Christian Heilmann

Posts Tagged ‘evangelism’

A few things the web development community can learn from The Green Movie

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

One of the, oh heck, the only really good thing about flying Delta was their Fly-in-Movie competition. This is a section of their entertainment program where they show short movies of budding movie makers who compete to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York this coming April.

The green film

One of the movies in there is The Green Film and I loved it (“Cold call” was also very good).

The Green Movie

In this 6 minute movie a self-righteous film director proclaims pompously and full of enthusiasm that they are producing the greenest movie ever. All the food is organic, everything gets recycled, all the make-up is free of animal testing and there is not a single thing that is not in the correct order and would cause a frown on the faces of the friends of the earth.

The wrong doers and how they should be lectured

When the main actress arrives she rolls up in a stretch limo and asks for her trailer. The director tells her off for not cycling or using a bus and shows her a deck chair and an umbrella which is to be her “trailer”. He goes on to explain all the bad things that do not happen on his set and especially goes into a detailed sermon over plywood used on other sets and that it actually is based on rainforest wood. He also is very insightful about using the right light bulbs on the whole set.

Getting caught out

The actress on the other hand starts wondering about the professionalism of the whole setup – which culminates in her wondering if the movie is shot on film rather than digital. The director then goes nuts on the mere idea of movies being shot in digital and that digital film is just “TV on big screens”. His rant goes so far as to proclaim that art could never be done with digital cameras. To the arguments of the actress about film processing involving toxic chemicals and shipment of reels all over the world the only thing the director comes up with is “but we recycle – a lot!”.

The movie ends with the actress filming herself in the woods using her mobile (cellphone for Americans).

How this applies to us

This is exactly how we get stuck when advocating best practices on the web. One interesting exchange that shows this is Chromatic Sites advocating for CSS vs. Table layouts and Mike Davies shining a massive big light of truth on the arguments provided.

Another interesting “oh not again” moment was Jeffrey Zeldman doing the inaugural testing of the top 100 sites in a validator causing an avalanche of comments.

You know what? We’re wasting time and energy in these discussions and we are so immersed in our own “doing the right thing” that we forgot to care about what we wanted to achieve in the first place. We get into meticulous details of explaining certain technologies and invent idea after idea based on the same technologies we tried to make people understand by force years and years ago and failed.

Standards and best practices are there for a single reason: make our work predictable and easy to work with other developers. This only works if everybody is on board and understands these best practices – in essence, following them needs to make their job easier. If following a “best practice” doesn’t make our lives easier but produces extra overhead it will not catch on.

Instead of concentrating on showing the benefits of working in a predictable manner we concentrate on ticking all the right boxes and telling everybody who is unfortunate enough to listen about all the details we had to think about to get where we are. We know all about the plywood and the right light bulbs but we forgot to talk in the language of the people we want to reach with our ideas. We are not concentrating on how we deliver the message and that there might be better techniques and technologies available nowadays than the great problem solvers of the past.

Web development is evolving and changing to new channels of distribution and re-use. Widget frameworks allow re-use of the same little application across the web, mobile devices and now even Television sets. These things is what we should have our sights on and not if a certain document passes a dumb validation test or not. Validation is the beginning of a quality control process, not the end of it. Semantic value cannot be validated by a dumb machine but needs a human to check. Zeldman did point this out in his introduction to the test, but this message always gets forgotten in the uproar of indignation over and unencoded ampersand.

On measuring evangelism success

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

I am right now in Santa Clara, California for the end of the year wrap-up and planning sessions of the Yahoo Developer Network. One thing I am realizing is that it is very tough to measure the success or really the impact of what an evangelist does. As my company does not have any commercial programs that tie with the offerings I talk about (all the APIs are free but some are limited to a certain amount of hits per day and there is no way to “buy” more – BOSS is working on that though) I don’t make the company any money.

What I do though is go out there and tell people about the things we have. On the flipside I get feedback from the outside world and see implementations of our work to feed back into the company. This is worth a lot – you cannot determine the quality of a product if you are the one who did it.

This is the same for every evangelist/advocacy role in any of the companies out there. The problem is that when reporting what you’ve done up the hierarchy in a company a lot of things get lost. Measuring the success of a company is a very tough job and it increases with the size of the company. This leads to terrible decisions being made (there will be another post about this here).

As an evangelist/advocate the hardest job is to tell people exactly what your impact was. A lot of what you do is planting mental seeds and inspiring people to work differently – that can’t be measured in hard figures. Other companies measure the success of an event for example by how many business cards were collected and have a department that follows these up by contacting people. I don’t like this much, first of all because a lot of the people I meet don’t have business cards but follow me on twitter instead and secondly because they gave me the card and not the company.

So in order to measure the success of any developer network we need your feedback and success stories of how what we’ve explained and shown has impacted your work. A blog post like this one on Yahoo Pipes makes me happy, as do tweets like this one.

While I am happily scrounging the web for these gems it is annoying that I need to do that. The biggest problem is that people are not commenting any longer. I don’t know why – personally I love to give a comment on where I found out some information. It keeps my concerns and the original message in context. When I twitter my personal view on something the 140 character limit and lack of original text will lead to information loss.

So my wishes from all of you on behalf of all the people in big companies organizing and supporting developer events (yahoo, microsoft, adobe, sun, paypal, ebay…) are following.

If you enjoy free information, swag, being able to directly reach internal experts and being able to network with a select group of like-minded people:

  • please leave comments on the blogs/announcement pages of the events (in our case the YDN blog and upcoming – a lot of people only look there and don’t have time to scrounge the web for all the info.
  • Use tags we provide at events to tag your photos, blog posts, tweets, videos…
  • Tell us about cool implementations and changes in your company based on what we talked about – we are happy to feature those and send you link love and there is nothing cooler than telling the world how someone else but us have done something cool with our stuff
  • If you sign up for an event – show up (or send a colleague). I am getting terribly sick of spending a lot of money to hire locations and have 150 sign up to the event in the first 10 minutes – effectively blocking out people that should be there – and then 20 show up! This is wasted time and money – and in the current climate that is not a clever thing to do.

I love my job and I am doing quite extensive work to make the IT industry understand that tech evangelism is not a waste of money but that there is a massive need for it. Marketing and PR departments just cannot reach geeks and internal geeks have neither the drive or the opportunities to talk to the world about the great things they do. I am very sure that innovation and change in IT is not coming from top down but from people who dare to talk to the right people to initiate change. As I put it in my talk at accessibility 2.0 geeks that care are the drivers of innovation and I don’t want to lose the opportunities we have right now.

When I started in IT events were massively expensive and I had to negotiate for months with my managers to get tickets. We are past this – thanks to developer networks and evangelists. I’d hate to see this go and developers falling back to being deliverers and not allowed to go out and play.

Again telling people about evangelising – this time in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I just arrived in Sao Paulo, Brazil for the upcoming Open Hack Day. The dent to my trip (and my laptop) was that someone dropped my bag on the flight over which means that my MacBook now looks like a hollywood premiere (floodlights from below):

Mac Book display fail

In any case, in a few minutes I am giving a presentation in the Yahoo office here about evangelism in general and how it fits in with the company structure.

[slideshare id=725389&doc=evangelizingbrazil-1225938652275731-9&w=425]

Explaining Developer Evangelism

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Ever since I got the fancy title of “Developer Evangelist”, people look at me cross-eyed and wonder what that is. The reactions reach from “oh so you don’t code any more” to “that’s marketing isn’t it?”. Both are wrong.

I see the job of an evangelist to validate your company and its products in the outside world. This means that you need to keep an eye on what your company is doing, give feedback and stop bad documentation and too complex systems from going live. In order to achieve this you get to know systems before they go out, play with them and write or help write their documentation. You also go out into the world, speak at conferences and go into companies for “brown bags” and find out how people use your employer’s products. The feedback you get from that helps you validate or defeat internal assumptions about “what every developer needs” and “how people use things”.

I am in Bangalore, India at the moment and was asked to train evangelists for the local market. A bit of a weird concept as you find evangelists internally – you do not train them to become one.

In a two hour session I was asked to outline what it means to be an evangelist and what to do and not to do. Here’s the outcome on slideshare:

[slideshare id=674444&doc=developerevangelism-1224563721992430-9&w=425]