Richard Rodger: [0:00:00] Welcome to the Voxgig Podcast. We talk to people in the developer community about developer relations, public speaking and community events. For more details, visit voxgig.com/podcast. All right, let's get started.
Megan Slater is the community manager for CTO Craft. They've built their business up from a Meetup and then using a Slack community and now live events. If you're a startup CTO or the CTO of a very large company, CTO Craft is a wonderful resource and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Our discussion focuses on the role of community, how to build communities and in particular how to use Slack to support professional communities. Megan has been doing this professionally for quite some time and this aspect of developer relations is often underappreciated as a specific skillset. It's not just about code and content; community matters an awful lot too. [0:01:05]
Richard Rodger: [0:01:07] Hello, Megan, it is great to have you on today on the Fireside with Voxgig Podcast at long last. Hello. [0:01:12]
Megan Slater: [0:01:13] Hi, Richard. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, much calendar juggling on my end I have to apologize for. But it's – really excited to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. [0:01:24]
Richard Rodger: [0:01:24] I have to admit, I'm a little intimidated after hearing that you are a voice actor by – you have been trained. I'm just making it up as I go along, the usual. [0:01:35]
Megan Slater: [0:01:37] It's been a long old time, and being - doing voiceover acting stuff, we have a script. I now have to use my own words and think, which is a bit more unusual, but I feel like I'm up to the task. [0:01:49]
Richard Rodger: [0:01:50] So, let's talk about a couple of things. Let's start with what you're doing at the moment, which is a new company, a startup, CTO Craft. [0:01:59]
Megan Slater: [0:02:00] Yeah. CTO Craft started life as a Meetup back in 2017, and it was hosted at Skills Matter, which is how I was introduced to Andy and the idea of CTO Craft. And it's just slowly grown into what it is now, which is a community for CTOs and senior technology leaders that – it's aimed all around their professional and personal development.
Because it can be quite lonely at the top; in that C-suite position, you don't have many peers to lean on. And CTO Craft wants to create a place that allows those individuals to talk to their peers in different companies, being able to learn from each other in a relaxed, judgement free environment.
So, we do that with our Slack channel, which we're – gosh, we're over 4,500 strong on Slack. And then we have regularly occurring newsletters, almost weekly online events that happen on a Friday afternoon, so perfect for a cheeky lunchbreak, just to pop in and learn. And then we're also having our first in-person conference, which is happening at the end of this month, which is really exciting. So, we're growing in really interesting ways.
There's so much more stuff that's happening behind the scenes that I can't talk about yet, that I'm really having to hold back on. But it's very exciting stuff happening at the moment and I definitely suggest everyone keeping an eye out. I've only – I've been here for a year now; it'll be a year the end of this month.
And the growth we've had in just this year has been incredible. I was their first or second permanent hire. It was pretty simultaneous with our head of finance. And then since then, we've now got a head of partnership, head of conference, things like that. So, we're really growing quite quickly, which is – it's a really cool time to come in and help the development of this community. [0:04:06]
Richard Rodger: [0:04:07] My exposure to it has been through the Slack channel, which – you're right; it is really helpful. You can put pretty much any question there, as in, 'I've just been hired as a CTO and I'm out of my depth. Help!' I see that a lot, and there's usually 10 different answers, which is fabulous.
Let me go straight to the – ask the difficult question straight away. How does CTO Craft make money? Are you still in the startup phase that you've been funded or are you an operating business? I'm just curious about how you've managed to get this growth. [0:04:43]
Megan Slater: [0:04:44] We're in a startup phase and a lot of our growth comes from sponsors; we have annual sponsors. And the – we still, even with sponsors, are really strict on who is allowed in the Slack channel, which I think separates us from a lot of other communities. Because I think that there's some pressure to – when someone gives you money and just like, 'Yeah, come into our channel,' access to the community.
But we really want to make sure that the conversations there are for senior tech leaders by senior tech leaders. So, we make sure that no marketing people or no sales people are in there, even if they are sponsors. And we also do – they'll nominate speakers and topics for us to run events and do blog posts. And then as well, we will vet that before it goes live. So, we want to make sure that everything is super relevant to our community members and we just keep our reputation as it is.
We also run coaching opportunities and a very neat product called Circles. The idea of Circles is that it'll be a group of people across the UK and across America, so we'll try and align with timezones. And it has Chatham House rules, so what's said in the circle is – keeps in the circle. And it just gives people the opportunity to be able to just express those concerns, those issues or problems that they have, in a way that's -- a really friendly way that they can have constructive support and solution from their peers.
And we also have our dedicated team of moderators who help lead that and help direct conversations. So, that's really important when you don't have someone regular. If a team lead has a problem, they'll go to their head of department to be like, 'I'm not sure how to do that?' And then if the head of department has that, they go to – they could go to VP of engineering or CTO. So, it's making sure that those individuals, those CTOs, have someone that they can then turn and be like, 'I'm really just not sure about this. What do you think?' So, that's really important to us and that's one way we make revenue; it's membership there. [0:07:09]
Richard Rodger: [0:07:10] It is super valuable. Having participated in similar things in other contexts, peer-based support, especially when it's fully confidential, is super valuable. It seems like the Slack channel really drives the whole business. Would that be correct? [0:07:24]
Megan Slater: [0:07:26] Yeah, I would say so. I think it's the – it's because it's the easiest way and the first door into seeing what CTO Craft is. Because I think that for a lot of – there's not many communities out there specifically for CTOs. So, I think that being part of a community can be a bit daunting at first and also airing any – especially if you're new, that's got that imposter, saving face issues.
Do I share this problem? Are people going to think that I'm foolish for sharing this problem? Is it a really obvious fix? So, having a really open community on Slack that's very judgement free – we're a lovely bunch – just really helps drive CTO Craft. And it's a really clear testament of our ethos and how we approach every member. [0:08:22]
Richard Rodger: [0:08:24] Yeah, we might come back to curating healthy communities in a little bit. I'm curious about the Slack – running a Slack community, because I've seen other people do it as well, other companies, that sort of thing. Let's get into the weeds a little bit on running a Slack community. Does Slack have free options? They have paid options. You probably have your own internal Slack in CTO Craft, the company itself. How does that all fit together? Is it expensive? [0:08:55]
Megan Slater: [0:08:58] We currently use the free version of Slack, because the paid-for Slack is incredibly expensive. It's a bit of a double-edged sword in the sense that Slack very kindly only charges active users. But that means that when you're growing a community and you're wanting to drive engagement, it's like, well, if I'm driving engagement and making sure that there are more active people in my community, I'm going to be stuck with a higher and higher bill at the end of each month, which is not a great incentive. You don't want your finance controllers breathing down the back of your neck at the same time with your – when the CEO is passing.
They have run sponsorship stuff in the past, but unfortunately, it's not been an avenue that we've been able to go down. And the free Slack is, you just learn tips and tricks of how to get round things, because the biggest blocker is not being able to see the analytics as much of a deep dive as you would with the premium Slack. I didn't realize how much till we had a three-day free period. And I can speak for quite a lot of people in dev rel and community spaces that we love data and we love to see- [0:10:17]
Richard Rodger: [0:10:17] Oh, yeah!
Megan Slater: - [0:10:17] those numbers. And getting a glimpse of the numbers that were there that are just out of my reach was both great, but also, it was hard to see what I'm missing. So, you just have to learn getting – going round things. So, using tools like Common Room, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
Really cool web app that just gives you a really interesting deep dives into what's happening on Slack, from things like your most active user, engagement rates, where conversations are happening. And it'll also create a little archive for you of most trending topics, which I find incredibly useful.
Because if you have a really good, active Slack community, in a good way, you're not – and especially if you're in a team of one, which I think for a lot of people who are in this line of work in startups, that's very much the case – you don't have the time to comb through an entire – all the Slack channels that you have, and read everything really carefully and give it – what every single message the due it needs. So, having a place that's got these trending topics that means you have an easy way to keep an eye on things, I think is incredibly useful. So, I'm a big fan of Common Room; it massively helps. Everyone who has a Slack community, go use it. [0:11:36]
Richard Rodger: [0:11:37] That's what we're here for, to find out the tips and tricks. Is Slack the company missing – are they missing a beat here? It seems like there's – there's Slack for an organization that use internally, which is going to be closely correlated to the number of employees that you have.
Now that – the model of charging per active user works there, if you've decided that's the way you're going to communicate, especially if you're remote. And then you have the free Slack option. But your use case and the use case that I've seen for others, where they're using Slack for community building, it's – does Slack not offer a focused version of their products specifically for community building? [0:12:23]
Megan Slater: [0:12:25] Not that I've seen. I would say that if you want a forum that really dedicated – a platform that's really dedicated to community and you're building it from scratch – it also depends on your audience - that Discord is a really fantastic place to do that. The positives with Discord is that it's exceedingly customizable; it's easy for members to donate as well with the Nitro function and be able to customize it.
But the downside of Discord is that, especially for a group like CTOs where it's a lot of – it's a professional network – it feels very disjoined. People aren't going to be on there as much during work hours compared to if you have a problem in your work day. Slack is already open; it's just easy- [0:13:16]
Richard Rodger: [0:13:16] Yes, there you go, right? [0:13:17]
Megan Slater: -[ 0:13:17] workplace. And also, Discord, it started off as a platform for gamers to be able to communicate whilst they game and stream. And I think that that – knowing that as well as all the stuff that – the fact that we created a bit of a home for the crypto community leaves a bad taste in people's mouths.
So, when it comes to deciding on where your online community live, I think that both have huge pros. But the main thing that you have to focus on is, who is your audience and what are you trying to build? If you're building a community that's more aimed at professional growth, you'll see that people will be most active after work hours and go there more as a self-reflective thing, Discord is the way to go.
But if you're looking for a professional network that people are able to jump in and out of during their work day if they have problems or if they want to connect professionally for peer advice, I would definitely say Slack is a more of an appropriate way to go. There are things that can make Slack decent apps. I use the Typeform integration all the time for quick feedback on forms and things.
And the Polly – Paula app is used all the time for quick – can't decide between these two topics. Wait, why am I deciding? I can just throw this into the community and get an idea. You have to sit and think of why are you doing this; why are you building a community. And then from there, decide where you want to go. [0:15:04]
Richard Rodger: [0:15:08] Thanks for going into the practical side of it. I do have one more practical question. Do you run – do you have a separate company Slack and then a completely separate CTO Craft Slack? Is that how you do it or is it all the same thing? [0:15:22]
Megan Slater: [0:15:23] I – it was one of the thing – one of the things I implemented in my first six months, five months, of creating a private company Slack. Because I wanted to keep those analytics as pure as possible. Because when it comes to things like direct messages sent and things like that, working for your own company, you should be messaging your co-workers all the time and getting updates. And I didn't want that to muddy any of the analytics coming from the community. [0:15:54]
Richard Rodger: [0:15:55] That's quite true. [0:15:55]
Megan Slater: [0:15:57] And Slack's free, so it's not much of a big issue, and it's very easy if you have the desktop app to switch between work spaces. So, it's a no-brainer to create that and make it just so that we keep both things separately. [0:16:15]
Richard Rodger: [0:16:17] Awesome, that's all super useful. We first met when you were working in Skills Matter and I was speaking at one of the events there. And you were also doing community stuff there. You've been doing community stuff for quite a while, so let's rewind. Tell us about your personal journey into community management and building communities and understanding how to do that. [0:16:44]
Megan Slater: [0:16:45] My first ever experience of running a community is when I was a fresh-faced 19-year-old at uni and I volunteered to help support. Because I was in the philosophy society at uni and they needed someone who could do social media management, and I was like, 'Yeah, that's me. Let's go.'
And then later – I was in my final year – I was president of the philosophy society, and that taught me a lot of community management skills very early on, in terms of how to communicate with people that are really passionate, get them excited about coming together and learning from one another, understanding different event types for different needs. Communicating with lectures on organizing events and understanding what sort of materials needed to be delivered.
So, I would say to – if you hear of anyone at uni who's mentioned that they're interested and knowing more about developer relations and community management, the first thing I would suggest is that they go and volunteer at a society. Which is quite interesting, because I know that a lot of the old guard in dev rel, they've had years of professional experience in a different role and then have moved into dev rel.
Whereas for me, it was coming out of uni and I joined Skills Matter quite quickly after coming out of uni. So, I've been in the industry for eight years, so it's a long time, but it also feels quite bizarre, because I'm not even – I'm not thirty yet. So, it's quite funny how I've not – this is the crib I know, because it's such a new type – career type as well. [Time: 0:18:43]
Richard Rodger: [0:18:45] Yeah, and you joined just as – just around the time everything transitioned from make it up as you go along and do a bit of dev rel as well as your main job, to a role you are in now, where developer relations is a professional activity and companies need to be doing it. [0:19:02]
Megan Slater: [0:19:04] Yeah. So, I remember when I joined Skills Matter, there were 20 of us in the office. And the community team was myself and my manager at the time, who – he left after my probation, so after three months. So, I definitely would say that my experience of that was learning as you go, and just handle that. [0:19:32]
Richard Rodger: [0:19:32] That is the best way; that is the best way. That is the best way [0:19:33]]
Megan Slater: [0:19:35] Yeah. Because I was very lucky. Wendy knows the community, knows the tech community inside out. So, learned a lot from her, so lucky in that regard. And because it was in that new changing space, it meant that interacting with people who didn't really know it much, it was really easy to carve out what I wanted to do.
Because I was doing a bit of everything. I was doing marketing stuff, I; I was doing client calls and meetings with – how Skills Matters worked, with Meetup groups was offering sponsorship via venue sponsoring. So, that vetting 'clients' and in getting them on board through there to event management.
So, it was trying everything and it helped me when developing my career further, because it meant looking at – being able to invent job descriptions and things like that and being – I know I'm not a fan of this, and being able – knowing how to negotiate and making sure that I'm doing what I actually want to do and that I live to do, rather than just doing things.
And the other great thing about being part of an evolving carer is that when you have a lot of experiences of things that don't work. Which is incredibly valuable, because the amount of time you save, because you're like, I know that from my experience, this isn't that important. We shouldn’t be spending that much time on this.
Maybe we should be trying this thing. Or what if we came at it with this approach instead. So, it's been – I've enjoyed doing – being part of an evolving career, although it is quote funny that – think every one of my friends, when they go to introduce me to someone else, will be like, 'Yeah, this is Megan. She does – I don't know.' [0:21:33]
Richard Rodger: [0:21:37] Computer stuff. Do you have a (inaudible, 0:21:39) printer?
Megan Slater: [0:21:40] Yeah, she chats to people; she goes to events. I don't really know. She's on Twitter a lot. [0:21:48]
Richard Rodger: [0:21:47] A great time, a great time.
Megan Slater: [0:21:51] The other thing is, why – I think, as one of my friends mentioned the other week; is like, 'Megan, you seem to know everything that's going on in the internet, the weird subcultures.' I'm thinking in my head, yeah, because you need it for community stuff in case anything comes out that you want to avoid, certain content or things like trends you want to jump on the back of quickly, and stuff like that. So, I would say that I do live on the internet a bit. [0:22:17]
Richard Rodger: [0:22:18] Yeah, and it becomes – it's second nature, isn't it? You end up knowing how to absorb this stuff; it's one of the community management skills, right? [0:22:25]
Megan Slater: [0:22:26] Yeah, very much so. It's incredibly useful for making sure that you are keeping your community in the know. And in a personal way it's very useful, because you can make fun of your friends as they're getting older, because you still know all the memes that are happening. [0:22:45]
Richard Rodger: [0:22:48] So cool. Very cool, right? They get further along in their careers as accountants or something, but you stay cool. That's a great (inaudible, 0:22:58)
Megan Slater: [0:23:00] Definitely. That's the main thing. [0:23:00]
Richard Rodger: [0:23:03] The other thing I – that's interesting about your career journey is, there's this cliché in developer relations that there are three pillars: code, community and content. And an open discussion about whether somebody who's in that space needs to have all three or whether they can focus or whatever. And I know you have coded in the past but your main focus has always been communities. I'm just curious on your thoughts on this, because in some ways, saying you have to have been a working programmer previously feels a little bit like gatekeeping. [0:23:39]
Megan Slater: [0:23:40] I always like to say I have theoretical knowledge but no practical knowledge when it comes to coding. And I think that you don't necessarily need to have all that practical knowledge to get into the dev rel space. Because if you're building a community, you should have people within that community that – say if you needed some more insights on this or you needed to learn more about a certain area of technology, you should have nice people that if you ask that question, they'll be willing to help. And maybe answer the question and there'll be spaces for you to learn.
And I remember – I can't remember when he gave this talk. It was DevRel London years ago; it was Joe Nash. And I remember he put his schedule up on the talk, on the slideshow, and it showed when he codes, when he works, also when his D&D group met. And his week just looked insane, and I remember thinking, oh my goodness, that is so much work. And feeling a bit overwhelmed; is that's what's expected of me and things like that.
And what I've learnt is that it's okay to – if there's an area you don’t know, you don't need to have genius knowledge of everything; you don't need to know anything at 100%. And you should be able to lean on other members within the dev rel community, if there's areas you are unsure of, and have that space for learning. And I think that as dev rel has grown and changed, it's – it doesn't need to be this typical path of coder to conference speaker to community person. Because not everyone has that journey and not everyone is that person who can do that journey, and that's fine; that's okay.
And I think that the more we – because we preach all the time to our communities of, everyone's welcome. The more people knowledge is shared, the better, becomes you're harvesting those ideas; you learn from more perspectives, nothing's missed. And we need to take that on board ourselves, I think, at times and be like – if someone's better in one area, then fantastic; that's great for them. And then that means that someone who's maybe weaker in that are that they're weak in, they can help one another and lift one another up. [0:26:24]
Richard Rodger: [0:26:25] Absolutely. And in the context of developer relations teams, you're naturally going to have different skillsets, and it all comes together. Okay, so let's finish up. Now you mentioned that you were running a conference at the end of the month. This is May 2023; is this in the future? And tell us about that. [0:26:49]
Megan Slater: [0:26:50] It's our first in-person conference that we've done; it's really exciting. And it's going to be hosted in London in the Tobacco Dock, and it's two days of really open learning, which I'm really excited for. Every catch-up call that I have with our head of conference has made me more excited about this. And it's going to be a lovely opportunity to have a lot the CTO Craft community, who haven't met face to face.
We don't – this is one of the reasons why CTO Craft, I feel, has come out so much stronger post pandemic, is that pre-pandemic, we were already an online community. So, there was no needing to create or moving over or changing practices; we already were. But now, being able to have everyone come together and see each other face to face and learn from each other face to face is going to be really important and really great. And also, you get to see how tall everyone actually is, which is great gameplay. And trying to recognize people from their Slack profile pictures. [0:28:08]
Richard Rodger: [0:28:08] It sounds like it's going to be awesome. What dates is it on? [0:28:11]
Megan Slater: [0:28:12] It is on – my conference manager's going to kill me for not knowing this off the top of my head – the 23rd and 24th of May. So, tickets are already all sold out unfortunately, but we will be announcing dates for our November conference around then as well. So, keep an eye out, because more exciting things are coming. [0:28:34]
Richard Rodger: [0:28:35] That's a great endorsement of the November conference, that this one is done, no more tickets. Marvelous. [0:28:41]
Megan Slater: [0:28:41] Yeah, it's-
Richard Rodger: [0:28:42] Might make it to November; that sounds pretty cool. [0:28:44]
Megan Slater: [0:28:45] Yeah. I'll definitely be sharing it all over Slack; you'll be able to hear it all. [0:28:50]
Richard Rodger: [0:28:51] I know where to find you guys. Megan, thank you so much, this has been really wonderful. Lots of interesting stuff about Slack and communities and all that sort of stuff. Thank you very much for sharing. [0:28:59]
Megan Slater: [0:29:01] Thank you. Yeah, it's been great. The time has flown by. [0:29:04]
Richard Rodger: [0:29:05] I think we'll be keeping an eye on CTO Craft for sure. All right, thank you so much. [0:29:09]
Megan Slater: [0:29:10.] Brilliant. Thank you so much [0:29:11.]
Richard Rodger: [0:29:12] You can find the transcript of this podcast and any links mentioned on our podcast page at Voxgig.com/podcast. Subscribe for weekly editions, where we talk to the people who make the developer community work. For even more, read our newsletter. You can subscribe at voxgig.com/newsletter, or follow our Twitter @voxgig. Thanks for listening. Catch you next time. [0:29:39]