Building a Developer Community in an Enterprise World

Listen to Laura Cowen as she goes around talking about how she developed a community and DevRel culture in IBM making the organisation understand the needs and expectations of the developers.


  • Define your community

  • Challenge the status quo to reach where you want

  • Fund the work properly

  • Build the internal sub-community within the organization as well

  • Understand the development and marketing relationship

  • Defend the target audience, understanding their needs and advocating them


  • Were more focused on Developer Experience but developers expected community support.

  • Wanted Java EE Developers to love their product (Liberty) so much that they tell their friends to use it too

    • Created articles, resources, GitHub codes, YouTube videos, etc.

    • Created shared expertise within the community

    • Openness within the community - meeting developers at conferences, talking to people generally, sharing experiences

Where did it start?

  • Whiteboard session at Devoxx 2008 (Belgium) - comparing Java application servers - everyone complained about difficulties starting/ fixing errors and consulting fees.

    • Wanted to create resources for Liberty to get around this problem.

  • Realised that they need to create a more developer-focused website for their community.

    • Frequent updates, adding new articles regularly created engagement, people were coming to the website and interacting

Motivating the Internal Developers

Wanted to get regular content from internal developers

  • But this became difficult for them with a day job

  • One developer made in charge of maintaining fresh content, working a day a week dedicated to this.

  • As it grew, one person was hired full time for regulating this.

  • Made a strict weekly publishing schedule to maintain a regularity (Made a pipeline)

  • Executive director motivated developers to contribute to content around Liberty - it worked!

Wanted to involve developers to be involved with Social Media, StackOverflow or go to conferences

  • Mentoring them to use the handles

  • Letting them know the use of hashtags

  • Creating guidelines around attending conferences

  • This cannot be forced - social media is genuine and if forced to post/ tweet, it reflects

Recognising complementary roles of marketing & development

  • Developer Advocates were hugely protected by the marketing team

  • Marketing is good at awareness and hooking people to the product

  • Marketing helps the product to shine but developers need details as well

  • Added a trial for developers to try out the product

    • If registration was added to trial download, 60% of the developers turned away, if not the marketing couldn't collect leads.

    • Cold calls attracted negative reactions from developers.


  • Building a developer community is organic and long term.

  • Marketing needs to work on short term campaign


  • Quantitative Measures: Numbers of downloads, visits to the website

  • Qualitative Measures: Quotes from people, their thoughts on the product

Understanding the users and advocating for them

  • Most difficult thing: Keep the focus on who is the end-user & who is the target.

  • UX Terms: Primary users, secondary users, tertiary users

  • Developers are the main users

Don't publish everything!

  • It is difficult to say no, but things should be relevant to the target audience

  • Having a clear definition of what is needed, helps in this regard.

Is it working?

  • Yes - Metrics are going up!

  • More people are talking about the product - getting feedback

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