top of page
  • Writer's pictureViktorija Ignataviciute

What are the main challenges for developer programs?

The start of 2023 marked a 3-year anniversary of - thank you for being with us! Another Q1 highlight in our community is the 10th Developer Program Leaders survey, a bi-annual effort to understand your and your peers' challenges, and how DevRel professionals prioritise resources and justify the value of their developer program.

We invite you to participate and gain access to insights into how you compare against peer practices and contribute to the industry’s knowledge share.

Interested? You’ll need ±8 minutes. Take the survey

For every complete response, we will donate $3 (and up to $500) on behalf of the DevRelX Community to support the people who have suffered from the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the key findings from our past surveys, complemented by expert insights from our members!

Building a Developer Program Strategy

Sean Falconer shared personal thoughts on Q4, 2021 survey insights. Below are some of the highlights and you can read more in this blog post.

How do program leaders spend their time, budget and effort?

Below are the results from the survey breaking down how developer program leaders spend the majority of their time.

It’s encouraging to see that program leaders are spending the majority of their time on strategy. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

When I joined Skyflow, I spent a lot of time immersing myself in the product, the problem space, meeting people and customers, and thinking deeply about strategy. I wanted to be able to put together a long-term vision. What does developer relations look like for Skyflow in 5 years? And, a short-term vision. Where will it be in 6 months?

Starting with a strategy and creating a plan helped me focus on where I should put my attention and how to think about hiring. There are always a million things to do at a startup, but if you try to do everything at once, you’ll do nothing well. A strategy with clear objectives helps you tune out the distractions and focus on moving your key metrics in the right direction.

Thinking about and creating a strategy should be the foundation of any developer program. You should outline your goals, and the things you’re going to measure, define a North Star metric, and plan the tactics that will get you there. However, just because you have a plan doesn’t mean it’s going to work. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

You need to be able to adapt. Failure is to be expected. It’s a learning opportunity. Just don’t make the same mistake over and over again.

Internal buy-in and funding

The survey reports that 22% of a leader’s time is spent creating internal buy-in or securing funding. In a prior survey, this was 15%.

I think part of the responsibility of any program lead, regardless of function, is to spend some time justifying their function’s existence and securing funding. It’s our responsibility to convey our program and team’s value. That being said, I think it’s unfortunately too common that developer program leaders spend A LOT of time on this and it’s a topic that continually comes up.

At Google, I felt that several times a year, I had to give presentations explaining what my team did, the value we brought to the program, and the impact we’d had, but even then, I really had to fight for resourcing. Continually fighting this battle is counterproductive and exhausting.

So although it’s part of a program lead’s responsibility, I believe there should be a limit. Ultimately, it’s critical that developer programs have executive buy-in and are seen as a strategically important investment. Without that, you’ll burn yourself out trying to make people understand something they are simply not ready or interested in accepting.

Understanding where you are and where you need to go

Ayan Pahwa has also highlighted the importance of internal buy-in when looking at the Q2, 2022 results in this blog post. Here's what he shared:

Internal buy-ins and getting funding: Steadily bridging the gap

Now, this is an interesting one. Seeing a drop in creating internal buy-ins and securing funding from 22% in the Q4-2021 survey to 15% this year, really proves that DevRel practitioners are now spending relatively less time in convincing and justifying the cost of their DevRel programs.

This could be the result of developer advocacy programs becoming more mature and clearly linked to strategic goals. The impact of developer advocacy programs and their integration into company-wide strategy seems to be making it clearer for stakeholders to consciously invest both budget and resources in DevRel efforts.

I’ve been on the spot, spending hours to justify the cost of attending a conference or organising an event or just buying a new service or platform subscription to support our Developer community, so it’s really good to see that time is being claimed back and spent doing other rather more impactful tasks such as :

Direct developer engagement (rising from 11% to 18%). This is one of my favourite activities as a developer advocate. The feedback you get during 1:1 or 1:many interactions is extremely useful and specific. This also gives you an opportunity to create relationships on a much more personal level with members of your developer community, which can later become the foundation of your ambassador program.

Understanding of the product:

Although not showing up in the results but of great importance based on personal experience, is time spent in understanding your own product better. This is especially true for developer-first organisations where the products are ever-evolving and getting complex.s a DevRel practitioner it’s important to stay up-to-date with your own product growth and for someone who just joined a new organisation as DevRel, quite a significant amount of time can go into learning about the product itself.

Challenges calculating on-boarded developer value:

The survey also asked how a Developer program budget is justified and the estimated lifetime value of an on-boarded developer. It’s clear that the majority of people (~45%) participating in the survey don’t have a solid methodology for calculating the value of an on-boarded developer and hence only a small portion (8%) has backed the budget allocated to the developer program by an exact FIAT value. Given the complex developer lifecycle and pricing plans of developer-facing - products, platforms and solutions, it’s fairly complicated to create a solid framework that can help calculate the exact dollar value associated with an on-boarded developer.

Most products often have a free tier associated up to a certain usage and some also have free tiers for certain segments of developers such as student groups or non-profits. A developer can also evolve from being a part of a free tier to onto a paying payment plan over time and hence adding more complexity to put a dollar value on developer acquisition. It’s also difficult to know which acquisition strategy exactly works in onboarding a new developer, whether it’s that Youtube video you recently published or a past conference talk or demo during a local meet-up, It could very well be your SDK written in Go with good documentation.

How companies and DevRel serve the communities developers join

As we continue following Developer Relations and Marketing field, we notice how the community is becoming a more and more integral part of all strategic activities. Developer Relations is becoming (if not already) a community-led effort.

There is a huge benefit to any vendor to maintain a community for all the reasons that data shows us. If we can enable developers get more out of a product, if we can enable them to be excited about the product, share their experience with their peers and also progress through the community member’s lifescycle from new joiner to expert, we are helping them progress in their career and we’re also getting them more invested in our product and ecosystem. If you keep those core needs in mind, that’s when vendor communities start to add value.

- Jamie Langskov, Community and change management strategist.

With that in mind, our most recent survey (Q4, 2022), zoomed into the following:

  • Where do communities fit in the perception of developers?

  • Why are developers joining communities?

  • How are developer-facing professionals address developers’ community needs?

Where do communities fit in the perception of developers?

Developers join communities to learn. According to the Q3 2022 Developer Nation study, which surveyed 23,790+ developers, 19% of developers rank community in the top 5 resources that companies should offer to support developers. This makes the community 7th most important resource overall, just ahead of answers in public forums and only slightly behind professional certifications.

Are organisations paying attention to developers’ community needs?

Yes, they are. And we will data-back this affirmation by looking at the data from the latest Developer Program Leaders survey, where we surveyed ~130 industry professionals in developer-facing roles. The data speaks for itself. Communities are now sharing the spotlight with other traditional popular methods of developer education. And developer-facing organisations are aware.

According to their responses, when the professionals are setting their strategy on how to talk to developers and address their technical audience needs, 73% consider community as (at least) a key part of their strategy. More specifically

  • 34% consider community as the most important part of their strategy

  • 39% consider community as a key part of their strategy

  • Only 6% do not include the community in their strategy.

You can see all responses in this graph:

Have you enjoyed these insights?

Respond to the survey before March 31 to gain access to more insights like these and a chance to win exclusive DevRelX swag - Have your say!


bottom of page