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In an ever-evolving tech landscape, the role of Developer Relations (DevRel) has emerged as a linchpin in bridging the gap between companies and their technical communities. Yet, as programs scale, how can organizations maintain the personal touch that makes these relationships so valuable? Jarek Jarzębowski delves into this question in a candid conversation with Gerald Crescione, an expert in fostering and scaling developer relations. From the intricacies of building genuine relationships with ambassadors to demonstrating tangible business outcomes, Gerald shares insights that both illuminate the challenges faced by DevRel professionals and offer innovative solutions. Whether you're a seasoned professional in the DevRel arena or just embarking on your journey, this dialogue offers a fresh perspective on blending personal connections with scalable practices in today's tech world.
Key Takeaways from the Conversation
Motivation and Recruitment: The main reason for launching the ambassador program was to find more voices to help with advocacy, specifically about emphasizing the importance of security. Most ambassadors applied through an online application process, though some were handpicked. Gerald Crescione is now aiming for a more streamlined recruitment process.
Personal Relationships and Scaling: The importance of building personal relationships with ambassadors and how this approach ensured that good ideas weren't lost in the process. As the program scaled, they transitioned to monthly office hours via Zoom and set up a private channel for ambassadors on their Discord server, introducing the "Community Hangout" to maintain close connections.
Role of Developer Relations: the main role of Developer Relations (DevRel) isn't about sales or marketing but about educating the community on broader security topics. Furthermore, Developer Relations can play a vital role in raising awareness about the significance of the industry segment and driving developer adoption by simplifying processes and enhancing the developer experience.
Conversation with Gerald Crescione
In this section, delve into the profound insights and takeaways from our comprehensive discussion with Gerald Crescione about leading ambassador programs and nurturing developer relations. The conversation intricately explores the challenges and benefits of building personal relationships, the innovative methods adopted for scalability while retaining quality, and the overarching significance of community-driven growth in the tech realm. For a deeper understanding and to grasp the intricacies of their dialogue, make sure to catch the full conversation on the Advocu podcast.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Hello, Gerald. Thank you for finding time to share your experience with our listeners. Before we start, can you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Gerald Crescione: Of course, Jarek. I'm happy to be here and thanks a lot for having me. I'm Gerald, and I'm currently with the DevRel team at Snyk. I serve as a lead program manager. Essentially, I work behind the scenes to ensure that all of our programs are efficient, delivered on time, and aligned with our business goals. Additionally, I lead the ambassadors program for Snyk, which we might delve into a bit more during our conversation. I've been with Snyk for a little over a year, joining them when my previous startup was acquired by them. This acquisition is significant because it ties directly into my DevRel experience. In my prior role at the startup, a significant portion of my job revolved around raising awareness among developers about the issues our tool aimed to address. This often involved publishing high-quality technical material to educate and equip developers, helping them enhance their skills. So, in essence, I would say I've been engaged in developer relations for about three to four years now.
Jarek Jarzębowski: That's actually quite significant in terms of DevRel since it's a relatively young field. I'd like to focus on the Ambassador's program as you mentioned. But I'm also interested in discussing its effectiveness and results, considering you're responsible for ensuring that. Before we dive into the broader topic of DevRel effectiveness and Ambassador programs, can you shed some light on the Ambassador program at Snyk?
Gerald Crescione: The Ambassador's program at Snyk is relatively young, being a little over a year old. It was launched in late 2021, so it's probably been around for about a year and a half now. We currently have 26 Ambassadors representing us in 13 different countries worldwide. Our aim is to have a presence across all major regions, including the Americas, EMEA, and the Asia Pacific.
Within the program, we have a diverse set of individuals. This includes front-end developers, backend developers, cloud specialists, and more. The RIM, in particular, delves into everything related to cloud-native processes and automation. Additionally, we have architects and security practitioners. The common thread binding them all is a genuine interest and expertise in the security domain.
All of our ambassadors share our vision and help us emphasize the importance of developer-centric security. We firmly believe in the "shift left" approach, which advocates for the early integration of security practices. This means that security considerations begin right from the development phase, starting in the Integrated Development Environment (IDE). This proactive approach is central to what we promote, and our ambassadors play a pivotal role in championing this narrative.
Jarek Jarzębowski: And why did you start the program? As you have mentioned, it is only one and a half years old. What were your goals? What were the motivations behind starting this program?
Gerald Crescione: I would say that the original motivation was really to find a way to extend the outreach of the DevRel team at Snyk. Because, as you know, teams are not extensible. At some point, there are only so many hours in the day. So we were aiming at finding new voices, new help to assist us in advocacy. Again, it's really about advocating for security from a general perspective. We're not looking for people who just advertise for us. What we really want are people who help us educate other developers, bringing technical and educational material to them. That was the primary motivation.
How can we find additional voices, people who would assist us by speaking at conferences, organizing meetups, writing blog posts, and so on? That was the real driving force initially. And then, as time passed, we realized we also received an extremely valuable input from them regarding the product itself.Because almost all of our ambassadors are very knowledgeable about the Snyk platform. They're familiar with the tool; they use it either for personal projects or for their professional roles. They truly understand the product and provide us with valuable feedback on it. So this ambassador program also serves as a way for us to gather insights and fuel the product's roadmap. It's a channel to offer feedback to the product and product marketing teams.
Jarek Jarzębowski: You have mentioned that they are experts and that they are knowledgeable. How did you find them? Were they handpicked by you or by someone else, or did they apply to the program?
Gerald Crescione: Most of them, I'd say about 90%, applied. We have an application process on the DevSecCon website where they can apply to be ambassadors. We did do direct outreach to a few individuals we were aware of who were already active and supportive within the community. So a couple of them were brought in through that method. For instance, directly reaching out and saying, "Hey Jarek, I noticed you've been very active and supportive. How would you feel about being an ambassador?" But this is more the exception; the majority came to us through applications.
Gerald Crescione: Up to now, we've been opening applications quarterly. However, this process is evolving, which I'll expand upon shortly, as it relates to scaling the program. We are transitioning to a more streamlined and frequent method of onboarding and recruiting new ambassadors. This approach aims to be almost self-service for them, benefiting both the ambassadors and us in terms of efficiency.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Okay, and you mentioned that you opened the gate quarterly. Were the gates flooded when you did?
Gerald Crescione: Oh, absolutely. Especially at the beginning of the program, we were extremely cautious. We wanted to ensure we were setting things up correctly, building the right processes and so forth. It does take time to figure out how things work, especially when you're starting from scratch. So, we decided to onboard a batch of around 10 to 12 people, focusing our attention on them. We aimed to provide them with the necessary materials, support, and attention they needed. To announce the program, we simply sent out a tweet and a message on LinkedIn calling for ambassadors. We had a typeform available online for interested individuals to apply. Every time we did this, I found myself sifting through between 300 to 500 applications, which was overwhelming. Many of these applications were incredibly relevant and interesting, making the selection process challenging. It's really tough deciding who makes the cut.
Jarek Jarzębowski: And how did the process look, and how do you envision it moving forward? You mentioned wanting to make changes.
Gerald Crescione: In the initial stages, I would handle most of the preliminary steps. From the 500 applications, I would aim to whittle that number down to about 50. These would be individuals we felt were the best fit for the program. We'd then discuss this internally with the rest of the development team, arriving at a joint decision regarding the most suitable candidates.
Jarek Jarzębowski: So, you mentioned wanting to smoothen the process for ambassadors. Can you elaborate on that?
Gerald Crescione: Certainly. Our aim is to significantly expand the number of ambassadors this year, potentially doubling the size of the program. I'd love to establish a self-onboarding system. While I'd still be available for support, it would be ideal if ambassadors had access to a central hub where they can self-train on our products, news, and tools.
The application phase will remain, where candidates fill out a form detailing their background and explaining why they'd make a good ambassador. We're particularly interested in their motivations. Why would someone want to join such a program? I assume it's not just for the perks, and we're keen to understand their stories. While I'll still handle a lot of the manual work, the ongoing nature of the process means I won't be sifting through 500 applications all at once. It'll be a more continuous flow.We're in the process of setting up a resource hub on GitHub for our ambassadors. While not exhaustive, this hub will provide training materials about our products, basic presentation content like slide decks, explanations on devsecops, and why security is essential. This can be invaluable, especially when ambassadors have to present to customers, partners, or even students. Some are educators after all.
Additionally, the hub will house repositories with "goof code" or training and demo applications that are intentionally laden with vulnerabilities. These are strictly for demonstration purposes, showcasing how vulnerabilities might be hidden in code and how one can address them. We'll also be providing other resources like digital assets, among other things.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Once they're part of the program, you mentioned the initial motivation revolves around emphasizing the importance of security. As they progress, however, you also gain insights from the ambassadors. Can you elaborate on what's expected from them in terms of activity, regularity, and any other expectations?
Gerald Crescione: So far, we've operated on unofficial rules, though we're considering some adjustments. At the very least, we expect ambassadors to be active with us once quarterly. Given everyone's busy schedules and primary job commitments, we think this frequency strikes a good balance. Their participation can vary from videos, blog posts, podcasts, like today, to conference talks.A lot of them are, in fact, far more active than the minimum expectation. In terms of evangelism, this would be our baseline requirement. Now, there's a distinction between evangelism and advocacy. While evangelism focuses on promoting security externally, we value when ambassadors play a "developers advocate" role for us. They bridge the gap between the developers' world and Snyk by sharing feedback they gather from the community. This feedback, especially regarding security and our tool, proves invaluable.
They offer us a treasure trove of insights from the community. This feedback helps guide our product team, refining our roadmap and prioritizing certain features over others. To facilitate this, we hold monthly meetings where I usually invite a member from the product team. These members present on various aspects of the product, based on recent developments or upcoming features.Topics can range from software bill of materials to Snyk's involvement with open source. Our upcoming session, for instance, revolves around documentation. Each session follows a similar structure: a presentation from the product team, followed by a Q&A and discussion segment. This is where the most valuable exchanges occur. Additionally, we sometimes establish focus groups concentrating on specific product facets. This more concentrated approach assists product designers or marketers in gaining deeper insights. We essentially form task forces to delve deeper into particular areas when required.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Can you highlight any significant impacts ambassadors had on Snyk's development or roadmap?
Gerald Crescione: Certainly. Without getting into confidential specifics, our ambassadors played a pivotal role in the early testing phase of Sneak Cloud during its private beta. Their feedback, which often constitutes nearly half of our total feedback, is consistently invaluable. Beyond product feedback, ambassadors also deeply influence our community activities. For instance, in our community conferences like "DevSecCon", a significant portion of the speakers are our ambassadors or community leaders. They're chosen for their expertise and their ability to deliver valuable content, not just their title. They're truly the pillars of our community, fostering a vibrant and informative environment.
Jarek Jarzębowski: You said that you want to grow the program. Growing the program or scaling up often means that you don't have the same amount of energy, focus, or time that you can give to the indivudual ambassadors that currently are here and the future ambassadors. How do you balance it? The quality versus the growth and scaling up of the program?
Gerald Crescione: It's a very good question, actually, and I have to say it's super complicated. The trade-off we don't want to make is between quality and quantity. You want to keep the quality and increase the quantity, and that's not easy. Just a side note: let's not forget that this is a community thing. It's based on the goodwill of the people. We don't have any official ties. They aren't employees. There's no hierarchy. They can contribute if they want, but if they don't want or they have no time, well, obviously they can't. So, let's set that context. Last year, to become more familiar and comfortable with the program, I set up monthly one-on-one meetings with every single ambassador in the program. It was quite time-consuming.
Jarek Jarzębowski: And how did that investment of time pay off?
Gerald Crescione: It was a great investment for several reasons. First, it made me more comfortable with the program and gave me a better understanding of how we should work with the ambassadors. I should have mentioned earlier, that I didn't start this program. I took it over from another person named Waleed. Shout out to Waleed, you're a great guy. He started the program and then moved to a new role in the company. So, my manager asked me to take over, and it was a new challenge for me. Those monthly meetings were a good way for me to understand the program better and create strong relationships with the ambassadors.
Jarek Jarzębowski: So, by building these personal relationships, were there any other benefits that you saw?
Gerald Crescione: Yes, one of the major benefits was being able to follow up on their ideas and projects. For example, in January, an ambassador might come up with an idea for a blog post about securing open-source dependencies. We'd discuss the angle and potential topics. The next month, they'd have a new idea, and I could follow up on the older project. It was a way to ensure good ideas weren't lost in the process. Building these personal relationships was crucial, and I'm proud to lead this group. But, as you mentioned, scaling means this approach won't work forever.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Exactly, so how do you transition from this model to something more scalable while maintaining that quality and relationships?
Gerald Crescione: What we decided to do, after discussing with many ambassadors, was transition to monthly office hours. Once a month, I have an open Zoom call for about four to five hours. I work as usual, and when someone wants to chat, I'm available. This keeps us connected and updated. Obviously, when onboarding new ambassadors, there's an initial one-on-one call and a follow-up. Once they're familiar, they can join the office hours. Additionally, we've recently launched a new activity on our Discord server. It has over 4,000 members, and within it, we have a private channel for ambassadors. To better integrate with the broader community, we started a "Community Hangout." Twice a month, we open an audio channel on Discord, and anyone can join. It's like meeting friends at a cafe, and it's another way for me to maintain close relationships with the ambassadors.
Jarek Jarzębowski: It seems very nice. I mean the personal touch, the human touch, the chatting, the conversations; these are really nice, really interesting ways to communicate. But there's a question because recently there have been a lot of layoffs in the tech space, and some of those layoffs also touched the DevRel scene. Probably, some ambassador programs have been affected as well.
How can you show the effects, and the value of the program, to the broader audience within the company? How do you defend the program inside the company and demonstrate that it's not just chit-chat or casual coffee, but that it's truly valuable from a business perspective?
Gerald Crescione: Yeah, excellent question. Maybe just the first element of the answer about why the personal touch as opposed to other programs. So if you look at great programs like GitHub, AWS and Community Builders, those are great programs, and great inspirations. And I know that people who join them as ambassadors are super proud to be there. So obviously, it's a great inspiration for us as well. But then I had conversations with the existing ambassadors and I asked them, "Hey, why did you join? Why are you still here? What's the motivation beyond just the security aspect?" And what they said was, "I love the idea of being in a team." That's really the spirit we're trying to cultivate here – a sense of team spirit. So it's about being together, enjoying doing things collectively. So, the personal touch is one part of the answer. From a business perspective, obviously, there are tangible results. We get a ton of blog posts from the ambassadors, numerous live streams, fantastic videos, product feedback, and so on.
And obviously, we track all that. We measure how many views they get, the audience size during a conference, and the web traffic generated by the blog posts. Because we publish most of their blog posts on our site (with their approval and proper attribution, of course) we can quantify the business impact in terms of web metrics.
But just to be clear, their main role isn't sales or marketing. It's to educate the community on broader security topics. While they do incorporate some of our content into their own, it's not with the predefined goal of generating leads or sales. It's genuinely a community program.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Yeah, definitely. I think that in general, DevRel can be a bit challenging in this aspect because it's community-focused. There's an indirect link with sales and marketing. But during tough times, some business leaders make decisions to cut programs or departments that don't produce immediate tangible results.
But I personally believe that's short-sighted. If you want to grow as a company and if you believe in community-led growth and value the community itself, you shouldn't always try to tie everything to immediate business outcomes. Yet, there should still be some effort to measure and justify the initiatives.
Gerald Crescione: Yeah, I'm totally with you on that, and it's an intriguing perspective. I'd like to add a few thoughts. The way I see it, and I believe it's how we perceive it at Sneak, is that most of us in DevRel share this viewpoint.
We try not to create a dichotomy between business goals and DevReladvocacy. After all, as employees and as part of an organization, we each have a personal responsibility to contribute to its success.
And, as you pointed out, many of us are currently navigating challenges; it's not easy. So, how can one support their organization in this context? I believe there are two main ways DevRel can be invaluable. The first is raising awareness, specifically around developer education. It's not so much about promoting a specific product, but rather the broader topic or industry segment you're in, helping developers understand its significance.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Definitely, I totally agree that we should try to move in the same direction. We shouldn't be in opposition. And we need to remember that DevRel stands for developer relations, not developer sales, developer marketing, or any other "developer" prefixed title.It stands for developer relations.
Gerald Crescione: Yeah, maybe one last thought on that, you know, I'm just thinking out loud. But I believe we're incredibly fortunate at Snyk because we are pioneering our own segment. Developer security is a relatively new field, and Snyk has been instrumental in establishing it.
From a business perspective, the process often looks like a funnel: input at the top, resulting in business leads at the bottom. If you don't promote developer awareness at the top of this funnel, nobody will show interest in your tool, leading to no business leads at the end. Since we're carving out this new market category, there's ample room for us to advocate and raise awareness, position is much more advantageous than being in a crowded segment with fierce competition.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Thank you for sharing that perspective. I genuinely believe that insights like yours can empower other DevRel professionals and program managers to develop their own initiatives and strengthen the DevRel community's presence in the tech space.
Gerald Crescione: Thank you, I appreciate that. I really enjoy hearing about other people's experiences and learning from them. I'd like to give a shoutout to a group I connected with online, a small but incredibly active and insightful community named Flyless. Their premise was exploring how one could attend conferences without physically flying and how to make an impact differently.I joined this group to learn more about my role, understand the intricacies, and how to make a genuine impact. I've gained so much from them, and I'd highly recommend others to join. They're called Flyless, and they're active on Twitter. They also hold weekly meetings on Discord.They're a group of kind-hearted and knowledgeable individuals. I've garnered significant insights from them.
Jarek Jarzębowski:That's great. Thank you for that recommendation. Any other platforms or resources you'd like to share or where people can connect with you?
Gerald Crescione: I'd like to promote the DevSecCon Community Server again. It's a fantastic place if you're into community and security. As for me, you can find me online; my handle is Gerald Crescione on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn.
Jarek Jarzębowski: Thank you very much for the conversation, Gerald. Hopefully, we'll chat again soon.
Gerald Crescione: Thanks for having me, Jarek. It was a pleasure.
Snyk Ambassadors Program Overview
Snyk Ambassadors are passionate about application security and knowledgeable about using Snyk. They share their interest, expertise, and excitement within their communities to help other engineers and security professionals build secure software.
Aspiring Snyk Ambassadors apply showcasing their passion and knowledge in application security. They actively engage in their communities, offering support and promoting awareness about application security. Ambassadors contribute through articles, videos, social media, and public speaking at community events, emphasizing the importance of application security.
Awards & Recognition
Ambassadors receive mentorship and support from Snyk, including collaboration with Snyk's teams. They gain visibility through various Snyk platforms and are provided with travel support for Snyk-related engagements. Recognized as leaders in application security, Ambassadors are awarded exclusive Snyk swag.
Snyk offers support in content creation, including design, review, and promotion, to aid Ambassadors in their educational and awareness efforts. Ambassadors can create educational materials for application security and participate in monthly feedback sessions with Snyk product leads.
Like we read the true essence of Developer Relations lies not in sales or marketing but in fostering genuine relationships. By placing the developer community at the forefront, organizations can navigate the balance between scalability and personalized touch. Gerald's insights, along with innovative initiatives like the "Community Hangout" underscore the transformative power of community-led growth. In a world where tech is ubiquitous, it's these personal connections that make the difference. As we look to the future of DevRel, let's be inspired by such conversations and remember that at the core of every technological advancement, there's a community waiting to be heard, engaged, and empowered. To all DevRel professionals and enthusiasts, may you continue to bridge the gap, one genuine relationship at a time.
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