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Developer First & Developer Plus Companies

Updated: May 28, 2023


Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Your organizational context makes all the difference in the world to your Developer Relations program.


We have defined two types of companies investing in Developer Relations activities:


Developer First

A Developer First company has a primary focus to create and sell products specifically designed to be used by developers (a.k.a. Business to Developer, or B2D). Think Twilio, Stripe, MongoDB, Arduino, Unity, etc.


Developer Plus

Conversely, Developer Plus companies have a primary focus to create and sell products for businesses (a.k.a Business to Business, or B2B) or consumers (a.k.a Business to Consumer, or B2C).


Developer Plus companies also make products or services available to developers which they believe will benefit or add to their strategy in some way. Benefits that might accrue from adding a B2D approach include opening new channels to market, extending into new use cases, contributing to an innovation strategy, or a new method to optimize or enhance existing products. Examples include Qualcomm, Apple, Ford, Santander, Microsoft, Salesforce, Amazon, and Google.


Your goal should be to demonstrate the business value of your Developer Relations effort.

Depending on the company type (Developer First or Developer Plus), the maturity of Developer Relations within the company, and the complexity of the organisation, achieving this common understanding can be fairly straightforward or incredibly difficult to achieve.


The focus on developers as a route to market is a relatively new field. As such, it’s not currently recognized or taught in universities or postsecondary schools, and there is no professional body or association. This relative immaturity means there is a lack of standard definitions, frameworks, measurements, and tooling for Developer Relations practitioners to adopt. It also accounts for the lack of awareness and understanding of Developer Relations in the broader business world.

 

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The 2022 edition of our State of Developer Relations research found that nearly 2/3rds of Developer Relations professionals are working in Developer First companies:


42.9% identified as working for Developer Plus organizations, and 57.1% in Developer First organizations.

Why it’s important to understand your company context.


Your own operational situation can vary significantly based on the type and scope of your company. As you attempt to establish and scale your Developer Relations program, your individual circumstances will dictate how much time you must dedicate to internal matters of strategic alignment and stakeholder management vs. getting out there into the developer community and driving the adoption of your developer tool or product. Your context also affects your ability to attract and retain top talent, and it affects your freedom to execute your ideas.


Perhaps not surprisingly, life is - generally speaking - significantly easier for a DevRel professional inside a Developer First company. After all, a Developer First company's sole purpose is to build tools for developers, therefore one would hope, there is little confusion about answers to simple questions like, “Why are developers important?”


Of course, it’s not all plain sailing. Friction in Developer First companies tends to arise due to a lack of communication between departments or with investors, disagreements on go-to-market tactics and metrics, or a lack of understanding of what good looks like, rather than a more fundamental existential crisis, questioning the need for a DevRel team at all.


In Developer Plus companies, always be aware that your activity is likely not viewed as core to the business because, by definition, it isn’t. Therefore, your job must include educating your stakeholders to ensure you have the air cover you need to flourish. Find ways to connect your efforts to the core goals and priorities of your department and the wider company. Connect the dots and make the case that a dollar spent on your program provides a better return than a dollar spent elsewhere in the business.


If you are working in a larger multi-national business, you will have additional challenges to overcome. The company culture may not be ideally suited to nurture a Developer Relations effort, no matter how passionately you advocate for one.


For DevRel to be successful, there must be openness, a willingness to share information and receive and act on feedback, a supportive and collaborative environment, and an entrepreneurial and partnership mindset.


While you may build enough momentum to launch a DevRel program, you may find yourself in a debilitating war against corporate “antibodies” that exist to attack and kill anything not recognized as belonging inside the host. Departments and individuals can deliberately, or unconsciously, grind away at any activity deemed to be outside of the norm.


Organizational change affects both Developer First and Developer Plus companies. Hiring, firing, and re-structures are the norm, so never get complacent. Your stakeholders will change, sometimes every six months. New senior hires will want to make a splash and shake things up, often recruiting people they have worked with before. The economy might take a turn. Your program will be under constant scrutiny. Disruption and distraction could be hiding around the corner, even when things seem to be going well. So know your context and be aware.

 

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