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Trends in Developer Relations with Mary Thengvall

Erin and Brian are joined by Mary Thengvall, author of The Business Value of Developer Relations and editor of DevRel Weekly, to talk about trends in DevRel.

Featured Guest

Mary Thengvall is a connector of people at heart, personally and professionally. She loves digging into the strategy of how to build and foster developer communities and has been doing so for over 10 years. Mary is the Director of Developer Relations at Camunda, a developer-friendly process orchestration platform. She’s the author of the first book on Developer Relations: The Business Value of Developer Relations (© 2018, Apress).

Hosted by

Erin Mikail Staples is a very online individual passionate about facilitating better connections online and off. She’s forever thinking about how we can communicate, educate and elevate others through collaborative experiences.

Currently, Erin builds community and thinks about the philosophy and tooling of the community and developer advocate world. Much of her day is spent empowering individuals to build, foster, and embrace healthy communities. Outside of her day-job, Erin is a comedian, graduate technical advisor, no-code content creator, triathlete, avid reader, and cat parent.

Most importantly, she believes in the power of being unabashedly “into things” and works to help friends, strangers, colleagues, community builders, students, and whoever else might cross her path find their thing.

Brian Rinaldi is a Developer Experience Engineer at LaunchDarkly. Brian has worked for a decade focused on developer community and developer relations at companies like Progress Software and Adobe. Brian has been a developer for over 20 years, working with front-end and back-end technologies mostly focused on the web. He is heavily involved in the community including running developer meetups and events via and serving on the board of and organizing meetups for Orlando Devs. serves as the editor of the Jamstacked newsletter.


Brian Rinaldi 0:06
Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining us for another episode of DevRel(ish). For those of you who haven’t watched this show before, is obviously it’s about developer relations. But also the “ish” is like, all those jobs that are DevRel related, but may not have a different title. So we kind of want to cover that whole deverill umbrella, however you want to define it. So I’m Brian, my co host is Erin here. And we’re we’re joined by Mary Thengvall. Who I’m really excited to have, because Mary, I mean, has, you’ve been kind of the most active person in the DevRel, like community space, you know, like, you, you wrote a book, you do the newsletter. And I think you started that DevRel collective, didn’t you or

Mary Thengvall 0:59
Part of the group. Yeah, yeah. There were a few of us hanging out at a conference, you went, Okay, hang on. There’s, like five of us that always gravitate toward each other at conferences. Can we talk outside of conferences? Because we need that support more often?

Brian Rinaldi 1:16
Yes, yes, I totally understand that. So and for those, for those listening who might not know about that slack. So it’s the DevRel collective slack, which is basically you have to be a DevRel professional already. Like, I’m seeking a job as DevRel, you have to be actively working as a DevRel to be able to join the slack. And it’s it’s a very active, like, it’s very active, very supportive. Also, like, it’s got the best jobs board for different folks.

Mary Thengvall 1:50
Really active recruiting channel. Yeah, absolutely.

Erin Mikail Staples 1:53
Absolutely. Yeah. Well, as someone who pivoted into DevRel, after various things on accident and accidentally DevRel’d, it was a great place for me to be like, Oh, I’m not losing it. This is how it is when you’re when it’s more like, this is an ish. Do I do this? Is this part of my job? I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s like, wow, this is a collective sentiment here. I feel not I feel heard and validated.

Mary Thengvall 2:17
Yes, yes. Well, and one of my favorite people in the developer community space is Amy Hermes. And she loves to tell the story of how we met because I was literally listening to a podcast episode that she was a guest on with some good friends of mine going, hang on, she does what I do, but she does exactly what I do. Wait, I’ve never heard anyone else say exactly what I do. And I reached out to her via Twitter DM and basically said that. And so when you can find those people where you’re like, wait, wait, hang on, you get this, you understand, like, this is solidly in the ish category. But it’s what you do. And everybody else is doing it to like, it’s it’s the best feeling. It’s so good.

Erin Mikail Staples 3:03
Super yeah. So thank you so much for all the work that you do, putting into that, and moderation. I know, that’s a lot of work.

Brian Rinaldi 3:10
Yeah, that community is huge. Now, like, it’s like, what, it’s a few thousand people.

Mary Thengvall 3:16
It’s ridiculous. Like it legit started with five of us. And these days, someone said the other day, it was like 2500, almost 2700. Like, it’s, it’s ludicrous. And luckily, like I’m actually a little bit removed from the admin side of things. So these days, we have a fantastic group of what we call benevolent dictators. And so great group of people who are really running the show over there, and I’m kind of there as a advisor and hanging out in the background here and there. But yeah, it’s it’s grown into a really great community, which is fantastic.

Brian Rinaldi 3:53
Yeah, it is a great community. And the number you like saying there’s like 2500 people in there. It’s just shocking to me as, as somebody who’s been doing DevRel for, like, I started with, like, 12-13 years ago, I guess I’m losing track. And like, I mean, I could, I could practically name everybody who was doing Dev Rel back then it wasn’t..

Mary Thengvall 4:15
You could count on one hand. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Brian Rinaldi 4:23
Which actually kind of brings gets us to a little bit of where we where we want to go with the conversation. But before we before we talk about, like, you know, kind of trends you’ve seen in dev rel, given all your involvement, and I want a little talk a little bit about like, how did you get into DevRel? Like what drew you to DevRel? Like, what was your path into it?

Mary Thengvall 4:43
Um, it was very much what Erin said about like, I kind of accidentally stumbled into it and someone said, Cool, go do this. And I went Oh, okay. I guess I’m doing that now. Um, so I actually have a journalism background. And when I graduate waited from university was the same like six month period that all of the newspapers were laying off all of it writing staff because everyone was burning to news online. And so I wound up in the public relations department at O’Reilly Media, writing press releases, because it was similar enough to the journalism skills that I had that I kind of went, Okay, that’ll that’ll work for now. It’s a job, let the economy settle out. And let’s see what happens and what comes from that. And having that journalism background, I was very passionate about like, I don’t want to write about things that I don’t know. So I need to go research these things, which was everything from like, I don’t know, what is Hadoop? And why are these animals on the book covers? And what are these different programming languages? And how do I understand what I’m writing a press release about? And why do people care about these things, and all of that. And in the midst of learning all of those things, I got to know a lot of the people who were reading the books and attending the conferences, and started asking a lot of questions about like, hey, how, how are we defining what books we’re writing next? What topics are at the conferences, what conferences we host? And the more that I asked those questions, the more people internally kind of went, Well, we’ve got you know, the the editors who are out in the communities and the conference chairs who are out in the communities, I’m like, great, but do we have people who are, who have that holistic picture, rather than it just being? Well, I focus on this, you know, little niche of, of this industry. And I focus over here and those types of things. And I, I like to say I basically asked enough questions and annoyed enough people as the lead what a five year old on staff that someone finally went fine, go go do that thing. And so I wound up finding myself reporting to our CEO, who was Laura Baldwin. And she was like, here’s your budget for the year you report to me, what title do you want, figure out what you want to do? Go get the answers to those questions. And then we’ll evaluate it at the end of the year and see if this is something we should actually do. And I was like, Cool, thanks. Um, what? So I called up the like three other people that I knew who kind of did similar things and went, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Help. Um, and so I legit, like, hit the road and traveled and talk to people and would spend like, a week in New York and then go spend three days in Boston and then go spend a couple days in Philly and like, go through our database of reviewers and conference speakers and authors and be like, Hey, I’m gonna be here. Can I treat you to coffee? Can I treat you to lunch? Can we go out for drinks? And would just sit down with my little book, and literally just sit there and like, listen and take notes on everything? And then on my flights home, I’d go Okay, hang on this person. Yeah. And these people did that. Yes.

Erin Mikail Staples 8:03
Yeah. I’m like laughing because this is my current desktop. Because I, there was an engineering demo and all hands today, so yeah, yeah, that’s right. Yeah. 100 conference stickers on the back.

Mary Thengvall 8:14
Yes, yes. Yes. And I still have that pile of notebooks at home, because I can’t get myself Oh, no,

Erin Mikail Staples 8:20
those are those are gold.

Mary Thengvall 8:23
I never go back to them. But but I’m also not ever getting rid of them. Um, but then I would

Brian Rinaldi 8:30
Like my CD collection

Erin Mikail Staples 8:37
box, lots of wires, but is also just soft.

Brian Rinaldi 8:40
Oh, yeah.

Erin Mikail Staples 8:41
I don’t know where half of them go to. But

Mary Thengvall 8:43
I have no idea what you’re talking about. Yeah. Whatever. Yeah. Um, but yeah, so I’d take that, that feedback and that information about, hey, you know, where are you getting information? What, what blogs? Are you looking at? What trends do you see? And write up a report and send that around to the relevant editors and conference chairs? And that would then, at times be used to define like, what topics are we doing next? And what are we looking at? And who are we getting to speak at conferences and things like that. And so that kind of got me into this whole, like, Oh, we’re kind of building a community around this, but I’m listening to them. I’m getting feedback from them. And other people are now understanding that that feedback is incredibly helpful. And so that’s kind of how I stumbled into the whole, like, community management Developer Relations space without really knowing that it was a space or that a thing was building out of that. And then since then, I’ve worked for a handful of different companies working with their developer audiences. People Why did I lose what the word was their communities, people who use their software um, but Then also, I took a couple years off 2017 to 2019, and ran my own consulting company. Because as I was working for these different companies, I was answering the same exact questions that I’ve been answering. For years, my friends, were all answering the same questions they’d all been answering for years, teams were getting laid off with no notice, because they couldn’t answer some of those questions or weren’t given the opportunity to answer those questions, right. And honestly, I just got tired of constantly fighting for like, this is why we should exist. And so instead of continuing to fight that, on a one on one basis, I went no secret, I’m going to find my own consulting firm. I’m going to produce content that’s going to help other people answer the questions that I wish I had had resources around when I was getting started. I’m going to talk to a variety of companies, I’m going to build up this portfolio of people that I worked with, and in doing so really try to help not only myself for future jobs, but also everyone else have more of that foundation to lean on to say no, no, hang on. Here’s the things that we do. Here’s why we exist. Here’s how we can make your company, your product, whatever it is different from others. Here’s the distinguishing factors. Here’s the value that we really bring to the table. And so I think, to this day, I still struggle with people being like, oh, but you’re you’re the expert. And I’m like, no, no, no, no, no, I just learned from all of the mistakes that we all made, and that I made multiple times. And I was determined enough to get the answers out there so that other people don’t have to so like, I’m still learning every day. But it’s just you know, there’s a few of us, like you were saying, Brian, who have been involved with this for long enough to go, oh, hang on. We’re all doing this. And we really shouldn’t be. Can we fix that somehow? Yep. So that we can break that that cycle?

Brian Rinaldi 12:07
I know some of those common questions. Like, how do you measure DevRel? Right? If I had $1 for every time that was brought up I could retire

Erin Mikail Staples 12:23
Yeah. was just laughing because it’s like, the whole thing is like, that was literally when I you’re creating your content or consultancy when I entered into it. So thank you, because you’re gonna Google that I came up and I was like, Yeah, what do you what is my job title? What do I do? But I mean, that’s the whole question still answered. That was literally what I had to give a presentation today. an all hands was, yeah. Why? Why is there and going all these conferences and what?

Mary Thengvall 12:46
Yes, so yes, right.

Brian Rinaldi 12:49
Yeah. So yeah. Which brings me to you then wrote the book that answers that question. Tell us. Tell us a little bit about your book.

Mary Thengvall 13:00
Sure. So insider story on writing that book. It was not supposed to be just me writing it. We actually started with four of us. And it started as a conversation at a conference, right. So there was a an editor there, Louise, who’s brilliant and fantastic. And now actually works for O’Reilly, who had pulled aside a few people in a like, big dinner we had all pulled together was like, hey, what what topics should we be? Should we be writing about next? And Julie Anderson was like, Debra, there’s nothing on dev rel, we need something on dev rel like they’re stuck on community, but we need we need to fill this gap. And so Louise was like, great, you’ll write it and Julie was like, No, but I’ll write it with other people. And so she pulled in to Jason, you and then Nathan Harvey. And then how to remember which one of the three of them said Oh, and Mary could do this too. And Louis was like, great, the four of you will write this book. Let’s get a proposal together. And Nathan Harvey literally walked behind me, Pat’s, me on the shoulder and goes, I’m so excited to work on this with you and walks away. And I was like, What are we working on together? I have no idea what you’re talking about. But the awesome thing was that between the four of us, we kind of sat down and did a big brainstorming session around what topics do we need to cover? What questions do we know we have to answer? What are the common things that there aren’t scads of blog posts about already right? And by the time we did that brain dump and then kind of went through and went, Okay, these kind of go into this category and this goes here. That was the point at which everyone else kind of started going, Oh, hang on. I have this going on. In my personal life. I have this going on with work. I don’t actually think I have the time to do this. And I went, Okay, well. I have the outline I have at that time, the company that I was working for had had given me their blessing to take one day a week to write. So I was like, maybe I can figure this out, like, as long as I can rely on the three of you for a lot of, you know, feedback and questions along the way, and am I going about this on the right way and all of that, and they agreed and supported me wholeheartedly the entire way, which was fantastic. I could not have done it without them. But yeah, so little insider scoop on how that book came to be. But it was really a lessons learned, and things that that we all had struggled with a lot when we were getting started. And again, really wanted to get out there in a way that was understandable not only for people who were active practitioners and and individual contributors doing this job on a day to day basis, but also something that they can hand to their managers and be like, Look, I know you’d understand what I’m doing. I know, you don’t necessarily want to sit and get a lecture from me on a weekly basis. Do you like to read you can read this instead? Like, here’s, here’s third party information, right? Which, for whatever reason, leaders tend to listen to people outside of the company more. So like, it gives you not only something that you can use to backup what you’re doing, but also some a resource that you can give to, to management to hopefully read through and better understand what’s going on so that you aren’t having to answer those questions yourself day after day, week after week. Then I it’s incredibly overwhelming at times. But also I’m so grateful that we accomplished that goal, because I still you know, it’s five years later, almost five years later, and I still have people coming up to me being like, Okay, I read this again, and this all still fits, and it works really well. And this is what I learned this time when I read it. I’m like, okay, good. Because I very much wrote it with the hope that selfishly, I wouldn’t have to write it again in two years. And so like, didn’t mention a lot of tools didn’t specifically, you know, name drop things, but it was a lot of the theory and practice. And here’s the questions to ask, which makes me laugh because Apress reached out earlier this week. And they were like, Hey, you want to write a second edition? And I was like, nope. Thanks for asking. Cool.

Brian Rinaldi 17:29
I know that feeling. I every the first time I wrote a book, I was like, I’m never gonna do this again. Then I committed to do a second one. And I’m like, I’m absolutely never gonna do it again. So yeah,

Mary Thengvall 17:43
that totally labor of love.

Brian Rinaldi 17:45
Yeah, it was. It’s not a moneymaker. That’s for sure.

Mary Thengvall 17:50
It’s, I had someone one time tell me like, if, if you have to write a book, do it. If it’s a like, oh, that sounds like that might be fun. It might be something I want to do some day like no. But it’s it’s definitely it’s enjoyable at times. It’s a lot of hard work at times. It requires a lot of support and encouragement for people around you. But I wouldn’t I wouldn’t have changed that. I’m glad that it’s out there. I’m glad that it’s been so helpful. It’s so incredibly rewarding to hear that people use it and continue to use it and that it’s it’s helped make a difference and that was that was the sole goal that I had so I’m glad that it’s doing that

Brian Rinaldi 18:34
yeah sorry you were gonna say something Erin.

Erin Mikail Staples 18:37
Oh no, I was just like that’s great because like I’m barely make I do the NaNoWriMo and like I think I’ve completed it twice and like it’s it’s it’s like it’s like in Yeah, it’s not quality content, like coming from a journalism background. And well, I’m going ooh, this there was some I just have to hit the damn 50,000 words limit

Mary Thengvall 18:57
100% 100%

Brian Rinaldi 18:58
You can just like, you know, use ChatGPT. Spit it out.

Erin Mikail Staples 19:05
perfect. You’re playing on Google Bard yesterday and it didn’t know there was an E and ketchup so those are fun fact. Yeah, there you go. Yeah. Yeah have questions. If you ask it just catch up have an E in it did not pick it up. So there you go. I was like what out of all the things you didn’t get your great

Brian Rinaldi 19:26
there’s examples of it thinking two plus two is five and making an argument that two plus two is five bar to all of them Yeah, so

Erin Mikail Staples 19:35
yeah, come on. Come on.

Brian Rinaldi 19:36
Not perfect.

Erin Mikail Staples 19:37
You’re spared from the room. I’m like honestly, can you guys like learn to do these tasks that I don’t want to do paying my taxes like doing my taxes mess, sir. You know, claiming doing insurance you calling my health care provider can like we train robots for that stuff, to train

Mary Thengvall 19:51
it for the executive function things that if you can take all of that off my plate?

Erin Mikail Staples 19:56
Yeah, cool. My interest follows up please just handle it. Please. Yes, yes, absolutely, absolutely make laundry.

Brian Rinaldi 20:07
Folding. Oh my god, the folding? Yes, please. Can we get robots to do the folding? Yeah,

Erin Mikail Staples 20:11
come on robots faster now. Um, but I think in this next phase of things like, where do you see as like it’s gone through a couple of waves? Because you’ve been in it, you’ve seen a couple waves? You’ve written a book on it, how, what is the biggest thing that you’re like, Wow, I did not see that one coming, or something that you didn’t expect? That was like, really missed the mark there that is different throughout the years?

Mary Thengvall 20:32
That’s a great question. Um, I think one of the most interesting things that I saw was, you know, around the time that I wrote the book was was when everyone was starting to say, oh, we need a developer advocate. And you’d be like, great, why? And they’d go well, because because we need a Developer Advocate, you’re like, cool, what are they gonna do? Be? Like, okay, you don’t understand what you’re asking for, you don’t understand why you need it. Right. None of that is is represented in this desire. And so that was not unexpected. But I think we started to get more of that information out there. And then, like, mid pandemic, slash post pandemic, like middle of like, 2021, and then ended 2022. There were so many jobs available, like the newsletter that I do, I have a rolling job board that we keep. And I want to say we had upwards of like, 3000 jobs on there something stupid at one point, and I was like, hang on, how long? Are we keeping these on here? for it? It was like three months at a time and like, okay, no, this is this is ridiculous. Like, it just absolutely exploded. And you still had some of them that were like, We need a dev advocate to write content and answer support for questions and take care of our forum and build a community and speak at all the conferences and get us to be known in the entire industry. And you’re like, Okay, you still don’t completely understand what you’re asking for. But there were also a lot of companies that really knew like, there were solid job descriptions out there. And it was an overwhelming number of companies looking for developer relations professionals. Um, obviously, we’ve seen that go down since the economy changed. There’s still I think, more than I would have expected previously. But it’s also it’s been a fascinating, I think, turn, as we’ve seen some of the trends around when companies are integrating developer relations. Were so many of them. Now we’re starting to say, you know, look, we have eight people at the company, and we want to officially launch our project or product in six months, we need a DevOps person here. And now, it’s like, okay, cool. Like, you might not know exactly why. And you might not have a fully defined what their day to day role is gonna look like. But companies are really starting to understand we need someone in here early, to make sure that the developer experience is good to make sure that we’ve got a strong relationship with the with the companies that are trying this out with our early users. And to see that starting so early in the startup process, now, I think has been really rewarding, because I think a lot of companies are finally starting to see, like this is this is how we differentiate ourselves. This is how we make sure that the community sees that we’re serious about getting feedback that we’re serious about listening to them. And it doesn’t always work, right. There’s, there’s trial and error, like there always has been, but I think that’s been one of the most interesting things that I’ve seen is that change from like, oh, no, we can’t do community stuff until we’ve got, you know, 100 people in the company or until the community is big enough that we need someone managing it or things like that to like, no, no, we need you here to actually work on that and, and start to build that which has been, I think, really, really good.

Brian Rinaldi 24:32
Yeah, I’ve seen that too. Like, in fact, I joined a couple of companies over the pandemic that were I was first several, you know, and, and they were super small, in fact that right now, I’d say, when I see when I see this stuff come through, you know what jobs are open and kind of, you know, and it seems like those are the people actually right now. Everybody’s big is shrinking. They’re in they’re shrinking their DevRel teams, but it’s this Yeah. The small companies that have their seed money or or Series A, and they’re like, they really need to grow fast. And they like those are the ones that are hiring right now. Yeah,

Erin Mikail Staples 25:09
yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. The other thing I’ve noticed, at least in my time doing it and coming in like the five or six years part, like the adoption and integration of product on teams suddenly more and more happening, because like, I came through it through the route of being a product manager, and thought I was like, I wasn’t it. I’m immediate product manager. That’s what I went to grad school for. Just kidding. Sure. did not do that. But like, now, I drifted part of my most valuable part of my job. The last two roles that I’ve held has been breaking the product like I’m the first person to break it.

Mary Thengvall 25:40
Yes, yes.

Erin Mikail Staples 25:41
Which is great for product. And I don’t think companies see more receptive to that ever. And poor, like, I think there’s definitely been times in the past where I’ve been like, maybe we should think about this product. I’m like, no, no, you’re you’re in community or DevRel, you don’t you don’t get to give feedback on product. And now it’s like, can you please come to our product meetings? Can you talk more? Can you? Yeah, yeah, let’s figure out what the next product is. And I think that’s a very welcome things. But again, for many, it requires a different skill set. And community or product focus several is different than like, say, Yeah, education focused DevRel at times. Sure.

Mary Thengvall 26:15
Or an awareness focused overall. Right? Yeah. And I think that’s having that seat at the table is something that I’ve seen a lot more where, you know, the first couple organizations that I was with, like, O’Reilly, I think, was a different beast, because I was defining the role as I did it, which felt like you’re building a car as you’re driving, which is not a good thing. But the couple companies after that, it was difficult because I was, you know, an individual contributor reporting to a manager who reported to a director who reported to a VP who report reported to it C suite person. And so it was like, by the time I gave feedback about what I was hearing, it had to go through five other people before someone was like, Oh, hang on. Can they want to do that thing? Which rarely happen, right? Where our people like, oh, hang on. Okay. What are you hearing from community? What are you seeing in the forms? What pattern Are you noticing? But what additional items are you interested in? And so I feel like we’re given that ability to given the space and the time to give more of that feedback. And when, when we are giving that feedback, then it’s better received than it has been in the past. And you still might have to struggle with the like, how do I get this prioritize properly, or things like that, but it’s at least heard and received a little bit more, which is good. Yeah,

Erin Mikail Staples 27:53
I still don’t ever there’s enough time in that is.

Brian Rinaldi 27:57
I was I brought up Rizel’s comment about she doesn’t know which what her focus is because I don’t think I’ve ever really had a focus. I’ve always said like, my feeling and having been a lot of different places is when when it’s done, right. It’s a two way street. It’s not just Yes. Like when when folks want DevRel, just to be like out there blasting their message. It’s like, it’s just, it doesn’t work, right. I mean, you’re not you got to do for the community to get from the community. Yes. Like, you know, so. You know, and also because the devil is often like, in there to Aaron’s point, the first person to break stuff, but also like the one who’s talking to people who like having those problems or talking to developers who are using the product, and you can come back and you’re like, Hey, I’ve, they’re telling me this, and they’re telling me that and so, yeah, the companies that aren’t receptive to the inbound stuff from DevRel, I think are losing a lot of the value of it.

Speaker 2 28:53
Yes, yes. And when I was consulting, that was one of the questions that came up really often was like, Okay, what, what should our split between, you know, engaging with people internally and engaging with users externally be? And I was, like, 50/50, people were like, no, but no, but I can’t, I can’t do that. I’m not doing my job effectively. And I’m like, Cool. But if you’re not engaging with people internally, as much as you are your community members, your users, your customers externally, how do those internal people know what you’re doing? How do you show them that that’s valuable? How do you communicate to them what you’re hearing from people externally, right. And so I still maintain that needs to be 50/50 You have to be representing the company you have to be representing the community. But you need to be able to do both of those. And I agree, Brian, what you were saying around like, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a very specific this is the only thing that I’m I’m responsible for. I have a kind of triangle view of things that I put out a couple of years ago where you know, the the three primary things that I see that we’re focused on our awareness, enablement and engagement. So do people know that we exist, that our product can be out there and help and that we’re here and can help? Are people able to use the product? Are they unable to get started? Are they able to contribute? Are they able to be a part of the community, all of that? And then are people actually engaging with not only the product, but the community as well. And I think when you’re a small team, you’re doing bits and pieces from all three of those, right? There is no distinguishing between them. There’s no saying, Oh, I’m only focused on awareness. And it’s interesting, because as Erin, as you said, in chat, that organization grows. But then also, as the program matures, I think that focus can can shift and change, at a really interesting experience last year with the team that I’m in charge of that community now, where, you know, we hit a point where our community is incredibly strong, which is something that I never take for granted. But we have a really strong community, but we’re needing to, you know, expand into other communities expand to other topics within tech. And so figuring out how much of my team’s time should be focused on that expansion, versus making sure that the onboarding experience is good versus contributor experience being good versus engaging with the people who are most engaged with us, like, be a team of 13. And even with that many people, we were constantly going, Okay, hang on, where do we spend most of our time? How do we do all of these things we’re being asked to do? Do we post generically about process automation? Do we post specific, you know, deep dives into this part of the component for this particular, you know, group of people who are using this this thing on a day to day basis. And we wound up splitting the the team up? And it was like that was something that I asked for, I asked for additional focus I asked for, you know, hey, do we need to be working on all of these different things, or, like we’ve got a really strong product marketing team that is fairly technical compared to most product marketers that I’ve known? Can we move the awareness branch over to them, and maybe take one of the dev advocates and move them over there, they’re more interested in that high level, technical side of things that might bring people in and get them more interested in the product in the future. But it’s not the deep dive, here’s how you do X with comanda, kind of a deal. We moved developer experience over to the engineering team, because they were far more focused on the working with those engineering teams on documentation and the onboarding experience and things like that. And so the team now is six of us. But we are far more focused on the like, how can we make things better for the people who intend to use kimono in production, or are using coming to in production? So that’s the, you know, enablement side of things. So a lot of that feedback, a lot of the you know, hey, we’re we’re still sponsoring events, but we tend to sponsor events where people already know us, rather than focusing more on the top of funnel awareness side of things, and then engaging with and keeping those those most engaged community members interested in giving back interested in our products interested in learning more. And that reduced focus has been huge for the team as far as like, we know what we’re working on. We know what our goals are, we know where we’re focused. And so being able to have that, even though it’s a smaller team, has been fascinating to me, because I think so often we go, Oh, well. But we need more people, we need a bigger team, we need to be able to, you know, serve more people and help more people with a bigger team. And it’s like, well, yes, that can be helpful. But if we aren’t reducing that, that focus, if we’re continuing with the huge amount of things that we’re doing, doesn’t matter how big your team is, there’s always going to be things that we’re dropping, because there’s always more that you could do.

Brian Rinaldi 34:13

Erin Mikail Staples 34:14
That triangle, I think, is something I’ve definitely relied on a lot. And that’s actually how, like a lot of artists are structured that you read about is like thinking about it. And but it does, like it provides a hierarchy of you know, I know on our team, our team have to report directly to the Head of Community and then we work very late cross functionally. So we’re technically under marketing but work with engineering a lot. Like my days very much. i Before this, I was messaging some of our front end engineers being like maybe people are struggling with our front end. Let’s figure it out. Yeah, I think that’s the context switching is so important, but having that and that focus allows me to know okay, if I don’t get something done, because it feels like there’s always something I’m not getting done at the end of the week, I have no idea where that goes.

Mary Thengvall 35:00
Yep, it’s dropped. Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s funny the meeting that I was in immediately before this, we were just talking through that of like, okay, our Community Summit was last week. And the entire team this week is like, who am I? What am I doing? What are my priorities this quarter? How are we halfway done with the quarter like what is happening? And so taking that beat to go, okay, stop for a second. What did I initially say I wanted to get done this quarter. Is that still realistic based on all of the interrupt driven tasks that happened in the weeks leading up to Summit. And if it’s not realistic anymore, that’s fine. But let’s redefine what that looks like for the second half of the quarter so that we don’t have that pile of 20 different things staring us in the face every morning and keeping us from being able to focus, because we’re so intimidated by those 20 things. Right. So taking that time to reevaluate and, and really be more realistic rather than the, well, I got, I gotta get all 20 of these things done in the next six weeks. So I’m going to work 60 hour weeks to make that happen. Like, no, yeah, we had to reprioritize to make the other things happen before Summit. That means we need to reprioritize what’s happening now, in order to be able to focus on what are the most important things to hit our actual goals?

Brian Rinaldi 36:26
What and I think I’ll be filling that because I’ve went through the same thing. I was out last week at a meeting and now I’m like, Okay, what was I working on? What did I need to get done? Yeah. Yeah.

Erin Mikail Staples 36:37
And I love this question that Julia Seidman put up in the chat. Apologies if I pronounced that wrong. But one of the things that I absolutely love and like she writes about, do you think that metrics can help ICs in that regard? And like, yes, but also, in my thoughts, like in I worked at a community analytics company previously. So I we actually were rethinking Okay, Twitter’s down, we were using what is the metrics that are important to us if this is moved. And so we’ve been thinking a lot about that, and actually having a lot of conversations with that internally. And especially with how these like social platforms are changing. Like Mastadon, it was actually huge for us when we went to PyCon and PI data, like everybody was on Mastodon, which is awesome. But that’s a very different tracking. So we started to think about it in terms of collaborations. And so if you’re thinking about DevRel, in terms of collaboration, it also means that one of the things that I’ve had to learn and like, I’m very fortunate to have a manager who has kind of told me like, don’t try to don’t kill yourself, don’t burn yourself out. Stop. Good. And so thank you. Thanks, Chris, for doing all this. But one of the things that is really helpful is like remembering that that means thinking on your feet and spontaneity. How do you get time? Like, what are your tips like managing when you’re context switching or even taking that time off? Because if I’m not free to drop and go to a thing at times, I’ve never lost an opportunity that could have been a really big one for us.

Mary Thengvall 38:03
Sure, sure. So one of the things that I do with my team, we actually just rolled this out a couple of weeks ago, and we’re still figuring out some of the nuances, but that’s beside the point. But I did this both because my team needed help with that prioritization process. And also because I wanted to dig into our product more. So kimono is a process automation process orchestration tool. But it also has decision tables that you can put in there. And so I created a decision table, and then a process model that kind of walks through like, Okay, we get a request from somebody, how do we evaluate that request? Like, does it directly impact one of our primary goals for this quarter this year? Yes, or No? If no, that automatically puts it into a like, should I actually be doing this thing? Right? Like if it can’t further one of those major goals, it takes a backseat. Usually, if it does hit one of those goals, but it’s, you know, this has to be done this week, next week, this month, kind of a deal. Again, it goes into that like, okay, is this actually a higher priority than the other things that I’ve already established or high priorities right now? Yes or no? And sometimes the answer is going to be yes. And then you have to drop one of those higher priority items. But it’s helped us think through that, like interrupt driven work a little bit more in the sense of, you know, everything that pops up within the two weeks before the conference, obviously, unless it’s a really out there, like we should do this completely new thing. Let’s implement it now. Is going to need to get done, because the conference is happening in two weeks. But other stuff, you know, you can actually sit down and think like, oh, well, is this going to help benefit? These three goals that we’re working toward yes or no? And then use that to evaluate What should I actually be dropping? And I think Julia with regard to your question around metrics is it’s the, for me with metrics, there are so many different things that you can collect, right? With, with the community metrics, platforms, community engagement platforms that are out there these days. One of the things that me and my team have been struggling with lately is like, Okay, hang on, there’s so much data. How do we actually parse this data? What do we do with it to make it useful to us and help us understand it more? And so there’s a lot of things that we’re tracking. But I’m often not reporting on those number metrics. I’m using those to sit there and go, Okay, hang on. Last week, we had this percentage of people reach this stage of onboarding and our products this week, we had double that, like, that’s great. But why, like, I care far more about the the what happened, what impacted that than I do that actual number, like that actual number is fantastic. But also, if that actual number is only going to last in that higher range for two weeks, like, cool, that’s a great anomaly and something that I want to reference. But I want to know why that happened. Because if we can duplicate that, that’s what really matters. And if it’s, you know, hey, that spikes because of the minor launch or minor release that we had mid April, like, okay, we’re not going to be duplicating that every week. Let’s move on to other things. And so I tend to focus not just on the the numbers, but for far more of the what is happening, why is it happening? Is that something that we can replicate in the future? Yes, or no. And then I do the Strix numbers and graphs and things like that.

Brian Rinaldi 41:54
I think that all of this is super important, because it’s always been a hard thing to measure. Number one, I think that some of the tools that are out now, give that, you know, a little bit help a little bit to do that. But I’ve also, I find, in the many years, I’ve been doing this, that at times when when times are good, nobody cares about like, it doesn’t matter that you can’t measure it that well. All of a sudden, it’s like we just need, you know, all the all your outreach is just like, so we can’t like you know, and you can come to them with, you know, we did this many blog posts this many conferences, and everybody’s like, great, that’s awesome. You’re all doing great work. And all sudden, when things start getting tough, like now it’s like, if you come to them with those metrics, they’re like, that’s all great. But why do I care? Like, right? What does that mean for us?

Mary Thengvall 42:44
Yeah, yeah. And that’s part of the reason why I try to not make our goals based on work output. Because if the goal is, hey, you know, you’ve spoken at five conferences, it’s quarter, it’s like, well, what’s the quality of the talk? Are those the right conferences that I should actually be at? What happens if I send out 10 CFPs? And none of them get accepted? For some reason? Like, is my goal totally screwed? Like, I’m not, I’m not in control of whether or not that actually happens. And the same with blog posts, like if the goal is, every Friday, there’s a technical blog on the or technical blog posts on the blog, like, cool. What’s the quality have to be? What are we looking at as far as topics go? Is the topic actually one that’s going to resonate with the audience? Or if we don’t have one that fits that criteria? Is it better to just skip like, are there people actually hitting the blog post at 9am? Every Friday, expecting a technical blog to be up there? If they’re not, then let’s go for quality over quantity. Let’s go for quality over a set schedule. thing if you just like everyone

Erin Mikail Staples 44:02
my plan to chat GPT all my content.

Speaker 2 44:09
And here’s the thing, if chat GPT is helping and getting that like blank page syndrome out of the way, fantastic. But I think there’s a huge piece of it that we still have to make sure that we’re putting out content that people actually want. Right. Julie, I think you mentioned that earlier, too, right? That you have to be aware of, what are people looking for? What are people actually engaged with? What’s actually going to be helpful? Or else you start creating content that no one needs? No one really cares about. And then Brian, to your point, you can still get that praise for like, Oh, great. You did six blog posts this month. Who cares, right? What did they do? What did they actually accomplish? Versus hey, here’s the patterns that we’re seeing in our forum. Everybody’s asking these questions. Can we fix the document tation in this way, let me submit a PR to see if that’ll help. Can we write a blog post or record a video that shows how to do this a little bit better. Like that might be the only piece of content that we get out this month. But if that makes a difference and solves that onboarding issue, fantastic. That’s, that’s great, because then we can show well, more people, either either more people are successfully onboarding to the product, or that question isn’t coming up as often. Yep. Right.

Brian Rinaldi 45:31
I think I think that’s a that’s an excellent point. Because it’s something I’ve I’ve discussed many times in the past, it’s just like, okay, but you know, I can write, I can write…let’s imagine I write a blog post. It’s a very, it’s kind of niche topic, but it’s an important topic that matters a lot to some very valuable potential customers or existing customers. Yeah, that that post is not going to get a lot of traffic, and the, like, there’s just no way. I mean, it’s not, it’s not was designed for, but it still doesn’t mean it’s not an highly valuable thing. Sometimes that’s more valuable than the posts got a ton of traffic. Because, yeah, you know, if it landed us a couple customers, or it kept some customers from churning, yes. You know, huge wins there, as opposed to like, if I got 10,000 people to come see my post that, like, we get no, no leads out of kind of thing. So yeah, yeah. Which is why it’s so hard to measure, right? Like, because there’s so many of these things. And it’s like, well, depending on what the activity is, and what the what the goal of that even that I can write a blog post and my goals is awareness, or I write a blog post and my goal is, is to help like existing customers or whatever. Like the Yeah, the metrics change. And yes, and that’s why I think it could come become so hard to, to measure on a consistent basis.

Mary Thengvall 46:47
Yeah, absolutely.

Erin Mikail Staples 46:49
It also like creates like being, again, self taught near to the field, like I can distinctly and you’re saying that I was like, Oh, my goodness, this is I’m so glad this is like therapy for though, because like there was a tutorial that we were supposed to get out. And we are behind on it. And I was like, it was like we found internal bugs or product change. It was like, one of the most asked community questions, and it was like, Great, I’m gonna write this tutorial. And now and like, I had to get help from my manager to kind of help me just throw it across the line. And it was no other reason. But like, none of us that we were like, Oh, we found problems in our docs, we found like, it was like, how much stuff did we find? Doing this one product that like, yes, the community needs and like, yes, we could have just shipped it. And it was a terrible tutorial that doesn’t actually help you and not fixing all the other problems that we found. Yes, yes. But for part of that reason, we’re actually thinking about, we’re having the conversation pretty actively right now about input output and impact metrics, like, yes. When do we measure input? When do we measure output? And then when do we measure impact? And breaking it down? In those three? Like, yeah, is been a really helpful framework for me. And it’s been like, even just if it’s like, in our notion, task Kanban board, it’s just like, Okay, what was the goal of this? Yes. And that’s good. As an icy, who needs that? It’s a good chat, click well,

Speaker 2 48:06
and as a manager, who is asked, Hey, what was the impact of this thing? Like, that’s helpful for me to have that too, right. I was talking to one of my advocates a few weeks ago, and we were talking through, you know, how do we record like, Hey, I gave this feedback to this team, I filed a PR here for the documentation I did, you know, this file is an issue for this particular community member in this place. Because it’s not like, I don’t want people to have to go in and create a task on the task board, and then say, here’s the link to this and fill out the whole description and the business impact and everything like, now it for a thing that took you two minutes to do, why would you take 10 minutes to fill out the card, and then link to it and then file the card as done? Like, let’s not do that. But on the other hand, me as the manager, being able to go to a single place and say, look, here’s all of the feedback, we’ve given the product team recently, here’s all of the PRs that we followed recently, here’s all of the issues that we filed on behalf of the community. Here’s the impact that my team is having as a result of those conversations that are happening on a ad hoc basis with the community, that’s gold. So like, let’s create a single card in Trello, which is what we use for our task board that says this is the feedback, community feedback or the things that we’re doing as a result of that feedback, right. And then I just have a running list of things that I can reference. And it’s a, you know, 30 seconds longer than it would have taken you before because you’re posting a link to the PR in the Trello card. But it’s a resource that we can reference as a team for those impact metrics directly to be able to say, Look, you you don’t have these connections. Or if you do have those connections, maybe those people aren’t reaching out to you as often or those aren’t the conversations that you’re having. And so anytime we get that feedback of like, oh, Well, technical marketing people could write that content or product managers could have those conversations with customers or whatever it is you go cool, but they’re not. And here’s what we’re doing as a result, and here’s the impact that we’re having. And let’s talk through, you know, the relationships that you would lose if we were to leave or the programs that simply wouldn’t happen anymore, because we don’t have time for it. And then the customers that we would lose or the sales opportunities, that wouldn’t have happened because you weren’t in that location, right. And so while we might not always have those causation metrics of we wrote this blog post, which got this many signups which onboard this many people as a direct result, right? We have a lot of that correlation, a lot of the impact a lot of the, you know, hey, we know when we do this thing, it can help in these ways, which I think is incredibly helpful.

Brian Rinaldi 51:00
Yes, oh, my God. So I think we can have you on here for like, you just say, I’m just seriously, this is I think this is so is all this is so good. I’m already like, I don’t know if my manager is watching. I know he watched it sometimes. I’m like, if he didn’t watch, he’s got to come back and watch because there’s so many things we can take out, like so many takeaways. I feel like, you know, we’re already running out of time. And in we I feel like we have barely scratched the surface.

Mary Thengvall 51:31
I love having this conversation. So we’re good. I understand.

Brian Rinaldi 51:36
So all right. So I unfortunately, I will read start to wrap things up because we are running up to the hour. And I need to give Erin her time to give her pickle fact Yeah. So. Yeah, like so because we’re DevRel(ish)..relish. And we have our little pickle there and everything.

Mary Thengvall 51:58
I love it.

Brian Rinaldi 51:59
We have a pickle fact, on every episode. So so go ahead and give us

Erin Mikail Staples 52:05
the really hard research that I do every time before this talk. So just letting you know, it’s a lot of things. But in Russia, pickles, juice is a common hangover cure. And there you go, right. And some scientists have actually tested like, is this like legit, like, does this actually help solve a hangover? It is more effective than Gatorade when tested to beat a hangover because it has more probiotics as well as large quantities of salts to replace dehydration. So there you go. Next time you’re hungover. What’s the I’m like, I made that pickle back was always a big thing. Yes. Maybe there was something to that there’s something not a scientist but

Mary Thengvall 52:47
not get hung over.

Erin Mikail Staples 52:54
Just kidding.

Brian Rinaldi 52:56
We just, you know, you know, the way we relate this to DevRel is actually we should just have conferences have pickled you available after their party, right? Like, yeah, several folks have to go to the yeah just instead of

Erin Mikail Staples 53:11
last year. The conference. We have a

Brian Rinaldi 53:13
year certainly. Yeah, I like it. Love it. All right. All right. Conference. I think we have to do it. We’d like brought pickle juice brought to you by DevRel(ish).

Mary Thengvall 53:29
Yes, please do that. That’s fantastic.

Brian Rinaldi 53:34
Well, Mary, this was such a great conversation and like, I feel like someday when they soon we need to get you back on in almost continue to keep going on this conversation. So yeah, really, really grateful for you taking the time out to chat with us. And yeah, I just loved learning from you. So

Mary Thengvall 53:55
thanks for having me. This was a lot of fun. Appreciate it.

Erin Mikail Staples 53:58
Thank you so much.

Brian Rinaldi 54:00
All right. So ever. Thanks, everybody for tuning in. We will be back next month. I we we already kind of working on our next guests. So look for us be towards the end of June because June is a kind of crazy month for me, but but we will be back. So follow for any updates on dev relish. Also, we have lots of really great virtual meetups coming up. It’s just a lot of a lot of cool content. So please check it out. All right, we’ll see y’all next time. Later. Bye.