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Sarah-Jane Morris for Listen Community Consulting

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How to Encourage Developer Community Collaboration from Day One

NB: This post was originally published on Vanilla Forums' Blog on May 28th, 2019
Cover image by Bharathi Kannan on Unsplash

In this fourth and final post in our series about encouraging developer community collaboration, we’ll take a look at how some established and newer developer communities including Slack, Shopify, Atlassian, and Stoplight fostered collaboration from the earliest stages of their developer community (when their community members were but wee pups!).

Talk, Talk, Talk!

All of our developer community experts agreed that when getting started building community on your platform, spending time talking to all engaged developers is crucial. This intentional outreach sets the stage for building trust, a crucial factor in ensuring your developers will want to grow with your platform and help other developers grow within it.

Keep your early-stage developers directly aware of any changes to the program. Early adoption by a developer can often also mean trust in the founding team, so keeping these developers informed of changes, no matter how tiny or sweeping they may be in the early days, can keep your developers along for the ride as you iterate and grow.

As you speak to these developers, ideas for collaboration will likely pop up. Directly introducing early stage developers to each other at this stage encourages collaboration a little more manually from the start. Neil Mansilla, Head of Developer Experience at Atlassian, told me many of the early stage devs from the Atlassian community remain active leaders in their communities as a result of this strong early stage relationship.

Ask, Ask, Ask!

Talking to developers is crucial, but you can really take it to the next level by asking them targeted and specific questions. This can result in getting the direction that you need to build out your product and create a set of tools or APIs that developers will want to collaborate on.

Asking questions, be it through one on one conversation or through surveys, will help fill that early stage community trust battery. This will ultimately ensure that your developers not only feel safe to build and create in your community but will also feel better about their fellow developers within the community, which will increase the chances of collaboration.

When Taylor Barnett, Lead Community Engineer at Stoplight, was making early-stage technology decisions for Stoplight's community, she talked to as many developers as she could:

“When I joined Stoplight, as employee number nine, there wasn't any place for users to talk to each other at all. I had to call over 30 different users in the first few months, and I was like, what would you like to see? It became apparent that people wanted to see how other people are using Stoplight. They wanted to collaborate on different things around Stoplight. The forum made sense.” - Taylor Barnett, Stoplight

In order to grow a safe and inclusive community with staying power, it’s important to intentionally showcase diverse developers to your wider community. Doing so will help developers of all kinds feel represented and welcome, resulting in richer collaborations and more powerful integrations in the long run.

“Diversity and inclusion are super important for us. I'll look for some of the amazing vocal people and poke my team like, 'this person is a great writer, we haven't showcased them or people like him or her, so let's give them more of a voice!’” - Liz Couto, Shopify

Nurture the Natural Helpers

“There's a guy named Daniel Wester and he was with a company called Appfire and he has some very successful apps on the marketplace but he's also just one of those guys that just loves to help people out. He's not doing it for karma points, he's not doing it for anything other than the fact that he's very passionate about helping other people. We're lucky that we have quite a few people that are like that. These devs have been with us for ten to twelve years and sometimes know the product better than we do!“ - Neil Mansilla, Atlassian

If you're lucky, some folks that are just naturally helpful will be early and enthusiastic members of your community. If you want to increase the odds of that happening, make sure that you create and widely share a solid code of conduct with enforcement planning from the get-go. This will ensure that the kinds of developers that emerge in the early stages of your community know that in order to share their knowledge, they must do so respectfully. Elizabeth Kinsey, Developer Marketing Manager at Slack, lists code of conduct creation as her top tip to ensure the building blocks for collaboration are in place for a new developer community:

“Know what the boundaries and the guidelines are, that you want for people in that community. Create a safe space by creating the expectation that people will treat each other kindly. And you can't do it just with hope. That is a place where you do have to really hard line and say this is what we expect out of our people who are participating in this. And this is the kind of behavior that will not be tolerated. So I think that that is a critical piece.” - Elizabeth Kinsey, Slack

examples of swag boxes with taco stickers and handwritten messages
Taken from my former Keen IO colleague Justin Johnson’s presentation, “Building Community at a Company That Makes Things for Makers”

One of my favorite tactics for building developer commitment, trust, and collaboration was the care packs we’d sent out to developers during Keen IO’s first couple of years building out their community. Keen’s API had an easter egg, that when discovered by a developer, allowed them to enter a t-shirt size, color preference, and shipping address. Every week, the community team would get together and assemble the care packages with t-shirts, stickers and silly toys, and then personalize each box before shipping them off. When received, developers would tweet pics of them, building a ton of goodwill within Keen’s early stage developer community. This helped Keen ensure that their early stage devs stuck around.

Check out my online workshop on Vanilla's site that walks through all the juiciest takeaways from the developer collaboration series!

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