Jarek Jarzębowski
10 minutes
November 22, 2023

Unpacking Elastic Contributor Program

Lessons from Ully Sampaio, Program Manager at Elastic

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In today's fascinating conversation we delve deep into the intricacies of running a successful ambassador program. Ully Sampaio, part of the team that runs Elastic Contributor Program, shares candid insights into what makes a program not only successful but also meaningful for both the company and the community it serves.

In this article, we break down their discussion into key themes and takeaways, offering a comprehensive look at the importance of commitment, the necessity of transparency, and why an ambassador program should always be a two-way street. Whether you're considering starting an ambassador program or looking to improve an existing one, this neat version of our podcast episode offers valuable insights and actionable advice.

Key Takeaways from the Conversation

Challenges in Starting From Scratch

  • Initiating an ambassador program without prior models or examples is a journey into unknown territory. While there were established programs like GitHub Stars and MongoDB's program to draw inspiration from, starting Elastic's unique ambassador initiative had its uncertainties. While initial challenges revolved around program setup and understanding community engagement, present-day challenges focus on keeping the program fresh, engaging, and progressive, especially as it matures over the years.

Acknowledging Contributors

  • One of the core goals of such programs is recognizing and valuing community members. Programs like GitHub Stars have effectively showcased ambassadors, and such visibility is vital for community members to feel their contributions are acknowledged and appreciated. While the company gains from the knowledge and contributions of its community members, the program also aims to assist contributors in their personal and professional growth. This mutual benefit strengthens the bond between Elastic and its community.

Dynamic Reward System

  • Rather than just offering swag or financial incentives, Elastic's reward system is more aligned with the contributor's experience and journey. For example, aiding them in becoming Elastic certified engineers if that's their ambition.

Content is Key

  • Ully emphasizes that the type of content (basic, intermediate, or advanced) doesn't matter as much as the act of content creation itself. What might be basic for one person could be crucial knowledge for someone else just starting their journey.

Breaking the 'Expert' Mindset

  • A major challenge is the misconception that only experts can reach the gold level or that one needs to be a profound expert to contribute significantly. Ully underscores that everyone's contribution, regardless of their expertise level, is valuable.

Promoting Diversity

  • A contemporary challenge is ensuring inclusivity, particularly encouraging more women to participate. Ully actively reaches out to potential female contributors, inviting them to join and contribute.

Personalized Engagement

  • Ully's proactive approach of personally reaching out to individuals presenting talks or content about Elastic showcases a hands-on, dedicated method to community engagement. At its heart, Elastic values its community greatly. Any program or initiative is built with the aim of benefiting the community as much, if not more, than the company itself.

Conversation with Ully Sampaio

In this section, you can discover the primary insights and lessons from our enlightening chat with Ully Sampaio about the Elastic Contributor Program. The conversation dives deep into the challenges of establishing an ambassador program, the evolution of the program over the years, and the importance of acknowledging contributors. For an in-depth exploration and to catch the nuances of the discussion, be sure to listen to the complete episode available on Advocu Podcast.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Hello and welcome to our podcast. Please introduce yourself to me and our listeners. What is your current role, background, and who are you?

Ully Sampaio: Hey, everyone. I'm Ully Sampaio. Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor to be here; it's my first podcast ever. My current role is that I am a program manager at Elastic. I've been working there for a little over four years, managing our ambassadors program called the Elastic Contributor Program.

Jarek Jarzębowski: When did you start the Elastic Contributor Program? Did it overlap with your time starting at the company?

Ully Sampaio: Yes, it kind of overlapped. When I started at Elastic, that's when I learned about how passionate the developer community is. I had a conversation with my former manager about needing something to recognize our community. So, we started brainstorming a program and launched a pilot back in 2019.

Jarek Jarzębowski: So the pilot was just in Brazil, and you were testing it out and learning how people would respond?

Ully Sampaio: Exactly. The pilot was only in Brazil, where we tested it out and gauged how people would react. Then in 2020, we expanded it to be a global program.

Jarek Jarzębowski: So you started in 2018, the pilot was in 2019, and now it's the beginning of 2023. What has changed? What's the current status of the Elastic Contributor Program?

Ully Sampaio: Initially, it was a local program in Brazil, and now it's a global program. We accept content in multiple languages and have broadened the ways people can contribute. Initially, we only accepted code contributions to Elastic repositories, but now we accept contributions as long as they use our technology.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Has the size of the program changed?

Ully Sampaio: Yes, it has grown significantly. We went from 40 contributors in the first cycle to nearly 150 in the last cycle.

Jarek Jarzębowski: The program is now doing well, experiencing significant growth. I assume that where the program started, where it is now, and where it's heading are quite different things. What I mean is, the challenges at the beginning must have been different from what they are now.

Ully Sampaio: From the perspective of these past few years, the biggest challenges in starting up such a program were considerable. I think the biggest challenge to starting, not just an ambassador program but anything from scratch, is that it's very much unknown territory.
So we didn't really know how to proceed. We knew we wanted a formal way to recognize the community and a formal way for them to interact with each other, but we didn't really know how to accomplish that.
We read about a lot of other ambassador programs. We weren't sure if our community would be comfortable with the gamification approach that we proposed. So there was a lot of uncertainty. One thing I like about Elastic is that we are very open to the idea of, "let's test it out.
Let's do it, see what the feedback is, and change things if necessary. If not, we just keep growing. We decided to just test it out based on what we thought the community might like and what could work for us. We established the rules, set up the program, and just launched it.
It was kind of like, "Okay, let's do it. Let's launch and see how it goes." There's a saying in Brazil that it's like changing a tire while the car is still moving, which is incredibly challenging. That's pretty much what we did.
Let's do it, see how it goes, and make changes in the middle of the process if needed. It was somewhat chaotic, but I like that. I appreciate that we embraced the new and embraced change. 

Jarek Jarzębowski: And you mentioned that you have done some reading and looked up other programs. Which programs or resources have helped you the most? Or which program did you look up to?

Ully Sampaio: I really admire the GitHub Stars program. I like how they showcase their ambassadors. I think one of the main goals for people who join these kinds of programs is that they obviously want to help the community.
But I think they also appreciate the acknowledgment, like, "Okay, the company recognizes that I'm an active community member." So, I think GitHub did a really good job with that, recognizing them. I also really liked the MongoDB program.
And there are some other programs whose names I don't remember; they might be smaller, but I did a comprehensive study of the industry when I was thinking about our own program. 

Jarek Jarzębowki: Were there any rules or preconceptions that you had that eventually turned out to be incorrect?What were the pillars or fundamentals of starting such a program? Because it is a successful program now after four years. What helped you build it from scratch?

Ully Sampaio: Community is at the core of Elastic, and we value it a lot. The program had to benefit not just us, but the community too. We wanted to help them grow in their career paths. Instead of just offering swag or financial prizes, we aligned our rewards with their goals and expertise, like becoming Elastic certified engineers. We wanted them to grow alongside us.

Jarek Jarzębowski: So bringing them closer to us and proposing a program that was beneficial to the community, those were very important to us. What were the biggest challenges? Do you remember what the biggest challenges were?

Ully Sampaio: The beginning was we were not ready for the amount of contributions we received. So I think it's kind of a good problem to have. We were not expecting that. And then we saw ourselves with that challenge that. What do we do if we scale this program and then there are all of these people submitting contributions. We do not have bandwidth to manage that. So that was one of the biggest challenge, keep finding tools and platforms us where they were going to use. So back then we were using mainly GitHub to track that, which was also hard for us to track everything that was being done by the community. So finding a tool promoting was also hard because at the same time that we needed to promote, like I said, it was a pilot program just in Brazil.  So we needed to promote the program within Brazil, but we needed to stay just in Brazil because it was just a pilot program. So promotion was challenging, finding a platform where we could have all the content produced and dealing with the scalability.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Okay. And as far as I know, in the end, you have decided to build your own platform, right? 

Ully Sampaio: Yes. Because with that challenge, we're like, okay, this is not ideal. So what do we do? And then we brainstorm.Like, we thought about maybe having Google form and then people can just submit. And then we're like, but we're going to have a crazy amount of response to Google form. What if people submit something like, oh, that was wrong. I'm going to submit one more. And we're just like, okay, this is not working. And then. A good part of working in a tech company is that my former teammate, he had built a tool that could be used for us.  And then at some point in one of our meetings, brainstorming meetings, he said, like, oh, so we actually have something that that we could use. And it's something that we use our own tools to track everything. So we use Kibana to track all the logs and how the contributors are doing, how many contributions they're submitting, how the validation is working. So it's good to use our own tools to manage our own program.So that's what we've been using since then

Jarek Jarzębowski: And have the challenges changed? I mean, the ones that you have mentioned, were they the infant challenges, like the infant program challenges and now you've got other challenges or they have somehow stained you?

Ully Sampaio: The challenges have changed. Now the main issue is keeping the program fresh and interesting. After four years, people can get bored, so I'm focused on encouraging people to level up within the platform.

Jarek Jarzębowski: And how do you deal with the mindset of people thinking they're not expert enough to contribute?

Ully Sampaio: Fighting that mindset is a challenge. I always encourage people to join regardless of their level of expertise. Sometimes what might seem basic to you could be very helpful to someone else who's just starting their journey.

Jarek Jarzębowski: I've noticed you're also trying to get more women involved in the program.

Ully Sampaio: Yes, I personally reach out to them, especially when I see someone has had a talk approved about Elastic at an event. I invite them to join the program and explain how they can earn points through their talk.

Jarek Jarzębowski: The human, like one on one touch is, I believe, very important here because especially people in tech are used to the automations and automatic workflows. But when there is a human touch, when you see them and when you actually put effort into seeing what they are doing and acknowledging it, it must feel good and must actually engage them better than if you just send a call for elastic contributors.

Ully Sampaio: Yes, exactly. And I try that. I try it all the time. This is how I am personally, not only professionally. I like this relationship building. I think this is my superpower. I always try to build those connections.  But also, it's not I mean, I don't know about everyone, what they're doing, but whenever I do, I try to let them know that this person would like them to join the program. Exactly like what you said. Speaker 1 Not just an automatic email day

Jarek Jarzębowski: Four years in, there must be some obvious benefits to Elastic as a company from this program?

Ully Sampaio: Definitely. We now have content in eight or nine languages, which would have taken us much longer to produce internally. These contributors often become Elastic certified engineers and sometimes even get hired by us. So they essentially become extensions of Elastic.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Yeah, that's quite interesting. So if there are clearly a lot of benefits, The visibility, the potential to reach more people in more languages and so on and so on. Do you see any drawbacks and do you see reasons why some companies should not try starting an ambassador program?

Ully Sampaio: Honestly, no. I would say they should not start a program if they don't have a team to handle it, because the commitment is serious. Speaker 1 It's a big commitment that you do with the community. So if you're doing, then do it right, then put yourself out there. Be transparent, be fair with the community. Listen to their feedback. It has to be a two way street. Speaker 1 Don't just do an ambassador program just to get free content, just to outsource talent. No, those are other gains that came with the program. So, like I said, it is a two way street. So you have to put yourself out there, but you have to remain loyal to the community needs. Speaker 1 So if there is nobody to handle it to manage and pay attention to what they're asking, pay attention to what they're complaining, then it's the perfect recipe for failure.

Jarek Jarzębowski: How many people are on the team that runs the program at Elastic?

Ully Sampaio: We have a core team, which is me and a teammate responsible for the platform. But we also have brainstorm meetings where we share ideas with the broader team. Ultimately, the decision is made by me and my teammate responsible for the platform.

Jarek Jarzębowski: So are you the ones who actually wrote the platform?

Ully Sampaio: No, but he's the former manager of the one who built the platform. And regarding how demanding it is, it's my full-time job. There's a lot of responsibility. We have to have multiple meetings with legal and compliance, payments team, etc. Every decision impacts different departments, especially given how big Elastic is right now.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Looking back at those four years, has anything surprised you?

Ully Sampaio: Oh, a lot of things have surprised me. I was very concerned about offering cool prizes, but the main reason people joined the program was to give back to the community and for personal and professional development. They didn't even mention the rewards, which was surprising.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Any mistakes you wish you hadn't made?

Ully Sampaio: Personally, I am solution-oriented. If there's a problem, we go ahead and fix it and move on. So it's hard to think of something I regret, because we're constantly evolving.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Any recommendations for DevRel teams thinking about starting an ambassador program?

Ully Sampaio: Keep the community's needs in mind. Be transparent. I can't stress the importance of transparency enough. Empower them, give them the tools they need to engage with you, and bring them closer to the company.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Thank you very much for your transparency and for sharing everything you've said with us. Hopefully, we'll have the chance to talk again, maybe in person.

Ully Sampaio: Thank you so much for the invitation. It was an honor to be here, and if anyone would like to chat more, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Jarek Jarzębowski: Hopefully, we'll talk to you again soon. Thank you very much.

Ully Sampaio: Thank you. Bye.

Elastic Contributor Program Overview

The Elastic Contributor Program was established to recognize contributors within the Elastic community. It offers a structured system where individuals can earn points for a variety of contributions such as organizing events, content creation, code contributions, and more.
Elastic Contributor Program

Key Components

Contribution Mechanics: Participants accumulate points through various activities. These can range from writing articles and translating content to presenting at events and code contributions. A detailed guide assists contributors in the submission process.

Awards & Recognition: Contributors who secure prominent spots on the regional leaderboard are eligible for specific rewards. These include training subscriptions, certification exam attempts, Cloud extended trials, and virtual badges.

Resources: A dedicated portal provides necessary resources to facilitate contributions to the Elastic community.

🔗 Further Information

Closing Thoughts

Navigating the challenges of initiating and maintaining a successful ambassador program is no small feat.  Key to success is keeping the program fresh and allowing for members to grow, whether they are beginners or experts.

So what's next on your community involvement journey? Whether you're an aspiring dev contributor or someone looking to develop a community program, there's a wealth of insights to be gained.

For a deeper dive into community engagement and advocacy programs, don't miss our next Advocu Podcast episodes, where we touch on devrel and discuss the nuts and bolts of developing and sustaining a robust developer champions programs. Stay tuned!

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