“We don’t necessarily implement every feature request but take into consideration what the community wants, rather than what we want to work on.”
For our latest ‘What I’ve Learned…” interview at OpenChannel, we sat down with Tessa Mero. Tessa is a Developer Evangelist and Advocate for Cisco DevNet, providing tools and APIs to build Cisco enabled applications. She has contributed to the leadership team for the Joomla! Project, including the board of directors, leading the production team and developer evangelism for Joomla as a public speaker. She has organized and contributed to developer community events involving open source, PHP and APIs, and is an avid career mentor having helped countless software developers become successful in their roles. Tessa has been front row building developer communities and sat down with us to share what she’s learned along the way….
OpenChannel: What is it about developer evangelism and open source that makes you so passionate?
Tessa Mero: I’ve been involved with developer communities since 2010. Everything in my life revolves around developers. I manage communities, hang out with engineers and go to events.
I went to school for software development, taught it in college and grew into a software engineer throughout my career. Being part of these communities has been so helpful and is an amazing thing to see and do.
For open source there are so many reasons but my perspective is it gives people freedom. Freedom to use, freedom to fork the code and use it how they please.
It enables a community around software that’s not private or specific to any one company. It’s open for anyone to be involved. If people believe in the product it can create a global community and that’s a beautiful thing to see.
I contributed to open source, specifically Joomla, for about five years,. I brought in people who didn’t know what contributing to open source was. Now there leading teams and and different groups.
Tessa: I have a long history with the Joomla Extension Directory, the JED for short, which now has over 12,000 listings. Starting out I had to actually review some parts of code for each listing
Without the Joomla extension directory, a developer could spend spend days, months, or thousands of dollars for every little change they wanted added to their website. With the JED you can easily click and add new features to your website.
A lot the extensions have “pro” versions with extra paid features. Companies with listings on the JED will go to Joomla conferences and contribute to the Joomla project. That builds trust with developers and in turn developers will want to use their extensions. That idea of trust goes for developer evangelism in any community.
Cisco Spark is a collaboration tool with chat, voice over IP calls and video calls. It has an open API and SDKs. With the Cisco Spark Depot you can easily add apps, bots and integrations to your Cisco Spark environment.
Anyone can submit their listing to the Spark Depot. Some listings are built by Cisco but most are from other companies and developers. You can integrate anything with the API and then have that information pushed to or from Spark. If you’re using multiple applications, you can do everything in one tool.
The Cisco Spark Depot and all the different apps create a better experience for the user. It makes it really easy and instead of trying to find a script somewhere on the internet, they can just find it on the Depot.
OC: How important are live events when building a developer community?
Tessa: I’ve been running live events and meetups since 2012. I started with the PHP community, then the Joomla community in Seattle.
Recently I’ve been working on building an API community in Seattle. We had several sponsors and over 150 RSVPs for our first meetup. It’s really grown since and I’m working on a conference this fall.
Being at events and involved with your developer communities creates trust. Why would a developer support your product if you’re not out there supporting anyone else’s product? Developers are smart and they’re interested when you’re genuinely interested.
Events are where integrations and partnerships happen. I’ve been involved with so many companies and communities and it can all start with a great connection at a conference.
OC: What are the most important metrics you track and why?
Tessa: I do a lot of tracking with sign ups because that’s simple to understand. We hired a community manager she’s been tracking which events have been most valuable. Events can be hard to measure for developer evangelism and different people have different opinions.
The most important metric is the actual API usage and that developers are continuing to use it, what we call an active developer.
We also are big on support and have a 24/7 community support channel. There’s always someone there answering and we track our support as well.
OC: How do you manage the time and resources of the developer evangelism team?
Tessa: We break down different areas of our team to create smaller teams. We write out a list of problems that need to be solved and then create projects of how we’re going to solve them.
I’ve noticed that when one person is accountable for each small team, it works really well. When you don’t hold anyone accountable things don’t really get done, where new projects get created and old ones get forgotten.
OC: How can a platform instill trust in their developer community?
Tessa: We always make sure to listen to all suggestions. We don’t necessarily implement every feature request but take into consideration what the community wants rather than what we want to work on. Listening to your developer community is the most important thing you can do to keep your software and API alive. You’ll see a loss of engagement if you’re not listening to what people want.
Contributing to open source is important and all it costs is your time. Whether it’s 1 hour a week or 20 hours, you can get involved on a global level and build trust with all of these developers.
If you have budget, sponsoring events can help. I’m not a fan of sponsors that just want to throw up a logo. It’s about hanging out, especially after hours and not just disappearing as soon as the event is over.
Developers want to know more about the companies that hangout after the event. You can then see how genuine they are.
OC: What mistakes do you see other developer communities and platforms making?
Tessa: This goes back to listening and being supportive. If you don’t listen to your developer community they will go somewhere else.
I’ve seen developers contact a company after hitting a roadblock or finding a bug and the company doesn’t respond. That developer is going to drop whatever they’re using and find something else that is easier to use, has proper support or better documentation.
If there’s a part of your documentation developers aren’t understanding, you can take that feedback and improve to prevent it from happening in the future. You have to always set emotions aside and just listen to what people have to say.
Good developer evangelist means never becoming defensive or trying to argue. That’s why developer evangelism teams are important in the long term success of any API or platform.
OC: What’s something you love to do or are really good at that most people don’t know?
Tessa: I have hobbies but the majority of my time is spent on developer communities. When I do have spare time I take a lot of camping trips. I’ll do remote work at a lake, sit in a camping chair in front of the water and just work on my laptop. It’s the most serene and relaxing feeling ever.
I’m going to have a new hobby soon, I’m rearranging my home and going to start doing Yoga and working out. I also play video games with my kids on the weekends, but now they’re at that age where they want to hangout with their friends and mom isn’t “cool” anymore.