The Role of Developer Relations Has Fundamentally Shifted in the Last Decade

Photo by Ilya Pavlov on Unsplash

Over the past 10 years, the role of developer relations (DevRel) professionals within tech companies has dramatically evolved. What was once seen primarily as a function of marketing has transformed into a strategic driver of community building and customer loyalty.

In the early days of DevRel, teams were centered on outbound marketing activities – building awareness about products, creating collateral like whitepapers, generating leads, and supporting sales teams. Their metrics were focused on inputs like number of emails sent, leads generated, and documents created.

While marketing is still an element of the DevRel function today, the role has become much more nuanced and community-driven. Modern DevRel teams recognize developers as critical partners rather than targets to market to. Their goals revolve around fostering loyal users and contributors through community engagement.

This shift towards an authentic, developer-first approach has been fueled by a few key factors. First, the rise of open source software highlighted the power of globally distributed co-creation. Engaged communities of volunteers could create products that rivaled commercial solutions. This underscored the importance of cultivating users who feel invested and empowered rather than sold to.

Second, the maturation of the API economy drove home the importance of developer loyalty. Companies realized that developers were both customers and distributors who could make or break platforms. Happy developers share their enthusiasm with peers – promising new growth channels. Unhappy ones find alternative services.

Finally, the transparency of social media means developers readily share experiences online. A tone deaf sales pitch or unresponsive DevRel team quickly invites backlash. On the other hand, DevRel professionals who genuinely help developers have an audience to amplify their impact.

Top DevRel teams today build relationships with developers across four key dimensions:

Community Engagement – They participate in relevant open source projects, forums, and events. Sharing insights, technical knowledge, and opportunities brings value rather than aggressive sales.

Content Creation – They create tutorials, demo apps, blog posts, videos, and more that educate developers. The focus is on enabling users rather than glorifying products.

Developer Empathy – They gather user feedback through surveys, interviews, and monitoring forums. These insights inform everything from product direction to marketing messaging and positioning.

Developer Advocacy – They equip internal engineering and product teams with an external perspective. By representing user needs, they help ensure developer happiness remains a priority in all processes.

Quantifying the impact of the DevRel function has also changed significantly. While things like email open rates, whitepaper downloads, and event attendance were once considered sufficient metrics, DevRel teams now track indicators like:

– Sentiment across social channels and communities
– Code samples and tutorials referenced
– Uptime and responsiveness of APIs
– Support requests and resolution rates
– User renewals and expansion
– Referrals and word-of-mouth endorsements
– Inquiries and leads influenced
– Adoption and retention curves

The shift from marketing-centric interactions to community focus has been so profound that many organizations have separated DevRel into its own department reporting to engineering or product teams rather than sales and marketing.

This reimagining of the DevRel function shows how companies are embracing developers as partners rather than targets. The role has moved up the value chain – away from commoditized marketing activities and towards strategic community building. Companies recognize that cultivating loyalty and advocacy creates a growth engine no traditional marketing budget can match.