget but there was not really any information on what’s happening with it, so in order to have the program scales, so you wanna have more campus experts going but the budget’s still the same, we needed to introduce some budget tracking and some sponsorship guidelines. ‘Cause we wanted to avoid that in the beginning of a fiscal year. We would give funding to all our campus experts and then there would be new campus experts joining and there would be no funding left at the end, so. So it gave everyone equal opportunities and equal experiences.

We introduced some sponsorship guidelines so now every campus expert has a budget or a maximum amount that they can request every two months. And that’s working very well, we’re really happy to see the results of that. They are very considerate now with the money they’re asking for and that’s really good to see like they already have to think about their budget then what is very valuable to them to ask from us. And they will not rely to us as the sole sponsor and that’s something we try to give them as a lesson. Like if you want to continue with organizing, hackathons or events it’s very important to already have this experience so I’m really happy to see that.

And then lastly, a lot of talks are already about metrics in these days which are awesome, so I keep this short. Now we’re working on implementing metrics so it’s nice to know what the impact is of your program. What’s the impact on campus experts, what’s the impact in the region, what’s the impact on their campus? So what we’re trying to do now is for example see if a campus expert start at a campus, what does that mean? Do we get more new users together or do we have more applications to indicate a student developer pack. That’s currently work in progress but it is important to know how impactful your program is.

And then this might sound a bit strange but you might not think about leaving but just in case, you will leave at one day, I can tell you. So there will be a day that you leave and it’s so important to have documentation in place. I think yesterday there was a quote that somebody said documentation is like writing a love letter to your future self. Well I can definitely say that that is true. It really helps to have everything in place so in the case that you’re leaving, you don’t have to write everything down in three days.

So create an onboarding plan even if you did not have one have one yourself. I have borrowed a creating onboard issue, thank you Joe, so it’s not what you expected me to say but I have a create onboarding issue. And what I did was I just added information while I was running the program that I thought was important like what kind of tools do you need access to, where can you find everything. So now that is really great in my opinion. Onboarding plan for my successor and I can recommend you to just document everything. It’s better to have to much documentation than nothing at all.

So just a quick summary of what I shared with you. So I think the first things you can start on as important is to gain trust of your community. And it’s also just to get involved. It might be scary but you can never do it and there are awesome things that you can do. Coz you can improve the program after that, you can look at things you want to change. The program is basically yours coz you are running it. And then also think about setting it up for continuous success. So if you leave what happens to the program. Then make sure that it’s like easy to off board it to someone else.

And then I’ll share my biggest lesson with you. It’s very personal but don’t underestimate yourself. Like there’s no need to be Joe, sorry Joe. But there is no need to be Joe. You bring your own expertise, your own skills your own talent and I remember in the beginning I would tell my manager that, “Oh, but I just have to be more like him, “I have to be more like him.” And she was like, “No.” And she was very Dutch direct with me, even though she’s American. But I really appreciated that and during these 11 months that’s something I learned, like you bring in your own vision and it’s so important for a program to have fresh, opinions, fresh expertise or fresh talent coming in.

So don’t underestimate yourself. Someone might have set up the program for success, but it needs you to grow, to improve and to survive. And you’re more, you’re capable of much more than you think. So there is also a reason that your managerial team dropped this into your lap right, it’s because they believe that you can do it. So also believe in yourself that’s like the biggest piece of advise I can give you.

So that’s what I wanted to share with you, I felt like I did this very much quicker that I thought. Anyway, I have my bonus slides here. So my friends can leave happy. It’s my dog of one year and a half . And well yeah, that was it. So thank you so much for coming and I also want to thank the campus experts and DevRelCon for all their support. And if there was something you felt like that was really important for you to know and I did not share, please just find me after this talk and I will definitely I will definitely, hopefully explain everything to you. Yeah, that’s it. So, thank you.

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