Supporting low resources regions with your dev rel strategy

February 28, 2021

Author Matthew Revell

Founder of Hoopy, the developer relations consultancy. Need help with your developer relations? Get in touch.

In this talk from DevRelCon Earth 2020, Daniel covers how companies and their advocates can have a more authentic and genuine impact in low resource regions.

He also reinforces the idea that throwing money and swag at things isn’t always the best approach to help low resource regions. Instead, taking time to build relationships almost always has a better return.

Transcript

[Daniel] This is the first time I’ve spoken in a while. I’m very happy that the first time I speak in a while is at DevRelCon Earth. I’m very excited to be here. I am Daniel Madalitso Phiri. You can find me anywhere on the internet as, M-A-L-G-A-M-V-E-S, malgamves.

I do developer relations at a very cool startup called Strapi. We have a headless CMS, built on top of node.js, and I am a disc jockey on Mixcloud, so that’s mixcloud.com/malgamves if you want to listen and if that’s your thing.

So for the reason you came here, supporting low-resource regions with your DevRel strategy is what I’ll be telling you all about today. A little bit of context before we get started. You’ll notice a theme on a lot of my slides, all of them will be lowercase. This is something I tweeted earlier during the day, lowercase letters only in my DevRelCon talk today because trust me, no cap.

No cap is really just slang for I will not be telling lies even though they might be hard truth. Yeah. So let’s get into it. Starting out, I want everyone to know that this talk is for you, you being someone who is already doing developer relations or trying to get into developer relations because often people ask what developer relations is about.

And I think developer relations is about serving and empowering developers to the best of your abilities. And this will help you do exactly that. Just a general overview of what we’ll be covering as we go on. I’ll be going through low-resource regions and defining what those are. I will be going through issues low-resource regions face, how to solve these issues with your DevRel strategy.

And I’ll give you a bit of a summary, something nice for you to screenshot. Yeah, so preparing for this talk, I love that Amara mentioned that this talk is especially relevant today. And preparing for this talk, I was really just thinking about what low-resource regions means, and how do you define what a low-resource region is. And in a lot of my thinking, I started to think that it is very geographical.

I’m very happy that, as I gave this concept or this definition more thought, I skewed away from that thought and came to a definition that I can come to terms with. The low-resource regions, for me, are regions that lack certain facilities, be it financial capabilities, access to information, or different opportunities.

And why this is important, because this isn’t something geographical. I didn’t want to restrict it to certain areas because this can be right across town for some people. This can be on the other side of the country, or this can be in another continent. And I think a lot of what’s going in the world today, a lot of the movement, and a lot of what the pandemic has shown us is that people right next to us are going through a lot of things that we don’t know.

And I feel like there’s a lot of people doing developer relations who go into doing the job thinking that we live in a fair world and everything should just be the way it is. And yeah, and this is hopefully, to dispel a lot of that. It’s mostly also to ask you the question, what are you doing to empower people who don’t look like you and people who don’t sound like you?

All right? And this led me to really sort of abstract a general problem that a lot of people in low-resource regions, as I justified, have. This issue is neglect. I feel like neglect is the biggest issue a lot of low-resource regions have because people often have the argument in terms of… When you look at low-resource regions and say, “There’s no business value here,” and people completely ignore these regions.

Sorry. And people completely ignore these regions. And I want to remind everyone that at the center of developer relations, really, is our community. And I think if not the golden rule of community, the golden rule of community should be before you can take, you have to give.

So basically, this is me saying do not be exploitive and give the right things. And neglect comes in a lot of forms, to be honest, and can be a lot of things. A lot of people like to put these as geographical restrictions, pipeline problems. And a lot of people just turn a blind eye to a lot of the problems people face.

If you look at the definition of what privilege might be, it might be, like, invalidating something that someone goes through just because you don’t go through it. And what I’m here really to do is to tell you how not to be part of the problem, right? And hopefully, I can give you some insight into ways that you can not be part of the problem and still do your job really well.

So getting into some of those. One is to invest in nonexploitive developer programs. These could be ambassador programs, student programs. And really, the list is endless. And for me, developer programs are an interesting way to extend your advocacy efforts, but also a really interesting way to give back to your community.

What’s important, I might mention, is as you go into these low-resource regions investing in developer programs, you should have sustainability in mind. Because you might go there and do a few things, and then in a few years, when that is impossible for different reasons, you’d leave people high and dry.

So always try and be sustainable in your developer relations programs. So developer relations programs are really just good opportunities to advocate for and shine light on local talent. Neglect sometimes means people don’t have access to a lot of the opportunities and information that most people have.

And developer opportunities are a good way to have both your business needs and serve regions that would usually be neglected. I am a very good example of what I can call an output from a developer program. I was a GitHub Campus expert and also their ambassador.

These are very good examples of nonexploitive developer programs. And one tip I can give you or one resource I can give you on developing nonexploitive developer programs is looking at a talk Joe Nash gave at DevRelCon London called “Scaling External Advocacy Without Losing Your Soul.”

This leads me to my second solution really, expand your talent pool, and try and work as much as you can with local leaders. This really just means empower your local leaders so that they can do something for themselves. Again, having sustainability in mind. And hire community members.

In a lot of these places, if we look at what the core problem is in a lot of the communities, it’s, and could look like employment, it could like opportunity, it could look like mentorship. And so you want to be able to empower local leaders, empower the community, and how do you do that? One way that I find really useful is to use your distributed community to help your company’s diversity efforts.

A good saying is, “Talent is everywhere but opportunity really isn’t.” So yeah, sponsor a lot of local initiatives in your local communities. One that I’m particularly interested in on the African continent is devcareers.com. And that might be different for your local community, five dollars on Patreon, or a couple sponsorships just like your company does sponsorship for a couple of open-source projects.

You can skip a couple of swag, like requests that this community has, and put money into a lot of these initiatives. So do the research, find a lot of these local initiatives, and support them. I’ll drop another resource that I think is really useful. Lusen Mendel gave an amazing talk titled, “How Raising The Bar Can Plug a Leaky Pipeline.”

And I hope you find that really good for you. And my next point is understanding your community, the ecosystem, and its pain points. When doing this, really, I want people to go in with the idea that incentive structures for people in different communities are different. Try and understand what the community’s motives are so you can have a better impact.

At the core of every community, really, is, like, a shared struggle. So after understanding your shared struggle and forming a community around that, go the extra step and understand the struggles that your community might face outside what you face.

Do the research and come up with that, which means starting to speak the language of a community. A lot of what’s happening today has… And the globalization really of a lot of companies means we have communities in different countries. It’s really also important to speak the language of the community. And, you know, help because you care not just because you can.

A lot of people approach helping with a condescending attitude, and this isn’t an approach that would be favorable for the growth of any community. I’ll drop another YouTube video from DevRelCon by Katie Penn, which is, “Leading With Authenticity: Tips for Growing and Nurturing Developer Communities.”

I’ll take a break. I’m a bit thirsty. Sorry. Great. My next tip, really, for solving the neglect problem is making your content accessible. Part of neglect is really forgetting that a certain group of people exist or aren’t worth approaching with the work you do.

A lot of what we do in developer relations is creating content. And to be honest, a lot of it is not very accessible. And accessibility can mean a lot of things. We’ll start out with using regionalized messaging. Try as much as you can to translate and change a lot of your messaging. For marketing specifically, translating is not enough, but understand the local context.

A lot of idioms don’t translate well from different languages, and you want to do the research so that you can have the best possible impact in your community. Personally, one thing I think all companies should try and do is avoid credit card blockers. A lot of people in a lot of areas don’t have access and are unbanked.

And asking them to have a credit card to use your service is extremely unfair, and I know there a lot of things that are behind this, but if you can, please, try and open up your service to as many people as you can and don’t put blockers like that. Connectivity also, and a lot of what’s going on with the pandemic, you’ve seen a lot of people switching to online mediums for streaming and a lot of related things.

My opinion on this really, and Sarah Thiam at Microsoft coined this term. She said, “Connectivity is a diversity and inclusion problem.” And I agree completely, not everyone is on 200 megabytes per second. Make your… Sorry, use platforms that are very friendly on people’s bandwidth.

And try not to enforce a lot of video chats or videoconferencing because, you know…and freely accessible to everyone. There’s a lot really on making your content accessible.

Another one is making your documentation work off-line. I have a bundle, a small resource in a notion page, where I’ve dropped a lot of resources, and a lot of articles, and a lot of really useful points on how you can do a lot of these things, which I’ll share with you at the end. Making your documentation work off-line is really just leveraging the use of progressive web applications and making sure that in places where internet might be a problem, people can still have access to your documentation and a lot of your resources.

So progressive web apps are a really good go-to. And bundle your demo projects. Try and use GitHub READMEs as really small snippets of blog posts, for example. And try as much as you can to have off-line support for a lot of your DevOp projects. And I think last, but definitely not least, don’t assume technical ability.

A lot of us, and I know I can find myself going into this with a lot of the content I create. Like, a lot of people don’t make it beginner friendly. Try and practice empathy. And I think a lot of these tips, to be honest, are really just how to do DevRel empathetically, because empathy would mean you care about and would not neglect a lot of the low-resource regions.

So yeah, create a lot of beginner content and try and have a beginner mindset as you create content. Ask someone to review your blog post or your content, and really, just don’t assume technical ability. I have two really good resources for this one. And Mitchell has “GitHub is Your Documentation Landing Page,” and Judith has “First Build a Bookshelf: Providing Context for Developer Learning.”

And then this leads me to the next point, really, which is measure, iterate, and improve. Basically, improve your DevRel telemetry. And have a DevRel telemetry. Keep track of what’s going on and intentionally do better. See, the problem we have is if you don’t track something, you don’t know that it disappears.

So you don’t know if you’re doing well or doing terrible because you’re not even paying attention to that. And then that’s the thing about neglect. I don’t know how good of an analogy this is really, but I came up with this phrase, “You don’t know how many sheep you lost if you don’t count them.”

So really keep track of a lot of things. The people at Orbit have a really cool resource where you can look at a lot of community opinions and community metrics at devrel-kpis.com. And I think that would be really useful.

And last, but not least, ask questions and get feedback. Like I said, measure something and really try and do better. This is a really good talk by Sarah, “How to Capture Community Relationships as a DevRel Professional Without Being “Creepy” About It.”

And really, that’s it with a lot of my solutions. For anyone who wants a really quick recap on what I went through, please, do not exploit people, give back. Invest in local talent. Understand your community. Make your content accessible.

And measure, iterate, and improve. I want to drop this for people because a lot of the conversations around low-resource regions are, “We’re just throwing money into that and not getting anything back.” But notice how I’m saying, “Don’t throw your cash into a vacuum.”

Really, what I’m doing is giving you proven methods of developer engagement without neglecting low-resource regions. So you can do your job as usual, but just be more empathetic, and don’t neglect a lot of these places. Earlier, I’d mentioned, like, a collection of resources. And in the spirit of iterating and improving, I will keep updating this resource, and if anyone wants to collaborate on making this, like, bigger or growing it into something that has much more resources, maybe like much more resources, I’m happy to collaborate.

Just reach out to me. It’s a notion page. So bit.ly/devrelcon-lrr for low-resource regions. I also want to thank a couple of people who helped make this possible with a lot of chats. Anthony, Sarah, Wesley, Bolaji, Shodipo, thank you very much for a lot of the insight that you gave me from your various communities.

And thank you. If you have any questions, you’d like to contribute, add anything, or argue with me on anything, I’m malgamves anywhere online. And thank you for having me, and thank you for listening.

  • [Amara] Awesome. Thank you, Daniel. Given me a lot to think about, especially neglect taking on many different forms. And I loved your quote on you don’t know how many sheep you’ve lost until you count them. I think that’s so incredibly insightful because you’re right.

You’re like, “How many people am I losing? How many people am I neglecting? And how can I intentionally do better?” We don’t have any questions yet. But I know we have a 10-minute section right here for Q&A. So I’m going to continue to watch Slack and see if we get… – Don’t worry.

How did I do for time, by the way?

  • You did great. You did awesome. I think you came in just a little… – Yeah, okay, [crosstalk] computer.

  • Yeah. I think you came in just a little bit under time. So, works great.

  • Okay, great.

  • So I guess I can ask some questions. I know you had talked about, you know, not… You’ve heard from folks that they’re throwing money at a particular region, and they’re not getting a lot of engagement, or they’re not getting a lot of feedback. When we talk about, you know, shipping swag, especially from companies that are based in the U.S., I know we’ve run into issues with some of our customers or our developer community members who actively say, “Don’t send me swag,” because they don’t want to have to deal with, like, import tax and all of that other stuff.

So what do you think about, like, sending physical swag items. Do you think that that’s even worth it? Should you try to find someone who is local that can do that distribution?

  • I’m all for swag. I really like swag. Swag, to be honest, was a great motivator, do a lot of the things that I was doing really early on in my career. I love swag, so if you had conferences… But in terms of giving swag to community members, I know import duty and a lot of those costs are really heavy for the community if they’re the ones bearing that fee or bearing that cost.

I feel like there has to be a balance with what you’re doing. I feel like if there are resources that could be going towards better serving that community in terms of addressing a lot of the problems that they have, then maybe it’s not worth shipping a bunch of T-shirts, little stickers are okay. Or, I don’t know what your swag thing is, but if you approach that intentionally and ask your community, yeah, I think that’s the best outcome.

Do you really need swag? Is there something better we could do? Yeah. I hope that answers your question.

  • No, it does. And I hope it answers the question for other folks too because I know we’re so quick to be like, “Oh, do you want a T-shirt?” But sending a T-shirt from, you know, a company that’s based in California to a user that’s in a country in Africa, or like most case with us, we have a lot of customers that are in Russia. And shipping a shirt from Colorado to Russia is challenging.

And they’re like actually, “I don’t want that. Can you keep that?”

  • True. So like in the conversations I was having, or talking about the issue of swag and shipping that to a bunch of people around. There was a huge critique for people who really enjoy doing this. Like if you ask a developer what they want, they won’t say, “I want a T-shirt.” They’ll say something, “I want a job, or I want access or want mentorship.”

So if that’s something you can extend, I mean, it’s nice if you can do both, definitely do both, but don’t leave one out. Like shipping a T-shirt, yeah. But please, mentor me, or introduce me, or help me grow, things like that.

  • Yeah, I liked that you mentioned some of the developer programs and champion programs like the GitHub one that you said you were a part of, and how that was a lot more impactful for you than maybe swag or something else because it gives you those resources and it gives you education, connection to things like mentors, and that’s so much more impactful.

And I think we often forget that, you know, that’s an option to give to folks, that that’s a way to engage your community and your developers in a way that creates those external advocates for your company.

  • Exactly. And the GitHub Campus Expert program is a really good example because there was a lot of swag. But there was also a lot of mentorship and a lot of opportunities that were availed to a lot of the people in the program. So it’s not like too much swag and no value for, you know, the members. Because I know a lot of new names, a lot of people do that.

It’s all swag, it’s all T-shirts, it’s stickers. But what are you actually doing for the communities, right?

  • Right, right, exactly. So just checking in Slack again, if anybody has any questions for Daniel, please, give us a shout. And I guess, yeah, if you’re watching on YouTube or anywhere else you can register for free at 2020.devrel.net and get a link to join our conference Slack so that you can ask questions.

I know I’m not looking in other spaces. I do think we do have other folks kind of watching the YouTube chat. I think we’re also on Twitch today too, but the best way to ask your questions, for me to be able to see them, is in Slack. And we do have a question, what made the GitHub Campus Experts program so effective, or compared to other programs?

  • That’s a really good question. Oh gosh, AirPods. It did not exploit people is a really short answer. And it ticked a lot of boxes in terms of what I mentioned was good for helping uplift and empower people.

A lot of what we did was being introduced or being given opportunities to meet people who without that program we wouldn’t necessarily meet. I know it’s a really tightly knit community of student leaders who get to chat with a lot of GitHub employees, get to chat with a lot of really amazing people doing amazing things.

So just helping and being able to give… A lot of people around the world who wouldn’t necessarily have access to these people, to these opportunities, traveling to different conferences, being in webinars with founders of some of the best and most impactful companies. It’s things like that and just giving people, overall, a wider perspective of the world around them and the effect they can have in it, and the role they can play in it was really good.

And that’s something I appreciate the folks at GitHub for doing. Joe, Litha, and Louise.

  • All right. So any other questions, get them into the Slack. I think I had another question for you too about making your content available off-line. I know, again, for my company, we do live video streaming, and we have a number of different pieces of documentation that we’ve actually pulled out of PDFs to make available online in HTML format.

And that was a choice that we made because we said, “Hey, if you’re doing live video streaming and you’re developing a live video streaming app, you’re probably going to be connected to the internet.” But now you have me thinking, maybe that’s not the right choice, that maybe we still need to have that ability to bundle and make those pieces of content available off-line.

Do you have any good tools or ideas for how to make that happen? I know you briefly touched on it, but was there anything else that kind of comes to mind of how to make that content available off-line?

  • Yeah, definitely. I’ve been through a couple of conferences that distributed thumb drives, USB sticks, with a bunch of resources, and learning tools, and learning material. And just gave that to a lot of the attendees, or even just in general, ship that to people around the world.

And that’s a really cool thing that a lot of people, like, overlook and underestimate, having that, no matter where you are, is very beneficial. Or even just like I mentioned, packaging things, like you have PDFs that you migrated to HTML pages. Having both would be a good way. Like, “Hey, okay, we have this video content.”

But if you aren’t able to access this video content, maybe it’s transcribed to a PDF and you can look at a lot of, sorry, what’s going on here. And even just for HTML pages, I think the front-end web development tooling really is very mature these days. I mentioned progressive web applications, which are really good use case for off-line-first documentation, off-line-first resources.

You could put something up like Gatsby or Nuxt and have your documentation really accessible to anyone, installable on a mobile phone, on your browser, and you can have a look at that anytime. So maybe it’s worth talking to your technical writers and saying, “Hey, maybe let’s use a progressive web app to host our documentation.”