Event Review: DevRel Summit

Developer Relations Summit logo

DevRel is short for “Developer Relations” and is becoming increasingly important in technical marketing as more companies find that traditional marketing is out of touch with their developer audiences. DevRel Summit is a homegrown Seattle conference for practitioners of this art. I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural DevRel Summit this week and it was well worth the time and money.

If you’re not familiar with DevRel, there are a few titles/departments that fall into it: Developer Marketing, Developer Advocacy, Developer/Technical Evangelism, and Community Management. They all tend to overlap and can be somewhat interchangeable. Basically, it’s engagement with a technical audience by people who can speak tech with authority and credibility. They engage via teaching, demos, social media, building blocks (sample code, schematics), supporting communities, and listening to those communities to bring their concerns back into the company.

While the tech industry tends to be overwhelmingly white and male, the selection of presenters wasn’t. When you factored in the panel compositions, there were more women on stage during the day than there were men, yet there was never a feeling that this was a conference about women or for women. It was simply a professional conference that just happened to have more women on stage. That was cool.

The turnout was a bit small, maybe 50-60 people at the outset, dwindling to about 30+ people by the end of the day. I have a number of theories for that, but the #1 is when you do a local event, it makes it a lot easier for people to be pulled away for work, family, or other things. With conferences where most people travel to be there, they don’t have anywhere else to go that day. Still, for the inaugural edition, that was a very good start. I really hope they’ll continue doing it once or twice a year and look forward to watching it grow as word of mouth circulates.

Now to the content. I love when I go to one of these events and it just sparks all sorts of thoughts about how I could do my job better, new things I can do. There were 4-5 talks during the day where I took away great ideas to improve the developer experience with the product I evangelize.

One of the ALL CAPS ones in my notes came from Robi Gangully’s presentation. Robi runs Apptentive, and the nugget I gleaned was “stop saying ‘users.'” The word “users” tends to separate us from the fact that our “customers” are “people.” Our audience is not an amorphous aggregate blob of stimulus/response cells. Our audience is a collection of individuals from a variety of backgrounds who have come to our product for different reasons. Our audience is made of people, and we need to start personalizing the words we use to describe them. In doing so, we change how we think of them and approach them, helping us to serve them better and earn more of their loyalty.

Two great presentations on working with the people who form your product’s community came from A.J. Glasser and Mary Thengvall, helping me to think about how my product could extend itself to people who would find it useful, rather than trying to draw them to it.

I also found the “Inclusion in Action” panel enlightening, particularly the participation of Chris Loo, promoting the #HackHarrasment project. I have seen too many friends and people I respect become the target of online harassers. People are shouted down, threatened with violence, and attacked (DDOSing, doxing, swatting, etc.). We need to change the dynamic of social media. These harassers are poisonous to community, to free and open discussion, and to inclusion of diverse viewpoints. I took the #HackHarrasment pledge. I hope you’ll join.

I also have to call out Lee Ngo, the emcee for the day, for doing a wonderful job. Lee is an evangelist and all-around community guy for Galvanize’s Seattle Campus, and has established himself as an uplifting presence in the local tech community over the past year. Seattle is lucky to have him.

In conclusion, I commend the organizers of the DevRel Summit for a great program and great event. I hope that this and other blog posts by other attendees will help expand the community they’re building, build the reputation of this event, and that they’ll continue to put on events like this in the future.

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