DevXCon 2017: Thoughts and Impressions

Hopefully you were able to attend DevXCon 2017 in person this year. If not, I hope the following acts as a tour guide to the speakers’ presentations. Please keep in mind that all of my reviews are reductive in various way; I am filtering these talks through my own experiences in the developer experience world. I am particularly engaged by talks dealing with community inclusivity and metrics. I am also only commenting on the talks I personally experienced which includes the keynotes and most of the talks in the Speakeasy track (which was my volunteer station this year).

Once the videos are posted online, I will include links and, hopefully, will get a chance to review the videos from the track I missed.

(How much) do developers really influence? Reset/reality check – Donnie Berkholz

Donnie opens with a few great data points before drifting into historical recountings of developer programs (the bit about IBM and DeveloperWorks is particularly memorable). The talk then lands on a brief plea to abandon user segmentation and to refocus developer experience strategy on a Job To Be Done framework. In my opinion, the entire talk could have been devoted to that final topic. I am hoping someone encourages Donnie to expand that bit of the talk into a feature-length presentation.

Gloriously Global! – Grace Francisco, Roblox

The most relevant part of this talk for me came towards the end, discussing how she made global team management manageable. Having led global teams at Twitter and Yahoo!, I have first-hand experience that this is difficult. Nothing (so far) replaces in-person communication between teammates, so finding best-case approximations is important. Some of her suggestions I had already discovered on my own, but many were new ideas that I would try in the future.

We don’t learn alone – Anil Dash & Jenn Schiffer, Fog Creek

Product pitch for new features in Glitch, basically a dry-run for their presentation at Twilio Signal later that week. Many talks this year discussed “going where developers are,” and given that (like it or not) StackOverflow is the giant in “where developers are,” there may be some relevance to seeing an early-stage collaboration tool from an adjacent company. That said, there was not much DevX content in this talk.

Update Wed May 31: Shiver me timbers, it looks like Glitch added a product page for platforms! Link courtesy of this tweet from Anil. Either I missed this part of the talk or Anil and Jennifer responded to feedback with incredible alacrity. Either way, kudos!

Making SDKs: the Bespoke, the Hopeful and the Generated – Tristan Sokol, Square

Great practical talk that examines the different approaches to building SDKs/Client Libraries for your APIs. Spoiler warning, Tristan’s recommendation is to use OpenAPI. At Twitter we funded a “bespoke” effort for the Ads API SDKs. If I had seen this talk, I may have campaigned for OpenAPI instead.

Building for builders: tips for designing a great API and supporting developers – Romain Huet, Stripe

Mostly a walkthrough Stripe’s amazing documentation + live coding system, and the lengths to which Stripe is willing to go to make the developer onboarding process as quick and painless as possible. Romain sets the bar high; the question for those of us not working for Stripe is how to build developer experience into the engineering process when that is not the foundation of the company, as it is at Stripe. This talk can be an inspiration for treating developer experience as the product.

From Advocacy to Innovation: How User Research can improve the Developer Experience – Amelia Abreu, Abreu Consulting

This talk focuses on bringing “care” into the developer product design experience as a first-order value. Essentially, answering the question “how do we bring inclusion to the product design process?” I do not need to be sold on this particular topic, but the thought process behind the argument was helpful and illuminated common mistakes that can generate a seeming lack of care.

Supporting new developers and your API – Erin McKean, Wordnik

Really great insights on how to gauge how your new users are doing on your platform, figure out where they are coming from, and building advocates out of the folks bringing them in. Erin offers many very practical insights and suggestions, and wraps it all in a very amusing talk.

Measuring the Health of your OSS Community – Jono Bacon

As everyone in developer experience knows, metrics are hard. This talk focuses on FOSS communities and so may be less relevant to pure API platforms, but Jono’s thinking around the metrics of open source engagement is cutting edge.

Building positive developer support experiences – Bear Douglas, Slack

A very practical talk on how to manage the burden of developer support. Speaking from my own experience, this is a fraught topic. Developer support seems to come along with almost every role in developer experience. Even if you are lucky enough to have team members with “support” in their job title, we all wind up doing this work. Bravely, Bear also raises the issue of how we sell support as the first rung in a career ladder in the hiring process, but it often can be a dead end. Are you creating a ladder for your support team members?

Bots, hooks and functions: A lean approach to scaling developer success – Josh Dzielak, Algolia

Another very practical talk on how Algolia enhanced developer experience by building interconnectivity into their toolset. Josh’s talk provides another source for inspiration for the outcomes that investment in developer experience can produce for your company.

Finding the Giants: Creating and nurturing community advocates – Francesca Krihely, MongoDB

Finding and promoting external advocates (or champions, or whatever the term is today) is difficult and often leads us down the path of gamification. Write a blog, get some swag! If you don’t yet know the limitations to that approach, you soon will. Francesca does not abandon the methods of gamification in this talk, but reframes the problem through her own experience as a beginner rock climber. This turns out to be a surprisingly powerful lense through which to view the problem. The outcomes of her application of this approach are very inspiring. Ultimately she creates motivations that transcend gamification and inspire meaningful long-term career development for MongoDB’s champions.

A CEO’s perspective on Devx and DevRel ROI – Alex Salazar, Okta

Having recently gone through the incubator experience, this talk resonated deeply with me. Alex describes exactly the metrics CEOs want to hear, in the language used by the CEO and her investors. For those of us who came in the profession through engineering, we may not be accustomed to the language on the business side of the house. The main caveat to this talk is “producing these metrics is difficult, and requires significant engineering investment,” which I would say was one of the sub-themes of this conference (see: Romain, Josh, Amelia, Adam).

So you have a Code of Conduct… now what? – Sarah Sharp, Otter Tech

Thought-provoking, utterly practical discussion of the ins-and-outs of the Code of Conduct. Sarah covers everything that goes into enforcing a CoC; from responding to a report responsibly and respectfully to envisioning worst-case scenarios (for example, having to boot a high-contributing community member for CoC violations). This topic is both incredibly important and fairly boring. Fortunately, boring is what you want when it comes to a Code of Conduct; mess this up and it becomes very exciting very quickly, and not in a good way. Unless you are an expert on this topic I highly recommend this talk. If you are aiming for inclusivity on your platform, you need to get this right.

Which Metrics Matter in Developer Relations? – Adam FitzGerald, Amazon Web Services

Did I mention that developer experience metrics are hard? Yes I did. Yes they are. In an extended reprise of last year’s talk, Adam covers a short, clear list of the most important metrics for developer experience. The thinking behind his chosen metrics is brilliant; unfortunately, his punch line is always an impenetrable math formula. As in, unless you are a math PhD like Adam, you may struggle to derive the meaning of his formulas. I believe him when he says the underlying principle is simple; but the talk could benefit from explaining how any of us might implement his program. Personally I think he should lead some sort of seminar where he explains the implementation of these metrics. Maybe next year?

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