Series Recap: How to Build a Thriving Developer Community
Series Recap: How to Build a Thriving Developer Community
November 30, 2021


Marsha Druker, Field Marketing Manager at Bevy, hosted all three installments of this panel series. The speakers covered a number of topics, including how to get executive buy-in for events, how to measure event success, and the future of Developer Relations and their events. 

Volume I


For Volume I, Marsha was joined by Jennifer Sable Lopez, Sr. Director of Community & Advocacy at Outsystems; Dmitry Vinnik, Developer Advocate and Open Source Developer at Facebook; and Tessa Mero, Sr. Developer Advocate, MDE Program Lead at Cloudinary. 


Before diving deep into developer relations as a career path, Jennifer was a developer herself. Dmitry got on the scene by attending events to learn and then starting to speak at events. Tessa was unconsciously doing developer advocacy, and peers suggested that she commit to it full-time. 


Ways to build developer communities 

As a result of the pandemic, Jennifer built out a COVID response program for the developers in her community to join and build apps for good. When it comes to developer communities, Jennifer believes that all things need to relate back to the goals of both the company and the team. By building the response program, she was able to include new developers to the company, keep them engaged, and encourage them to become advocates. 


Although people join a community based on a common interest, Dmitry believes that it’s imperative that communities not only be strong, but healthy and diverse. Although virtual events give people the freedom to join and explore communities they may not have otherwise had access to, they don’t inherently allow for two-way communication; not everyone is comfortable posting in the Q&A. 


To mitigate this, Tessa suggests that DevRel community managers construct an environment that allows people to present themselves as they see fit. The purpose of developer communities should go beyond congregation. Give tailored responses to ideas and questions, and allow those who want to give back to the community with resources be active participants. 


What to do when something doesn’t work and when to move on 

Dmitry posed an interesting question: If you don’t have a goal, how do you know what you need to achieve? 

Before getting into the trenches with your community building, have a discussion to understand what your team is hoping to accomplish, and how their goals align with the goals of the company. 

To guide the conversation around community, you could answer the following questions: 


  • Why are we making this particular decision? 
  • Why is it important to them (the community members)? 
  • Why is it important to us (the community team)? 


Tessa suggests that things not working should be viewed positively. If you have a perfect community program, then there’s no room to revisit and improve it over time, re-strategize, or move forward as concepts (like DevRel communities) progress. 

How to get buy-in from leadership 

Jennifer suggests that before you go to management or executive leadership for community support, get to know your audience. If your potential stakeholders aren’t people that you work with directly or regularly, don’t be afraid to ask others around you who may be closer to them for some pointers. Ahead of setting a meeting, you should know what they’re currently focused on. 


Tessa’s tip: Align everything you’re working on with company objectives, and don’t be afraid to learn what other departments are doing. The more you can get involved with projects that your stakeholders care about, the easier it’ll be to get the team to believe in what you’re trying to do when it comes to building community. 


Create a demo and have a clear presentation, plan, or concept. Show what community means to the organization, and how it aligns with current initiatives. 

Combatting virtual fatigue: Moving back towards in-person and hybrid events

All three panelists agree that virtual events are here to stay, and that hybrid events are the future. No matter your event format, there’s always room for taking in new content and ideas. However, Dmitry says he misses the change of scenery, separation from the work from home lifestyle, and total immersion that only in-person events seem to offer attendees and community members. 


Tessa believes that whatever your community event format, having a tool for engagement is key. Give community members the chance to be a part of the culture of the event itself. 

Volume II 


For Volume II, Marsha was joined by Kelly McMichael Developer Marketing Lead at Slack; Sarah-Jane Morris, Sr. Manager, Developer Community at Mailchimp; and Ilker Akansel, Community Builder & Strategist at ilkerakansel.com, Ex-Google and Cisco.  


The theme of trust in a community 

Marsha opened with this statement: “Without trust, there is no community.” 


According to Ilker, are there a couple of things that must be considered when examining the community; ideation and problem-solving. If you keep these two things in mind as a community manager, you’ll remember to meet the developers in your community at the stage they’re working at. Sarah-Jane and her term empowers their community by creating resources and consistently communicating. In order to understand the roadblocks being presented, dedicate time towards researching your metrics (like time to first call within an API). 


Community metrics to measure

It’s important to remember that only a small percentage of community members are going to be hyper-engaged. With this in mind, Kelly reminded everyone that community must be built in an authentic way versus creating a transactional environment. If your community is just based on transactions, it will never be successful. 


Metrics the panelists pay attention to: 

  • Adoption around new ideas 
  • Community health 
  • Membership 
  • Questions asked and questions answered by community members 
  • Time to first call 


“To the company we represent the community, and to the community, we represent the company. It’s important to put that balance right.” - Ilker Akansel 



The future of DevRel events 


All of the panelists believe that the “future” of DevRel events has already arrived in the form of hybrid events. As a result of the pandemic, they’ve all observed how much more inclusive hybrid events can be. These circumstances have provided those in the community and event spaces with the common sense needed to move towards a hybrid model.


There are always two audiences: People who are there, and people who like to be there. The need that we have as humans to come together in fellowship and gather around a common purpose has existed forever, but the infrastructure to make it happen more seamlessly is better than ever. 


This also opens the opportunity to have more diverse speakers. The more niche things are, the more people can gravitate towards what holds meaning for them, especially with hybrid and virtual events. 

Volume III


For volume three of this event, Marsha was joined by Erica Hanson, Global Head of Developer Community Programs at Google; Sabrina Marechal, Sr. Manager of Community at Mulesoft; Emily Cook, Open Source Community Manager at Mattermost. 

What is community?

The panelists defined community as “a group of people that come together in some (hybrid, virtual, or in-person) space to learn and share ideas and are anchored by a common interest.” Ideally, the space in question should feel safe for all members. Sabrina believes that communities are so special because people truly care about each other. 


Developer Relations, or DevRel, is very unique and as a result, it doesn’t typically fall into the buckets of Marketing or Sales. Removing those two factors, the best way to gain trust with developers that you want to encourage to join a community is to be authentic and figure out what sets you apart from approaches that can feel more transactional. In other words, focus on telling developers what’s in it for them when it comes to joining a community. 

Why join a developer community? 

Erica believes that all developers should join a developer community, but also be open to other communities that reflect their interests outside of that space. As a concept, a community is a great place to learn new skills, share ideas, network, explore different processes, find people to build projects with, etc. 

How to get community members more active in community programs

As a Community Manager, always remember that it’s about your members. Place emphasis on “what’s in it for them” beyond learning and networking. For instance, being part of a niche community helps you to build your personal brand, which gives you more value on the market. 


When you’re planning events for your community, keep maximum participation in mind. Don’t just ask people to come and hear a keynote speaker and expect them to stay engaged. Instead, always have some form of networking available, and work with a core events team that features a diverse range of people. 

How to measure the success of community programs

There are a ton of different metrics that the panelists use to understand how their communities are doing. When it comes to individual community events, they’re looking at how many people show up, how people engage with others during the events, and the volume of conversations happening in specific channels. 


When looking at community health overall, the panelists are keeping track of things like how many people are joining the community over certain periods of time, how many come in as new members and move in the direction of becoming community advocates, and the impact the community is having on company pipeline in order to get executive buy-in.


It’s important to do retrospectives after every community event. You need to be able to replicate the experiences that people seem to be enjoying the most, and likewise remove effort behind event aspects that aren’t as engaging. 


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Khadijah Plummer
WRITTEN BY

Khadijah Plummer

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