Priorities and pitfalls in developer satisfaction by Katie Miller

Milena Radivojević

What should companies keep in mind when building products for developers or when making technology purchasing decisions for their developer teams?

This year’s Shift Conference in Miami is approaching, and we took the opportunity to speak with Katie Miller, the MC of this year’s conference and Developer Relations Advisor in Data Protocol.

Keep reading because we asked her a burning question: what do developers prioritize while working for a company?

Top 3 things developers seek

According to Katie, the answer to a previous question can be found within the question itself: “What should companies keep in mind when building products for developers or when making technology purchasing decisions for their developer teams?”

So, when devising developer marketing strategies, she prioritizes three key considerations for this audience. Developers seek:

  1. Opportunities to solve interesting problems;
  2.  The tooling, documentation, and space to tackle said problems;
  3.  Minimal “work about work.” They want systems and tools that minimize distractions, letting them focus on building transformative products.

To achieve this, it’s essential to gather feedback from them. Here is Katie’s strategy:

At a macro level, I recommend deep reads of global annual surveys from organizations such as StackOverflow, SlashData, Evans Data, and the Annual State of Developer Relations Survey. At a micro level, I advise using more custom information gathering through customer 1:1s, surveys, focus groups, advisory boards, social listening, and communities and forums.

For the latter task, she adopts a perspective of listening and empathy. She ensures that feedback channels effectively convey collected information to the relevant teams. Additionally, in appropriate forums, she establishes a response loop to keep participants informed of progress and outcomes.

Developers demand reliability and stability

However, it’s common for companies to struggle with sustaining a high level of new developer experience. They often fall into the same pitfall – going to General Availability before you’re ready (with ready including having documentation and support ready to go).

“If the product usage data and feedback you’re getting from developers in early adoption phases suggests that critical roadblocks and misunderstandings exist, the product is not ready to be released to a large audience, particularly without the “beta” flag attached to signal that it may be incomplete or unstable”, explains Miller.

The second common mistake is announcing sunsets and deprecations without proper communication, often catching people by surprise.

Developers expect a degree of reliability and stability in the products they use to build applications. They know change will happen, but need ample time and support resources to make the changes with minimal disruption to their end users.

Another crucial aspect, according to Katie, is ensuring that pricing strategies and rate limits are meticulously thought out and communicated, particularly in the current climate where every purchasing decision is closely scrutinized and requires thorough validation. Similar to rushing to General Availability prematurely, if feedback isn’t adequately integrated into the pricing strategy and if there isn’t thoughtful and comprehensive communication planned to share it, it can significantly erode developer trust.

DevRel is not just a nice-to-have

Having worked at Google for over 15 years, we also inquired about Katie’s perspective on Google’s approach to developer experience, including their key principles and methodologies.

The most significant lesson she emphasizes is the critical role of Developer Relations within a business. According to Katie, Developer Relations is not merely a nice-to-have. It’s essential for shaping developer product strategy and driving the adoption and amplification of those products.

You need to make sure that the team has a range of skills and functions (advocates, engineers, technical writers, program managers) and that it sits in a part of the organization that will champion it and set it up to have the most impact.

When focusing on developers as the main audience for products or services, she believes it’s important to remember basic marketing principles, as simplified by Google’s CMO: “knowing the user, knowing the magic, and connecting the two.”

“I begin with research. Understanding both macro trends and company-specific audience insights is crucial for shaping product strategy, messaging, positioning, and determining outreach channels and programs,” she explains.

Once these insights are collected and have gone into shaping product and program strategy, I ensure that the marketing assets and campaigns are built to communicate how the offerings solve actual problems, with transparency and honesty, and the resources to know how to make progress through the adoption funnel (with tracking and measurement built in, of course!).

APIs streamline tool inefficiencies

When it comes to creating clear and usable documentation for developer tools, Katie’s advice is to follow the three patterns she has seen hold steady over time:

  • Strong search functionality;
  •   Minimizing the need to bounce around to find all of the necessary resources to progress from awareness to curiosity, to experimentation, and to production;
  •   Being intentional about when to require sign-ups to access content, making sure there’s exceptionally strong value offered if anything is behind a login gate.

“One note: with the shift to using chatbot technologies like ChatGPT and Gemini, I imagine that not only strong search functionality but also accurate and reliable synthesized results are expected,” she adds.

We also asked her to elaborate on the significance of APIs in developer relations and product development, and we struck gold. This topic resonates with her deeply, as it underscores why developers are crucial to business success.

From a SaaS perspective, APIs are what connect everything together so that the inefficiencies of so many tools can be minimized. From a consumer perspective, they are what allow apps and website experiences to be secure, complete, and powerful without companies needing to solve problems outside of their wheelhouses.

“Thankfully, there are outstanding resources out there, such as this recent blog post from Draft. dev for how to create exceptional developer documentation. In terms of distribution, some tips include adding key links in blog posts, video descriptions, and QR codes in event presentations (protip: don’t forget to add UTM parameters so you can also track traffic from each unique source!)”, she concludes.

And don’t forget, you can meet Katie at the Shift Conference in Miami. Join us on April 23 and 24 2024!

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