GitHub Student Program Manager Joe Nash chats to Peter Cooper at DevRelCon London 2017 about his role in engaging the student users of GitHub. He explains how his program is helping to magnify the reach of the platform within education, and empowering students to help each other become better developers.
Peter: Hi, I’m Peter Cooper, and I’m here with Joe Nash of GitHub who are actually sponsoring DevRelCon.
Joe: We are, thank you for having us.
Peter: Good stuff. And you’re a student program manager. Just quickly, just tell me what that entitles.
Joe: Sure. So my role is to look after the student users of GitHub. So we have about 1.3 million student developers that use GitHub every day, and I’m making sure that they’re successful in learning how to be a professional software developer and able to access the industry and open source.
Peter: And there’s also kind of another aspect for that I’m…from like the topic of your talk which is all about external advocacy so not just being a company and pushing your message out or anything like that. You’re kind of bringing people into the fold and then helping them…they kind of help magnify what it is that you’re going to say.
Joe: Yeah, and that’s the key word. Magnification is exactly what we’re talking about when talking about external advocates. We’re looking at false multipliers that will both help the business spread their core message amongst a certain demographic of students, but ultimately also looking to support developing community in an interesting way. So when we talk about students and external advocacy we’re talking about what we call student leaders. This are students who are building clubs or hacker phones but fundamentally what they’re interested in is helping their peers become better software developers. So today I’m talking about how we’ve built out a particular external advocate program, Campus Experts, and how the lessons we’ve learned from scaling that to over 1,000 students can be applied to other programs and other businesses and other products.
Peter: So what do the students actually do? Once they’re actually out there and, you know, they’ve gone through everything you want to talk about, and they’re in the program, what do they actually do on a day-to-day basis that actually helps them be an advocate for you?
Joe: Sure. So the most important part of that program is kind of the core outcome for both us and the students. And what they’re ultimately trying to do is build a successful tech community on their campus. Places like DevRelCon are fantastic because, as I just heard Anil Dash say, “This is a place of like-minded peers to get together,” and that’s like what professional developers rely on.
So with these student leaders, we’re helping them provide that same, I guess, facility on campus. I mean, how we do that is we take them through training where they analyze their community and decide like what it’s current problems are and what it needs to really be great, and then we teach them the skills to do that. So, for example, a lot of them it’s like, “Hey, we need to do more workshops around interesting topics to inspire students to get involved in the industry.” So I, as a student, need to learn about public speaking, open source, interesting tech topics. So we give them training and then once they’ve got that training we help them with the resources they need. So maybe it’s like, “Hey, I’m doing a workshop on campus. How do I get 50 students to spend their afternoon after a lecture with this workshop? I need some swag and some pizza money.” So we’re there to provide them with that.
So their stories, like the things they’ve done, have been incredible. We’ve had some of them speak and like on big stages or international conferences. Some of the organize thousand, multi-thousand person-hacker phones. We’ve had students in rural Cameroon go out and teach students in farm villages how to code. Like their stories, I could spend an entire hour-long DevRelCon slot telling their stories. It’s been a real challenge to kind of like dilute that down into the real fundamentals of building the program, but they do some fantastic stuff. They’ve over 140 activities over the last year.
Peter: So, I imagine a lot of the people that are watching this aren’t perhaps in a position where they would work with students. It might not be relevant to their business case. Is there any room for doing sort of external advocacy in that way within a more perhaps commercial-like realm, as it were? Does that work?
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. For sure. So where external advocacy, and this is something we touch on in the talk, external advocacy for us very much grew out of the strategy of our DevRel team. In particular, it grew out of a framework that the head of the team, John Britton, spoke about at DevRelCon Tokyo. And that framework is called Scoop, and the idea of Scoop is basically, it’s planning your work in accordance with your inbound support needs. So the S in Scoop stands for support and what you’re looking for is repeated and familiar support requests. And this is something that developers managers are just used to doing. You get inbound support requests and you’re like, “Oh, these are the same. I’m answering the same question a lot. I’ll write a blog post to address it.”
But then what we do is go further. We write the blog post or we make the piece of content then we go and say, “Cool, I’ve got this content, let’s now do outreach. Let’s go to conferences, whatever, to get the message out.” Then you operationalise it. So in our case, for example, we look at student leaders, they’re reaching out us a lot about, “Hey, can GitHub come and do a workshop?” We probably can’t, there’s too many universities so we send the resources to do it. And so then we feel like, “Okay, we’re getting all these email support requests, let’s automate that reply so if they ask about workshops we send them to the right place straight away.”
And then at the end of that, you get to the P which is program, and that’s where things get interesting. You’ve got the recurrent support needs, you’ve got content to address those support needs, you’ve then done outreach programs to communicate that support need and then you’ve automated some stuff. So let’s package all up, give it a name, make it a product. And that’s where the need for our Extended Advocate program came from.
What we were seeing was a particular subset of our users, in this case, student leaders, were asking us for certain resources that when we provided them those resources and actually took a step back and looked at that, we went, “Wait a minute, this looks like an external advocate program.” And there’s loads of other places that fit. For example, if you look at companies like Digital Ocean and Docker, they’ve had the same thing that they found, “Hang on a minute, this looks like a regional meet up program where we’re empowering local meet up organisers to host a meet up.”
So essentially, I guess, the core message here is, like, look at your support needs and your users. If you’re finding that there’s a type of user who’s sending in regular support requests and that user looks like a false multiplier, you may have an external advocate program waiting for you.
Peter: Okay, cool. Well, we have to wrap up now but I tried to very to very quickly ask, DevRelCon, it’s been a great event so far. What do think, what’s the reaction been like? Are you excited future of this?
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been to almost every DevRelCon except for San Fransisco edition. I do have to say the content this time has been phenomenal.
Joe: Like this has really been a step up. I’m super excited for the next Tokyo edition as well especially.
Peter: Awesome. It’s been nice talking to you, Joe.
Joe: No, you too. Thanks.
Peter: Thank you very much.
How do you ensure your dev rel skills are transferable regardless of the size of organisation you’re working for?
Twitter is putting their developer community at the heart of their API product development.