Fly Less, Write More: the future of Developer Relations, and maybe, well, everything else

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I have been self isolating since early March. For the first week and a half the kids were still at school, which was actually more stressful than having them at home. But we’ve all been doing the Stay at Home thing for a few weeks now. What a great time for my eldest to prove himself yet again as a level-headed, kind, center of calm in the life of a family of five.

Productivity has suffered a fair bit, but to be honest that just isn’t the most important thing right now. In the spirit of getting something done, though, a highlight for me has been a community we’ve been building around the idea of Developer Relations in the era of flying less. A group of us are running a conference in May called FlylessConf (CFP goes live next week!), and we have a weekly meetup to discuss what it’s like to support developer communities when you can’t leave the house. One of the most obvious mainstays of our industry that has disappeared overnight is tech conferences, or rather they’ve morphed. Some have been cancelled, some have gone online, some are in a holding position. One thing is for sure – we’re all learning a lot about developer and customer engagement without in person meetings.

One reason I focused on Dev Rel as a community is that it’s a group of folks that do so much traveling in their jobs. Also – they are my people. I presented at DevRelCon in November 2018 with a talk titled Sympathy for the Dev Rel (yes there were many Rolling Stones references) in which I argued that the entire practice of developer relations and developer advocacy might be better if we traveled less and focused more on content creation – sample apps, how to guides for APIs, videos about how to get the most out of the platform. Fly less, Write more. Stripe isn’t incredible because it sends advocates out on the road to every conference, but because it is world class at technical communications. A small team makes a huge impact.

New practices will be called for. Presenting, for example, is so much harder without seeing the audience in front of you. I did my first virtual keynote recently at a great community conference called Aginext and I found it much harder not having people in the room while I presented. Maybe I need a laughter track… The Q&A in Zoom afterwards though, felt nicely intimate. Discord, Zoom, On24, Glitch, Twitch, GitHub, Youtube, all the platforms are going to get a workout, and new ones will emerge that best suit distributed work.

That’s the thing. The coronavirus is a tragedy, but then, so were our carbon footprints. As I have been saying for a while:

“The last 10 years was about distributed computing, the next 10 years will be about distributed work.”

It’s been funny seeing everyone position themselves as experts in working from home – Slack may develop tools for teams, but they all worked on Campus. Well until Covid-19 they did. We’re all going to better at this stuff, joining companies like GitLab that were already 100% remote (the company’s guide to distributed work is very good.)

Anyway – I’d love for you to join the Flyless community, even if you aren’t strictly a Developer Relations practitioner or manager. The conversation is going to be relevant to all kinds of business function. This is from my welcome post:

This seems like as good a time as any to set the foundations of a new way of working, which is better for people, and better for the climate, and which scales better and more inclusively. The word inclusive is so important – the tech industry is more distributed than ever, with incredible, super-energetic hotspots around the world. Check out Nigeria for example – which has some of the most active, open source first, developer communities in the world. But North America and European countries make it super hard for Nigerians to get visas to travel to conferences. This is morally wrong, but also makes no business sense. Why would you shut out the future? Especially in an industry which is supposed to be forward facing? We’re going to need to massively grow developer populations worldwide to meet the challenges we face – which means better education, better engagement and better support.

Which people and companies are using online platforms most effectively to engage with developers, to learn from them? What should the focus of Developer Advocacy, Developer Experience and Developer Relations be? How can we have a richer advocacy conversation between advocates in the field and the engineering teams? With more work online could we build better metrics, and KPIs, to ensure Dev Rel people can do great work, and have better more stressful lives, with more time for their loved ones? Spend more time writing blog posts, more time making videos, more time writing code samples? We hope so.

Some of the industry changes we’re currently making, even if they’re being forced upon us, will be for the better in the long run. Every business function will be affected, from sales to customer service to marketing to product management to logistics. We need to overcome the obsession with being at every conference and meeting in person. We can be more inclusive and accessible as an industry by flying less, and working from home more, and that would be better for everyone in the long run.

disclosure statement: GitLab is a client.

(Read this and other great posts  @ RedMonk)

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