How teaching skills elevate developer relations


Andrew Maclean

Job title

Developer Relations Manager




DevRelCon London 2023

In this talk from DevRelCon London 2023, Andrew McLean, a developer advocate at Dev Cycle, shares his journey from the classroom to the world of developer relations.

Drawing on his experience as a teacher, Andrew explores the parallels between teaching and developer advocacy, highlighting the importance of applying pedagogical techniques to developer relations and developer education. He introduces the concept of addressing core developer needs and presents a practical framework for organizing and prioritizing developer advocacy strategies.

Join Andrew as he provides valuable insights and practical examples to help you elevate your developer advocacy practice.

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Key takeaways

  • Developers are people first, coders second. Understanding and meeting their needs is crucial for building strong communities.
  • Meeting basic needs, such as clear communication and confidence in using technology, is essential before moving on to higher-level goals.
  • Prioritizing needs over goals in your developer relations strategy will lead to shared success.
  • Building a solid scaffolding, including documentation, support channels, and interactive tutorials, is important for developers to find success.
  • Foster connection and belonging through engagement in subreddits, featuring community members, and hosting events.
  • Empower developers by recognizing their achievements, facilitating webinars, and establishing community awards programs.


Matthew Revell:

So our first speaker for this split out section is Andrew McLean from Dev Cycle. Now one of the main themes that we put forward in the CFP was developer education, and Andrew has a long career as a developer educator moving a few years ago from the classroom into the community, and he’s going to talk to us about precisely that developer education. So let’s get on our feet and welcome Andrew to the stage. Awesome.

Andrew Maclean:

Thanks everybody. What a great way to start the day. I’m super excited to be here and I just want to get a show of hands before I really kick off. Who here was a teacher in a former life? I feel like, ah, we’ve got a few in the audience. And who here? Hated school. Alright, there we go. Needed to test my audience a little bit there. I can structure this now. Well, when I was putting this talk together, I was like, how can I make this the most kind of classroom teachery talk at a tech conference as possible? So I said to myself, we’re going to do a DevRelCon story time. And so I want to start off by telling you a little story about someone named Alex. So you know how some people have that magic touch, that ability to turn even the most tangled spaghetti heap of information into neat bite-sized meatballs.

Everyone can savor. That is Alex. Imagine it’s a Monday morning while most of us are trying to remember how coffee works, Alex is already busy creating something like a treasure map. Not the X marks the spot kind mind you, but a map that transforms daunting quests into a series of delightful discoveries. But hold on, don’t get it twisted. Alex isn’t the type to just hand you a map and wish you bon voyage. Oh no, they’re right there with you. Marching through the mud, scaling the walls, making sure you see all the hidden Easter eggs along the way. Alex has this unique talent for illuminating the things you’d probably miss if you blinked. They make you feel like Indiana Jones on an intellectual adventure minus the snakes and booby traps. Of course. Have you ever been to one of those brainstorming sessions or workshops where you leave feeling like your brain just had a five star meal?

Well, if you dig a little, you’ll find Alex’s fingerprints all over it. They’re the maestro, the orchestrator of gatherings that leave you smarter, more connected and buzzing with ideas. But get this, Alex isn’t just a foun of wisdom, they’re also an incredible listener. Got a suggestion, an idea that you’re just bursting to share. Alex is all ears. This isn’t just polite nodding. We’re talking about genuinely leaning in, soaking up your feedback like a sponge. And why? Because your insights are the magic ingredients that help Alex stir the pot, keeping everything fresh, engaging, and right on point for everyone involved. So if you ever wondered what it’s like to be around someone who’s got the magic recipe for blending information, inspiration, and a sense of community without even letting you realize that you’re learning, then you’ve got to meet Alex. They’re the high fiving idea generating, always encouraging, whirlwind we didn’t know we needed, but now can’t imagine being without.

Now. What do you think Alex’s job might be? Anybody in the audience? Now I should have said there was going to be a test, but I’m a teacher and I feel like it should always be assumed, but I also workin DevRel, so my tests come with swag. So if you got a guess, what do you think Alex’s job might be based on that story? Anybody got a guess? What do you think? It sounds like my mother, to be honest. Anybody got a guess? Content creator. Content creator. Good. Anybody else? Community manager. Community manager. Yeah, I think anything in DevRel you would be absolutely correct. And I know we’re all here and yes, I’m trying to hype you up just so you’re like, yeah, that’s me. I’m definitely that person. But interestingly enough, that description of Alex was also really, really, really accurate to the life of a really good classroom teacher if only me, but definitely a good classroom teacher.

So that’s a good sort of setting the stage for today’s talk on how teaching skills can elevate developer advocacy. My name’s Andrew, I’m a developer advocate at dev cycle. I’m going to tell you a little bit more about my background in just a second, but I always like to start these talks with a little TLDR. And so I also promise that I would ensure that this was kind of a crash course in teaching techniques. And so I wanted to give you some teaching language to go and impress your friends, the $5 words if you’ve heard pedagogy and you are just like somebody’s trying to seem really smart, you’re absolutely right and I want you to be able to have that too. So today’s talk is about how understanding how to apply educational pedagogy to better organize and prioritize your DevRel strategy to build stronger communities.

And like I said before, I’m going to teach you that word pedagogy, teaching theory and practice. Everybody is trying to make it seem a lot more complicated than it is, but really it’s what we all do every day in DevRel and what teachers are doing in the classroom as well. Alright, so a little background about me. So I started my career in 2010. I have a degree in forensic science, so that’s like CSI crime scene investigation. Obviously lots of work in that. So I landed as a youth worker back in 2010, transitioned into engineering, university outreach, sort of building recruitment programs for universities in 2015. And then I thought, hey, I’m in my early thirties, I’m going to go back to school and become a classroom teacher. And so in 2019 I graduated, became a classroom science teacher for high school and middle school and then immediately the pandemic hit, which is always a glorious thing for a teacher.

And so what did I do? I pivoted into tech and I was lucky enough to join the Rattlesnake team. If you’ve heard of Rattlesnake, anybody out there heard of Battles Snake before? Hey, there we go as their community manager. And then in 2023 we were lucky enough to be acquired by Dev Cycle where I currently work as a developer advocate. Awesome. So today’s talk, we’re going to talk about a couple of things. My journey from classroom to code success complete. I’m going to talk a little bit more about the parallels between teaching and DevRel. I’m going to talk about why pedagogy that idea matters toDevRel practitioners. I’m going to look a little bit at some specific educational hierarchies that can be applied in the world of DevRel. And because we all need to justify to our bosses exactly why we are here and they paid for us to come to London, I’m speaking to myself, I’m also going to give you some practical examples of how you can scaffold your Devra activities kind of following kind of a model that I’m going to present here.

Alright, soDevRel and teaching, I just made it seem like they’re two different worlds, but I’ll be honest with you, that awesome story about a DevRel/teacher was really informed by Mr. Chat GPT as well. So I figured I needed to prove this using a little bit of data and maybe data is the wrong word. So back in 2022, there was a report that was released, the Dev Rel compensation report. And in that report there was actually a list of sort of daily responsibilities for folks that are working in developer relations. And I took that list and I said, all right, let’s make this a little bit more universal. Remove things that are really, really specific to specific areas of tech and let’s sort of make this and see is this a thing that exists in bothDevRel and teaching? And I wanted to see what this looked like.

And so the first thing that kind of appeared on that list was developing learning materials. Obviously a huge part of bothDevRel and teaching. That one was easy conducting live presentations. Well I am here. So it’s definitely a part of this. And if you’re not doing live presentations to keep kids entertained that I’m not sure what you’re doing in teaching. Definitely there as well. Collecting and analyzing feedback. Anybody here ever received a test back from a teacher where you’re just like, oh, I should have had a higher mark on that. Nobody. Everybody was like, I always got the high marks. Andrew, what are you talking about? And so definitely I think a thing that we’re doing and as teachers is really sort of focusing on that feedback there, good and bad. And also in this world ofDevRel as well, we’re always collecting and analyzing feedback.

What about programs? I mean we run lots of programsin DevRel and I think that if you are not seeing teachers starting clubs and teams and at that school dance, then you are probably again not seeing a teacher. But both of those are existing there. And in fact, I looked through every single one of the items that were on this list and every single one of these was the same. So congratulations everybody in DevRel, you can drop your salary by about 50% and enter the classroom. There we go. There we go. Thank you. So that’s not where it stops though, because I think both in the world of DevRel and in the world of teaching classroom teaching, there’s some sort of misconceptions about what these things are. Soin DevRel that often comes out to this idea that DevRel equals marketing. And DevRel, as we all know in this room, is more than marketing, it’s more than sales, it’s everything.

We are the Swiss army knife of the technology industry. And similarly teaching is way more than instructing those teachers that are out there in the audience or those teachers that you remember probably wasn’t because they were just amazing at teaching you things, it was because they built those relationships with you. And really when you look at this idea, both DevRel and teaching are both about really fundamentally the same thing. Building and supporting growth. That’s really what we’re doing in both of these worlds. So not only are those job duties, daily duties the same, but really our sort of end goal here are also very similar. Alright, so what Andrew, why did you fly 8,000 kilometers across the world to tell us that teachers and developer relations practitioners are the same? I don’t want to be a teacher, although I would like the summers off, although maybe that’s just a North American thing.

I would like the holidays off all the time, but how does this actually impact my work in developer relations? So I want to show you something. This actually came up yesterday in a presentation. This is a marketing funnel. Who here has never seen this before? Okay, good, we’re all working in the same place. This is good. So we all know this funnel. We are starting at that awareness area, getting people knowing what we are, and then the money exists right down here and then making our jobs easier. And developer relations is down here where we can get enough advocates that we can just kick back, relax, and watch the magic happen. Well, if you look at this and you think about education, it’s actually very similar. It’s actually almost a mirror image of a key educational hierarchy that’s out there. Has anybody ever seen this before?

Anybody know what this is? There we go with the teachers that are out there are like, yes, Andrew, stop talking about teaching. So this is known as Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. This is actually a revised version from 2001. The original was from 1956. And at a core level, this is basically the same as we were seeing in that marketing funnel. So at the very bottom here we have this idea of remembering and understanding. And then as you go up to the top, we get into this world of being able to justify and advocate for and then produce new and original content. And so really we have this same kind of idea that’s existing in both worlds. So this must be it. This must be why Andrew came. He came to tell us how to use Bloom’s objectives in ourDevRel work. What we needin DevRel is more objectives, more metrics that we need to meet. I know we talked about this a lot, but wait, our objectives really what a good teacher would focus on first.

So there’s a bunch of sayings that exist in education. Most of them make no sense to anybody. Has anybody ever seen this saying before or heard this saying before? We got a few. So there’s a saying, students must maslow before they can bloom. And the bloom makes sense like a flower. It blooms growing growth mindset, but the Maslow probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to you. And so let me explain that a little bit more. So Maslow was a psychologist in the 1940s and he developed this concept called a hierarchy of needs. And these were sort of core needs that individuals have that must be satisfied in order for them to kind reach a state of transcendence, of self-actualization. And this will probably make a lot of sense once you start to see this, but at the base level of this hierarchy of needs is physiological needs.

Things like air, water, food, shelter. If you get lost in the forest today, you’re probably not saying I need to reach out to my boss to let them know where I am. I need to make sure that that presentation is good for Friday. No, you’re like, I really, really need something to eat right now. And once you’ve got that food, then you want to send the email to your boss and let them know that the presentation will probably be late, but it’s okay. Now, next step, our safety needs. So if you look at it outside of the context of being lost in a forest, these are things like personal security and employment and all of this stuff. But again, sort of going back to this forest analogy, once you have all of those things that air, that food, that shelter, if there’s a big bear that is threatening to eat you, it’s very unlikely that you are going to again be sort of focusing on those next things that are going on in your world.

So after you have those base needs met, then we’re moving into this idea of belonging. This is where we’re focusing on things like connection and friendship. This is where you befriend the bear or maybe a smaller woodland creature. We have all seen Disney movies. This is what it is all about. We’re trying to get to the belonging stage and stop there. But actually once you get through that according to this hierarchy of needs, we move into this area of esteem. And so this idea of looking for things like respect and recognition, and then really once you’ve got all of those satisfied is when we get to a state of self-actualization where we’re really sort of moving into a growth mindset area where we’re trying to become better person, become better versions of ourselves. Now does anybody notice anything up there that changes on there? Anybody see anything that stands out to you is a little bit odd?

So there’s a color change that exists after those first four levels and that darker line that’s at the top. And that actually that line separates something known as deficiency needs and growth needs. So deficiency needs are things that they are going to motivate you, but when you meet them, you’re going to want to move to the highest level. So your motivation is actually going to decrease once you’ve met that need. Once you’ve got enough food, you are going to want to move into that safety. Once you’ve got that safety, you’re going to move into belonging. And so once you get to that top and you’ve got physiological needs and safety needs and belonging and esteem met, there’s where you can get into the stage of self-actualization. And there you’re looking at things that are going to motivate you just by doing it. So once you start to get to that level of being your best self and you’ve got these other needs met, that’s really where you’re going to be able to move forward and motivate yourself and keep things going.

So at the core level, that concept of Maslow before Bloom, this is what it’s all about. Students need their basic needs met before they can fully engage in higher order thinking. And as educators, it’s our job to provide the scaffolding another education term for y’all out there. Don’t say I didn’t teach anything. And as educators, it’s our job to help them meet those needs and allow that growth to occur. So similarly, developers also have basic needs that need to be met in order for that deeper community involvement to happen. And as DeVere practitioners, it’s our job to scaffold things and scaffold programming to allow for that growth to occur. Alright, so perhaps we can reimagine Maslow from a DevRel perspective. And of course I wouldn’t want to feed my own ego. I’m still stuck in that esteem stage there. And so I present to you, I didn’t want to just put my name in there, I felt like that was too much.

I present to you certain specificDevRel practitioners hierarchy of developer needs. So doubt. Just keep in mind that what I’m presenting to you today is not prescriptive, it’s based on experience and it’s based on things that I’ve done. But this concept here is just meant to give you a way to understand how to potentially build your deral programs that focuses on this idea of needs. So within this hierarchy, we are actually starting with this level of understanding and this is where we’re focusing our activities on clearly communicating our technology. And it’s used to somebody, if you can’t do that, if a developer doesn’t know what your technology is and how it works, it’s really hard to move them anywhere towards becoming an advocate for you. Now, even if they know how your technology works, if they don’t feel confident in solving their own problems, that is also a really big challenge.

And so that’s why that second level here is instead of sort of moving into this safety, individuals need to feel safe to use your technology. And so as we kind of move up through understanding and confidence, we now have users who know our developers, who know what our technology does and they know how to use that to solve their problems. So now there’s a shift and you’ll notice that it’s a lot lower before. Again, I got a couple hats up here, although people might not want them. Does anybody remember what this dark line was called? What did it separate? What kind of needs? Motivation and growth? Yeah, motivation and growth deficiency versus growth needs. And so within this hierarchy, we’ve kind of lowered that bar of deficiency to growth needs. And it’s not that we’re not needing to kind of ideally pull everybody up towards that advocacy, towards that agency sort of at the top of this hierarchy.

But at the end of the day, not every developer that comes to your platform wants to be an agent for change in your community. Some developers at a core level have a problem that they need you to solve and that’s okay. Not everybody is going to be an advocate for you, but we want to provide the scaffolding for all developers that are coming to your platform to be able to find success. And this is a necessary building block in order to move things up. So now we’re at level three, we’re into these growth needs. The things that as you have them start to occur are going to motivate you a bit more. So here we’re looking at building spaces that are promoting connection and belonging. This is that fun community building stuff we’re focused on. Then we have this idea of empowerment. This is focusing on activities that are going to celebrate achievement and create areas for growth.

And then at the very top, like I said before, is this idea of agency. So this is allowing that innovation and change within your community to happen. Alright? Like I said, I was going to provide you practical tips that you could take back to your jobs to justify. So I would say that these are probably the slides to snap the photos of that will hopefully be useful for you. So these will be my sipping, these will be my water sipping slides. So what does that scaffolding look like when it’s in this world? Alright, so at the bottom level of understanding where we’re looking at clearly communicating what our technology can do, I’ve kind of separated these tips and these strategies that you can use as aDevRel practitioner into sort of these green feathers and these yellow or orangy weights. And this is lower lift versus higher lift things. Clever there, teacher.

You’re welcome. Thank you. I appreciate it. Claps before it’s done. So what are some things that you can do that are lighter lift? And there’s those of you out there that are saying to myself, but I already do a lot of these things. Well that’s okay. There are some core things that you are definitely going to need to do that might not appear on this list. This is just a few suggestions of ways that you might do this depending on where you are. So at this level, first thing I know we all love doing it. We all love building out email drip campaigns, but believe it or not, that’s actually a really useful thing. Building out that, I mean a well-crafted onboarding email series is actually a really powerful way to help build understanding of how things work. We also have documentation. I know none ever, none of us knew that this was a thing that you needed to do to build understanding.

I’m sure you’re welcome. I’m giving you the tip. This is the thing that I give to you here at DevRel. Conde two, write documentation, write good documentation, spend all your time on documentation, just like take time and sit down and yeah, there’s fun stuff that’s going on, but write really, really good documentation and write that getting started. Documentation that helps you get there. Host, welcome q and a sessions. This is super light lift. Go on Discord, go on Twitch, go on Reddit, go wherever you can that developers are and have these q and a sessions. Make them open. Don’t be this intimidating thing for people. Be that open person, that open, warm, welcoming individual that allows people to ask those questions and build their sense of understanding. So now we’re moving into the higher lift things. Sue actually gave a really great example of this idea of interactive tutorials yesterday using Glitch.

And so this is where it’s a heavier lift thing, less heavy lift actually if you see Sue because she’s got a link to actually use that. But this is where you’re actually starting to build out interactive tutorials to allow your developers to get a more practical understanding of what this looks like. And then other things you can do here, develop content around core features. Now this doesn’t seem like it should be a heavier lift thing, but anybody here who has had to go and have conversations within their company and be like, what is the core feature of our platform? And then try and consolidate all of the information and build, that’s a huge big job building out that documentation, but really valuable work that needs to be done. So this is my water sip moment. If you want to take a photo.

Maybe not. Alright, so next up we have this idea of confidence. And again, there’s some lighter lift things here and then some heavier lift. So at the top end, again, fairly simple, but real-time support channels. And now you may be saying to yourself, Andrew, you’re talking about independent problem solving. I’m not really sure how you’re implementing real-Time support is going to be independent, but you don’t need to be the ones answering the questions. If you do a good job at setting this up, you can actually be, have your community contributing. I know there were previous talks saying that that can go not well, but it’s good to set up those systems just in case host regular live coding streams. So as a non-technical DevRel practitioner or pseudo pseudo technical, I love doing live coding streams because nothing helps people build their own confidence than seeing you struggle hard on stream.

Anybody else here like a pseudo technical that has experienced that joy? Nobody. All the thank you. There we go. One in the back. I appreciate it. Everybody else is like, nah, I never struggle live on stream. But it’s a really good thing to help people build confidence publishing gifts. I’m not sure this word is going to come back to bite me in the recording of this, but for common issues, this is a fairly light lift thing. If you’re getting common questions over and over again, this is a great place to focus. Again, heavier lift. Writing guidelines for specific use cases is really powerful. And then sample repositories of code. This is also where you’re maybe doing things like docker containers, just giving people what they need to really solve their problems in a meaningful way. Alright, so now we’ve crossed that level and we’re into this idea of connection.

This is where the fun begins. But the fun comes after the fundamentals. So first thing, engaging in subreddits and niche forums. Really powerful thing to do. And fairly light lift. Featuring your community in community initiatives. In newsletters and documentation, you put out writing guest posts. So this is where you show we don’t care if you just come and do things for us, we’re going to give back to you as well. So go out and contribute to those community blogs and things that exist out there. Next up, foster local chapters and user groups. Give the support even if you’re not funding it. Giving that support is really useful. And then the last thing, of course, the funnest thing. The most fun thing. Sponsor, organize and participate in events. Alright, so next up we have empowerment. So this is where we’re moving up and sort of allowing for that growth to change and recognition to happen.

Highlighting open source contributors and read mes is really simple way to get started. Shout outs on social media, featuring developers in your blog posts and streams, having them write for you, facilitating webinars for your community where you’re not the one running it, but we are wanting to make sure that we are getting through to allow them to go. Alright, and the last one here, establishing community awards programs. A lot of fun but always a good way to engage in there. Okay, thanks for that. So the last one at the very top here, our agency, our last stage, they’re trying to bring people through to, these are fun things. Again, create a developer advisory group. So again, it’s a lot of fun. A great way to engage your community. Host workshops on advanced topics. One of my personal favorites, offering developer certification pathways if you have the funds, doing things like allocating incubation grants for projects.

And another really great thing to do here is doing things like implementing peer mentorship programs. Alright, so this again, I present to you unnamed developer advocates, hierarchy of developer needs. And really with this needs, there’s some core pieces that tie into this. To finish things off, key takeaways. Developers are people first, coder, second meeting needs feeds. There we go. I like that. I love typos. Meeting needs is a prerequisite for achieving goals. The fundamentals fundamentally outweigh the frills. It’s fun to have fun, but you need those fundamentals there. Strategy should prioritize needs over goals. And then finally, building a solid scaffolding is going to build and support shared success. Alright, so that’s it for me, but I wanted to leave you with this final message re-imagining that Maslow and Bloom saying addressing core developer needs can help advocates to achieve our goals. That’s me. If you want to find me around, I know I’ve gone a little bit over, so if you want to find me now, do we have time for questions? Oh, amazing. Alright, we do have time for questions. Thanks everybody.

Matthew Revell:

Thank you, Andrew. I really love it when there’s something that you can take a photo of and then take away and apply. I like it when there’s frameworks and stuff like that. Any questions for Andrew before we go into the break? Hey, thank for the talk. It was amazing. I love it.

Andrew Maclean:

Thank you.

Matthew Revell:

I wonder, especially when you talk about Maslows Pyramid and all of these needs, what’s the role of DevRel, especially for underprivileged or underserved communities that might have struggles to serve those basic needs in order for them to be part of a community or in order to help them get into tech?

Andrew Maclean:

Yeah. Wow, that’s such a powerful question. I don’t necessarily know if I’m the best person to answer that question. Coming from a really big place of privilege myself. I mean, I think one of the most important pieces is keeping this idea of needs and core needs. And actually not even this re-imagined version, but actually that core Maslow, that idea of supporting individuals as they go through there. Recognizing that as a developer advocate, you are an advocate, you’re a voice for people that are out there and helping them find ways to engage and doing it in a way that meets people where they’re at. I think this is one of the big things about teaching as a whole and developer advocacy, meet people where they’re at. If you do that, then there’s no stopping them in accessing all of the things that make the tech industry such an amazing place to be.

Matthew Revell:

We’ll, time for one more question if anyone like Wesley. Two questions. One serious one, not

Audience member:

First. One is, how long does it take you to convince the people in charge that hierarchy and needs argument? Because some of the things in terms of DevRel, sometimes they seem not really related, they just want you to jump to the top. The second non-serious question is, how many pairs of glasses do you own?

Andrew Maclean:

Ooh. So I will answer the fun question first. So I have a red green and a yellow pair that I transported across the globe just for this event that I could wear. So you’re welcome, Deborah. But for convincing people, I think the interesting thing about especially that kind of re-imagined hierarchy is it becomes very obvious when you do it. If you run an amazing community event and you jump to the top, you’re like, you know what we’re going to do, we don’t have any documentation at all, but we’re going to sponsor and run this awesome hackathon. Then people come into your hackathon and there’s no documentation and you’re like, alright, so in this hackathon we’re going to write documentation immediately you’re going to lose people. And so I think the downside is when you jump to the fun and then you see the result of what happens there, it then reminds you of why you need to start at the core level there. But I think at the end of the day, people do need to make these mistakes and then just recognize that you need to build that solid foundation and knowing then that if you can say, okay, we jumped to the fourth level there and things didn’t go really well and looking and did we establish things in the right order? Did we build that solid foundation and base there? I think that’s the most important part of showing that this is valuable. Awesome. Thanks Wesley. And thanks Juan. Awesome.

Matthew Revell:

Great. Thank you very much everyone. Let’s thank Andrew.

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