It’s easy to make assumptions about DevRel. It might depend on what you’ve heard, or the company you’ve worked for.
Based on our own experience, and the research we conducted for the book, it became clear that your organizational context makes all the difference in the world. Let’s dig into this to share what we learned.
Two types of DevRel Companies
In our book we defined two types of DevRel companies:
Developer First - companies whose primary focus is to create and sell products specifically designed to be used by developers (a.k.a. Business to Developer, or B2D). Think Twilio, Stripe, MongoDB, Arduino, Unity, PerceptiLabs, etc.
Developer Plus - companies whose primary focus is to create and sell products for businesses (a.k.a Business to Business, or B2B) or consumers (a.k.a Business to Consumer, or B2C). These companies also make products or services available to developers which they believe will benefit or add to their strategy in some way. Benefits that might accrue from adding a B2D approach include opening new channels to market, extending into new use cases, contributing to an innovation strategy, or a new method to optimize or enhance existing products. Examples include Qualcomm, Apple, Ford, Santander, Microsoft, Salesforce, Amazon, and Google.
The 2020 State of Developer Relations report discovered that more than 2/3rds of DevRel professionals are working in Developer Plus companies as shown in Figure1.
Figure 1: DevRel professionals in Dev First or Dev PLus companies. Source: The State of Developer Relations 2020 Report
Why it’s important to understand the company context
Your own operational situation can vary significantly based on the type and scope of your company. And as you attempt to establish and scale your program, these individual circumstances will dictate how much time you must dedicate to internal matters of strategic alignment and stakeholder management vs. getting out there into the developer community and driving the adoption of your developer tool or product. This context also affects your ability to attract and retain top talent, and it affects your freedom to execute your ideas.
Perhaps not surprising, life is - generally speaking - significantly easier for a DevRel professional inside a Developer First company. After all, a Developer First company's sole purpose is to build tools for developers, therefore one would hope, there is little confusion about answers to simple questions like, “why are developers important?” Friction in Developer First companies tends to arise due to a lack of communication between departments or investors, disagreements on go-to-market tactics and metrics, or a lack of understanding of what good looks like, rather than a more fundamental existential crisis, questioning the need for a DevRel team at all.
In Developer Plus companies, always be aware that your activity is likely not viewed as core to the business because, by definition, it isn’t. Therefore, your job must include educating your stakeholders to ensure you have the air cover you need to flourish. Find ways to connect your efforts to the core goals and priorities of your department and the wider company. Connect the dots and make the case that a dollar spent on your program provides a better return than a dollar spent elsewhere in the business.
If you are working in a larger multi-national business you will have additional challenges to overcome. The company culture may not be ideally suited to nurture a DevRel effort. For DevRel to be successful there has to be openness, a willingness to share information, receive and act on feedback, within a supportive and collaborative environment, with an entrepreneurial and partnership mindset. While you may build enough momentum to launch a DevRel program, you may find yourself in a debilitating war against corporate “antibodies” that are there to attack and kill anything not recognized as belonging inside the host. Departments and individuals can deliberately, or unconsciously, grind away at any activity deemed to be outside of the norm.
Organizational change affects both Developer First and Developer Plus companies. Hiring, firing, and re-structures are the norm so never get complacent. Your stakeholders will change, sometimes every six months. New senior hires want to make a splash and shake things up, often recruiting people they have worked with before. Your program will be under constant scrutiny. Disruption and distraction could be hiding around the corner, even when things seem to be going well.
To learn more about the implications of leading a DevRel program inside Developer First and Developer Plus companies, and how to align your DevRel effort with your company’s goals, pick up a copy of Developer Relations - How to Build and Grow a Successful Developer Program, now available for pre-order via Apress & Amazon.