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Jul 14

I = V / R; Ohm’s law explains Developer Advocacy

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I consider myself a developer who happens to love community, evangelism, and advocacy.

When I put on the developer relations hat, I am constantly asking myself what value these roles have, and how to add more value to the process.

When I was working at Google, a certain engineering manager made it very clear that he felt advocacy and evangelism added close to zero value. His position was that you if you build a great product, developers will come. Rather than lash out, I keep that in the back of my mind, and think about how to make that view incorrect.

I keep coming back to Ohm’s law which explains the relationship between current, potential difference, and resistance and the laws of electricity.

I still remember the crazy physics teacher that I had that would scream:

“It’s the volts that jolt but the amps will kill ya!”

He would then kindly put kids through an experiment to get close to showing the truth behind that statement.

If you think of this law as a pipe and water flowing through it, there is the radius of said pipe, how fast the water is being pushed through it, and the resistance of the pipe.

How does this relate to developers and developer advocacy?

To reference the afore mentioned engineering manager, he has some truth. I feel like developer evangelism can help with the “push” (the volts). However, if you take the best developer relations crew… a crew that can push hard… they won’t be able to reach any potential if the pipe is tiny small, and the friction of the tools, APIs, platform, or economics provide.

Thus, the most important thing that you can do for a developer oriented initiative is first create a fantastic pipe. The pipe should have as little friction as possible, and should be as large as possible. Probably the most important way to achieve those goals is to provide developers with:

  • A fantastic economic opportunity. Let’s face it, if Apple restricted developers so they had to use punch cards to build iOS apps, we would still have a lot of apps :) Same goes for Facebook etc. Even though when you look at the numbers on even those platforms, success is a “hit based” economy, the hits do so well that many developers get in the water for their change
  • A chance to do something different. Create a platform with unique capabilities and the opportunity for developers to create something very different, and that itself will be a draw. New companies and products can be created where they didn’t exist. Nokia had (and has) a boatload of phones. At JavaOne for years a Sun exec would get up and say “developer a J2ME app and you can reach BILLLLLLLIONS of devices!” Few did in the scale that we see with so called “smartphones”. You just couldn’t create anything interesting or compelling (oh, and there are the carrier gateway issues of that time too)
  • Make your platform fun and generative. This is a sub-bullet of the last one in many ways. But, if you a developer can have a great time creating on top of your building blocks, great things will happen, and the network effect can flow.

Now, evangelism comes in as a way to:

  • Let developers KNOW about your fantastic economic opportunity, their chance to do something different, and how productive and fun it is to develop on.
  • With tools, samples, articles, conferences, and community in general…. help lower the friction for these things. Give developers a leg up.

This push can have a huge effect. Good evangelism will also create external evangelists who share your excitement and vision ending up with a nice network effect.

Only half the story

But evangelism is only a piece of the story. The reason that I like the term “developer advocate” so much (and why I posted on this topic) is because it shows the other side of the coin. You are the third party developers representative back at your platform company. You are letting the internal teams understand their needs. And, you get to be part of that community:

“I can advocate something, and part of that will hopefully be heavily listening, and participating in the open community. Of course, these are just words, and you have to make this happen. We could call ourselves evangelists and do a lot of listening, or become advocates and do none. The word choice though does make you think about what you should be doing.
More importantly, in my opinion, is the word developer. Rather than talking just about technology, we are talking about humans who use it. This again makes you feel like you need to be more part of the community, working with developers on their level.”

Every now and then I reflect on Ohm’s law (it helps to watch the current of a stream in the mountains as I have been able to do in Colorado this week!), and think about how me and my team can both relieve friction and push harder for developers on the platform.

I have been at HP for a week or so now, and thus it was a great opportunity to think about how we can come together as a team to do just this. I think that I will be personally changing what I do, and I can’t wait to work with the community, the internal engineers, and the product chaps as we take webOS to the next level.

3 Responses to “I = V / R; Ohm’s law explains Developer Advocacy”

  1. cohoman Says:

    Strange that I happened upon your blog article, as I was just thing about this subject yesterday after viewing some of the Palm Dev Videos (with you and Ben). Both yours and Ben’s comments and enthusiasm in the videos bring such inspiration to myself as a WebOS developer, that I want to create more and more apps. Your videos showed me that a lot of thought has been put into the future development of WebOS (e.g., acceleration, db8, etc), and that makes me want to stick with the WebOS platform.

    So in my opinion, advocacy and evangelism is very important for the fostering of any product, and I think both you and Ben and many others at Palm are doing the right thing.

  2. Brad Neuberg Says:

    Excellent writeup. I remember that particular engineering individual as well. Nice take away and writeup on the experience.

  3. jmdesp Says:

    I’m not sure you’re getting the iPhone/J2ME market economics right.

    That’s true everyone wants to develop for the iPhone and not J2ME but the quite thorough analyse Tomi Ahonen did of the iPhone shows that just recouping your development costs on it is hard :
    Maybe it’s OK if you do it as some hobby at home, but if you’re a company and didn’t manage to make it a big hit, it’ll be hard.

    And he shows the J2ME market as much more rosy than you believe.
    Nintendo sold 100 milllions of Tetris on J2ME. It’s on the smartphone platform that no application ever reached that number ! (n°1 for iPhone, Angri Bird is just 4 millions). And Tomi quotes some other much less well-known applicaton still selling (pay user, real money !) 4 millions copies on J2ME.

    Now, I know your real point isn’t really that, but I think it’s important to get those number and not only believe the hype.

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