It’s 9 p.m. at night and I’m three videos into a tutorial on how to integrate into Google Assistant. I have been on a bender, sifting through as many docs, videos and written tutorials as I can find online. I look at my watch again and it’s midnight. I haven’t made much progress, but I won’t give up. I need to finish this. This is typically how developers learn, or rather, try to learn. It’s not an ideal state of affairs but, somehow, many of us still find ourselves down the documentation and tutorial rabbit hole.
All this is taken into consideration as I work on developing content that, I hope, resonates with developers. People learn in different ways and we can’t take that from them. Some learn better during lecture-style videos and tutorials while others may find reading a 400-page full-on assault on a framework compiled into a book worth their time. All the same, information is passed on. The question that beckons, however, boils down to: what undercuts all these various modes of learning? And what approach can we take to help us reach these varying demographics of learners?
I seem to be raising more questions than I can answer, but asking these questions will open up new doors that will help us reach developers. According to Accenture’s Developer survey from 2018, 78% of developers who participated in the survey placed education as their number one need from dev-centric companies. Knowing this, how can we use this to our advantage to make sure that we provide the most value to developers while making sure we’re getting the most from them as well? It’s simple. We need to think about how we can educate developers and provide meaningful interactions that help drive traction for the businesses we work for.
One of the most crucial aspects of developer education lies in how we do our documentation and tutorials as companies. Developing an experience that is tailored to making sure that developers are engaging rather than just consuming your content is essential. Consumption guarantees lower levels of conversion compared to engagement. To encourage engagement, it helps to answer some important questions that the developer might ask such as: can I use your service for free before I settle on it or do I have to cough some cash up? How do I set up my environment to make this work? Is there an easy step by step guide on how we can integrate this service?
Fundamentally, once the barrier to testing a service has been lowered, it’s easier for the developer (and the organisation that they work for) to make the integration happen. How educational developer content ties into how developer relations works in the context of a larger money-making operation is what we’ll tackle next.
How do we, as developer relations professionals, decide on what kind of content we are going to put out there? Is it product driven? Is it influenced by what the community is currently on? Or both? I tend to think both. We are balancing on a thin line between giving the community what it wants while at the same time making sure that the content and general output of the team aligns with business goals.
First off, having a good idea of where your product is and where it’s going goes a long way to making sure that your efforts are always in context. This, and developing content that takes advantage of the product in new and innovative ways, helps provide traction and momentum for the developer community to get excited and drive more traffic to your organisation.
Secondly, as well as having a wide range of developers working towards making the most out of your platform, working on securing a healthy ecosystem around your product helps to feed into the product strategy. The best way to do this is education over conversion.
For many developer relations organisations across the spectrum, conversion is one of the hardest aspects of the job. At times, it feels like the department is like a money sinkhole with no pronounced return for the company. We always play the long game. Conversion takes time.
The moment developer relations becomes focused on conversion, they lose out on their biggest assets (public speaking, personal brands, content development, etc.) and become more focused on the sales aspect of the job. There is an aspect of pre-sales that developer relations plays but it should not be the core focus of their operations.
However, when educating and empowering developers becomes the core focus, engagement with the ecosystem grows alongside the ecosystem itself, creating a wider funnel for conversion to finally occur. It will still take some time to see drastic changes but when they happen, they happen at scale as the community continues to build and share their successes with their peers, creating a ripple effect.
Educating developers is not just good for the ecosystem, it’s great for your company as well. It’s a way of spreading the word about the services that you provide without running the risk of working sales or leaning too much towards the marketing side of things. We are not selling to developers but, rather, showing them the best tools in the industry that they can use.
Educating developers isn’t easy. It can be quite a process to figure out how to do it better. We have to ask ourselves the question: is there a better way for developers to learn? If so, what would this mean for developer-centric content creators and their craft? But, maybe, this could be a whole other article on its own.
It seems paradoxical that a focus on the developer and their well-being could be the best way to reach the point of conversion much faster. However, we always need to remember that delivering content to developers, no matter what ways we choose to do this, has to be targeted, relevant and useful. It is only when you give value that value is returned back to you. This is the sweet spot for any developer relations team and their organisation.
Jamie Wittenberg from Major League Hacking discusses the various ways in which your documentation can lose new developers in this talk from DevRelCon San Francisco 2019.
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