Building “Community First” Developer Relations practice

Uttam Tripathi
Feb 13 · 4 min read

2nd Nov 2011, 23:00 hrs — Kempegowda International Airport Bengaluru (India): Mild winters in Bengaluru had set in. I still remember this flight I took to Hyderabad for two reasons. This was one of the most unusual flights of my life, I was booked on Kingfisher Airlines (an airline which was on the verge of going out of business) and on the ATR-72 aircraft that evening I was the only passenger (along with the total crew of 4). I had never before flown on an empty aircraft like that, though I was relieved the flight did operate and I didn’t miss my appointments for the next day. This brings me to the second reason I still remember that evening: the next day I was interviewing with Google for its first ever India based Program Manager, Developer Relations Role. I was both nervous and excited, nervous as I was getting ready to fly into the unknown and excited because as always I was up for the challenge.

After working at Amazon and Booz & Co, I took the plunge of picking a role in a new area — Developer Relations. That was the beginning of my journey to work with Developers which has transformed into a passion and continues unabated till today!

Over the next several years I had the opportunity of working with developers on the ground in many key markets including North America, India, South East Asia, Turkey and many others. One thing that has stayed consistent over all these years in the approach is how can we build & scale Developer Relations programs that keep Community on center stage and focus on developer success.

Over the years this has led to emergence and growth of programs like Google Developer Groups, Google Business Groups, Developer Student Clubs& Women Techmakers etc. with more than 1000 active chapters in over 120 countries engaging with over 1Mn developers every year.

Through this 4 post blog series I’m going to share some key lessons I learnt on this journey, a journey during which we made several mistakes too. If you are building or running a Developer Relations organization you may find some of these learnings useful.

There are three key learnings that I would like to share:

Community First Approach: While working with developer communities & community leaders it is critical that one focuses on keeping the need of the Community First. For any developer platform company, if the developers and community building on your platform are successful that would automatically follow with success for your platform and your company. Going for short term revenue focused goals while engaging with the community should be avoided. Instead, the litmus test to be used for every key strategic decision, new initiative should be “Does this decision put Community First”

Feedback is a gift: While all DevRel organizations focus on outbound outreach and advocacy, the more successful ones focus on two-way advocacy where inbound advocacy is as important as outbound outreach. Through inbound advocacy, top feedback, feature requests and pain points from the community should be regularly collected and shared with the Product teams. With feedback, it is also critical to close the loop. A person who gave a piece of feedback should know what happened with their feedback and how was it used. That makes them feel heard and keeps them motivated to continue to share more meaningful feedback in the future.

Diverse & Inclusive communities: There are psychological studies concluding that we as humans have the natural tendency of liking people who are like us. This means surrounding ourselves with people of diverse opinions, background, upbringing etc. sometimes may take some extra effort. However from my experience of working with developers communities over the last several years, I can say it’s not just the right thing to do, it makes a lot of business sense to do this too. Your community leaders should be a good representation of your overall users and therefore must be as diverse as possible. Only then you would be able to understand all the various use cases for your users and solve/optimize for them.

Diversity is like inviting someone to the party and inclusion is making sure they feel welcome. They both go hand in hand and to ensure folks in your community feel welcome you can publish a Community Code of Conduct (Example: Google has this policy for attendees of it’s developer events). Women Techmakers is also a good example of a program where some of these practices are put in action.

There is a reason the word “Relations” exists in Developer Relations, just like any other relationship it takes years to build trust with your developer community but just a few actions to lose it. As practitioners of this craft of DevRel it is important we keep this mind. Focusing on Developer Success and Community First is the freeway to success for your developer platform

In next three posts I’ll be covering each of these areas (i.e. Community First, Feedback and Diversity & Inclusion) in greater details while covering Dos and Don’ts and what is takes to build a vibrant and thriving developer community ecosystem while following these principles.

Uttam Tripathi
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