Developer Relations: A Beginner’s Guide
What Developer Relations is — and how it could pivot your career.
As community management and all its specializations evolve and grow, there's another subset of roles gaining traction: Developer Relations (DevRel).
But what exactly is DevRel — and does it require a lot of coding? "It's community management for developer communities," says Michael Tharrington, Senior Community Manager at Forem. "At its core, it's really that simple."
Developer communities are spaces where developers come together to network and share knowledge, resources, best practices, and career opportunities. Developer Relations involves building, nurturing, and managing these spaces.
Take open-source community building platform Forem, and their developer community: DEV provides software developers with an inclusive, collaborative community for developers to share information, network, and help each other out.
Michael's day-to-day work involves:
- Building relationships with community members
- Enforcing the Code of Conduct and creating a safe, inclusive space
- Gathering feedback for the Product and Development team
- Answering questions about the platform and generally supporting DEV users
- Creating instructional guides and content for the community
What is a Developer Relations Manager?
DevRel can be classified as a specialization under community management, similar to Community Operations, Community Success Management, or Community Program Management.
"Software companies use DevRel to engage the developers that use their product in a way that empowers them to both keep coming back and give feedback about the software," says former Community Strategist at Forem, Mirella Ang de Jonge. "It's marketing without directly trying to sell; it's product development, it's customer support, it's community management."
The title 'Developer Relations Manager' can be as ambiguous as 'Community Manager,' so here are some roles and titles that better describe the work that people in these positions actually do:
Developer Advocate: Liaises between an organization and its relevant developer community.
Developer Relations Manager: Builds relationships with community members, collects feedback for in-house software developers to improve the product, and creates demos or code examples.
Developer Marketer: Increases product awareness, adoption, and advocacy in developer communities.
Developer Evangelist: Acts as a connector between community members and in-house developers. Helps members understand the product while also communicating the community's needs to in-house software developers.
Roles and responsibilities in Developer Relations
Now that we know what Developer Relations is, let's explore the tasks a person in this role may take on.
- Content: Creating written, audio, or video content and other resources that add value for members.
- Events: Organizing, hosting, and presenting at community events.
- Engagement: Developing ideas and executing initiatives to keep members engaged in the community or interested in the company's product.
- Documentation: Creating white papers, eBooks, APIs, blog posts, and a general library of knowledge on the product that developers can refer to — this is where basic code and tech knowledge may come in handy.
- Support: Getting feedback from members to take back to in-house developers and Product Managers. Responding to questions from members and ensuring questions on how to use the software are addressed.
Developer Relations Managers don’t operate in a silo. In-house developers and software engineers work closely together with Developer Relations Managers to answer complex questions from the community and fix any issues they may experience.
Michael says a big part of his work is to be the bridge between community members (other developers) and Forem’s internal software developers.
"I don't know as much about the internals of our software as the developers who build and maintain it daily. I am very open with our community about that," says Michael. "Something I can do is make sure that every question they have reaches the people who can answer them best. I share these answers by chatting directly with individuals or posting resources that can be accessed by the larger community. Having open and transparent dialogue around our platform helps to build trust and stronger relationships with our community members.”
The difference between community management and developer relations
It all comes down to what niche your community caters to.
Whether you manage a Community of Practice, Interest, Product, or even an internal community — if it is specifically for developers, your role can be classified under Developer Relations.
The day-to-day work of a Community Manager and Developer Relations Manager can be extremely similar, says Mirella.
"Before I got into Developer Relations, I was a Community Manager for a knitting brand community,” she says. “As a result, I had to learn basic facts and information about knitting to be able to provide adequate support to customers and get feedback on our products. In the same way, as a DevRel Manager, I worked with developers to encourage them to find innovative ways of using our product.”
In community management, for example, to properly serve the community, you'd have to find ways to onboard, engage, answer questions, create content, provide support, and build relationships with them. The same activities exist in Developer Relations; the only difference is that they target them toward developers.
Knowing about software development from a high level can be helpful in this role so that you can better understand your community members’ interests and enquiries, but you don’t typically need to know how to code. At the same time, it's important to read the job description thoroughly! As with any role, different teams define DevRel differently, so be open and honest about your abilities to ensure that you can fit the needs of the specific role.
Working in DevRel
So, can a Community Manager pivot easily to Developer Relations? Both Michael and Mirella come from roles that are pretty far from DevRel. Michael from content editing, and Mirella from sports and wellness community management.
"I think there's a common misconception that to work in DevRel, you need to be a developer. That is typically not the case," she says.
"A person with experience in community management can work in Developer Relations if they're willing to learn. However, coming in as a non-developer can take time and effort. Community management skills that will come in handy are curiosity, a passion for answering questions, wanting to help members succeed, and a drive to keep learning.”
"It's a given that pivoting into this role may feel uncomfortable at first because DevRel can be intimidating, but it's not that different from joining any product community,” she says. “You'll have to learn the ropes and gain knowledge about how things work to help your members.”
Managing developer communities
In collaboration with C School, Michael and Mirella have created a free course to help those looking to pivot to Developer Relations learn more about the specialization.
"This course is for anyone who wants to pivot to or know more about Developer Relations,” says Mirella.
"The developer ecosystem is huge, and it is ever-growing and ever-changing,” she adds. “It's becoming more niche, so there are pockets where those curious enough can find their interests. Whether front-end, back-end, full-stack, or mobile, a developer community needs your expertise, and this course will teach you how to manage and evolve with them."
Michael says this course was built to help folks wanting to get started or find their way in DevRel better. Students will walk away armed with a host of new skills, and be able to:
- Understand the motivations of different developer communities
- Understand some common dev personas that exist in developer communities
- Understand the basics of managing developer communities
“Having this basic understanding may help aspiring Developer Relations Managers know what type of these communities they want to be a part of and what skills they need to get them there," he says. "It may also help those already in this role know which direction to take to better cater to their specific community."
This article is a sneak peek of Managing Developer Communities: An Introduction to DevRel, a self-paced course by C School in collaboration with Forem. It’s just the tip of the iceberg — there’s loads more to learn! In the course, students can expect to learn how to define developer communities, understand the DevRel ecosystem, and much more! It’s completely free and only takes 1-2 hours to complete. Head over here to start learning.