5 Challenges of Building Developer Advocacy Programs
Developer advocacy

5 Challenges of Building Developer Advocacy Programs

And how to solve them

Sara Waszyńska
14 minutes
October 10, 2022
Written by
Sara Waszyńska
June 9, 2022
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With the tech we have at our disposal nowadays we can achieve things that were unthinkable just a couple of years ago. While the tools are there for you to use, you don't always have the talent at your disposal to make full use of that. This is where developer advocates come into play: experts who are invested in your vision, but are also technology-literate enough to speak with other developers on equal terms.

However, developer advocacy may be far more complicated than it initially seems.  It’s a complicated process that involves assembling a developer community and ensuring that all the technical knowledge is communicated in a quick and easy way, so that any potential user can succeed with your product’s API, SDK, etc. This requires approaches that often demand thinking outside the box.

Developer advocacy program managers face a whole host of challenges along their journey. We're here to tell you a little bit about what developer advocacy even is and how you can ultimately overcome those challenges and get on top of your game. You’ll soon find out just how easy and profitable creating your own Developer Advocacy program may be.

Why do tech companies create Developer Advocacy programs?

Let's get the big question out of the way first. If you're reading this, you're probably curious to know why you even need a developer advocate.

While we've already covered this topic, it's one that bears explaining time and time again, since the benefits dev advocates can provide you with are nothing to sneeze at.

Developer advocacy is unique in that it mostly involves business to developer - or B2D - relationships. In regular B2B and B2C relations, things are much more straightforward: you're selling a product, offering a form of collaboration, etc. Within the wider tech community, developers don't quite fit into the definition of a customer or a business, but form a distinct third option.

Developers as decision makers

With around 70% of companies looking to developers for help when choosing new software, developers are some of the most influential members of their respective companies, you'll definitely want to get in their good books. They're your key to success.

The trouble is, they won't just settle for anything. For developers to be interested in working on a product, they need to be really invested in it. They need to be shown there is real value to your product that will give them something to build on. 

Devs usually won't just take your word for it. You'll need to provide a bunch of guides, case studies, and other materials that will give the developers the information they need to decide whether your idea has value to them or not.

This is what lies at the heart of developer advocacy. Companies that invest in Developer Relations and Developer Advocacy Programs have access to a whole team of experts that can not only make your ideas easier to sell, but also easier to digest.

The developer advocate role is thus an important one, and it's far from an easy one. In this article, we'll show you what challenges a developer advocacy program manager may face in their work, and how they can be overcome.

5 Common Challenges tech companies face when creating a Developer Advocacy program

There's a reason the term "developer evangelist" is often used interchangeably with developer advocate. In essence, a Developer Advocacy program in your company is there to convert people, in this case devs, to your company values, along with showing other devs how your API or other products can be used effectively.

As techies aren't usually into marketers (but are definitely into the techy stuff you want to hire them to do), you need a developer advocate that will meet you both halfway. This, of course, comes with its unique set of challenges. Today we're focusing on five of the biggest ones so that you know what to prepare for when establishing a developer relations team.

Turning developer community members into engaged advocates

The first challenge is actually finding the people who will serve as the backbone of your developer advocacy program. Your starting point is a developer community. To ensure the best level of engagement, you need to make sure the developer experience is top-notch. However, since these are all different people with different backgrounds and values, there may be more than one solution to consider.

Some developers are simply watchers, taking in the open-source community's ideas but not really contributing much on their own. Others are much more engaged, being active within the community, to the point of forming their own subcommunities. These are often called community leaders, and they will be your main picks for developer advocates.

This is the main driving force behind developer advocacy. By finding engaged community members and showing your appreciation for their commitment, you can get some seriously successful developer advocates on board. We're talking about people who not are not only already experts in the field, but are excited to talk about it to others. This is organic value exchange at its peak.

Solution: How Community Leaders can change the game

One example of a company employing this principle is Docker. They provide us with a great example of what a Developer Advocacy can be structured like to incentivize the best engagement. Their Docker Captain Program is their way of promoting specific members of their community as leaders, making them feel like important pillars of the company, thus further increasing their morale and willingness to successfully advocate for you.

Docker Captains website
Docker Captains website and an example of Developer Community Leader program

This is only one example of centering the engagement of your community as the core of your Developer Advocacy program. Another route to take is sharing the work of your community and showing how much you appreciate it.

Your official channels have a lot of reach, and seeing their name on there listed as a top contributor can go a long way in making them work well as a mediator between your company and external developers. Advocate satisfaction is the backbone of good developer relations.

Google Developer Experts showcasing their Expert's work on their blog and LinkedIn profile.
Google Developer Experts showcasing their Expert's work on their blog and LinkedIn profile.

Keeping the human factor in place

In this global economy, we know companies like to think big. And that's a good thing - you can't reach the stars if you aim for the trees, and there is a lot of potential in the tech industry that only keeps growing year by year. The main problem that this involves, though, is that, as the company grows larger, the humans who keep it together grow further and further apart. This becomes a difficulty for your developer advocates in particular because it's that very humanity that connects you with developers.

It's easy to consider your developer community one big monolith that will just keep doing their thing as you add more people into it to keep up with your growing business.

While a well established team should work like a single organism, it's still made up of individual people with their motivations and values. The more of them there are, the harder it is for everyone to still feel that they matter.

Because of all this, as the scale of your business increases, you need to pay even closer attention to the individual needs of your team members. 

Solution: The importance of trust

To make your life easier, you should place your trust in your Community Leaders, making sure that they pay attention to all the feedback you get from the others, so that you know what to work with.

Advocating for developers really depends on the motivation and good will of the members of a Developer Advocate program, so it's important to keep that in check even as your scope increases exponentially.

Constant engagement of developer advocates

We've already talked at length about motivation and how it forms the most human aspect of developer advocate work. That type of engagement usually comes out organically, as you'll be choosing your leaders based on how into the whole idea they are.

Still, excitement is always at its peak when a new and exciting project starts. Keeping that level of engagement is where the real challenge lies.

Solution: Maintaining focus

Your role as the manager here is crucial. Your community and developer advocates have to know what they're standing on to be excited about it. Make sure they're always aware of what your journey is all about. What are your goals? What stage are you at? Where are you going and what else do you need to do to get there? What is the next immediate step? Keep them posted and keep involved.

But telling them is only one half of the equation. As a program manager, you don’t exactly have the same outlook as things as your developers, so make sure you listen to their own personal goals, needs, and visions as well. With that, you can provide them with the best developer experience, allowing you all to work together toward a common endgame.

Your relationship with your developers will rely heavily on values and authenticity, as that's the fuel that will keep everyone going to the end.

We keep saying this, but it bears repeating: appreciate your advocates. Show them that you're open to their input and that they'll be rewarded for it. Sometimes all it takes is to give them some swag.

Women Techmakers' swag pack from one of their Ambassadord.
Women Techmakers' swag pack for one of their Ambassadors.

How to Offer Localized Experience to a Global Community

Globalization has been a blessing to the tech industry. With the internet bringing us all closer together, the talent pool of the entire world is at our disposal. This global village phenomenon has been particularly crucial in helping us all get through the limitations imposed by the pandemic.

In fact, the isolation we've endured in the lockdowns has been a breeding ground for even better solutions for online gathering. Last Link is a good example of a piece of software that's a direct result of this recent situation, being a communication tool allowing you to create multiple rooms and more easily manage larger meetings.

Of course, while the benefits of the unlimited access to clients worldwide cannot be overstated, they come with additional challenges for your developer advocate team. While the world is large and diverse, your team can only get so big before becoming unmanageable.

To top it off, developers around the world come from wholly different cultural backgrounds and live in different timezones, so adjusting to that will be one of the biggest areas of interest for you.

Solution: Learn to compartmentalize and delegate 

The key solution here is to prioritize and divide work appropriately. A good example of handling this situation is the Google Developer ecosystem. It goes without saying that Google is one of the giants of the industry with a truly global reach, so it's no wonder they'd have this particular aspect in the bag.

Google Developer Groups website, with option to find a local developer community near you
Google Developer Groups website, with option to find a local developer community near you

What they did was establish a whole network of developer advocates acting as community leaders that each act on a local level. Across 140 countries they have over 1000 chapters, each with its organizer. They are responsible for organizing various events, meetups, and general community-related issues. It's also straightforward to join or even establish a new chapter, so developer advocates get all the tools they need.

As a result, Google has one of the most thriving developer advocate programs out there despite their size. In fact, they make the best of their size and truly capitalize on the diversity, numbers, and motivation that come with it.

Validating the value of Developer Advocacy Programs

At this point, it should be pretty clear to see how exciting a developer advocacy program can be. It's something new that can truly revitalize your relationship with devs and help expand the developer experience in general. But even though we're absolutely here for that enthusiasm, this is the part where we try to dial it back a bit.

This is because, while enthusiasm can really put some steam into a project, it's not what will bring you the biggest ROI. The last challenge we're detailing here is the need for a current strategy.

Solution: Keeping your eye on the prize

Developer advocates need to know where they're standing on to get going. Your job as their manager is to give them what they require. Momentum without direction is pointless, so start by establishing what direction you're heading in.

Use Deceloper Avocacy Canvas to draft the strategy of your program.
Use Developer Advocacy Canvas to draft the strategy of your program.

Your vision needs to be clear, as that's not only what will keep motivating your developer advocate team, but also put the wind in your sails, financially speaking. The main vision is what allows you to make estimates, establish business goals, and keep your project together for as long as it needs to keep going.

Now that your values and goals are established, you need to keep tabs on how much of that has been fulfilled. This is the more difficult part, as it doesn't directly involve your actions, but those of your community members.

Trust will play a crucial role at this stage, but that can only go so far. Having faith in your developer advocates is incredibly important, but numbers are still numbers. Of course, you could rely on spreadsheets and track the progress your team is doing manually, but there is a more efficient way to overcome this particular challenge.

Advocu: The best Developer Advocacy Management Software

Here's where we step in to offer our direct help. Advocu's Developer Advocacy Management Software is something we've cooked up specifically for making your life easier as someone handling a developer advocate community. You can manage every aspect of your program, but it's also incredibly easy to set up work for your developer advocates and always be up to date with it. If you're using leaderboards or activity streams, our software also makes it much easier for the open-source community to showcase their work.

Engage developer advocates more, by giving them a clear directions to report their contributions.
Engage developer advocates more, by giving them a clear directions to report their contributions.

If you're ready to make your Developer Advocacy Program on the road but don't know where to start, contact us today and schedule a demo. We'll show you how easy it can be.

Summary

A great developer advocate is a crucial mediator between the marketing and dev aspect of any modern business. As the potential in technology grows, so too does the need for a specialist that will be able to translate that knowledge into what basically amounts to diplomacy. With a breadth of developer experience on your team and some help from software like ours, you can soon be on your way to set up your Developer Advocacy Program and help your business enter the next stage.

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