Can effective developer advocacy supercharge adoption and promote progress in the tech space?
Getting developer buy-in for a new product or project can be challenging, but an effective and joined up approach to developer advocacy can help pave the way to speedy adoption. Here’s why you should take developer advocacy seriously.
What is developer advocacy?
Today, developer advocacy is an important function within many tech companies, particularly those that provide platforms, tools, or services to developers.
Developer advocacy is a strategy that involves building strong relationships with external developers to encourage new ideas, feedback, and support for a company’s product.
This is a function that falls under the wider umbrella of developer relations, handling everything involving internal and external developer relations. Developer advocates work closely with the developer community to understand their needs, preferences, and pain points. Using this information they look for ways in which to improve the developer experience of their products. In addition to this, developer advocates also provide support, education, and resources for developers using the company’s products and services.
Developer advocacy in action
The dawn of Android
In the early 2000s, a group of developers decided to take on the mobile phone industry and its gatekeepers by developing an open-source mobile phone operating system called Android.
Google soon recognized its potential and acquired Android, after which the Google Play store was launched. This new feature allowed developers to more easily build and monetize applications. Android also decided to support multiple devices and form factors. As it was designed to run on a wide range of devices, from low-end budget devices to high-end flagship smartphones, its flexibility helped to drive the adoption of the platform.
Developers were now turning into entrepreneurs and key decision-makers. They weren’t just building products that they were asked to by their senior management teams, but were able to take innovation into their own hands.
Google had fulfilled a longstanding demand of the developer community by providing a comprehensive platform that facilitates both development and shipment. This eliminated the need for developers to rely on multiple applications and platforms to market their products. The success of Android serves as a prime example for numerous developer tools and their respective developer relations teams in realizing consumer-driven products and building features that the customer truly wants.
Today, Android is the world’s most popular mobile operating system, with more than two billion active devices worldwide.
In 2021, serial entrepreneurs and brothers Jaime Morgan Hitchcock and Tobie Morgan Hitchcock decided to open-source a database they had been working on for several years, called SurrealDB (I currently work for SurrealDB).
In a couple of months, developer chatter about SurrealDB had spread across Indie Hackers, Github, Hacker News, and Reddit. Soon after, developers started contributing to the product and suggesting features.
Developers started building on top of SurrealDB, alongside the founding team. Libraries, documentation, and playgrounds were being introduced through community efforts. Building these features internally would have resulted in a completely different growth path for the company, but things skyrocketed because of the strong relationship the product had with developers.
So what do Google and SurrealDB have in common? Strong relationships with their developers.
Different areas of focus under developer relations
If you thought developer advocacy handled everything that concerned the users of your favorite tool, I am glad to tell you that it is only the tip of the iceberg.
Developer communities are a breeding ground for innovation and organizations try to be well-equipped to manage these communities. There are multiple teams or people leading different requirements of the community. That said, developer relations encompass a variety of areas that have a significant impact on business and product success. The key areas of focus are:
- Community building and management: this includes organizing events, building online communities, and fostering engagement and collaboration among developers. A strong developer community can help increase the adoption of a product and promote brand loyalty.
- Developer education: developer education is all about providing developers with the resources and training they need to succeed with a product or technology. This includes creating documentation, tutorials, and other resources that help developers get started and learn best practices.
- Technical evangelism: technical evangelism involves promoting a product or technology to a broader audience, including developers, industry influencers, and potential customers. This includes creating marketing materials, conducting webinars, and producing content that educates and inspires.
- Developer experience: the developer experience is all about creating a positive environment for developers who use a product or technology. This includes designing user-friendly application programming interfaces (APIs), creating effective documentation, and building easy-to-use developer tools.
The developer relations team needs to work closely with the product, engineering, and marketing teams of the company.
Think about how frustrating it is to enter a hotel room and being confused about how the shower works, which button turns on which light, and how you can get some hot water running. I’m sure we’ve all been there. Some hotels will help you navigate and understand how things work with a manual.
Similarly, the “getting started” experience of any developer tool is a crucial step towards converting users into customers. The distance between awareness and adoption of your product is based on how easy is it for the user to understand your product’s biggest offering, what differentiates it from its competitors, and how to use it. Normally, companies include short “getting started” guides in form of blogs and videos. These help users understand what they can expect from the product and how they can achieve what they’re trying to solve with it.
Developer advocacy uses different strategies to make sure the developer experience stays top-notch and stops churn. Managing churn isn’t a direct goal of the DevRel team but it is supposed to be an implicit goal. Faster time to market is driven by a better developer experience, thus helping your customers get an edge over their competition. This approach can help small companies overtake highly-funded competitors.
It is the responsibility of the developer relations team to steer the community towards the ethical use of the product and make the community aware of any possible pitfalls.
For example, it is interesting to see how the OpenAI team handles their APIs and ethical usage as interest in its products grows. This is especially true as AI-generated content and its ownership will be important topics of discussion for the tech world in the coming future. It would be the job of developer advocates to educate industry members about the potential and pitfalls of OpenAI’s products.
Collaborations and integrations
A big part of the developer advocacy strategy involves partnering and collaborating with different products, communities, and individuals. The motive behind these collaborations being:
- Reaching a bigger audience.
- Entering a new market space.
- Providing tailored solutions to the audience using other products.
- Discovering new use cases and business opportunities.
Collaboration happens on multiple fronts. The most obvious ones are integrations with frameworks and existing libraries as there is a higher chance of developers using your product if it’s compatible and extendable with their favorite framework.
Take Notion, a popular piece of productivity software which introduced plugins and integrations with multiple products early in its lifecycle. Want to embed a video in your document? The Loom plugin helps you add a video to your Notion doc. Want to embed a tweet? Sure! And now, with the whole world being obsessed with AI assistants, they moved quickly and rolled out their own.
Product integrations are the route to staying relevant in the community and being part of newer innovations.
The future of developer advocacy
Today, every developer-centric product aims to have a developer relations team and make sure they cater to the needs of the wider community. While it is still considered a new field in tech, it’s one that is here to stay.
Developer advocacy is a unique role that requires professionals to have a blend of qualities like behavioral analysis, programming, product management, marketing, content creation, public speaking, blogging, event management, networking, and lots of empathy.
Many have argued that with the rise of AI assistants, developer advocacy would be delegated and outsourced to AI. But with new products on the horizon and the industry advancing at pace, this job is only going to get more creative and lucrative. If you think you have a creative developer eye, there isn’t a better time to enter this field.