I’m sitting on the train heading from Seattle to Portland today. I live in Portland, but spend a significant amount of time in the beautiful Emerald City. The time on the train is immensely useful to think about concepts, thoughts, introspect, code and generally be uninterrupted in focus. All the while it makes the 3 plus hour trip productive for me. I don’t waste a single minute fidgeting about uselessly in a car. It’s win, win, win and win on all accounts. But enough about the trip and these pleasantries, I’ve got some ranting to do! I want to tell you what is being doen wrong in business, in software and in general in the community around software developers.
1. Stop Listening to PR (Public Relations) when speaking to Developer Communities
PR can serve an important purpose for certain things, but if you’re speaking through PR to the software developers’ community you’ve screwed up. You’ve screwed up big time. I’ll step into dangerous waters and say it is often a good idea to either get advocates (or evangelists) or marketers to speak to developers but the second PR is involved – you’re going to be dead in the water.
In the case of marketing & advocates, they need to know where and how to interact well with the developer community. Developers can smell crappy marketing lines a thousand miles away, so when delivering messaging to the community, it needs to be on point, informative, without the buzz word bingo. Take for instance this gem I heard recently:
Vertically integrated incentivized synergies.
A simple response to that is, “WTF, unfollow, unsubscribe, get outta here.”
Conversations have to be real and honest, if there isn’t any experience, skills or knowledge in the marketing or advocacy team, it’s best to own up to that ASAP and ask the community what information they’d like to receive from X company.
Let’s take a few great examples – and yes, I’m going to outline real companies doing things right. I’m not going to harp on companies doing things wrong, because the developer community knows painfully well who these companies are. Those companies can consider this a PSA.
Full disclosure, I provide consulting, development how-to & blog entries as a consultant.
New Relic takes several avenues in messages to developers. They’re really good at this and it shows in their honesty, integrity and reputation among the community itself.
Blogging: New Relic has a blog (yes, I write there also) that is informative on many levels. Not just a blog that churns out marketing things about their own products, but instead a blog full of useful information about events, products, other company’s that partner with New Relic, community coding and hackathon events and all sorts of additional articles. The key here, is the New Relic Blog is actually useful to the developer community. Two great example here are the “Nerd Economy” which was just a fun entry, and the “Rails Rumble” involvement New Relic had. This is what makes it an extremely valuable asset to the community, to New Relic itself, and to individual programmers & operations people as well!
Blogging: Basho is another company that is doing this well. They’re focused primarily on partners, events related to OSS and Basho (such as Riak) and has a fair breadth of topics overall. This keeps people coming back, and makes the articles useful to the community. A great example is their activity around the Rails Rumble and the Basho Docs Update. Again, that recurring theme, the articles must be useful. No one should ever just stick marketing spiel into a blog entry and post it.
2. Do NOT waste our time (or yours), we’re overbooked already!
Try to connect events together with other companies and provide them as such. Give multiple reasons to come to conferences, meet ups or otherwise get out the door. If there isn’t reasonable reason to physically be somewhere, make it an online event, chat or some other type of communication. Better yet, in many cases, write up some documentation and let us developers RTFM! But whatever marketing departments advocates and evangelists are doing, please coordinate a bit more so us developers (especially those that are writing a ton of app code) don’t spin our wheels getting value out of events.
From my personal perspective, I make it a point to help as many community members that organize meet ups and all to bring additional value – and if there isn’t enough value to merge with other groups. Bringing diverse backgrounds and polyglot ideals to a group isn’t a bad idea. Stay mono-lingual is a sure way when language priorities shift you won’t lose your community base. Now I’m going to harp on some groups that destroyed themselves, but eventually transformed by merging into other groups.
In Seattle & the Redmond area there used to be 3 (and I even have heard rumors of 4) .NET User Groups. With the advent of the extremely high value and dominance of the polyglot programmer (not that they were ever under-valued or anything). They all have since disappeared, but in very different ways. One lost because of a lack of content, then decreasing number of speakers, and eventually it died – completely. Another one actually ceased to exist because it merged into a group fo people that got involved in a number of other meetups that bridged development with a lot of other interests the attendees had. The last group actually polymorphed (eh, see what I did there with that programming term!) into a completely new group that is more open, more polyglot and fairly interesting. This is a perfect case of dropping a single tie to a single thing and branching out – or fading into nothing.
3. Don’t tell us not to communicate with our community!
Oh dear there is no better way to stifle innovation and favorable reputation of your software and products than to disallow your own company’s developers to publicly talk about it. It is absurd to kill this. The only company that I know, in the history of software, that has done this successfully is Amazon. But even Amazon only does it strategically. The companies that have done this completely are either dead or on their way to dying. To some degree Apple does this a little, but even in a tight lipped ship like Apple have developers talk about how or why they build things the way they do. They’re very proud of what they’ve built and they want to tell people.
The developers in a company are the absolutely best advocates for the products out of everybody. They may not be able to get out in the public, or even go out in public, but when they do and when they communicate if you’re running a good ship, that has proud developers, the community will know. Don’t forget either, there’s a few million us, that’s a force to be reckoned with in the market.
3.14159265359 Developers are indeed the king makers, don’t treat us like pawns!
RedMonk pointed out a while ago that “Meet the New King Makers: Same as the Old Kingmakers“. They’re on message, on target and very accurate as usual. If you want advice, information and a better understanding of the developer community, RedMonk is the analyst firm to check out for software development, you can forget the others.
I know there are dev shops out there that are amazing. There are dev shops out there that are atrocious. However those bad shops often suffer from heavy turnover, bad recruitment practices and even outright lying sometimes. It’s a bad situation, but just know if you hone your skills, communication skills and related abilities you as a developer won’t have to deal with those companies once you’ve cut your teeth in the industry.
To those dev shops that are meat grinders. You pay a heavy price, heavier than you might realize. Here’s why.
- Turnover is ridiculously expensive. Many estimates range from 0.25x as much to 60x more expensive than maintain a solid team, good environment and positive conditions. Use google, read about it, turnover is a bad thing in many, many ways. (the rule of moderation does apply here)
- A company with bad practices will NEVER, forget what you THINK you get, but the company will never achieve any type of competitive speed, quality or velocity of development compared to a dev shop that treats their developers well.
- You will continuously create poorly designed interfaces, user experience and generally create a negative environment in which to operate, the company will never acheive its true potential. Developers are notorious for telling it like it is, if you make them unhappy, trust me when I say your entier company and the company’s reputation will be known very quickly among the developer community. Not only will you have to hire from outside of the area, you likely won’t be able to get A Game coders ever. They simply will not exist for a meat grinder shop.
There are ways for this to be remedied, but it is a very hard road to travel, far harder than any technical challenge to face. This challenge also takes, at minimum, years to truly fix once it has happened. So fix it, stop hiring warm bodies and work at being a good place for human beings to work.