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Dave Nugent 🌉
Dave Nugent 🌉

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Make your DevRel Team More Efficient: Strategies for Partnerships & Logistics

Today we're speaking with Lisa Jung, Programs Lead for IBM San Francisco developer relations team. Lisa has spent the last year scaling the San Francisco team's efficiency: while our number of developer advocates has stayed constant, the number, scale, and efficacy of those events have increased.

Table of Contents

Lisa speaking before a meetup

Q: Tell me about the strategies and tactics you've used in the last twelve months at IBM, and how you measure your success through metrics.

Before I joined the San Francisco City team, we held meetups and events on an ad-hoc basis. Nobody could predict a reliable time when the could reach us and learn from us. Instead of hosting four events one week and then a multiple-week hiatus, I suggested we could reliably schedule one webinar and one meetup per week. Since implementing that strategy, our community has responded positively and grown. From a starting point of 5,000 community members in October 2018, we grew by +500 in the 4th quarter, and since implementing that strategy, we grew +2,100 the first two quarters alone. We are now at 8000 community members and we achieved that in 11 months!

So, this scheduling strategy has been effective for metrics, but also team-building and efficiency. Everyone on the team works together to build out our event schedule on quarterly calendars. On an individual level, our developer advocates love knowing what their schedule will be in advance: it helps them plan around our events and helps to prevent burn-out. Each advocate knows they’re committing to one in-person meetup and one webinar per month, in addition to any external events they schedule independently. It has created a lot of stability in our team as well as in our community as a whole.

Incidentally, I’m observing an increase in meetup attendance as well. A year ago, we’d see some meetups with three to eight attendees -- not great when you’re paying for the space and a food budget! Now, some of our meetups draw upwards of fifty to eighty developers and other community members. Our monthly summit draws up to 150 attendees!

Lisa staffing a booth

Q: How do you find new and interesting technical content for your meetup attendees?

Leveraging our partnerships provides a great value for us and other communities. We select partners based on their technical and community demographics, so partners who are talking about AI, Blockchain Chatbots, serverless, or other topics relevant to us. We also look at the size of their community and the frequency of their events to see if it’s a good fit. We know that smaller meetup groups can have difficulty finding speakers and sponsors, so all our partners are provided with IBM experts and a sponsorship budget for food, and their community gets exposure to cutting-edge technologies that they would not otherwise be exposed to.

Often, we’ll help partners by cross-promoting their meetup, so even when they have a smaller presence, we’ll help drive attendance and get exposure for their group, growing their community. The fact that they’re partnering with a tech giant like IBM can also help our partner’s credibility.

Lisa with community members after a meetup

Q: How do you choose which companies to partner with, and how do you make that pitch effectively?

Sometimes we’ll partner with companies whose technologies are complementary with ours. Our own technologies and our partner's technologies then get exposed to each other’s community, increasing the awareness of our tech as well as the knowledge of the group. I think it helps our audience understand that we’re not a product-focused group -- since we’re partnering with other companies, our agenda doesn’t seem one-sided or sales-focused.

Q: In addition to the cold hard numbers that we report to the bosses, tech meetups are also about community. How do you keep developers engaged and make them feel welcome?

I’m one of the front-line soldiers when it comes to interacting with developers face-to-face. Whenever we’re strategizing about how to bring up our attendee engagement level, I often bring up some of the questions developers have asked me during meetups. Questions that developers ask when troubleshooting their code during workshops can also be valuable.

One thing that really helped our engagement and trust-building has been building relationships with developers through our in-depth workshops. While I don’t have a tech background, I am excellent at remembering their names and getting them a fast response to questions -- these types of interactions create trust and can go really far in fostering a positive, growing community.

I’m on a first-name basis with many of the developers in our meetups, and they can become some of the most excited advocates for IBM. It's exciting to see them posting about what they’ve learned on social media, and giving us feedback to improve our talks and workshops going forward.

Lisa and other team members

Q: What advice would you give to a DevRel team that wants to get started building a community?

Focus on the human aspect of it. How do you win the hearts of developers? How do you help developers see you as an ally? How do you build a community that grows organically? How do you build a community where developers reach out to you for all sorts of questions? You want your community members to feel open to approach you in these ways, rather than giving them the line: “We have the best technology, go code something.” Developers can get information everywhere, but you want to make sure you foster an environment where developers come to you for your expertise.

Lisa at Google

Q: What are some best practices for facilitating a globally-distributed developer advocacy network?

One thing that makes our team unique is that while we’re part of a big corporation, the way we innovate on our strategy is so agile that we work like a startup. There are different hierarchies in the corporation, but in our team and even throughout the city we work side-by-side, helping each other to implement ideas quickly, and share our successes with the rest of the City Teams around the globe.

For example, our Summits are becoming very popular. This is an idea where we were inspired by the NYC team, but we made it our own by choosing our own topics, creating a new schedule for the summit, and recruiting IBM speakers from different departments as well as luminaries from other companies. We pulled together our first summit in only three weeks, had 300+ registrants and had to shut down registration because it was so popular!

Now other city teams and companies are interested in how to replicate that success in their organizations, and we were able to hold an all-hands meeting and share our best practices to help facilitate that. I love the fact that we’re so free to think of ideas knowing that we will be supported inside the team and with team members to help implement these ideas into reality.

Q: How did you get into developer relations as a field?

This is a completely new field for me; however, I’ve been doing program management and event management for eight years now. I first got involved with IBM while I was working at Galvanize, helping Maya who was the IBM Execution Leader at the time. I got to see all the workshops that she hosted, and my interest was piqued. After joining IBM, I appreciate that we’re not focusing on the sales aspect of the product, but rather helping developers build solutions that work for them, building trust with them and empowering the community. We get to make a huge difference in our developer community and that is why I love working in developer advocacy.

IBM Developer Team

Q: Anybody you want to call out in the DevRel community for doing a particularly awesome job?

Jim Weaver, Quantum developer advocate at IBM, is one of the most engaging and inspiring developer advocates I ever had the pleasure to work with. Not only does he put on an amazing show composing and playing music with a Quantum Computer, he makes every attendee feel seen and valued. You should definitely catch him wherever he gives a workshop because you will be laughing and having fun while learning a lot about Quantum Computing.

Thank you Lisa for taking the time to share her thoughts on developer relations.

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