Developer relations needs to grow up


Ha ha! Business

The past few years have been good for developer relations. Twilio, masters of developer evangelism, gained 92% value on the day of IPO. Job vacancies are cropping up around the world. VCs tweeting “who are the best evangelists in $LOCATION?” lead, almost monthly, to effusive recommendations and bashful thanks.

We have recognition. We have respect; mostly. But still, developer relations has a reputation for indiscriminate spending and hard to measure results.

So, how do we go from being “those folks who travel and get drunk with developers” to becoming an established part of business practice?

Start with strategy

Too much devrel borrows wholesale from what others have done. It’s not enough to take what worked for another company and repeat it.

To be effective, and to be taken seriously, devrel teams must create their own strategies that work towards the overall company strategy. Part of that involves borrowing heavily from marketing: segment your developer audience, understand what motivates them, set measurable objectives, build a strategic programme that works towards those objectives.

Be accountable

Once your devrel strategy is in place, and playing its part in the broader company strategy, then it becomes clear what is important to measure.

At that point, you can stop worrying about how many tweet selfies your team has posted at different events (replace this with whatever dreadful activity-based vanity metric you’ve had to follow in the past) and instead provide meaningful justification for your budget and headcount.

Promote with care

It’s too easy to promote people into positions they’re not ready for. There aren’t yet enough experienced devrel people to fill all the leadership positions necessary. Promoting on talent, rather than experience, can be really great for rapid career development but it’s also down to all of us to support those people who suddenly find themselves running a large budget for a strategically important programme but without having yet made the mistakes they need to learn from.

It’s also worth considering whether a really great evangelist is going to be the best leader. Do you want your star advocate to be stuck in the office tending to spreadsheets? Or do you want a strategist to set the tone that lets your star evangelists be truly effective?

It’s not a bubble, but it could be

It’s an exciting time to be in developer relations. Our field has grown and now is our chance to make sure that we approach it with the thought, structure and accountability that will make developer relations an established part of business practice.

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