July 15, 2022
DevRelCon founder and CEO of Hoopy, the content agency for the developer economy.
Building a developer relations program from scratch is a daunting prospect. Especially when you’re already happily established in a supportive team elsewhere. But the chance to “do it right” is one that many DevRel people would love to have.
For Michael Jolley, joining Deepgram to launch their DevRel program happened almost by accident. With no intention of leaving his role at Vonage, Michael began chatting informally with Deepgram co-founder Scott Stephenson about developer relations practice. Over time, it became clear that Deepgram’s leadership and Michael shared a similar vision for how best to serve developers. And the opportunity to design and lead Deepgram’s developer relations program was too great to resist.
Michael’s vision for DevRel is clear: help developers and, when they’re ready for your product, you’ll be top of mind.
That means putting aside metrics such as inbound web traffic or product sign-ups.
“Measuring against activations isn’t what we’re about. Matter of fact, I told Scott that 75% of our DevRel output wouldn’t even be about Deepgram directly. Instead, our intent would be just to help developers.”
That’s not to say DevRel at Deepgram goes unmeasured. But to understand how measurement works for Deepgram’s DevRel program it helps to know how Deepgram came to be.
Deepgram’s origin story is somewhat unconventional for a tech start-up. As research physicists, the Deepgram founders were undergound in China measuring dark matter. And they generated a lot data. So much that they applied machine learning techniques for analysis.
Similarly, they made notes about their work. Lots of notes. Underground, in the dark, voice notes were the only practical way. When it came to transcribe them, they found the accurecy of traditional speech to text tools frustrating. But this gave them to opportunity to notice a similarity between their dark matter data and their speech audio. Both were waves. What if they need applied their dark matter AI to speech to text? And, so, Deepgram was born.
Michael believes that having an executive team of scientists has given Deepgram a culture of experimentation.
“Luckily, we have the freedom to experiment. Our executive team’s approach is very much, ‘Let’s put in money. Let’s experiment. If it fails, that’s okay. We learned. Let’s move on to the next experiment. Can we tweak it and make it better?'”
Another element of the supportive culture at Deepgram is the understanding that developer relations can be longer than those of traditional marketing.
“Every book you read about developer relations, I feel like the first five chapters are how to get buy-in, how to prove your worth, how to get your stakeholders invested in what you’re doing. And I feel like I have to skip all of those chapters in all the books every time, because from day one, every department I’ve worked in has been so supportive, and wants to amplify what we’re doing.
“At Deepgram, I have buy-in, and they understand it’s a long-term game. And it helps that Scott, our CEO, and I are aligned on our approach of helping developers in order that we build an authentic relationship with them.”
Today, six people report to Michael with half focusing on developer experience and the other half on developer advocacy. However, the divide isn’t perhaps quite so clear cut.
“Although we have a dedicated developer experience group, in fact everything we do is developer experience. Developer experience is not just the documentation, the sign-up flow, the API reference. If we had a Discord, that would be just as much a part of the developer experience. When one of our colleagues in customer success receives a support request, how we handle that is also an element of the developer experience. For all of these touchpoints, we want to make it a pleasant interaction for developers using
For Michael, there’s a difference between building a community and working with the community that you have already.
“You have a community whether you know it or not, and your community is made up of at least your customers. Now, they may not interact with each other. I don’t talk to all the neighbours in my neighbourhood, but we’re still in a community together. In some cases, I’m sure it’s not.
“It’s really easy to set up a Slack or a Discord just because, well, everybody is doing it. But nine times out of ten, they turn into either ghost towns or support forums.
“So, then the question becomes one of how that community interacts. And is the community better as a result of that interaction?”
Rather than rushing into creating their own community space and process, the Deepgram team is focusing on supporting other developer communities, for now.
“Until some day we have a strong idea of why someone should want to join our community, we don’t wanna’ start one. We would much rather support other communities. For example, there are YouTube learning channels where communities form amongst the viewers and we can support those not by advertising Deepgram but by helping them to learn by sharing what we we’ve learned.”
The next twelve months for the Deepgram team is all about rethinking what developer relations and developer experience mean for their particular situation.
“So, we have docs, we have an API ref, we have a blog, but we’ve got some ideas for those things that are just, I think, next level. Why is it that all API reference documentation looks the same? Is the current way everyone does the best possible way?
“There’s gonna be a big shift in the next 12 months on all of our documentation, and the experience of onboarding. Not even just with the docs, but also the flow when you sign-up. What kind of guided process can we do to take you through that aha moment of, ‘Oh, crap, I can do that with speech to text? I thought it was just, like, transcription in a Zoom call.'”
The team will also look at solidifying their approach to community and look to understand how they can best use events to build awareness and serve developers.
“We’re still really new. Our first hire outside of me was in Q4 of last year. So, the whole team is less than six months old. And we’re discovering what DevRel means at Deepgram. And fortunately, we have complete support to do that.
“So, yeah, it’s going to be a year of discovery.”