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Why Developer Communities Matter to Developers.

For part 3 of our developer interview series, we have a guest post by one of our engineers, Logan Pendergrass.

I think I can speak for most developers when I say that most marketers don’t get us. We’re an extremely diverse group in both knowledge and skill, as well as projects and day-to-day tasks, but across the board, we have less-than-stellar experiences when brands try to talk to us, especially within developer communities. For anyone unfamiliar, a developer community is an online forum space where developers can discuss coding issues, new products/solutions, and help each other fix bugs, and avoid common project bottlenecks. Places like Stack Overflow and DeveloperMedia are great examples of these. At the end of the day, we know what we want, how we want it, and why it’s important to us, while marketers often know the “what” but not the “how” or “why” of the equation.

If I were to wager a guess, I would say that most marketers think these communities are important because they allow brands to share new solutions, use cases, upcoming events, and product tutorials with developers. While these are all things developers need, the reasoning behind them is flawed. A developer community is for developers first and foremost, and while conceiving of ways a brand can benefit from the said community is fine, marketers often put their needs first and it is always quite obvious and off-putting.

Okay, marketers, it’s time to put yourself in my shoes. Here are the two ways in which developer communities matter to us devs, and what that means for you.

1) Product adoption.

A developer community around a solution is a big must-have, but not because it helps “spread awareness.” That might be true from a marketing perspective, but for a developer, a community can offer everything from the most basic of needs to the most obscure workaround hacks. Seeing other developers actively talking about a solution breeds confidence. For this reason, it can be a major deciding factor in product adoption.

When I’m looking for code that could save me time—or even become a part of mission-critical infrastructure—I don’t stop at the first product that checks my boxes. I’ll compare multiple products by stacking up my need-to-haves vs nice-to-haves. When I find a product or solution that has a developer community behind it, I know there is somewhere I can go to get information if I need it. The more natural the community seems, the better. I especially look for communities where there are a lot of developer advocates, those members that go out of their way to highlight common use cases, benefits, code samples, tutorials, and more. When I see a lot of people engaging at this level, I know 1) the solution must really work for them or they wouldn’t put so much effort into sharing it, and 2) there are people who can help me if I get stuck.

Advice to marketers.

Marketers, please don’t push your products onto us. Want to tell us how the product solves our problem? Great! But stop trying to sell us on all the things it does. If I’m scrolling through a developer community, I’m looking for answers, not sales pitches. If you want us to try your product then speak our language, be direct, and do it to be helpful rather than self-serving. I’m happy to try out a new solution but it needs to make my life easier, not more complicated because you want to bury a simple code sample or tutorial behind contact forms.

2) Product support.

Want to know one of the biggest nightmare scenarios for a developer? It’s 3am and something breaks but there’s no product support team available to help you solve it. Then you search the internet for fixes and can’t find any other developer using this product and talking about it. Now you’re left with a big problem, no help, and (usually) not much time to fix it. We’ve all been there, we dread the idea of being there, and do whatever we can to avoid it. Support is HUGE, and a developer community offers extra support, acting as a security blanket for developers.

If I’m looking to adopt a new solution and there’s no community that talks about optimizations or fixing common bugs, then I’ll have zero reference points for my work if I use it. I won’t have knowledge of best practices, what’s new or updated (and how this affects what I’m doing), if there are any faster ways to carry out certain tedious tasks with the solution, what other products developers have been able to adjust to working with the solution or anything else along those lines. All of that technical and relatable knowledge a community offers brings a developer a sense of security and maybe even a safety net at times. We never want to get stuck, which is why having a community around a product, working toward similar goals, and using the same solutions is so valuable to us.

Advice to marketers.

Marketers, do you want to know what we need, what interests us, and how to better get our attention? Then offer us support! I’m not going to adopt a product and continue using it if there’s no support. A developer community goes hand-in-hand with the need for product support. These communities are a way for us to support and encourage each other, and you can either join in that effort or be on the outside looking in. If a marketer wants developer advocacy, they need to create it by joining in on community conversations and not trying to take charge of them. Support us and we will support you.