Get discovered with creative developer content


Tomomi Imura

Tomomi Imura

Tomomi Imura has written developer-targeted content for magazines, books, blogs and other media in her role as a developer evangelist at companies including Slack, Nexmo and Nokia.

In this talk, from DevXcon 2017, Tomomi shares her experience and advice for creating compelling developer content to help spread awareness of your product.


So this is me, yes, I’ve been doing developer advocacy for quite a long time in many different companies and I could… Yeah, I’m a software engineer myself, too. And currently, I’m working at Slack. But my talk’s not gonna be too Slacky because I’m gonna talk about my own experience here and in previous companies. So yeah, I’ve been working in those companies and I see my former teammates from everywhere, actually. That’s pretty awesome. Many of you have worked with me in the same team, yeah, or maybe it was a partnership like, yeah, at the many other companies I worked with so… Yeah, so today, so I’m gonna talk about some docs, it’s not about API Docs, it’s more like creative contents like blogs and stuff. So I’m a writer. For whatever reason, I don’t really consider myself a writer, but I do write a bunch of technical content for those places. And some books, I don’t write for books because I, like JavaScript, things get outdated so quick so I’m kinda hesitant to writing books, but I’m doing technical editing for some books.

So anyway, to get discovered by developers. So when developers out there are looking for some solutions, you know, maybe they’re building some software and something, they might be looking for an API, some platform, frameworks, and tools. And how do they find them? And many times, you know, or you hear from colleagues and friends or somebody on a Slack group or could be possibly just discover something on Twitter or newsletters. And then more likely we are actively searching on Google… It doesn’t have to be Google, but in some search everywhere, it could be in Stack Overflow. So it’s cool, so let’s say your developer find a new product, develop a product, APIs and tools on some high-traffic sites like TechCrunch or Product Hunt, and it’s very cool. Yep, they find us at…yeah, it sounds awesome. I might use it later. The thing is, you want it more like, “Yeah, it sounds awesome. I wanna use it.” So you have to encourage your developers by just providing something more. You know, your devs feel like trying, and could be maybe really great use cases. So everybody knows what it is and how to use, and what it’s for, and easy to follow and a step-by-step tutorial. So that’s helpful.

So, you know, when…to get your developers’ hands dirty, you gotta do workshops. That’s a great way to get engagement, and hackathons. Yes, devs getting their hands dirty in maybe in a few hours to a few nights, that’s great. But my focus here is more, like, blog and tutorials. So could be a docs like API Docs, or more something visual like diagrams and illustrations and videos, it’s like multimedia here.

So you know, to provide any content, of course, you need something practical so people can actually understand what it is and know exactly how to use. So if you have tutorials, let’s say, your product name or API name, Awesome API, or whatever that is, Awesome API 101, A Beginner Guide, Getting Started. If you have a library, you don’t wanna write about that, too, because many times, you have APIs, let’s say, REST APIs, and you do provide libraries as well, but many times that’s not discovered by devs because they are only REST API documentation. They might not even know you have awesome libraries, so you’ve gotta write about that, too. And if you are advocating like JSUI Framework, yep, a to-do app. This is something like a quasi-standard, you know, demo apps to create, so you’ve gotta write about it, too. And the tips and tricks and best practices always works.

So this is an actual example I did at my previous company, Nexmo. So I wrote this article about two-factor authentication, but it’s not about high-level article, it’s about exactly like step-by-step tutorial, how to add two-factor authentication to your app. Or in my former companies, I wrote this best practice guide. I have to go quick because I have too many slides.

And even better, like step four, you wanna make your docs and tutorials really creative. And it’s something like you… So I’ve done a lot of creative projects with myself and my teammates, and they are that actual example. And yeah, like a “Call Alexa from Phone.” I don’t know if Sam’s here, but he did this, and Lizzy’s over there for, like, ”Gotta Get’em All! Pokemon Realtime Mapping.”

So to get all those creative project, many times when I was running my own team, I did brainstorming. I used to be working on a design team, too, so I kinda adopted this product designing way into the DevRel, too. So I did this brainstorming. It looks like a just a bunch of post-it, but it actually helped us a lot to, you know, make creative stuff. So I even invited people who don’t code. It doesn’t matter, just get them in the room, give them the craziest ideas possible, it doesn’t have to be crazy, practical is good, a lot of ideas. So I usually do it in two parts, one part just get ideas. I don’t care if it’s feasible or not, just get whatever ideas. And then in part two, we can always categorize and sort them out and see if it’s feasible, or how do we apply to our own products’ APIs. You know, if they are not using their own product or APIs, that’s cool, maybe we can keep it for aside because we can still write about it someday, but let’s just focus.

So we get a lot of ideas, and some project types are like purely fun, you know, like a Pokemon IoT cat camera, and something I actually did. And that was interesting because I eventually made it into a slide deck and I started speaking about it in various JavaScript communities and it resulted I actually spoke about my cat in all over the world. That was kind of cool. It’s funny. I’m not using cat photos in today’s slide deck at all, except emoji, it’s actually rare for me.

And our targeting ecosystem, it’s a really important thing, actually, just communicate. So it could be a programming language, it could be a platform like mobile, and frameworks, hardware, and it could be like Alexa or Watson. You know, we can always combine your funkiest project with certain technology in the community so everybody loves to know about it.

And this is something I’ve actually done using Twitter Twitter Firehose to create this…the data visualization. And that was one of the popular project I’ve done. A lot of people liked that, I got a lot of comments.

And another thing is like the Internet of Things. This is like a 101 tutorial, but since the company was not actually selling Raspberry Pi or anything like that, so this was more like a fun project side. And we’ve got a lot of communities like Raspberry Pi, that tweeted about us, and that was really…it drove in a lot of traffic to the site.

And I did at Nexmo, I worked with IBM guys, and I did this project in, too. And this one, instead of just writing up, because it’s quite a complicated setup, I created a screencast. So using multimedia is always helpful, people. But it’s not everybody likes to read, so your docs and, you know, contents doesn’t have to be just all written, you can always create videos.

And this is my newest project at Slack. So I’ll try to publish this soon, maybe this week or next week or so. So I’m using this TJBot I got given by IBM Watson team, this little robot is reading your Slack messages and analyzing emotion. So in a message there, I say, “Ugh, I’m so pissed off.” So Watson is analyzing I’m upset so I get a red light. It’s a fun little project.

Okay. So okay, I’ve been doing loads of fun stuff, then one time I got in trouble. This was an actual argument, and it’s somebody from marketing, it’s not…a few companies ago. Pokemon is not what we try to, you know, attract big companies, enterprise. It doesn’t make us money. So I was like, “No. We’re not trying to advocate Pokemon here at all, you know, of course. We’ll try to get…you know, give developers some ideas.” I mean, of course, developers out there are not stupid. If this is something like this, you know, like plotting where the Pikachu is in location. If you’re working in some companies, like a cab like Lyft, oh a pizza delivery, or whatever, they get the ideas. Yeah, okay, we can track our delivery truck with the same method. So this is exactly what we try to advocate, not Pikachu. So of course, it works, you know. And the thing is, “Notice me, senpai.” In case you don’t know this, like, anime meme. So in this case, senpai is really not senpai, it’s developers. So especially if you work in companies like start-ups, that no one knows about you or your product, this is important because no matter how great your content is, if people don’t know about you, that’s sad. So yeah, how, you know, how do we get attention from people? No one knows us.

So this is a strategy I got, piggybacking of big players. We actually did it quite well. So partner with other companies, of course, you can always work with your excellent DevRel. Not DevRel, I meant the business person in a company to just get partnership. Oh, of course, here look. Everybody here, it’s like DevRel, make friend, and just cross-post to each other. So friendship is always great, you know. Or you can just apply to be an author. So somebody like “Smashing Magazine” and, actually I got my author by myself just by applying. Or if it’s none of the above is really applicable for you, you can always pay, you know, sponsorship. You know, those big players are happy to take your money to publish for you like “Smashing Magazine” does that to the press, Scotch, they all do that. So just do it.

So again, this is the same screenshot I showed you earlier. And this, it’s something I did with Twitter. And I actually didn’t work at Twitter, so that time I worked at a company called PubNub, and no one knew about us. So you know, we asked DevRel peeps and Twitter, ”Please post this for me,” I mean, “for us.” So this is really relevant to their APIs because of the way we’re using their Firehose and using, that time, PubNub API to make this interesting stuff, you know, it’s visualizing, you know… So this was more like a pseudo emotion analysis, not like Watson, like smarter like Watson. But it really attracted the D3 community because that time, or still now, you know, JavaScript D3 community is quite huge, so they’re really happy to see this. And this U.S. mapping here is actually done with JSON, actually it’s GeoJSON, and it worked with D3. So not just the Twitter community, we’ve got D3 communities, you know, all get attention, so it worked out quite well.

And another thing. So this was something I created a video because I wanted to show how to use a micro controller, and I want to talk a little bit about physics, too. So I figured that maybe making just video tutorials are better than just writing up. And Arduino loved that. So they featured us. So that hand is my hand. They featured my stuff on their blog site. And the cool thing is when we are working with bigger players or, you know, companies’ open source project that has a huge community, when they tweet about us, they get more RTs and more faves, it’s something that you can’t really achieve on our own. Like, let’s say, the last company, like at Nexmo, I don’t know how many followers I got, but quite small, to be honest, like a few thousand or so. We can’t get like 41 faves…or actually we got a bigger number because they posted a few times. So it was really a great result for us and I get a lot of traffic, interaction, more people actually start following our own Twitter accounts, too.

And yeah, friendship is magic. So this is actually my own article on Dev.Opera because I had a friend, Andreas, he was working at Opera that time. And we met, actually, through a W3C because I used to be a part of the standard body, too. So we were kinda chatting about the project we can do, so. Although the company at the time he was working, it’s creating…I mean, providing proprietary technology, it was nothing to do with web standard. But, of course, I can make it work with the web standard, then Opera was happy to have the article listed there, so they did.

And even better, friendship is magic. In Russian, I wish I know how to say it in Russian. So a great thing about this is this article is available on GitHub, so it’s open source and under a Creative Commons license, it means that anybody can just jump on and modify or edit and translate. So that’s the best part. So that way, we can reach more people globally, you know, globally. So in this case, in Russia.

And I myself speak Japanese, speak and write Japanese fluently. I mean, it’s my native language, actually. So why not taking advantage of it? So I had this Polymer blog before, but I translated it by myself and published in Japanese media, so we reached more people in Japan. Especially in Japan, they don’t read any articles in English unless they’re, you know, really comfortable with. But the number of people who speak English there, it’s really low so then you need a really different strategy to, you know, go into their market. So in this case, I totally took advantage of that.

And I go social, obviously. I already mentioned about Twitter. So this talk is not about social media, so I’m not gonna go over it too much. But, obviously, when you are tweeting about your blog and the company blog, you wanna use a card because, you know, a bigger picture gets more attention.

So yeah, it’s…yeah, it’s so meta. Just don’t forget to use a meta tag. And the one above is for a Twitter card, and the bottom is Facebook, an Open Graph Data. You probably need to add a few more lines to get to Google and everything, too. So SEO, it’s something. Yeah, yeah, it sounds sketchy and everything but, you know, you’ve got to care about SEO a lot, and social media, it’s the same way.

And of course, you have to focus on developer-focused social media. I think Grace was talking about it, and Jenn and Anil were talking about Glitch. So you can always look for some people, you know, developers out there using your product, wondering about stuff on, you know, Stack Overflow. You can always answer the question or link to your articles. And a Google+ might not be so popular here in the U.S. but in some nations, it’s actually popular and you can always check out their communities, like Node.js communities or… There’s so many different communities out there, so you can always post your stuff. And write it in “Hacker News.” And then a lot of newsletters take submissions, too. And if you are, you know, in relevant groups in Slack, of course, just share your articles, share tutorials, content. And then not just the articles and content, more like code samples and demo. Of course, use Code Bank for the front end stuff, or use Glitch. So you can host the whole thing. That’s really great. I’ve tried this, and it really have a growing community out there, so it’s really quite interesting. And if you have some hardware stuff, you can use something like They have a really great interface, great communities as well. So just take advantage of using those, guys.

So yeah, I think I’m running out of time, and this is my, actually, last slide. So this is a summary of what I’ve just talked about. And sorry I go really quick, like fast because initially when I created my talk, I had on like 35 minutes talk or so, so I had to really shorten so I go quick. So thank you so much and I’m gonna put my slide in a slide show later, so, and this is Creative Commons, too. Thank you so much.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.