Christian Heilmann

Posts Tagged ‘feedback’

Developer evangelism tasks: pre-emptive writing

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Looking around I am amazed how big the whole “developer evangelism” thing has become since we started it and I wrote the developer evangelism handbook (now updated with a new section on pre-emptive writing). I am also humbled by how many people cite it and mention it to me as a source of inspiration.

I find, however, that there is still a lot of confusion as to what developer evangelists do, and I also find lately that a lot of very obvious marketing and PR messages get sold as developer evangelism.

What we do as developer evangelists

Developer evangelism for me started out of the necessity to have an unbiased, sane voice for developers out there. We don’t sell products, we explain them and let developers make their own decisions about using them. Our main goal is word of mouth and people using the materials we provide. This means first and foremost one thing: being honest and real about what a product does and how it is useful for developers.

We also need to be the spokespeople for developers in our companies. We should know what people use out there and what they want, what excites them and how our products match those needs.

And this is where a skill comes in that can rub people with traditional marketing and PR tasks and skills the wrong way which I call pre-emptive writing.

What is pre-emptive writing?

What I mean by pre-emptive writing is that when you for example blog about a product you do not only praise its usefulness and show what it does for people but you also slip out of your role as a salesperson. Instead think of how you as a developer would read this were you a fan of a competing technology or other products.

Then you include and answer the arguments that you would write as comments to your own post playing that devil’s advocate. Instead of taking the traditional route of not mentioning flaws that might go undetected or obvious similarities to other products you mention them with the arguments that make them interesting for you. For example:

  • If your product has a flaw that needs ironing out you mention what can happen and how to recover or fix the issue. You also list the obvious feedback channels people can use should that problem happen to them. As developers we know that stuff breaks – it is ridiculous to claim otherwise and let people find out the hard way
  • If your product is very close to a competitor’s you explain that this is the case as the other product is a very useful thing and it wouldn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel if it runs smoothly. You point out the differences and benefits your product has – for example that it ties into a larger set of products or that it is available open source or performs better in a head-to-head comparison. People make these comparisons in any case – if you anticipate and do them in their stead they see that you are one of them and that you are not blinded by your own advertising. If the similarities are very obvious it would make you look like a very uninformed person or not very skilful liar not mentioning them

Why is this important?

Three words: de-trolling your feedback. Right now our jobs can be incredibly frustrating as the feedback we get (and marketing and PR also looks at) is largely polarised. You either have fans praising what you do over the moon or fans of your competitors pointing out that they already did the same and you are catching up.

Of course you also have comments full of vitriol by people who just hate what your company does and want to repeatedly tell you that, but that is a thing you can happily ignore.

By pointing out the obvious pros and cons of your product to people you prevent a lot of obvious hateful or overly excited comments. Yes, this will cut down on the number of comments you will get but it will also start a more interesting conversation.

Another effect of pre-emptive writing is that you don’t have to prepare a counter-statement – you already did that. In a traditional marketing world this is what you do. You don’t say what’s wrong but you prepare a statement for the press when things go wrong. In most cases you prepare this statement after things went wrong with a lot of stress, phone calls and “we need to deal with this now, people are re-tweeting and re-posting the bad messages all over the place”. This is stress we can avoid.

Getting pre-emptive writing out can be tricky as it is against a lot of basic beliefs of sales and marketing. But you are a developer evangelist – this is your job. Pre-emptive writing and constantly questioning your own products makes you one of your audience and keeps you their spokesman – a developer evangelist.

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[geek-anger-management] Your “but” hurts, in case you didn’t know.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

I was very unhappy with my job in the last few weeks. This might come as a surprise, seeing the amount of things I have released. The reason is that I am like Brian of Spaced – if I am annoyed, bored or angry I do some work to use that energy. There are a few reasons for this and I am tackling all of them and I am already feeling much better. However, I found that some of the things that annoyed me are beyond my reach and are caused actually by the developer community itself.

I am sure that people are not aware of how much impact some of things we say in public have, and I think it is time to talk about them. So over time, I will point out some of the things that makes me angry, just to let you know.

Here’s the first: The big issue “but” comment. The pattern is always the same:

“Oh wow, this is so cool, but I don’t know if I will use that because of {insert unrelated, non-verified and non-researched truism of some news site or tech blog or TechCrunch here}.”

You know what? This but hurts. It doesn’t hurt because of the “reason” stated (yes most of the time it is about shutting down GeoCities in my case). It hurts because it does two things:

  • It diminishes what I have done – “it is lovely and great stuff but what about the real important thing here”
  • It leaves me with a feeling of having wasted my time. In 99.9999999987% of the cases I have no way to have any influence in the decision that lead to the “other thing”. In many cases I learnt about it from the press. This is just how big “big” companies are. I have no influence and can not change the other thing – at all. So if that is what people want to get excited about, so much that they think they have to tell me on my blog or some comment on an article I published, then I am concentrating on the wrong thing.

I can change and influence and make a good example in the company and to the outside world with what I do. What I do I give out for free – most of the time before asking my employer if that is OK (much faster this way).

Giving things out for free is anathema to most companies (unless it is plastic things with the logo on it) – especially when these things meant that one of the company experts spent time on it. That is a fact and a very short-sighted attitude we need to change.

I am happy that I am in a company that values what I do. This does not mean that I don’t need to explain myself and show what value giving things out for free brings to the company. It is a pretty challenging and interesting position as I am not marketing or PR. I can easily transform to these roles and have a more ordered life (probably more boring,too) but I don’t want to.

I want companies to realise that there is a massive potential in opening your systems and allowing people to use your data. Your but keeps me and all my colleagues in other companies (Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Facebook, Sun…) from concentrating on that. Complain where things can be changed, get annoyed and make your voice heard where it makes a difference and don’t blow things out of proportion. I can understand the reasons for but comments:

  • Lack of interest to research the matter – it is much easier to repeat a strongly worded “argument” than to read up what happened. This is what a lot of people do with politics, too.
  • Cutting down to size – “OK, makes sense, but hey, you also do bad things” – Duh, really?
  • Competition – questioning things is great, but please follow your complain up with a better version (it is open source). Or at least admit that you question for sake of questioning. The devil has a massive amount of advocates these days.

In conclusion: I love comments and reports that contain a but and show a real problem that needs fixing. I am sick and tired of those that are off-topic and give the impression that you cannot use anything a big company does because something completely different happened to it. Get off my back and let me do my job. Large companies have the manpower, infrastructure and money to help a lot of developers out there have a much easier life. If the developer community feedback shows there is not much interest but it is more important to complain, why should they bother?

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.