More and more companies are shifting from a traditional enterprise sales mindset to a developer-first mindset for driving product adoption. Sales calls and demos will not work as developers do not want to be sold to. Instead, the platform needs to be adopted similar to how consumers may adopt a mobile game or e-commerce app. Yet, developers are also less receptive to Facebook ads that may have worked for those games and e-commerce apps.
Launching a new developer relations program can help drive developer adoption and build better relationships However, since developer relations is a newer role, the required skills and responsibilities are more ambiguous than roles such as sales and engineering which are well established. This article outlines what to look for when hiring a developer relations manager. For an overview of developer relations, first read What is Developer Relations?.
Because developer relations is a catch-all role for anyone interacting with a developer community, you should list out your key objectives for the role before interviewing any candidates. Some developer relations roles are focused on community engagement and developer advocacy. Their main goal is awareness which requires them to speak at conferences, empower influencers, and engage with their social communities such as on Twitter or Reddit. Other devrel roles are focused on product management and developer experience. Their main goal is platform adoption and usage which requires them to iterate on onboarding, documentation, and may own the public APIs/SDKs.
Regardless of role, developer relations managers need to communicate clearly and articulate deeply technical topics for developers to comprehend easily. Many times, devrel is the face of your company both in-person and online.
1. Tell me about the best developer experience you’ve seen and why it’s the best?
The best developer relations managers have many times also built on other platforms and APIs. They’ve seen what makes a great developer experience and what can go wrong. It’s not uncommon for developer relations teams to have strong opinions on what their favorite tools and products are.
2. What are good north star metrics to measure developer experience?
An experienced developer relations manager may have seen the consequences of aligning metrics to top of the funnel metrics like page views and signups without considering product engagement and retention. Great north star metrics for devrel include weekly active tokens or time to first hello world.
3. What’s your favorite developer onboarding? Why is it your favorite?
A good developer relations manager has a good eye for picking up on small design decisions added to popular API products and devtools and also the reason why they were added. Onboarding is one of the most important flows for any API product since many times, no value is received by the user until the API is integrated. Push the candidate on why a particular product’s onboarding flow is successful and what improvements would you make to it.
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4. What are some best practices for creating developer documentation
Many times (but not always), the developer relations team is responsible for keeping documentation up to date. Out of date and disorganized documentation is the bane of existence for those that have to create and maintain the documentation. Here, you’re looking for ways to automate the generation of documentation while staying customer-centric. Are they familiar with tools like OpenAPI spec and Postman Collections? Do they prefer documentation to be written in open tooling like Markdown or in a specific help desk software like Zendesk? How do they handle duplicate information that may exist in GitHub README.md, API reference, and developer docs located on the company’s domain. Are there different types of documentation with a target persona in mind?
5. Have you spoken at a meetup or conference? Which one? How did you choose that topic?
Working the conference circuit and speaking at meetups are both key pillars of any developer relations strategy. You’re looking for someone who is not only a good communicator, but also passionate about helping developers. Topics should be interesting to the speaker, appropriate for the audience, and relevant to the company.
6. What’s an interesting emerging trend occurring with developer platforms?
Good developer relations managers stay up to date with emerging trends and news that are relevant to their community. Developer relations managers should be familiar with new technology like GraphQL and the latest platforms developers are building on like AWS Lambda. By doing so, they’re in a position to educate and provide recommendations to their developer community.
7. Why is API and SDK versioning important? How do you version an API?
Without versioning, any change can be considered a breaking change and breaks the idea of working on a common contract. Look for candidates who are empathetic for developer concerns even if it means supports a legacy SDK that works for an outdated version of Java. Not every developer can invest in upgrading to the latest SDKs and frameworks. They should also be familiar with the benefits of semvar and ways to communicate both non-breaking changes vs a complete overhaul of the API.
8. How do you handle API feature deprecation?
Unlike a consumer application, API products require careful planning when breaking any functionality.
Almost always, the best answer is to not introduce any breaking changes and never remove a field.
For example, your API response has a single JSON field called
name, and you wanted
to split it up into
username. Then, the the correct way would be to add the new fields
while maintaining the old field going forward.
There are rare situations such as fixing security vulnerabilities or sunsetting an entire product where breaking changes are required. You should follow up with the candidate on how to handle such scenarios. This may include sending personalized emails to developers who accessed the API with specific details on which version they were using and when they last accessed the deprecated API. Other strategies include brownouts where functionality is turned off for short durations during off-hours such as 1:00 pm on a Sunday.
9. How would you segment a developer community?
There are many ways to segment a developer community for marketing, cohort analysis, and other analytics. A key thing to look for is developer-centric attributes beyond typical company demographics like company size. An API developer relations manager should not only be familiar with common programming languages, but also how they are used in business. For example, Java and .NET are popular in more traditional enterprises whereas Node.js is popular with the React and Single Page App community.
10. How would you create an authentic voice for the company?
DevRel really exists to be a liaison between the community and your engineering and product teams, and works best when there’s a real connection between the parties. Developers are often jaded by marketing and sales outreach, so creating an authentic voice is paramount. Look for ideas that build a true relationship, such as by focusing on adding value through super-relevant content. Or, as more DevRel moves online, creating micro events with just one or two people, so it’s easier to develop a rapport with the folks that are on that webinar, podcast or whatnot.