Skip to content

Developer Relations goes global and rises in importance

Commentary: DevRel pros may not be traveling right now, but they do have an opportunity to engage with developers how the programmers and engineers prefer.

Developing programmer team reading computer codes Development Website design and coding technologies.

Image: Yumi mini, Getty Images/iStockphoto

For years, it has been standard operating procedure for tech companies to have Developer Relations (DevRel) teams. DevRel professionals travel the globe encouraging developers to build on whatever technology they’re paid to promote, then spend the rest of their time on Twitter complaining about how much they travel. 

I’m joking (sort of), as DevRel has established itself as offering significant value beyond plumping their frequent flier balances. Don’t believe me? Well, take a look at the State of Developer Relations 2020 Report, produced by WIP and Hoopy. From the report it becomes clear that DevRel, once the province of Silicon Valley geeks, is hitting its stride well beyond the Valley.

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Getting beyond Silicon Valley

Sure, most of the 164 survey respondents work for tech companies of some stripe (75% of respondents); interestingly, just 11% of them hail from the Valley. And though 56% are based in the US, with another 24% living in Western Europe and the UK, that leaves 20% (and growing) of the DevRel population coming from hitherto underrepresented countries like India, the Philippines, Nigeria, Brazil, and Kenya. Twenty percent doesn’t seem like much unless you remember how overwhelmingly Silicon Valley-centric DevRel was just a few years ago.

This is even more pronounced in that 25% of companies not in tech that have DevRel teams. Financial services companies, for example, account for 5% of the DevRel pie, with a scattering of automotive, healthcare, entertainment, and retail companies making up the rest. With every company becoming a software/tech company to some degree, it pays to engage third-party developers. In what ways? According to the survey, the biggest function seems to be marketing, but educating and supporting third-party developers isn’t far behind (Figure A).

Figure A


Image: State of Developer Relations 2020 Report/WIP & Hoopy

So is DevRel just another name for sales? Not really. For example, just 32% of companies with a DevRel practice describe themselves as having a business-to-developer model (e.g., Stripe or Twilio). For the vast majority of companies, “a developer play extends or supports the primary business model,” the report authors noted. Examples include Santander Bank and Apple, which depend on developers but don’t sell to them. Developers aren’t the buyer, in other words, but help to make the DevRel company more valuable. 

We need to stop meeting like this

However, the primary mode of engagement for most of these DevRel practitioners may also be the least interesting to developers. According to the survey, of the top-five channels used to engage developers, three require in-person meetings, with 51% citing events as their most effective tactic. But when SlashData polled over 16,000 developers, it discovered that though DevRel folks spend much of their budgets on events, it is almost dead last in terms of where developers want to get information (Figure B).

Figure B


Image: SlashData

In fact, in this version of the chart conferences is so low on developers’ priority ranking it doesn’t even show up (only Marketplaces ranks lower in terms of developer interest). By contrast, developers highly value online, low-friction content that helps them get their jobs done. 

In our current COVID-19 climate, DevRel folks have the perfect opportunity to focus on what their developer audience really cares about, even at the cost of their frequent flier balances. 

Disclosure: I work for AWS but the views expressed herein are mine, and don’t represent those of my employer.

Also see