By: Gurpreet Kaur
October 1 2020

Developer Relations: The Ultimate Guide

All of you must have a fair idea as to what marketing is, it is the art of selling through persuasion. The consumer may not have a need for a product, but could still be compelled to buy it with the right kind of marketing. This is a concept that starts with product designing and ends at consumer satisfaction and feedback to improve the design, it is the cycle of product life.

This is not an article which consists of some age old marketing tactics. Rather I will be talking to you about the new age of marketing in a domain where facades don’t really matter, but features do. Yes, I am talking about technology, more specifically people who are working towards building and improving technology. These are the developers, these are people who are not easily fooled by the hyperbolic ads the non-developers might believe. These people are too smart for that and their intellect is one reason for the emergence of the vogue of Developer Relations.

If you have a muddled definition of this topic, don’t worry I will clear all the murkiness for you. All you have to do is continue reading.

Decoding Developer Relations 

Before getting into the depths of the Developer Relations concept, I wanted to give you a glimpse of what DevRel can actually do for you. Nexmo, now Vonage, is the prime example of DevRel’s positive impact. Within a year, the company had enhanced its profitability through DevRel.

A blue background is showing the successes a company had witnessed through Developer Relations.
A glimpse of the success attained through Developer Relations | Source: Nexmo

Such a success is not unheard of with Developer Relations. Now, you might be wondering how this could be possible. So let us get right into it.

In simple terms, Developer Relations is merely a job title, but what is the job of Developer Relations about? It is a title that has become increasingly important in the technological business, where innovations from developers are the driving force. Developer Relations, also known as DevRel, can be described as a job that creates a connection between a company and the community. You should know that when I say community, I mean a specific category of people. Since DevRev pertains to companies, its community encompasses the employees, the customers and the prospective customers; some would say there aren’t many people left behind and they just might be right.

One area that Developer Relations concentrate on more than others is the contact with external developers. You must be wondering why, especially when these companies have so many internal developers with them and you are right to do so. For Developer Relations to do its job properly, external developers are integral. For the IT and tech sector, it is important to be in the know-how of what is happening in the market. Their internal developers cannot do that on their own, so external developers act like outside counsel for them. Remember I said something about community? External developers are at the heart of that community.

So, who benefits here?

The entire community because this is a concept that aims at strengthening the entire developer community. Having conceptualised in the eighties, it has come a long way from its Apple days. Being a proponent of technology, it allows you to learn everything you can, from coding to public speaking to new technology tools. Isn’t it great? 

It is not just me who thinks that Developer Relations is important for the community. Many influential personalities and Developer Advocates have voiced their perception of this job and all of them have a positive outlook towards it. Following are some thoughts of influential persons on DevRel as stated in The New Stack:

Lorna Mitchell, IBM Developer Advocate, emphasises on the power of words in DevRel. These words have a significant impact on the reader, their reach is unparalleled, unfettered by time and space. Opening a dialogue in the community becomes quite easy.

Michael Ludden, a program director and senior manager at IBM’s eminent Watson developer program strategy, explains DevRel as “a hybrid role that requires a unicorn to fill.” The title holder needs to be competent with software engineering, public speaking and community participation, thus the use of the word hybrid.

Quoting Phil Leggeter from Nexmo, “Developer relations is like the force - you can’t see it and can't feel it - you just have to believe it.” And this belief almost always pays off.

Jess Rose, Developer Relations Advocate for Crate.io believes authenticity is important,if interactions between people are to feel real and hold value. According to her, the measurement of authenticity is indeed difficult, but taking care of yourself, slowing down the pace and focusing on really important things can make a difference.    

Now, let me tell you about the two essentials of Developer Relations. 

Its other name, that of Developer Marketing, will give you a hint. This is a job that essentially marries two very different fields and that are engineering and marketing. Since DevRel deals with only developers, you have to have knowledge about this. And DevRel also focuses on promoting the products, so marketing skills and that too great ones are pivotal for the job holder.

Who Comprises the Developer Relations team?

Developer Relations is indeed a job title, but it isn’t a single man’s job. It could be, if you happen to have all the necessary skills for it. The role of a DevRel is quite multifaceted, so it mandates a lot of different roles within it. 

Let us have a look at them.

The four key members of the Developer Relations team are shown working together on a desk.
The DevRel Team

Developer Evangelist

Yes, this term has a religious connotation, but in the business setting, it means the voice of the company and its causes. The role of a DevRel is nothing short of being an ambassador for the developers. So, an evangelist acts as the connection between the company and its developers, both in-house and outside, creating a buzz about their company and its products. To become an effective evangelist, 

  • you would need to be aware of the technicalities a developer faces, 
  • you would need to have excellent communication skills 
  • and you would need to be extremely social, this is so that you can build new connections and keep them satiated. 

Developer Advocate

This is the role that advocates the company’s platform to the outside developers, compelling them to make use of it. The end goal is to build a product that unifies the efforts of the entire community of developers with the internal team. External feedback, demos, sample codes are a few examples of the things a developer advocate would collect to ensure the product is as good as it should be.

Developer Experience

You must be familiar with User Experience and what it entails, right? Developer Experience or DX is somewhat similar to that, with the user being a developer. DX will let you know how good your product is and how well its API or SDK function. Developer experience is important because a good DX ends up becoming the talk of the town and your goodwill grows.

Developer Marketing

Marketing is also quite important for DevRev. It allows your brand to attract an audience of developers, which is what is needed for the growth of a technical company. Organising events, getting paid sponsors along with effective content and competent advocates are how you do marketing in the developer realms. 

An example of an effective DevRel team can be found in Google. Google has a global DevRel team that includes developers from all across the globe teaming up to build something truly inspiring. You can simply visit developers.google.com to get an idea, it fulfilling developer content is bound to impress you. From participating in forums and conferences to writing blog posts, API docs and sample apps, the DevRel team does all that it has to do and the constant buzz around Google is proof of their competence.

Why Does DevRel Need to be Capitalised?

The present world is being dominated by technology, with digitalisation overtaking every nook and corner of the technological markets; even the non-technical businesses are not totally distanced from this trend. So, with technology expanding at such a fast pace, developers have taken up an important role. Consequently, the need for Developer Relations has risen over time.

Let us understand the need a little more. The IT and tech companies are constantly developing new products and upgrading the existing ones. Have you ever wondered how they decide what should be done and what not? If you have not, then let me tell you that all of the developmental decisions in the IT and technology industry are taken by the developers, since their heart and soul lies with technical innovation. Their growing influence is why Developer Relations has become a trending vogue all across the world, as it allows companies to make sustainable connections with global developers.

DevRel has been consistently making efforts in opening a dialogue between companies and external developers and these efforts have only proven to be fruitful.

  • The DevRel team is able to make the target audience, being developers, aware about their company’s present products and future goals.
  • The awareness allows the developers to come into play through guidance and feedback and the DevRel team soaks up every word and implements all that can be.
  • When the DevRel is constantly in touch with the developer’s community, they often come across many talented developers and resultantly, recruit them to work in-house. A win-win for both.

Developer Relations is not a one-time job, it's a perpetual undertaking that continues to build trust and convince the end users to take up their company’s products.

A pie chart depicts the importance of Developer Relations.
The importance of Developer Relations  | Source: TechRepublic

How Does DevRel Come into Play?

Now that you have become familiar with DevRel and all of that it can do for you, it is time to understand how does developer relations work. Just having knowledge of a trending topic is not enough, you also need to be implementing it, and the implementation needs to be flawless. That is why I am here because the audience you will be targeting is a tough one to impress. 

So here are some of the most fruitful ways to luring and sealing the attraction of all the developers you target through Developer Relations, let us begin.

A pillar is shown with multiple signs representing the ways Developer Relations (DevRel) can be implemented.


Understanding the developers needs 

DevRel is a trend that is for the developers, so understanding their needs becomes integral. So, whenever you are thinking about a topic that could interest them, stop and reevaluate your decision with the aid of a developer. You would have to involve actual developers because they would know and understand the needs better. Ask them to give you their concerns, ask them to check your work before posting, ask them to simplify something you did not get. At the end of the day DevRel is all about developers, so in order for you to do your job, you have to know what they want. And who better to ask then the developers themselves.

Getting trustworthy insights

As I have already mentioned more than once I believe, DevRel combines two very different worlds, that of marketing and engineering. So, you need to marry the best of marketing to the best of engineering. However, that becomes a problem when the best of marketing is something that the developers are fond of. The excessive use of superlatives is what marketers excel at and it is also what developers abhor. You have to let the product speak for itself, you need not use phrases like ”The best in this genre,” nobody believes that. And how do I know this, my constant contact with developers is one of the reasons. Your company must have several internal developers as well, go to them and ask for insights and change your marketing tactics.

Along with this, you have to know that you cannot get the technical stuff wrong EVER. So, when you think that you are out of your league with the technical jargon, go to a developer, ask him or her whatever it is you need and quote him or her verbatim. There is no chance of going wrong then because they are the experts. 

Enunciating the road map 

Developers are all of facts and figures, they do not need you to go around in loops, they would much prefer it, if you could come straight to the point and that too without exaggeration. So, when catering for the developer audience, focus on the road map they can follow and how it has to be done instead of the reasons to do so. This could be done through a guide of a kind, which would tell them all the things they need to know, for instance how a product is lacking in features and how it can be improved. This way they know what is needed of them and they will start working on it.

Making the developer feel important 

When you write for the developers, you have to make them feel like they are the centre of attention for you. A simple way to do so is to dedicate an entire section of your website to them, wherein, everything that you post, pertains to them. Such kind of action will also help in cultivating a sense of loyalty amongst the entire community. They would know that they can rely on you, simply because you have given them the importance they need.

Making yourself a part of developer’s community 

This one is probably the most important out of them all. A major of DevRel is building contacts with external developers. And you can only do that if you become involved with the community of developers. You do not really have to be a coder yourself to make that happen, rather if you have knowledge about what a coder actually does and how crucial his work can be, consider yourself qualified enough. Also, being a DevRel, you would continue to learn and grow.  

To be an active member of the community, you would need to attend developer events, where you can socialise and actually talk with developers and make contacts. Going on tech events and spending time with the tech guys is the only way the DevRel can do his job properly. Even in COVID-19, there were numerous virtual events for the developers, DrupalCon being one of the biggest. 

Apart from this, many companies have taken to social media to make the community connection all the more faster, although e-mails are also quite handy. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat, all act like the gateway to success in DevRel, since a vast majority of developers are active here. This is another tactic that the COVID-19 could not put a damper in.

Commanding respect with knowledge

More times than not, DevRel is a team, with knowledge, diversity and excellence in communication. If you have one person, who satisfies all of these, good for you. If not, you need to find people excelling at each of these. The DevRel team deals with engineers everyday and engineers are often not fond of non-engineers. So, the Developer Relations job description mandates you to have the knowledge to command the developers' respect. As part of the job, you could be asked to give your input on code or an API design and review the same, and without knowledge you cannot do that. So, the inclusion of engineers in the Developer Relations team is absolutely necessary, only then will the developers take it seriously.

The Crux of DevRel

So, what does the essence of DevRel come down to? If I had to choose three words to describe this trend, I would choose education, content and outreach. 

Developer Relations is a trend that is intent on building the company by educating its employees through in-house educational programs about the company’s products and its future goals. It is also about educating the customers by making them aware about what the company is all about through effective and meaningful content that they can find with ease. Lastly, DevRel is about knowing what the customers want and making that happen with the help of internal and external developers.

If you think about it, developer relations is not a very complicated job, at the heart of it, there is only one thing and that is ensuring the company’s technological developments never fail. That should not be too difficult, should it? I do hope our Developer Relations guide helped you in comprehending the trending concept.