What tactics are most efficient to build a developer community?

Matt Thompson / November, 2017


Matt Thompson, General Manager at Microsoft Commercial Software Engineering shares practical advice on how to engage and build a developer community, expertise he has built over the past eight years at Microsoft.

Video transcript:

What tactics are most efficient to build a developer community?

It is interesting because people talk about the developer communities as these things that are static and well-known. In reality, they are just people. When you start thinking about what is the best way to engage with people you end up with the same spectrum that everybody has around how do you engage with friends, advocates, colleagues, even competitors.

We, over a period of time, have built up this view on how to best engage from a technology perspective with these communities of devs. The first thing is that you can’t form them, they form on their own. They aggregate together based on their own interests. One of the key things that we have learned is that we have to go where they are.

We talk about that very often, it’s not about building a gigantic Microsoft community of people. It’s more about there is a Linux community, there is a Python community, there is a Java community, there is an Agile community. There is a machine learning community, there is a cognitive service community.

All these different communities usually live on their own. There’s almost completely wold-off from one another from a conceptual perspective, but the people flow back and forth. What you will find is that the people that are leaders in the machine learning community also participate in the agent community or the cognitive services community or they also do mobile apps because a lot of times that is how they deliver this functionality.

So for us, the best way to do this is to build relationships with those leaders. The funny thing is that we talk about these leaders as being influencers and they have been around forever and they know these communities. It’s not true. We actually had a woman on staff here at Microsoft a number of years ago who actually had built her own community that was one of the largest communities in Silicon Valley. She now has gone on to run a developer program for another company, which we think is fantastic.

If we look at what she did, she started with an interest in the technology and suddenly she was the centerpiece for a thousand other developers in Silicon Valley. All they came together and they did meetups and events. If we wanted to engage with them the idea is why don’t we just go with her.

First, we sponsor, which is a key piece of this. We’d love to have some speakers come to the event, either Microsoft speakers or people that we affiliate with. We have a program called our MVP program, external influencers who are very aligned with our programs and understand them in depth. We place them in a conference to go and speak as well.

So, the first piece is people engagement, because communities are really just people. The second piece is the technology piece. You can’t show up without credibility or authenticity, so if you don’t have any depth in the technology all the way down to the code level. You’re not going to make any difference to them. One of the things we see often, there is a big difference going back to the first question about evangelism, technical marketing versus evangelism. Technical marketing usually doesn’t work to reach out to communities, because who wants to listen to a bunch of marketing people talk about speeds and features. What they want to understand is how-to. How can I use this to leverage what I’m doing? How will this help me build a better product? How will this help me move into a new market?

One of the things we talk about, everybody in our team, when we talk about being geeks that speak, but we’re also geeks that code. For us, everybody in the team has a super deep and passionate area of technology that they work on and when they go and talk, they immediately carry off a lot of gravitas and authenticity when they speak.

First one is dealing with the people, the second one is that you have to carry a very deep technical bent with you. The third one is really about being part of them and not trying to go out to them.

We spent the last 2,5 years working with the Python community in San Francisco by just being part of them. We offer them our facility so that they can do their monthly meetings. We occasionally give talks and we sponsor other talks to come in. We feed them and give them free beer at times.

It is really about being part of that community, so they don’t look at us as Microsoft. They look at Tim he is part of the community and he is also a member of the Microsoft evangelism team. For us it ends up being those three things; engaging with the people, deep technical focus, being part of the community rather than trying to reach out to the community.



  • Matt Thompson, Microsoft
  • November, 2017
  • 4:35
  • Community & Evangelism

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