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The Need for Stronger Developer Community Relations, with Xiaozhou “William” Du

This article discusses the need for stronger developer community relations, especially in the tech world.

For those unfamiliar with software development, creation of the websites and aps that make our lives more convenient, can seem like magic. 

One day, a new service just appears, often in exchange for very little money or even for free in the case of many smartphone apps. 

Apps have changed the way we live, and for many of them, the benefits are immediate and obvious. 

But what’s happening behind the scenes of software development paints a very different picture. 

Helpful apps and powerful programs don’t just blink into existence; it’s quite the opposite, in fact. 

There’s a great deal of hard work that goes into the creation of all this software, and a lot of that hard work comes from talented developers and designers. 

On top of that, there needs to be a strong sense of organization to make sure that all that talent is put to good use. 

For companies designing the software products that make us more productive, one of the most difficult challenges is finding the developer talent needed to create robust apps in reasonable timeframes. Today, we’ll examine how tech leaders can find and manage developers effectively. 

Xiazhou “William” Du, Developer Community Manager 

Xiazhou (William) Du is a tech entrepreneur with impressive leadership skills. In 2018, he helped create an emergency communication system which the team dubbed OneArc

OneArc was created as part of the AngelHack Hackathon that year. This was Du’s first time participating in the Hackathon, and OneArc went on to win first place. 

Agora, a leading industry video and audio SDK provider, was heavily involved in the event, and following his win, Du became better acquainted with the company and with the broader space of developer relations. 

He was offered the chance to help Agora build and foster a developer community, and his current title is Developer Community Manager. 

Xiaozhao Du

But what exactly does it actually mean to build and foster a developer community? Du described his current role in detail: 

“Developer Community Relations is about building a robust and healthy ecosystem that galvanizes innovation among developers. I was challenged to create global programs that make developers feel excited about Agora products, technology, and innovation. In the meantime, I also have the opportunity to build trust and relationships with the developers.”

If you’re not directly involved with development, it’s crucial for us to point out that developers don’t all fit a specific profile. 

Developers (or ‘devs’ for short) find themselves in very different career stages and of course have their own preferences as to which projects they’ll be working on next. 

As Du told us, you might have a highly experienced hacker who wants to work on more difficult projects that are quite complicated. On the other end of the spectrum, you might have much younger developers who can’t work on a project full-time and so instead would like to complete basic features. 

Du helps these many different types of developers find projects that are a great fit for them. 

 While finding the right developers for the job is important, what’s just as important is ensuring that you can support your project’s developers once the project is underway. 

Supporting developers 

Du made it clear that, thus far, the niche area of Developer Community Relations hasn’t gotten nearly the amount of attention it deserves. 

“I think Developer Community Relations is definitely the area that needs more support in the technology industry. A lot of companies often neglect the importance of the trust of people who are actually using the product, i.e. developers.”

To clarify what Du is saying here, when he refers to products, he’s not referring to end-use products, but instead to developer tools that are products in and of  themselves. 

For the lay people out there, SDKs are very common in the development world. This stands for Software Development Kits, and these kits contain important tools that help developers develop products for a given system or platform. 

Imagine someone asks you to build a birdhouse. In one scenario, they give you no materials and no plans. In the second scenario, they give you some basic tools, wood, and nails. 

The second scenario is what it’s like to be provided with an SDK. 

Some SDKs are provided by major tech companies, such as Apple and Microsoft. Other SDKs are provided by private companies who specialize in this area. 

In other words, there are many instances where developers get to choose which SDK to use, the same way that any of us choose which brand of coffee to buy over the others. 

This developer choice is exactly why Developer Community Relations are extremely important. 

It’s one thing to advertise developer resources through promotional emails and website marketing copy, but it’s a very different thing to give devs the chance to use the products in a risk-free environment and build trust with those devs at the same time. 

Du: 

“Developer community professionals organize technology events, such as hackathons, and create programs where developers can learn the technology in a pleasurable setting. Oftentimes, Developer Community Relations won’t bring short-term Return on Investment to the company. However, Developer Community Relations has enormous long-term value and ROI.”

This process has proven to be successful in other arenas of consumer choice as well. 

Have you ever wondered why large companies spend so much money to sponsor events or provide free sample products? 

Furthermore,when you saw one of these companies’ products in the store, did you wonder why you felt slightly more inclined to buy it?

Letting people try out a product and make their own judgments about it can be an extremely effective marketing strategy, and, as Du pointed out, this method can lead to significant ROI further down the road.  

Leadership on a global scale 

Actually making all this happen, of course, isn’t easy, and it’s worth noting that Du didn’t just take on an existing role and leave it at that – he’shelped shape the program as a whole to a very large degree. 

“I’ve led and managed 15,000 active developer members and three flagship developer community programs on a global scale: Agora Superstars, Agora Student Ambassadors, and Agora Allstars. I also led and launched the first developer education program, called the Agora Certificate Program. It provides an excellent opportunity for junior and student developers to learn how to use Agora technology. With its unique value to developers, it revolutionized corporate university partnership engagement.” 

Executing programs like these on an international scale requires high-caliber leadership skills, and fortunately, Du has established himself as a skilled leader from the very start of his career onward. 

Not only that, but innovation and creative thinking isn’t just something that he expects from developers in the community; these are also standards that he holds himself to, as well. 

Without Du’s direct involvement, the scope of Agora’s community relations efforts likely wouldn’t be what they are today. 

A rewarding specialization 

We don’t want to give the impression that Developer Community Relations is just about promoting products and encouraging brand loyalty. 

It’s also very much about building and maintaining trust and fostering development talent. 

This was illustrated clearly when Du told us what the most rewarding aspect of his work has been so far. 

“The most rewarding thing as a Developer Community Manager is to see your developer members grow and succeed. I have personally mentored and guided several developers to innovate and achieve goals.” 

It wouldn’t be accurate to label this a purely educational experience, since it’s more about helping developers, well, develop their own talents and pursue ideas they’re passionate about. 

Mentorship is a more accurate term for what Du and other Community Managers provide to devs within the community. 

There was one standout example of a mentorship that Du felt encapsulated some of the most rewarding aspects of his work. 

“There was a student developer in India who I mentored for about a year. I encouraged and guided him to not only fully understand Agora’s technology, but to think outside of the box. He has contributed several tutorial blogs that help thousands of fellow developers in the community. A year later, he told me that he received a full-time offer from a company. It is because the founder read his tutorial blog and saw his talents and expertise in technology and innovation.”

On the business side of things this is an example of a a significant and positive impact: a company now gets to benefit from the talents of a hard-working and innovative developer. 

But on the human side, Du then got to watch that developer grow and expand their skill set in impressive ways. 

That growth is extremely important to Dev Community Relations. It’s not something that happens overnight, but when it finally does come about, it’s all the more fulfilling. 

Developers aren’t just a resource but are valuable members of a much larger technology community that helps to make daily life measurably better, and it seems that Du and Agora are doing an excellent job of recognizing and rewarding that value. 

About the author

Michael Thompson

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