Lessons learned from a regional developer relations journey


Peter Chittum

Peter Chittum

Salesforce’s Peter Chittum shares how their EMEA developer relations programme has served the needs of developers, and other technologists, in their region while forming part of their global programme.


Peter: Full disclosure, I’ve not prepared a talk on the journey that I’ve had in communities until Monday night I started. But I figured when Chrissy asked me, I’ve been at this for about ten years at Salesforce. Community was one of things that drew me into the world of developer relations. And so I thought after ten years doing this in a regional role mostly, maybe I would have a few stories to tell and some insights to learn so I hope everybody benefits a little bit from this.

My name is Peter Chittum, I’m Senior Director of Developer Relations at Salesforce, there’s my Twitter, there is my email address. And there are lots of characters which is a thing we do at Salesforce. I’m gonna try and set a little bit of content about our community really quickly at the beginning here. While I work in developer relations, our community really spans three main audiences and that is our developers, what we call our Salesforce Administrators and our architects and it’s almost impossible to separate them. Although at one point in time we did have a separate developer communities team, we finally saw the light and merged all of those into one community management function.

We as developer relations are a stakeholder and a partner with our community management team, they come to us as experts in the audience and we go to them to for help with processes and make sure we’re doing things that align to the community management process at Salesforce. So while this is a developer relations conference I will be talking about community more broadly at Salesforce in some contexts. So really quickly we have 1300 groups in over 85 countries, we have a MVP program. I wish there was one slide that I could do this with but given the short time frame I just had to pull the slides that we had about this.

We have a MVP program to recognize our community leaders in the community. We have about 30 community conferences across the world. We have some online communities as well. One of those is a Q&A board and another one is called Idea Exchange. In fact, Idea Exchange was one of the things we launched with our community. It’s a way for our community to give us suggestions for how we can change our product. The reality is we have an organization that does community management but the reality, and I think this is true with all communities is that, at least for us anyway, maybe it’s not all communities, but for us, the community organized themselves. They decided that they wanted to get together and have meetups and meet online and all that we did was recognize what was going on and put a set of processes in place to enable them, to empower them, and to make things easier for them as a community. And I’m blown away often times.

This is a tweet of a couple of folks who got tattoos of the Salesforce cloud, so it shows you a little bit, they go deep. In addition to the stuff that we organize and the processes that we have, the community has a whole bunch of organic places that they have built, that they need, including some online communities, there’s podcasts, there’s in person events that they do, where we have no involvement in the organization of these, we sit back and watch and be amazed. And certainly we recognize and talk about them and recognize the leaders of those communities. And just to call out one, the podcast there that’s called “Good Day Sir,” if you’ve ever caught the end of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, that’s where that line’s from. This is a podcast of two long time Salesforce developers. And then they’ve also created a Slack community that is one of the more active communities for developers out there, which I also participate in.

We’ve had a 13 year journey, so it’s not like this thing happened over night. We started, as I said, with that Idea Exchange and some discussion boards and it has transformed over those 13 years. So that’s a very high level overview, just to set some context. And then what I thought I would do is share a few of the lessons that I’ve learned being a part of the community and being somebody who enables the community in what I do. And actually that’s the first lesson which is, if you are going to built a community, don’t see it as something separate, be a part of it. And here I can share a little bit more about my background, I had worked in enterprise software for about ten years, when I joined Salesforce, honestly, they were the first company that came along that could sort out a visa problem with me here living in the US as only a US citizen at the time, now I’ve managed to become a dual citizen. They worked out my visa problem which was great, there were a couple of other companies that didn’t. But I immediately was blown away by the technology I was working with, which I think all of us who work in developer relations, hopefully we feel some passion about the technology that we’re using. And very soon after that is when I first encountered our community and realized just how passionate that was and I’ve never seen anything like that in the enterprise software space and it really drew me in.

That was about 2010. At the time I was working as an instructor for our training program, I continued to connect with the community, certainly in some of the online ways, I never went to a local developer group, but then I didn’t actually know they existed. And then I started looking around for some other work and in 2013, is when I realized that we had developer relations at Salesforce, Salesforce being a big enough company that, yes, you can not even know that developer relations exists. And that’s really where I dove with in with two feet so in addition to getting active in the local community, starting to get active in some of the other developer groups across EMEA. I also started to get involved in some of the online communities a bit more. We call this The Trailblazer community, up on the upper left hand side and then this is the community run Stack Exchange that we have, so we’re not involved in it at all but our community got together and made a Stack Exchange happen for Salesforce. And what’s been great about that is presence I think in the local community has built trust so it’s nice to know that I can show up and people have some degree of trust of what I can share with them. But being active in the online community I think also magnified that. I think the thing that I would say to anybody who is new or just starting your community, and that’s simply be present, be present as a maybe of the community, give back as if you’re a member of the community, and I think that is gonna build trust with the community. Seeing myself as part of the community, I think also helped me come to them very much, seeing myself as a peer with the people in the community as well.

I want to tell little bit of a story now. As I said, the community at Salesforce crosses several audiences. One of which is the Salesforce administrator and I would call this one of the technical practitioners of Salesforce. But they are not coders, they know all of the right buttons to click and tick boxes to tick and drop down list values to change so that they create new functionality in Salesforce without writing code. Back when I started in developer relations, there was a London user group. This London user group was actually run by Salesforce and what had happened is the community had become disaffected with this, it’s not that they didn’t appreciate it but it didn’t belong to them, they didn’t see it as belonging to them, they saw it as another Salesforce marketing activity. While it did add some kind of value, it didn’t have the value of community giving back to community that they wanted.

And at the time, we didn’t really have a way to organize an admin group. We had users groups, we had developer groups and that was pretty much it. A group of people from the community came to us locally, in the developer relations team and said, “We’re admins but we wanna run “something more like a developer group.” And there was some discussion with our headquarters, we looked around and we stood back and said, “We don’t have a process for this right now, “but please go do it,” and they did. And it was amazing to see the response because pretty much immediately they were getting crowds as big as the London developer group, there was a huge amount of momentum and what that meant is that we at Salesforce had to turn around and pay attention because obviously community was telling us about something that they needed. And what’s been amazing to see is the transformation of, in some ways you can say this was the beginning of admins as their own audience. And since that time, we’ve added people, we actually added a whole function that sits in the same organization as developer relations called admin relations.

There are admin evangelists now, there’s admin marketing and they look a lot and behave a lot like developer relations, but they’re focused on this audience specifically. So it’s been great because they came up, they told us what they needed and we realized that we actually needed to doing something a little bit different. So listen to your community, ’cause they know what they need and they can teach you how to support them. Another thing that I found really useful is as a small developer relations team in the region, when I first started there were three of us, there was the boss and there were two developer evangelists and we had a contractor as well who was helping us as program management. We wanted to do events but we didn’t really have enough people to make those happen and while we do rely on other technical experts at Salesforce to help support these, we really didn’t quite have enough. One of the things that I did was start to reach out to the community, we wanted to run an event, the community had told us that they want developer events so what we did was we went to some of the more active members of the community, we talked to developer group leaders, and we found that there was some people that would more than happy to participate as experts at these events.

We ran an event, this was in 2013, this about four months after I started in developer relations. And it was amazing to see this come into existence where we didn’t have enough resources to run our own developer day, but as we went out to the community and asked for help, the people who could be those experts, who could take the materials that we’d already created as workshop materials and run with them, they could be a part of that. We did have the two developer evangelists participate in that but we also had about four community members that were also teaching as part of that workshop. I think this is one the things that we all can recognize as one of the values of community which is that they themselves are your evangelists. And I think this is something that needs to be treated very carefully, certainly, we always take this very much as a volunteer only, we present the opportunities and when people can help, we welcome them to help. But it’s amazing to hear other people who aren’t paid to do it share the passion that you share with the technology that you use.

One of things that happened as we went along here, I mentioned that at one point there was a separate developer community team and then there was the community team. There were some major changes that happened in Salesforce right here in 2017 and what had happened is in 2014, we launched this thing called Trailhead, Trailhead is our online learning platform. And while we launched it really as a developer learning tool, that was the whole purpose, we designed it so that you can use Salesforce’s APIs to say changes that you had made and then tell you that you did them correctly or incorrectly. It became much bigger than that. In fact, you could say that it took over the whole company. You can’t go anywhere today, at any Salesforce event and not see something related to Trailhead so it’s become much more than developer training. It is everything training from developers, admins, architects, there’s things in there on diversity and inclusion, we’ve had things that are more business related, so it’s a great resource. But since it took over the company, what happened is that the company started to realize that there was a community that they hadn’t been aware of. We started doing things like telling Trailblazer stories, highlighting members in the community who had enabled themselves to, or enabled their careers using Trailhead in the Salesforce ecosystem. What this meant is that we started to have conversations with people who had never interacted with community as community before. And when you talk to a marketer and show them that you have somebody’s who’s a brand advocate who will do it for free, that starts to look like a resource to them.

One of the things that, as a regional team, we have been actively involved in is helping set the context for our regional marketing and sales teams as to what the value of community is and how not to, let’s call it, over leverage the value of community. In other words see them for what they bring to each other, certainly you can’t deny the value that that has to us as a company but to not take advantage of that as well. This has been a big part of our job I’d say, especially in the last two years since 2017, which is contextualizing for marketing, for sales, what does it mean to interact with the community? What does it mean to involve them, to celebrate them, to enable them, but not to make it so it feels like we’re using them? The last thing that I think is really valuable as a region team is amplifying the local voice. And what I mean by that is we have all of our community managers for the Trailblazer community sitting in San Francisco and they do an amazing job of staying connect with the community at a macro level, they certainly are connected with certain members of the community, anybody who’s entered into being a community group leader, anybody who’s entered the MVP program, there are a couple of other ways that people become recognized in the community. And they certainly have a sense of who those people are, but I think where we as a regional team add extra value is where we encounter community either face to face or online and we can raise up to them things that they don’t see.

This is one of the recent ways that this has happened but this is by no means the only example. This gentleman is Houssam Saoudy, he runs the developer group in Casablanca in Morocco. And as a regional developer relations team, we had looked long and hard at what was going on in Africa and it was hard for us to see activity that we saw meant that we should going there in person, interacting with them, so we left it as let’s support them, let’s let the community team support them with the resources that they have, and then we’ll see. But this last January, we were organizing a tour based on a new framework that we had launched and we realized that this developer group had actually one of the biggest swag orders of all of the developer groups for this tour. That tipped us off that there might be something going on here. So we reached out, connected and it turned out that I was the one who got to go down and bring this part of the tour to Morocco. And what I hadn’t realized is that in the last two years since probably the last time we really looked closely at Morocco, it had grown, they had been doing regular meet ups. They had had six meet ups in 2018. And it allowed us to see something that was going on that we weren’t aware of and to raise this up to the community team.

By going and visiting, Houssam, you could say, went a bit crazy in a really really good way. He was already going and doing workshops at universities, he was taking developer groups to other cities in Morocco, and he got recognized really quickly as an MVP ’cause we hadn’t seen what he’d been doing. And then he started traveling to other countries. He managed to go Dakar and lead a developer group there. And it really also I think helped energize him to organize the first community conference for Salesforce developers in Africa. What was super satisfying and also I think a really good testament to the value of a regional team was that we were able to encounter, interact with, and then make visible this aspect of our community that hadn’t been already, which, as you can imagine, with 1300 plus user groups, it’s really easy for certain parts of the community to get lost in that mass of user groups. This is my last lesson learned which is that as a regional developer relations team, we can help our headquarters see what they can’t see and it’s been great. I feel like I’ve been able to bring a lot of value as a regional team. as a regional developer evangelist. I feel like one of the places where I most bring value is in enabling and shining the spotlight on our community.

Those are my lessons learned. I hope you enjoyed this, thanks very much again, especially for, what was that, about a 48 turnaround time on preparation. I really enjoyed being able to come up here and share a few of the stories that I’ve had as a developer evangelist so thanks.

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