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Creating a Sense of Community - How Developers Interact and Engage with their Peers

Development communities like GitHub and StackOverflow are the bedrock of progress for all kinds of developers and their projects. Furthermore, many organisations curate their own communities to enhance developers’ experience with their products. In this post, taken out of SlashData’s public report “The State of the Developer Nation”, we’ll learn what developers look for when joining a technology-centric community and which factors encourage them to participate and engage more.

What factors do developers consider when joining a technology-centric community?

Developers primarily engage with technology-centric communities to learn. More than half (52%) consider the quality of available information to be one of the five most important factors to consider when joining a community. That’s considerably more than the next most popular factor, the availability of courses/training (38%), which, incidentally, also facilitates learning and knowledge-sharing.

Developers primarily engage with technology-centric communities to learn – the quality of available information is by far the most important factor

Interestingly, we see changes in importance among developers who didn’t select either of these two learning-related factors. In-person events (+6%), member-only benefits (+5%), links to industry (+4%), and online events (+4%) all increased in importance. This suggests that when developers aren’t there to learn, they are more likely to join a community in order to network. However, these factors are still among the least important for this group.

A positive culture enables developers to get the most from their community experience

Community culture is also important. 35% of developers consider the friendliness of a community when deciding to join, making this the third most important factor. Clearly, curating a welcoming and friendly experience should be a priority for community managers. In fact, it seems that a positive culture is an enabling factor in allowing information-seekers to get the most from their community experience: developers who prioritise the quality of information and having access to expert community members are more likely than average to also think that a positive culture is important.

data graph with the most important factors that developers consider when joining a community

Further down the list, the platform on which the community is based is actually not that important when developers decide to join a technology-centric community. Only 21% of developers selected this option, making it the seventh most important factor, just ahead of recency and frequency of activity. However, as we will see later, the right platform can ignite greater engagement and participation. For now, though, we’ll take a closer look at which factors developers in different generations consider before joining a technology-centric community.

As developers age, they become even more focused on the aspects of a community which facilitate learning. The quality of information present rises in importance the most — increasing from 47% amongst the youngest developers to 68% of the oldest. We see a similar – though less intense – story for the availability of courses/training, a friendly and welcoming culture, and expert community members. Once again, a positive culture is an enabler of accessing learning materials, and, as we will see later, also an enabler of increased engagement and participation.

68% of developers aged 45 and up consider the quality of information available when joining a community

On the other hand, younger developers have subtly different preferences. They are more likely than the oldest developers to consider mentorship programmes, links to industry/recruiters, and membership benefits as being important factors. These younger developers are focused on the employment and the networking benefits of community membership.

Younger developers are more focused than their older peers on the employment and the networking benefits of community membership

Importantly, the youngest developers consider mentorship programmes to be more than 2.5 times as important as older developers (26% vs 10%), and mentorship programmes are the fifth most important factor to these developers, likely due to their focus on building their careers. Now, this creates a point of tension – how to attract older and more experienced developers to a community, and then engage them in mentorship programmes to help younger developers?

Firstly, ensuring that communities meet older developers’ expectations around learning will go a long way to attracting them in the first place. However, to raise engagement for this group, we see that older developers who value mentorship opportunities are more than twice as likely than those who don’t to say that inviting their peers and friends and the availability of in-person events, contribute to increasing their participation levels. In a nutshell, the type of older developer who values mentorship is already predisposed to the networking benefits of a community. Identifying these older developers should be a priority for any community where demand for mentorships outstrips supply.

data graph with the most important factors that developers consider when joining a community broken down in 3 age groups

What encourages developers to actively participate in a community?

From joining a community to actively participating in it, we see large differences in what makes developers tick. A well-designed community platform – which is far down the list of factors that developers consider when joining a community – sits at the top when we ask about what encourages greater community participation. The time and effort that goes into selecting the right platform might not have immediate returns for growing a community, but it is likely to help to keep developers engaged and active.

A well-designed platform is what encourages developers the most to actively participate in a community

Participation is a two-way street. 27% of developers say that getting regular updates inspires greater engagement. Here, developers want to see activity from the community managers and founders. Looking at this from another direction: there’s likely nothing less inspiring than joining a community where the leaders aren’t themselves engaged. Indeed, further down the list, 17% of developers say that direct interaction with community leaders helps with their engagement.

Strong leadership has benefits beyond day-to-day participation. Having a well-defined purpose for the community encourages more active participation for 26% of developers, and an inclusive and welcoming culture is encouraging for 25%. Interestingly, active moderation is a much less popular driver of engagement – only 15% of developers selected this, but those who did are much more likely than average to engage more in communities with a positive culture. A positive community culture not only encourages people to join but also keeps them engaged. This said, sometimes a heavy moderating hand is necessary – whilst developers might not always appreciate it, the alternative of a negative, exclusive, or toxic community culture is likely worse.

Developers who value strong leadership in a community are often less engaged by games, quizzes, and prizes

It’s not only good vibes that encourage greater participation; prizes and rewards (26%) appear to be a powerful lever in encouraging greater community involvement, with fun activities close behind (22%). However, developers who are encouraged to participate through factors relating to strong leadership and expertise – positive culture, well-defined purpose, direct interaction with leaders, and having access to recognised experts – are often much less inspired to participate by prizes, activities, and polls and quizzes, whilst the inverse is also true.

data graph with the motivations that make developers actively participate in a community

This points to there being two distinct groups of developers – those who engage ‘seriously’ and those who perhaps take a more whimsical approach to community engagement. For community organisers and contributors, it’s important to understand which mindset a community tends towards: a focus on fun and games in a more serious community may appear to lack authenticity and gravitas, whereas taking a more sober tone may exclude those with a lighter agenda.

For developers of all backgrounds and skill levels, communities offer an opportunity not only to learn but also to connect. Different types of developers have different expectations for how they want to interact with their communities, but learning opportunities and a welcoming culture are consistently highly rated.

This article is part of the developer insights offered in the State of the Developer Nation 25th Edition. You can access the full report which covers:

1. Language communities - An update

2. Creating A Sense Of Community - How Developers Interact And Engage With Their Peers

3. How Generative AI Will Affect Developers' Work

4. Web3 Unveiled - Exploring The Diverse Landscape Of Web3 Development Projects

5. From Code To Consumer Magic - The Software Developers Behind Our Everyday Electronic Devices

6. What Are People Building In AR/VR?

Want to dive deeper into data on developer population, data and segmentation? SlashData has all the answers.


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