How do you build a developer advocate program from scratch?

Michael Ludden / November, 2017


Michael Ludden is the Director of Product at IBM’s Watson Developer Labs & AR/VR Labs. Previous to that he worked with product and developer marketing at Google, Samsung and at HTC. In this video, Michael explains the key to success in developing a great developer advocate program.

Video transcript:

How do you build a developer advocate program from scratch?

My background is actually in developer relations and at the end of last year, there’s a YouTube talk, I suggest people go and watch it, but that I gave which stars first of all street fighter, two figures, and beautiful ask VR. But it’s about developer marketing vs. developer relations. It’s literally a talk about that, so I have a lot of opinions about how you build a real holistic developer advocacy group, which it’s my preferred title as opposed to evangelism, but it’s all semantics at the end of the day.

At a large corporation that’s actually successful. It’s rather simple, you solve problems for developers. The whole program needs to be geared around not how we suck developers into our community and make them use our products, no! It’s about how can we service these developers, who are our developers, how do we go out with value for them that they want to take advantage of and then use that as sort of a way of creating loyalty and stickiness that’s positive or that’s incentivized.

As opposed to trying to force them, or the worst thing to me is like ‘Pay for Play’, ‘hey, we’ll give you a bunch of swag and free stuff if you sign up for this program’. It has nothing to do with whether or not you have an interest in our products, but it has everything to do with you getting free stuff. That does work in the short term for people, it’s very effective. My argument is that the people who are going to stick around are the ones that have a real interest in your product and your platform.

Other people might wear the T-shirt maybe that’s a marketing play. I don’t consider that to be a particularly effective advocacy play, so I got a lot of little thoughts around that. Generally speaking, I think you need good people who have a rare hybrid of skills between being able to get up in front of people and give talks that are intelligible and write code when necessary and do some of the social media stuff that the role entails.

There’s a lot to it and I think quite frankly that a really good developer advocate is kind of a unicorn, because they live in two different worlds. The engineering world and the marketing world to a certain extent. So how do you do that and still be authentic? When I’m meeting a great developer advocate, I know I’m meeting like one of the big doers in the world, because I think it’s a hybrid skill that is hard to find! I wish there more courses on it and more people putting their opinion out there from a place of success, ‘here is what it is, here it is what it isn’t, and here is how you can be excellent in doing it.’ There is a lot of bad developer advocacy out there so I hope this can be part of the solution!

An example of bad developer advocacy would be – so we have a product called Bluemix which is basically the IBM cloud. It is a public cloud. You can think of it like an AWS or a Heroku. You can imagine someone going onstage and just saying ‘hey guys, all you developers of this Hackathon (or whatever the event might be), here is 5 dollars to sign up for Bluemix, do it now or it’s going to go away’.

You might get people to sign up, but you said nothing about the platform and you haven’t given anybody a called-to-action as to why they would want to use it. You are just giving away five bucks, and that also cost the company five bucks at scale right. So that’s an example of bad advocacy in my opinion. Good advocacy will be that someone is getting on stage and they start live coding a solution to a very difficult problem with for example our technology in our case. That maybe developers weren’t aware of and then the called-to-action comes at the end, and it’s not too salesy; do you want to try it, here is how to get your free account, here is your how-to-guide and here is your sample code. Boom, that’s good!



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