Jul 14

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

Tech with tags: , , 3 Comments »


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.

Jul 17

Opening up conversation on browser interrogation tools with Browser Memory Tool Prototype

Mozila, Open Source, Tech with tags: , , 9 Comments »

Do you sometimes feel like the browser is a black box? We are building richer and richer applications on the Web platform and this means that developers are running up against new issues to debug and test.

We feel like it is a great time to develop new tools that afford you the ability to look into the runtime to hopefully help you find a bug, or allow you to keep your application as responsive as possible.

Today we want to start a conversation about some of our thinking, with the hope that you will join in.

We have been taking a hard look at the tools landscape, and here is a presentation that gives you an idea of our thinking:

We will be posting more of our thoughts, but as you can hear, our vision for these tools is that they:

  • Are able to run out-of-process. We view out of process tools as the preferred way to observe the runtime because it enables us to somewhat ignore the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. If we are profiler the browser, having to deal with NOT profiling the profiler code can be painful. Also, we want to be able to use the same tools on devices. I would much rather point my desktop tool to a Fennec device, compared to trying to use the tool on the phone itself! This leads us too…
  • Enable cross browser experiences: Our lab doesn’t have the resources to develop deep integrations with multiple browsers, but we very much want to enable that. Since we are running out-of-process, we can document the communication API and many hosts can then be wired up.


The first experiment in this vein is a stand-alone memory tool prototype that lets you poke around in the JavaScript heap. What objects are there? How many of them are there? Any dangling references due to closures or event listeners?

To kick this off we worked with awesome Mozilla colleagues such as David Barron and Atul Varma which enabled us to spike down to the bare metal of the browser.

We ended up with an architecture for the tool that contains these components:

Firefox Add-on

A special Firefox add-on installs a binary component that gives us access to the low level JavaScript heap. This gives us a simple API with methods that allow you to enable profiling, get the root objects in the heap, and get detailed information on the objects themselves.

Firefox Memory Server

The current consumer of the core API is a min server. Once activated, the browser freezes and your only option to interact with it is via this server. It exposes a simple socket API with URLs mapping to the high level APIs. For example, you can access /gc-roots to get the root object ids. Or you can ask for details on an object via /objects/XXX where XXX is the object id you are inspecting. When you are done, you access /quit and the browser is unfrozen.

All of these APIs support JSONP which is how we get the data back into our main application.

NOTE: Currently, the server lives within the add-on itself (at chrome://jetpack/content/memory-profiler-server.html) but eventually this will migrated to a Jetpack.

Memory Tool Ajax Application

The main application itself is a simple Web application that can be run in any browser (not just Firefox!) After you have installed the Firefox Add-on, and turned on profiling via the Memory Server, you can visit the tool. Currently, after you connect, the tool gets a dump of the root object for the first tab in the browser (not including the memory server tab). You will see the meta data associated with the object, and you can click on any of the data elements that have their own memory id (memory locations are integers with 9 digits). This tree view lets you poke around the heap.

If you want to aggregate the data, you can click on the “2. Dump Heap” button, which goes through the entire heap (which can be big!) and aggregates all of the objects for you. If you see a massive number of objects of a particular type, this could be a flag!

Enough talk, lets see it briefly in action:

The tool is very early stage and changing constantly. However, it is all out in the open. You can grab the open source pieces:

As is always the case with Mozilla, and Mozilla Labs, we want to get ideas out into the community as soon as possible. This tool is very much alpha, and the goal of getting it out in the wild is to start a conversation about tools like these.

What tools in this area would help your job as a Web developer? We are all ears, and would like to share our dev tools mailing list / group as a good area to share ideas.

What about Firebug? This particular tool freezes the browser, and since Firebug is in-process right now, it wasn’t a great fit. However, we very much want to take this kind of work and get it into Firebug at some stage. We just aren’t at that stage yet!

On our side, we will be engaging with the Mozillans who truly grok the JavaScript (and entire browser) internals to see what interesting data we can expose to developers. We have found that the Firefox team has already added a lot of the infrastructure there, and now the task is to work out what will be useful, and how can we best report it.

We have plenty of ideas too. A wish list could contain:

  • Short term clean up (fix the backend code that interfaces with the heap, abstract out the service into a Jetpack, and make sure we are using the correct APIs, and get these APIs added where appropriate)
  • We want to visually add the graph to the object dump, so you can really understand what you are looking at. It will probably look something like this:


  • We have wired up Bespin, and we will suck out the source code from functions and showing that inline to the tool itself. There is much more to do though, and we want to find out what you need.
  • More profiling info: break up buckets of memory (images, js, DOM, etc)
  • Great way to see who is reference whom (memory leak detection)
  • Garbage Collection: When and how long are collections occuring?
  • Granular filtered profiling: Profile this event and measure every event-of-interest from the start of navigation to the present e.g. DNS & TCP connections, page header parsing, resource fetching, DOM parsing, reflow, etc.
  • Web Worker thread monitoring
  • Have a profiling mode that gives you data without having to freaze the heap, and only when you need to do a deep dive do we get to that.

We have learned a lot as we created this prototype. Atul is going to write up his experience, and we will continue to talk in the open about how we take this prototype and your ideas to the next level with browsers.


Atul has posted on his experience with SpiderMonkey and how the JS Runtime works. Nice in depth stuff. He also created PyMonkey “a Python C extension module to expose the Mozilla SpiderMonkey engine to Python.” which is crazy cool.

Jul 03

Developer Advocate versus Technical Evangelist; When names change the tone

Google, Tech with tags: , 12 Comments »

St. John the Evangelist

There is a role in the developer team at Google called Developer Advocate, and I consider myself an honorary one of those.

What is interesting, is how the name has had an effect. When the group kicked off, we really didn’t like the term ‘evangelist’. The religious connotation is so strong isn’t it? It also feels like an evangelist is going to run around with his particular religion, and will be trying to persuade you to join, without really listening.

An advocate on the other hand sounds just a touch different. 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.

Then you put it together: Developer Advocate and a funny thing happens. What does that mean? At first people think that you are advocating to developers, but it is also very important to think about the other connotation. You think about being an advocate of the developer.

What does this mean? It means that when you are in a meeting with your product group, you are their mouth piece. What do they think of the products? the APIs? What are they asking for? You get to almost be an outsider on the inside.

That is the power of the developer advocate role, and why it can be such a fun one at companies.

Of course, I don’t even need to tell you that we are hiring for this position in the US and elsewhere in the world :)

NOTE: Right after I posted this I saw that Jeremy Z had a post titled Two Tech Jobs: Technology Evangelist and Network Operations

Nov 01

Google Code relaunches new redesign using jQuery, great video content, and more

Google, Tech with tags: , , , , 2 Comments »

I have seen the Google Code team churning away under the inspiration of DeWitt for some time to get to where we are today. Google Code launched a redesigned site that is so much cleaner and gives developers access to so much more. I love the fact that we both ate our own dogfood, and some open source variety. DeWitt puts it well here where he talks about how we have grown:

One of the most exciting things about the redesign is that everything you see here was built using technology and APIs that are available to everyone. The pages we’re serving don’t rely on any secret back-end tricks; the site is built on plain HTML, JavaScript and CSS, each using our public APIs. In fact, all of the techniques used on Google Code can be duplicated on your own site.

For example, the search results pages use a combination of the AJAX Search API and Custom Search Engines. The homepage gadgets use the AJAX Feed API and Google Reader feeds. The videos are powered by the YouTube API, the blogs by the Blogger API, the events powered by the Google Calendar API, the metrics by Google Analytics, the forums by Google Groups, etc., etc.. And we’re pleased to use jQuery, the wonderful open source JavaScript library (not ours, we’re just fans), to help power each page. Stay tuned — over the upcoming weeks we’ll offer detailed articles and tutorials about how we built the various parts of Google Code using open technologies.

Remember when you would go to a huge list of APIs? Now more takes you a great product page which gives you a lot of context. Search is a first class citizen (which makes sense… Google and all) and you now have great suggestions and a fantastic use of CSE. I can’t wait to show you more of the innards via interviews with the team…. now that they can have a bit of a breather.

The breather won’t last long though, as this just the beginning. When I look at the thoughts for the future I get really excited. Google Code got a lot better today, and will go to a new level soon.

I love launch days :)