227: Doing DevRel Right with Jonan Scheffler
02:28 - Jonan’s Superpower: Jonan’s Friends
09:07 - How Developer Relations is Changing (DevRel)
22:41 - Doing DevRel Right
31:45 - Engaging with Communities & Networks via DevRel
40:22 - Internal DevRel
53:32 - Addressing Trauma & The Evil in the World
“I respect facts but I live in impressions.”
Mando: We are who we spend time with.
Rein: If you want to understand how someone behaves, you have to understand their environment and experiences.
Jess: If it works, it’s going to be obvious it works.
Jonan: Talking about the things that suck and talking about who you are in a real way.
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JONAN: Welcome back to Greater Than Code. This is Episode 227. I am Jonan Scheffler and I'm joined today by my guest, Jessica Kerr. How are you, Jessica?
JESSICA: Thank you, Jonan. Well, I’m great today because I get to be here with my friend, Rein Henrichs.
REIN: Aw thanks, Jessica. And I'm here with my friend, Mando Escamilla.
MANDO: Thanks, Rein and just to bring it back around, I'm here with my friend, Jonan Scheffler.
Jonan Scheffler is the Director of Developer Relations at New Relic. He has a long history of breaking things in public and occasionally putting them back together again. His interest in physical computing often leads him to experiment with robotics and microelectronics, although his professional experience is more closely tied to cloud services and modern application development. In order to break things more effectively, he is particularly excited about observability as of late, and he’s committed to helping developers around the world live happier lives by showing them how to keep their apps and their dreams alive through the night.
Welcome to Greater Than Code, Jonan. How are you doing today, bud?
JONAN: I am great. I liked the part where I got to intro your podcast. That was a lot of fun, actually.
MANDO: It was fantastic, man.
JONAN: This bio, this guest sounds really interesting, if I would be permitted to say so myself as the guest.
MANDO: So we like to start off every podcast with our normal question that we ask every guest, which is, what is your superpower, Jonan and how did you acquire it?
JONAN: My superpower is my friends. They are my superpower and I acquired them after a long career in software and talking to a lot of humans. I don't know actually why, but it's been easy for me to make friends in software. I felt like early on, I found my people and then I just got lucky and it's going okay so far. I'm very fortunate to have them.
MANDO: Well, we're fortunate to have you, bud. It's interesting that you say this, I mean, just like Slack for operators, DevOps folks, and Savvy folks, there’s been a lot of discussion as of late on the quality and reliability of one's personal network in things like finding new jobs, finding new opportunities, learning and growing in your career, and stuff like that.
It’s been interesting for me personally, because my experience, Jonan sounds a lot more like yours. I was very lucky to find some strong communities of folks that were very welcoming to me. I found my people pretty early on, but a lot of the folks in this other community that I'm tangentially related to seem to have had wildly different experience. I don't know if it's like a software development versus operator kind of thing and in-person versus not in-person kind of thing. It's something that struck me as weird.
JONAN: I think it varies by community, too. I've gone to a lot of conferences for a lot of different languages and depending on the conference and depending on the community, I think that you're going to have a different time. I think if I were starting over again, I would probably follow about the same path—attend small conferences with tight focuses and get to know a couple people early on who seem to be having a lot of those conversations, watch for a social butterfly and tag along for a bit and you'll get introduced.
MANDO: I'm pretty sure that I met Rein at a local Ruby conference here in Austin. Is that right, Rein?
REIN: Sounds right. Sure, yeah.
MANDO: But I think it was one of the first Lone Star Ruby Conferences where we met.
REIN: Yeah, that sounds right.
JONAN: Yeah. I think speaking of butterflies, I also met Rein, I think at one of the very first conferences I attended back in the day. Being welcomed and seeing the application of the Pac-Man rule, where when standing in a circle, you always leave a space for a guest to join and someone joins and you open up again in-person back in the Ruby community in that day was, I think inspiring for me; directed how I decided I was going to be when I showed up here. So thank you, Rein.
REIN: It's funny. I remember when I was new to the Ruby community and not sure what to do. I was new to programming, too. I started going to the local Austin meetup actually and the welcome I got as someone who didn't go to college for computer science, someone who wasn't a professional programmer, someone who was just thought it was cool and thought maybe that I could get paid to do it at some point in the future really made a big difference in my life.
JONAN: Jessica, how did you get started?
JESSICA: Good question. Before I answer it, I noticed that we're talking about Ruby conferences and Ruby programmers and indeed, I learned Ruby in order to go to Ruby conferences so that I could talk to Ruby people because part of the superpowers that that language gives you is friends or buds back in the day, but still is because the Ruby conferences are still super friendly back when we had them.
MANDO: Yeah, that's a really good point. I was a professional programmer for probably 5, or 6 years before I started doing Ruby programming. I would say that for those first 5, or 6 years, before I joined the Ruby community, I didn't feel at all like I had any kind of community or group of people.
JONAN: What do you think inspires that in a community? I think strong leadership is part of it. Matt has certainly received his share of criticism over the year, but I think that fundamentally, he was trying to build a place where people focused on people instead of the glyphs that we type into our little boxes. I think that matters. What else do you think there is to that?
REIN: We here at Greater Than Code also agree with that sentiment.
JONAN: Seems to align, doesn't it?
JESSICA: Yeah, that focus on people and Ruby was always about programmer joy. It was always about the experience; it was always about being happy and there wasn’t that expectation that the optimal thing to do is to go in a corner and type.
JONAN: Yeah, I think it's very fortuitous timing that we're actually discussing Ruby so much on the 24th, which was the day that Ruby was named 28 years ago on February 24th, Ruby became the name of this language. So happy birthday, Ruby.
JESSICA: Aw. Yeah, happy [inaudible].
JONAN: It really has changed my life. I have regularly, whenever I've seen Matt at a conference, got up to thank him for my house and my kids' college education. Before I got into software, I did a lot of things, but none of them would have brought me either of those. I spent probably 10 years in factories and hotels and casinos. I was a poker dealer for my last gig before I got into software and the number of opportunities that Ruby opened up for me, I can't as long as I live be too grateful; I'll be paying it forward till I die.
JESSICA: Yeah, but not the language it's the community—the people, the friends.
JONAN: Yeah, exactly. It's the community. It's the people who welcomed me with open arms and made sure that they were contributing to my growth in a far more altruistic sense than, I think is reasonable to expect. I mean, I had nothing to offer in return except a good conversation and high fives and hugs and they spent their time in their energy taking me around conferences and making sure I met people and it was great.
REIN: I remember when you first went to New Relic and you were first thinking about, “Hey, maybe I could do this developer relations thing.” What I remember about that, in addition to your obvious aptitude at talking to people about things, is the help that you got, the advice, the mentorship that you got from your friends in the community. I remember at the time being blown away by that; by how many people were willing to just take an hour of their time to talk to you about what it was like for them as a DevRel and things like that.
JONAN: Yeah, and I'm still very fortunate to have those people who have helped me build this team here. When I did the onboarding, I put together an elaborate onboarding process. I was able to hire all ten of the DevRel engineers here at the same time. We spent a week doing improv training and having speakers come in as guests and I was able to invite all of these DevRel leaders from over the years to give a perspective on what DevRel was in their eyes, but it is today and always has been clear to me that I am only here where I am by the grace of the communities that I was lucky enough to join.
I wonder if developer relations is changing; if it's at a different place than it was when I started out. I feel like certainly, pandemic times have affected things, but all that aside, the segment of the industry is still pretty small. There are only maybe 10,000 people doing this work around the world. It's hard to believe because we're quite loud, right? [chuckles] We’ve got a lot of stages. You see a lot of us, but there are many of us and I think that the maturity of the discipline, I guess, is progressing. We are developing ways to measure the effectiveness. Being able to prove the value to a company is going to change the game for us in a lot of ways.
REIN: Yeah. I would love to talk to you about that at length, [chuckles] but for the purposes of this podcast, let's say that you're someone who wants to start a program at a company that doesn't have directly tangible make numbers go up in a business sense value, but you believe that if you're given the chance to do it, that you can show them the value. How do you get that opportunity?
JONAN: That's a really good question. Kicking off a developer relations program is, I think it's the same as building most major initiatives within a company. If you had an idea for a software project that should be undertaken, or a major feature that mattered to you, it's about building allies early and often. Making sure that when you show up in that meeting to have the conversation with the decisionmaker, that nine out of ten people in that meeting already know about the plan. They have already contributed their feedback; they feel ownership of that plan and they're ready to support you so that you have the answer going in.
I think the mistake that I made often in my career was walking into that room and just pitching my idea all at once and then all of the questions that come out of that and all of the investigation that is necessary and the vetting appears as though this wasn't a very well-thought-out plan, but getting the people on board in the first place is vitally important. I think also you have a lot of examples to look through. You have a chance to talk about other programs and the success that they've brought, the companies where they started off.
It's not a thing that you need to start in a big way. You can put a couple of people on the conference speaking circuit, or a couple of people focusing part of their week on outreach and community growth and see where it takes you. If you start to see the numbers, it becomes a lot easier case to make.
REIN: You were talking about how you're excited about being able to make this value more tangible in the future. What do you think is the shift that's happening in DevRel that’s making that possible?
JONAN: So I think there are actually kind of a lot of factors here. One is that DevRel had a division almost of method where some people, probably by the leadership of their companies, were convinced that what they should be doing is talking about the product all of the time. You're there to talk about the product and evangelize the product and get people to use the product.
That is part of your role, but it shouldn't be, in my opinion, the primary role that you play. You should be there in the community participating. In the same way that Rein stood in that hallway and welcomed me to Ruby, I need to stand in that hallway and welcome newcomers to all the communities of which I'm part and in so doing, build that group of friends and build that understanding of the community and their needs.
I develop empathy for the developers using our product and, in the industry, generally and that's invaluable intelligence. I sometimes think of ourselves as these like operatives—we’re undercover marketing operatives out there in the developer world talking to developers and just understanding them and it at one point, took a turn towards, “Well, I'm just going to talk about New Relic all the time,” for example. It feels good to see all that content and see all those talks. However, you're only talking to your existing audience. No one is Googling “what exciting things can I do with New Relic,” “seven awesome New Relic tips.” No one's searching for that.
They're out there looking at things that are interesting. They want to click on a link on Twitter that is about some random topic. Running Kubernetes on Raspberry Pis and soldering things to Yoda dolls. That's the kind of stuff that I'm going to click on in my free time and in that spirit of play, that's where I want to be engaged and that's where I want to be engaging people.
So I think there was this turn. That's part of it and then in reaction to that, I think that the teams who were doing DevRel well and actually seeking out ways to lift up and support the communities and gather that information for their companies—and yes, certainly talk about their products when the situation warrants it. But I mean, how do you feel about that person who shows up to a conference wearing a New Relic hoodie and a New Relic shirt and a New Relic backpack and says “New Relic,” the first 10 minutes you meet them, a hundred times? But you're like, “Wow, this is a friend who is here for my best interests.”
MANDO: Right, or every presentation that they give is 30-minute infomercial for whatever company.
JONAN: Yeah. So I think people are headed away from that and in response to that, you saw a lot of success from the people who are doing DevRel well. In addition to that, it's becoming to measure these things in hopefully less creepy ways. We can track the people who show up to anything that we do now. If I have a Twitch stream, I can see how many people were there; Twitch provides good stats for me. I can pull those stats out via an API, I can connect them to my podcasting for the week, I can connect them my blogging for the week, and I can show that my audience is growing over time.
So whether or not it is valuable yet, we're building the machine right now. We're finding ways to measure those things and that will allow us to adjust the content in a direction that is popular and that’s really just what we're trying to do. We're trying to give the people what they want. We want to talk about the things that people want to hear about.
I want to talk about the fun stuff, too, but I'm very surprised sometimes when I learn that hey, nobody wants to hear about my 3D printer API project with Ruby. They want to watch me solder a Raspberry Pi to a Yoda doll and that's great. I'm down for both of those things, I really don't care. But being able to adjust your content towards the sort of thing that is going to interest your community is really valuable obviously to developer relations and we're getting better at it. We have more data than we've had before and not in a way that, to me, feels like that is violating people's personal privacy.
REIN: Where do you think that DevRel ought to fit in a company's structure? Is it part of revenue? Is it a sales adjunct? Like, what is the correct role of DevRel?
J: I don't think it's part of revenue. I think that it leads to that. But in developer relations, we talk about orbits a lot instead of funnels. We talk about bringing people into the orbit. You generate content so that you generate gravity and you move people in the orbits closer to the company so, you can talk to them more and help them with their problems.
When you tie that to revenue, it changes the goal. Is the goal to be out there and help, or is the goal to get the cogs into the machine and continue turning them until they produce coins? When you tie developer relations to revenue, you become trapped in this cycle because look, we’re hackers. If you give me a number you want me to hit, then I can hit the number. But am I hitting the number in the most useful way? Am I generating long-term value for the company? Almost certainly not.
It's like the leader that you bring in. So like, “Hey, revenues are up because I fired customer support. Yes, all of them.” In the short-term, there's going to be some great numbers. You just believe yourself and entire team. Long-term, you’re the new Xfinity with the lowest customer support ratings that have ever existed for a company.
So I think that actually the majority live under marketing right now and I think it makes sense. I think that developer relations people do themselves a disservice by not understanding marketing and understanding the role they play there. I actually think it belongs under its own organization. But if you try and think about that means from a corporate hierarchy perspective, that means that there's probably a C-level who is responsible only for community growth and C-levels by design, they have numbers, they have dollars that they are bringing in.
So until we get to a point where we can prove that the dollars are coming in because of our work, there's not going to be a chief developer relations officer at any company. But give me 5, 10 years, maybe I'll be the first CDRO.
MANDO: It's interesting to hear you. I didn't know that they were usually grouped under marketing, but that sounds right. In my most recent life, I worked at two different companies who did a combination of social media management, analytics platforms, and stuff like that. A majority of our customers at both of these places were in the marketing org and they were hitting the same kinds of things that you're talking about that developer relations groups are hitting. They're trying to provide numbers for the kinds of stuff that they're doing, but there's that inherent, not contradiction, but discord between trying to give customers what they want, but have it also not be infomercials.
JONAN: Yeah, and I think that that is a tough spot for DevRel teams. I think no matter where you stand in the organization, you need to be very close friends with marketing. They have a tremendous amplifying effect for the work that I do; what I want to do is produce content and I am uniquely suited to do that. I’m a person who can show up on the podcast and wax philosophical about things like developer relations. I enjoy that. I would like it if that was my whole day.
What you need to try and design is a world where it is your whole day. There are people who are better at that than you are; that's why you're there as a team. Your job is to get up and talk about the thing, explain technical concepts in easily digestible ways—a process called vulgarization, I guess, a more commonly used word in French. But I think it's very interesting that we vulgarize things.
I mostly just turn things into swear words, but the marketing organization puts a huge amount of wind at your back where I can come onto a podcast and spend an hour talking words and then the podcast is edited, tweets go out, images are made and it's syndicated to all the various platforms. If you can get that machine helping you produce your work in the background, you don't have to know all of the content creation pieces that most of us know. Most of us are part-time video/audio/any content platform, we mostly do it ourselves and taking the support of your organization where you can get it is going to be tremendously helpful in growing the team.
REIN: So if you can't tell, this is a personally relevant topic for and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the short-term pressures of there might be for DevRel orgs to produce numbers that the business likes and how you balance that with your long-term vision? What's the story you tell leadership that's effective there?
JONAN: That's a really good question. So I talk about this developer orbit as being almost pre-funnel work, that there are people that we have within the company who are real good at turning an email address into a dollar and turning a dollar into 10. There are people who have spent 20 years learning how to do that thing.
What I'm really good at is getting people to care in the first place and that's my job here. I describe it sometimes like an awareness campaign in marketing; this is the thing that you put the money on the billboards all over San Francisco and people spend millions and they'll go and get VC events, spend every dollar, making every billboard look like their logo because it works.
Because just making people aware whether or not they like the billboard, making people aware that you exist is a first step and I would rather that people complain about our product and complain about our company on Twitter than just not think of us because then you're irrelevant. You're not even part of the conversation. Being able to shift sentiment in the community and being able to hear people, genuinely hear people. It doesn't matter to them, when they're angry on Twitter, that they're factually incorrect. Wrong answer. It's your fault. Show up and just address it, “Hey, that sucks. I hate that. Wow, I'm sorry that happened. Let me see if I can fix it,” and go talk to the product team. So I talk about it in that way as this kind of pre-funnel work.
And then I talk about how we are measuring it and where we measure it as a team is this care orbit where we have a curiosity and awareness step that work in tandem, where people either have seen the words New Relic, or they've seen the logo, and this is awareness. Or they are curious and they've actually clicked on a thing; they've actually followed that down the rabbit hole. And sometimes, they may be aware because we sponsored a conference one time; they've seen us, they know that we exist, but they have no idea what we do.
So if they are curious, they're getting to a step where they could buy a free word association exercise, connect New Relic and observability, for example. And when they're doing research, I don't think there's a whole lot of interactivity we have there as a team there.
When I go and research product – think about how you'd buy a developer product. I hear someone say something three times, tail scale. I've been seeing a lot of conversation about tail scale lately. So I hear someone say tail scale three times and then I think to myself, wow, I should probably care about that thing because it's relevant to my career and I don't want to fall behind. In a couple of years, this may be the thing that everyone is using for whatever it does. I don't even know what it does. I better go figure it out and then I go and I do my research and, in that step, I'm reading documentation and I might have run across a blog post, but I'm certainly not watching webinars. I'm just not going to be in that step.
And then there's entry. I say entry instead of sign-up because I just want people close to us. I want them to enter the orbit. I want them to be bought in on the dream of the community and hopefully, we've expressed our values in a way that makes it clear that this is the place for them and we're talking about values and not features of a product. Think about how Apple has been successful. Apple is selling a dream. Apple's throwing a woman throws a sledgehammer through the screen in front of people and that's the dream. That's what you're actually buying is this identity, this tribe.
I think companies more often end up creating these bulleted lists of checkmarks. I saw one the other day that was probably 50 items long. Here are the 50 things that we do and look at those 2 checkmarks. Our competitor doesn't have those. Gotcha! I don't care. Prove to me that you value the things that I value. Sell me on the purpose and that's the kind of thing that we're really good about talking about.
And if you can demonstrate that in a boardroom, then your program will be fun, but you've got to measure it, you've got to show that people are making progress, and you've got to show growth over time. “See, look, we may not be pointing the megaphone in the right direction right now, but it's growing. We're getting a better megaphone. Is that enough for now?”
And then we can direct over time, our contact direction towards the place that is being most successful for us as a company and hey, maybe it's I just talk about New Relic all the time, but I'm willing to bet it won't be and when the time comes, I'll have data to prove it.
REIN: In the meantime, how do you know whether what you're doing is working? What are your feedback loops look like?
JONAN: My feedback loops, our feedback loops as a team right now, we know what we're doing is working when our total audience size is growing. This is kind of a sketchy metric because there are different values to different audiences.
For example, Twitch versus Twitter. If I'm going to follow on Twitter, then I follow on my personal account or I follow on the New Relic account because those both provide a place for me to use my voice to engage people. It's a much lower value engagement platform, though from a one follow perspective. 30,000 people I tweeted in front of, 5 will click or 5 will care about the content and that's great and maybe I'm really good at Twitter. I'm not, if I fail, I don't spend as much time on it as I should, but maybe I can refocus my content. I get more via the platform.
If you look at something like Twitch, however, someone follows me on Twitch, that means that every time I go live on my stream, they get a notification on every single one of their devices by default. I mean, you can turn it off, but what's the point in following someone, if you're going to turn off the notification; you want the notification. You're saying, “This is the content that I am here for, watching Jonan solder on this silly thing or teach people how to write Ruby from scratch. That's the stuff I signed up for. That's why I'm here on Twitch and I want to be a part of that.” Those have a kind of a higher value.
So there is something to weighted consideration across the platforms. But first of all, is your audience grow, just generally? Are you getting a bigger megaphone and more importantly, how are you doing it and moving people from “I'm aware that you exist” to curiosity, “I'm investigating you”? And that's a step when they're aware they've done something like click on a Twitter profile. It's a hard case to make that if they click on my Twitter profile and they see that it says New Relic, that they will have no idea what New Relic does. I have now at least made it into their brain somehow and they will say, “Oh, I've heard that name before.”
But the next step of getting people over to curiosity, let's say that we successfully get 10% of our audience over there and 1% of our total audience size, this quarter actually ended up creating accounts and that's where things get real hard because companies tend to have really entrenched MarTech, measuring marketing technology, measuring, and Google analytics setups.
And it's hard to bind that piece together to be like, “That signup? That came from us.” We did that and you need to stand up and say it loudly within a company because everyone else is. Everyone else is real excited to take credit for your work, believe me. You’ve got to stand up and prove it, stand up and say, “DevRel did this. DevRel was growing the company.” We're doing good things for the community. We're helping people understand how to use our product. They're caring more about us because we care about them first and here are the numbers to show it.
Did that answer your question? I tend to ramble.
REIN: Yeah, no it did. Can we do a thing? Can we do a little improv thing, Jonan?
REIN: Okay. So I am a chief revenue officer and I hear your pitch and what I say is, “Okay, so I get the DevRel increases engagement. So how much are you committing to improve conversion? How many percentage points are you guaranteeing that you'll deliver in the next quarter?”
JONAN: In the first quarter of our existence, I'm going to go with none. I would say in the second quarter of our existence, we will have developed a baseline to compare against and I can guarantee that we will be growing the audience by 10% month over month, over our previous audience size. As the audience grows, it is very directly correlated to numbers that you care about like, signups. If I talked to a 1,000 people, I get 10 signups. If I talk to 10,000 people, I get a 100 and that's the baseline. I mean, that's just the math of it. And if I'm doing a great job, maybe I get 15.
So if we want to actually do the math, give me a quarter to do the math. Give me a quarter to establish a baseline because I don't know where our company stands in the market right now. If I'm starting off here at this company and you're Google, I'm not going to have a hard time raising awareness, am I? I think most people have heard of you. If you're Bob's awesome startup and you don't have any awareness out there, then we have some different things to focus on and our numbers are going to look different. We're have a slower ramp.
But if you're asking me to commit to where you are right now, then I need numbers first. I need to be able to build the machine, I need to be able to measure it, and once I have those metrics in place, I can tell you what those goals should be and we can set them together and when we exceed them, we will adjust upwards because we are aggressive by nature. We like to win at these things. We like to be good at it because for us, it means that we're doing a better job of loving our people.
That's what success means by the numbers. The numbers that to you mean money. If we're doing DevRel right, to me, they mean that I am living with purpose. So yes, I can measure those things, but you’ve got to give me time to get a baseline, or the numbers that I make up will be meaningless and we'll be optimizing for the wrong things. How'd I do?
REIN: I’d buy it for a dollar.
JONAN: Yes! Sold!
MANDO: Yeah, I believe you. So tangentially related; you talked about Twitter and Twitch as two platforms that you're using to engage with prospective folks and grow and welcome the community. I was wondering if there were other places, other things that you use either personally, or as part of your DevRel work to do that same kind of stuff, or if you have specific types of interactions for specific different types of networks?
JONAN: Yeah, absolutely. I had left one of our primary platforms off of there, which was YouTube because we're still headed in a direction where we can make that a lightweight process of contributing our work to YouTube.
So our strategy, as a team, is to head for platforms that offer two-way engagement. I think that in our generation, we've got a lot of criticism for being the Nintendo generation. “Oh, you were raised by television; you have no attention span.” I have no attention span for TV news. I have no attention span for this one-way oration that has been media consumption my entire life because I live in a world where I have “choose your own adventure” media.
Where I can join a Twitch channel and I can adjust the direction of the conversation. Where I can get on Twitter and have a real conversation with famous people, because I am interesting and engaging and responding to them in intelligent ways, hopefully. When you tweet poop emojis at people in your software community as your only game, it's not as likely to drive engagement, but they're very engaging platforms and so, we're aiming for things like that.
YouTube being the possible exception. YouTube is still levelling up there. I'm not sure if you find out on the YouTube comments section lately, but it's a little bit wild in there. It's getting better; they're working on it. And those are the kinds of platforms that I want to be a part of.
So as far as new things go, I'm going to go with not Clubhouse. Clubhouse has one, got some accessibility stuff to work out, but two, in my opinion, stuck in a trap where they're headed towards that one-way conversation. Anyway, it may be a conversation like this podcast, which I love doing, but our audience isn't given an opportunity to respond in real-time and to drive the direction. Clubhouse is eventually going to turn into a similar platform where you have a hundred people in a room. Can a hundred people speak at once in the same conversation? I don't think so. So there's the accessibility piece – [overtalk]
JESSICA: In text!
JONAN: In text, they could.
JESSICA: Yeah, that’s the beauty of the combination.
REIN: Clubhouse needs to innovate by providing a text version of their application.
JONAN: Or when we get NLP, when we get natural language processing to the point where those kinds of things can become accessible conversations automatically, then it's different and people can contribute in their own ways. You can have a realistic sounding robot voice who’d read your thoughts aloud for the group. But beyond those, beyond Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, we're checking out TikTok a little bit, that's kind of fun content. It's a good way for us to reuse clips and highlights from our Twitch stuff without having to go through the old process of creating the new content and similarly, for YouTube.
If I get on my high horse and I'm waxing philosophical about why you should use instance variables instead of class variables, I can put that piece out and I can make a YouTube video about why you should use instance variables instead of fostered. That kind of content does well on that platform, but you need to consider the platform and I would say, choose a few and focus there, look for the ones that actually have high engagement.
Discord is another good place to hang out, love hanging on Discord. And then you've got to be blogging too, but blog in a place where you can own the conversation and make it about what matters to you as a community. We're real focused on learning and teaching, helping people become content creators, and focusing on the quality of software, generally. We're data people. We want to be talking about that.
So we have our own community on therelicans.com where we talk about that. That's just a instance of forum. It's just like dev.to, but we own it and we get to period the content a little bit in a direction that is valuable. You want to keep them loose when you're going in community so that you can let the community take shape as it grows into those values. But that's my recommendation for platforms.
MANDO: Right on. Thanks, man. It's funny that you bring up TikTok—not at all related how I've recently fallen down and continuing to fall down the TikTok rabbit hole and out of all the different types of content I see on TikTok, it is tech content that I have seen almost zero of. It’s just like, I don't know if there's just like a dearth of the content or if the algorithm hasn't set stuff up to me.
MANDO: The algorithm is super good about all other kinds of things that I'm super into like, I'm inundated with cute dogs and goats and [laughs] you name it, but I don't know. Maybe the algorithm is telling me something about myself that...
JONAN: No, I mean, you just have to click on it.
JESSICA: Or something about tech content.
JONAN: I always just cause answer. Yeah. Jessica, you have thoughts on TikTok?
JESSICA: Well, TikTok is really cool but it t's just takes a ton of work to make a piece of content that tight, especially around something technical.
JONAN: Yeah. I think that's a good point, actually, that it's not as easy as it looks ever producing a piece of content. You may watch a video for 2 to 3 minutes. I once had a 5-minute lightning talk, but I did 65 takes on it. it took me maybe 20 hours to just record the thing, not counting the 100 hours of research I put into the actual content.
So depending on the piece of content and how polished you’re going to make it – TikTok’s initiating platform, though.
Look up Emily Kager. If you go watch Emily Kager’s TikToks, you'll head down the right path, I suspect into the good tech ones.
MANDO: Awesome. Thanks, man.
JONAN: I really like the ones that are explaining algorithms with M&Ms. That kind of video, I like those ones a lot. Here's how databases work under the hood. This is actually what in the endgame using toys or whatever is handy. Cats, I saw someone that worked with their cats and the cats are running all about it. [chuckles] It was fun.
MANDO: Oh, that's awesome and that's the kind of stuff that, I mean, I don't know what the time limit is on TikTok stuff, but our TikToks, if they seem to be about a minute to a minute and a half, it's not like you could do any kind of in-depth deep dive on something, but something like describe what Kubernetes with Legos, or something. It seems like you could fit some sort of bite-size explanations, or a series of definitions, right?
MANDO: I mean, there's someone, whose videos I see all the time, who does these videos on obscure Lord of the Rings facts. She'll describe this intricate familial family tree of beings whose definitions have spanned not only the Silmarillion, but other – and she fits it all in a minute and a half. It's fascinating and it's amazing to watch. I'm sure, like you were saying, the stuff she's been researching and she knows this stuff. She spent probably years and years and user for life gathering this knowledge and gathering the ability to distil it down into a minute and a half.
JONAN: Yeah, and I mean, it's not even – look, I think a lot of people have the perception, especially starting out creating content, that you have to be the expert. You don't have to be the expert. You just have to do the work, go read about the thing, then talk about the thing. You're actually better suited to talk about it when you've just learned it, by far. Because you know the pain, you have a fresh memory of the pain and the parts of that API you're describing that were difficult to understand and once you become a Kubernetes expert, those things are lost to you. They become opaque; you can't find the parts that were terrible because the memory of the pain goes away. So TikTok is a good place to explore with that kind of stuff in a short-form piece of content.
I have a couple more recommendations for you that I'll drop for you in the show notes, too about the people on Twitter—@theannalytical is great at that thing, @cassidoo, and @laurieontech. I'll put them all for you in the show notes. But there are, there are some people you can emulate early on and if you're just starting out, don't be afraid to get up there on the stage. The bottom line is in life in general, we're all just making it up as we go along and you can make it up, too. What have you really got to lose? You're not doing it today. Tomorrow, you would still not be doing it if you don't try.
REIN: Continuing with my program of using this podcast to ask Jonan to help me with my personal problems, do you have any thoughts about internal developer relations? Or let me ask this a different way. There are companies that are big enough that there are teams that have never met other teams and there are teams that produce platforms that are used by application development teams and so on. What are your thoughts about building more cohesive and engaged developer communities within a company?
JONAN: Yes, do it. I've considered this a huge part of what developer relations needs to be doing generally. Binding those departments together and finding the connections for people and advocating the use of internal software, those internal tooling teams. This is why a lot of DevRel people have a background in internal tooling, myself included. It's just fun to be helping out your friends. That's why you get into DevRel. You like helping your friends and developers are your friends and they're my favorite people.
The point that I was making about internal developer relations is yeah, you should be doing it already as part of a DevRel team, but there are actually dedicated teams starting to form. Lyft, I think was one of the first people I heard of doing this where there's an entire team of people. Because the bottom line is DevRel is a very, very busy job. Because you don't have this marketing machine behind you working very effectively, you're probably doing a lot of the production work of your role anyway and it takes a full day to do a podcast well, in many cases.
So you're losing a day every time you spend an hour on a microphone. But if you're doing that and then you're going to conferences and then you're writing blog posts and then you're having the usual buffet of meetings and everyone wants to talk to you all the time to just check in and sync and see how we can collaborate; we need forms for that.
When people come to me and they want us to speak at their event, or they want us to collaborate on a piece of conduct, I have a form for that and once a week, the entire team sits down and we review all of those in a content review meeting and that guarantees that person, the highest quality of feedback for their project, all 10 of us, 11 of us counting myself, are going to look at that and give them the answers they need and we have guaranteed timeline for them. We have a deal that we will respond to you by Friday 2:00 PM Pacific if you give us the thing by Thursday morning, every single week like clockwork and that encourages the rest of the organization to engage you the way that makes sense for you as a team, instead of just little random ad hoc pieces.
So yes, it should be done internally. You need to make space for it. If you are doing external DevRel, too, but it's already part of your job and having a dedicated team actually makes a ton of sense. I would love to see more of that.
REIN: Let's say that I am a technical lead, or a senior developer and there's this thing that my team has been doing and I really wish the rest of the company knew about it because I think it could help them. What should I do?
JONAN: You should find marketing people. You're looking for the internal comms team in your marketing organization. There are people whose whole job is to communicate those things to the rest of the company; they're very good at it and they can tell you about all those avenues. We all have that internal blog thing, whatever. They're all pretty terrible, honestly, especially in larger companies—nobody reads them, that’s the problem—but they can help you get engagement on those things, help them be shared in the right channels, in your chat platform. That's the people I would work out to.
There are humans who are real good at helping you talk about your work and they're in marketing and it's a difficult place to engage, but look for your internal comms person. Failing that, make sure that your project is on point before you take it to people. If you don't have a read me that is at a 110%, that's your first step. Make sure that people understand how they can get involved and how to use the project and try it over and over and over again from scratch. Break it intentionally and see how painful it is to fix. Make it just the most user-friendly product you possibly can before you take it out there and you'll get better.
MANDO: This is something also that not just