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.
Today I'm speaking to a wonderful former colleague, Natalie Gray, who used to work with me in Voxgig. Now she works as head of marketing and partnerships for Codurance, a software consultancy in London. Natalie is an expert community builder and we talk about her experiences building communities that are healthy and that last. And how can you tell that your community is successful? If you want to find out all this and more, let's talk to Natalie. [0:00:44]
Richard Rodger: [0:00:45] Hello, Natalie, welcome to the Voxgig podcast. How are you doing? [0:00:49]
Natalie Gray: [0:00:51] I'm great, Richard. It's great to be here, thank you for inviting me. Looking forward to having a chat. [0:00:55]
Richard Rodger: [0:00:55] And we should give a little disclaimer to our listeners; we are former colleagues. You used to work in Voxgig. [01:01.02]
Natalie Gray: [0:01:03] That's right, yeah. For – a few years ago now, but worked together to build the Voxgig event platform and events. I have very fond memories of working together, particularly our in-person events that we ran in Dublin. [0:01:18]
Richard Rodger: [0:01:20] Well, it wouldn't have happened without your special expertise in running events. It's interesting; we were doing remote long before COVID. We had – for us, it was just natural; it was just the way we worked. [0:01:39]
Natalie Gray: [0:01:41] Yeah, absolutely. It was – yeah, that's very true. It was – I was here in the UK; you were in Ireland. Our CTO was over in Spain. For us, it was the norm, wasn't it? We got going and used various tools to help us work and off we went. So, pivoting to remote working during COVID felt a little bit easier for us than perhaps some others. [0:02:09]
Richard Rodger: [0:02:10] Yeah. I was – what's all the fuss about? Anyway, today we are here to talk about community building, partnership building, all that sort of stuff. You have a new gig; you work for Codurance, so why don't we start with that? Tell us about Codurance. [0:02:23]
Natalie Gray: [0:02:25] Codurance is a global software consultancy. We are celebrating our 10th birthday in October, which is all very exciting. We started – it's quite an interesting story. Our co-founders are Sandro Mancuso and Mash Badar. They are – they started their careers as software engineers who were very passionate about something called software craftsmanship, which is a kind of mindset that some engineers got together on the back of the sort of successes that there'd been around project management.
You might recall in the early 2000s, there was a lot of focus around project management, project delivery, things like scrum and lean and how you deliver a software project successfully. But a lot of engineers felt the same rigor hadn't been applied to software engineering itself. And making sure that you're building products at scale and you can deliver frequently and that are fit for purpose and scale at the same pace as the business.
So, they got together and came up with something called the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto, which is a mindset, a set of best practices around building well-crafted software that changes and adapts with the business processes that mean you have great communication with the business. And this concept of apprentices, so bringing software engineers on that journey to perfect their craft of software engineering, and ultimately over time, raising the bar of quality within the software industry.
And so, they got together and started something called the London Software Craftsmanship Community, which is still going strong today. It's a monthly meetup for software engineers that care about building quality. They practice things like test driven development, extreme programming and other software engineering best practices. That community is now nearly 6,000 members in London and supported by Codurance.
And then we have seeded many other software craftsmanship communities around the world as well. So, if you fast-forward all the way today, we're now a global software consultancy that helps customers build new or modernize their applications and platforms using software craftsmanship best practices. So, we do things like building new software cloud native apps, helping them with things like dev ops, best practices and training, and helping to accelerate success, in whatever guise that may be in terms of driving better innovation. [0:05:15]
Richard Rodger: [0:05:17] And this is – itself is ultimately driven by the community, because that's how you get your inbound sales leads and your credibility. [0:05:24]
Natalie Gray: [0:05:26] Absolutely. The community has always been at the very heart of Codurance, and we call our software engineers software craftspeople. So – and they're very proud of that badge of honor, let's say. We have – we now support software craftsmanship communities in London, Leeds, Manchester; Newcastle we're starting this month.
We're about to start a new meetup in Bristol, so we're very regional. And then we have meetups in Spain and Portugal as well. Wherever we look at launching a new region, then the very first thing we do is, let's see how we can support a software craftsmanship community, to bring people together.
And to – there's lots of people that are passionate about this, the quality of what they're building. People want to prove their career prospects and they care about the things they're building, to leave a lasting quality legacy. So, that's at the very heart of our DNA as a business and that pervades across all roles, both within our organization and within the community for sure. [0:06:44]
Richard Rodger: [0:06:45] It sounds like community is in the blood for Codurance and for you as well, right? [0:06:50]
Natalie Gray: [0:06:51] Yeah. Definitely.
Richard Rodger: [0:06:52] The challenge for members of our audience or people who are starting new companies and understand the value of community and want to use it in this way to help build their businesses is – you can't just wave a magic wand and build a community. You can't just try to throw loads of beer and pizza at people at meetups to make it work.
It sounds like – and I wonder was it an accident or was it just a natural outcome? Because it sounds like for Codurance, there's a kernel of authenticity around the software craft concept that was a sort of a – there's a sort of a guiding light, a core idea that the community is based on. Is that essential? [0:07:43]
Natalie Gray: [0:07:44] Yeah, I'd say definitely. Going back – it's actually – there's a software craftmanship meetup that Mash and Sandro founded is – predates Codurance as a business. And it – the best communities come from people that – they're not necessarily doing it for business reasons. It is for having a passion for something and wanting to share that passion, see if there's other people that share the same values and drive to make a change or difference, or to practice something together.
Even outside of IT, I've got friends who like – are into knitting, and they love to go and meet like=-minded folks that love to knit together. So, if you can think about community as something where you have a passion, you can see that doing something collectively, you're more likely to drive change than trying to do everything on your own. And that is the power of community, bringing different minds together to share ideas.
And out of that comes new innovation, and that's definitely the care. Before Codurance and some while back, I was working for an organization called Skills Matter, who were a tech community company in London. And that brought together thousands and thousands of people in technology, and lots of new technologies are born out of that community. So, people came together from all over the world, shared their ideas and passion for things and talked about things, and out of that, new tech did get born there.
So that's the most important part of community is making sure that whatever you're doing, you do it with integrity. People that work in technology are very savvy, clever people in general, I'd say, and they don't like to be sold to. So, it's much more successful and vibrant and it's likely to last a lot longer if you're coming up with the right content first of all.
That's the most important thing. Is what you're wanting to share and learn with other people, is it something to do with driving passion forward, innovation forward, rather than I've got this thing that I need to sell, and I'm going to get people together to almost force them to listen to me, because I think that would fall flat. [0:10:33]
Richard Rodger: [0:10:34] It feels like a mistake a lot of companies make that they're trying to create the companies community, as opposed to a community about something authentic. [0:10:45[
Natalie Gray: [0:10:46] Indeed. We always see ourselves at Codurance as the custodians of these communities rather than the owners of those communities. If anybody wants to host an event or wants to runs something under the – one of our craftsmanship brands, then we absolutely love that. And we're very open to – almost – as long as it's trying to drive best practices in software engineering, which is pretty broad, then we're always up for trying something new. We have roundtables; we have coding katas, dojos. We've partnered up with other organizations to run different workshops; we've done roundtables.
We've got a really cool concept with our Manchester community who runs something called The Repair Shop. So, you bring along a challenge that you've got; something that's broken in your organization maybe. And our craftspeople and the wider community get together in groups and discuss those challenges. And hopefully off the back of that, you can take away some practical ideas to start to move forward.
So, it's about coming up with new and interesting ways to get people thinking and collaborating. And if people want to talk to Codurance at these events about what we do, then we're really happy to share that. But in all honesty, apart from saying, "We're Codurance and we're here if you want to have a chat," it's not somewhere where we sell or we hire or recruit, anything like that. It truly is – we have – our people are very passionate about supporting and helping others on their journey into software craftsmanship. [0:12:35]
Richard Rodger: [0:12:38] It requires organizational leadership to have faith, perhaps, in the power of community, in the power of developer relations. I've come across this mantra; it's dev rel, not dev sell. I was like- [0:12:55]
Natalie Gray: [0:12:55] I like that.
Richard Rodger: [0:12:57] Yeah, it's good, isn't it? It sounds like Codurance really right from the founders, the leadership, embraces that. It's quite a subtle technique to be running events and paying for them, whoever does the sponsorship, and staff time goes into it. But to stand back and not do classic marketing and have huge pullups all over the place and booths and all that type of stuff, and just very much be subtly in the background. It goes against the grain for a lot of marketing organizations. I think. [0:13:34]
Natalie Gray: [0:13:36] Yeah, absolutely. But that's – this is – it is part of the marketing strategy, but our marketing strategy goes a lot wider than the meetups, and we do run other more B2B events that would be under the Codurance brand. We also sponsor events, conferences for example, or send our tech leaders to go and speak at events. So, having a multichannel marketing strategy is also important.
The meet – we – as I said, we do run our own Codurance meetups which are more B2B. But most of the B2D, as we call it, which I guess would be dev rel meetups. Because they're – have that passion for software craftmanship, it's – we know that it's really important to separate Codurance from that community. And if we can be associated with that community, then that's the value that it's bringing.
It also helps us to give our people, our craftspeople as we call them, the opportunity to improve their skills. So, they're going to – they're leading dojos; they're creating katas, which they'll then deliver at these dojos. It's helping them with their career development, and one of our key values at Codurance is all around continuous learning, continuous developments, and being able to give them those opportunities at those community events is also really important.
So, marketing is quite complex these days; there's lots of different strands and lots of ways you can reach your audience. And it's also really important to be really clear on what you're trying to achieve as a business, who your key buying personas are and which kinds of activities are going to attract the right kind of audience.
And dev rel is one part of that for Codurance, and developers, they'll only go to events if they think it's going to be worth their while. And not to be rude to anybody that works in recruitment, but if there's lots of recruiters at dev rel type events that are trying to hire them, I know that's sometimes can be a bit of a turn-off. So, it's just about making sure that you've got the right content and the right environment for people to have a good time, and that's how communities tend to thrive. [0:16:18]
Richard Rodger: [0:16:21] And it feels like it's about creating – for Codurance but for a lot of companies – creating authentically developer friendly brands. And you'd have to put all these pieces together, like the developer events, where the marketing is very subtle, but where there's a clear dividing line between the B2D, as you say, and the B2B side of things.
And especially for people – what I'm trying to get at is, how do you – if you start out with this, how do you copy what Codurance did? In a way, it's uncopiable, because the community started before the company, but there's still a lot of lessons that you can apply. I think the trick must be, can you find some aspect of software development work that is aligned with what your company's product is? But the community isn't about your product. So, it's quite difficult, right? [0:17:35]
Natalie Gray: [0:17:36] It is, and it does require persistence. A lot of – you see a lot of communities that – you can go on Meetup.com and you'll see hundreds of meetups where they maybe ran two or three events and then it – you can see it stopped. And this – you will take several iterations before you get it right as well, so, you have to be incredibly persistent. Choosing the – a specific day every month that you going to have your meetup helps, so that people can just put it in their diary and they know that that first Wednesday of the month is when I go to that particular event.
And you build your community around regularity, which is also really important. Making sure that you reach out to folks in your particular community that are – people that are already well-known with that technology or practice. Trying to get people that perhaps already are using – if it's a software company, are there people within – some of your free users that you can see they're well plugged into the community.
They're very visible on socials, for example, or they speak at events. Getting some of these more well-known people in your community generally plugged in as helpers on your committee, your organizing committee, would help. So, don't try and do everything yourself as an individual or within your company. Build your organizing committee outside of your business, so that it does become more of a community focus is really important. [0:19:22]
Richard Rodger: [0:19:24] Yeah, this is – that is critical, yeah. It's interesting; it's one of the pieces of advice that we often end up giving our customers around building developer relations is – it's one of the early questions I ask is: who are the key software developer people using your product, writing open-source for it, all that sort of stuff? That you're going to invite to your meetups or your conferences or whatever. You'd be surprised; most companies have no idea. All you have to do is go on GitHub and do a little search. And you usually find easily 20 or 330 people, enthusiasts, you didn't – fans that you never knew about. [00:20:03]
Natalie Gray: [0:20:04] Yeah, absolutely, and they're very keen – most people are very flattered to be asked to speak or get involved in things. So, don't be afraid to ask well-known people if they would take part. People are often very happy to give their time if they know that you're creating something with integrity and you're wanting to do something that's going to be of benefit to the wider community. That's really important, that you're wanting to build something because you really care, rather than that you just want to increase sales. That would be a bit of a turnoff for a lot of people, I think. [0:20:49]
Richard Rodger: [0:20:50] It's more like brand – it's weird, isn't it? It's more like brand marketing, where traditionally, it's not expected to be directly measurable in terms of what the sales that it generates, but everybody knows you need to do it. As opposed to measuring clickthrough rates and all that sort of stuff that people have become accustomed to on internet marketing, where everything is highly measurable.
It feels like a lot of organizations need to do a little bit of unlearning almost, and follow Codurance's model a little bit more closely. The reason I asked you on and the reason I'm enthusiastic about learning from Codurance is, it's similar to what I did previously in my own consultancy, nearForm, back in the day.
And again, it wasn't by design; we built this community around Node.js. But it was – we very much kept ourselves in the background, and that was critical to making the community work. Not treating the meetups like webinars or seminars or things like that where you're trying to push something.
How do you know if you – let's say you're a SaaS startup and you figure out – you have a developer product and you've figured out something authentic that you want to support in terms of community building and you've had a couple of meetups or whatever, set up a Discord. How can you tell if the community is working? What are the early signs that you've got something that's actually going to be self-sustaining? [0:22:32]
Natalie Gray: [0:22:33] Yeah, and that's a great question. There's – in reality, it's – talking with your community is absolutely essential. Just asking them, is this the kind of thing that you want to continue coming to? What do – what would you like to hear next? Getting people really involved. And if you find that this thing is continuing outside of your direct involvement, if people are coming back saying, " Can we – we'd love to run this at our place next time. We really enjoyed that type of event, or I've seen this work elsewhere. Can we try that at – when – on our next event?"
So, when you start to see that it's almost evolving outside of your direct involvement, then you can see that this thing is starting to grow, and it's not just because you're just constantly pushing it in a certain direction. Seeing conversation happening between different members, as I say, or other events happening in other locations and people coming back month after month, or however often you run it. The one in Manchester that we – our colleagues run, I think they're running it weekly. [00.23.59]
Richard Rodger: [0:24:00] Weekly, wow.
Natalie Gray: [0:24:00] It's weekly. So, it's not huge, but they have a core of very regular, enthusiastic developers who keep coming back every week. And it's their little place where they sit and learn together, and they're progressing their skills in test run development and coding. [0:24:21]
Richard Rodger: [0:24:22] That's marvelous. So, it's- [0:24:23]
Natalie Gray: [0:24:23] I think it's just that – yeah. Each one is different, but it's really exciting to see how they grow and evolve. And some are very large and diverse and some are much smaller, but they still have value. So, it's – measuring these free developer events is not something that's, to be honest, that easy. [0:24:48]
Richard Rodger: [0:24:50] No.
Natalie Gray: [0:24:52] Especially if you're not there – as I say, you're there just to bring people together and share. If they want to talk to you about your product or service, then that's great, but for us, it's really that that community is then there to get to know each other. And then if they want to join our Codurance community, then that's fantastic.
And we have hired some folks through the communities from them approaching us saying, "This is super cool. How do we find out?" Or how – "Do you have any jobs available?" We've got that knotty challenge that we're trying to solve, like, do you know some people that can help. It's never been about selling, the hard sell whatsoever. And measuring, Richard, is probably – that's the – [0:25:51]
Richard Rodger: [0:25:51] I know; I know. It's the- [0:25:52]
Natalie Gray: [0:25:52] -the nub of the challenge, I guess. [0:25:53]
Richard Rodger: [0:25:54] It's the dirty word of developer relations. So, I'm picking out the key points there, and one is, the community is operating without you; they've flown the nest. And that means setting up things like a Discord or a Slack or something to enable that is probably critical. And the other one that you picked out is – with that weekly event – is recurring participation by a core group of people.
Another one is, it's really big and loads of people are turning up all the time, but that's easy. It sounds like these things are signals rather than measurements. They're indicators that things are going well, but if you look at them too closely, they disappear. And you don't want to take a microscope; you just want to get a sense of the health of the community. [0:26:57]
Natalie Gray: [0:26:59] Yeah, definitely. It's all about running different types of events for different objectives. Some organizations will want to, as I say, run much more product focused events, and that's fine. And lots of people will still want to go to those kinds of events. People – there's always a role for commercial or recruitment types of events. People need new jobs; people want to buy stuff. There's always a place for those sorts of events.
It's just making sure that you understand what your event strategy is and your – what is the purpose of those different types of events that you're running. And making sure that you're very clear on what people should expect when they come. So, as I say, it's – developers will definitely want to go to product demos, but they – if they're expecting to go to an event that they've been going to every week and it's not that focus, then that would be a bit of a surprise.
So, as a – if you're in dev rel or marketing, you've got to be really clear with your messaging and consistent, and just make sure that you're being very clear about who the target audience is for that event, what people should be expecting from it. And then you can – you're much more likely to one, have the right people there, and secondly, be able to measure the ROI, because you've been very clear about what you're expecting the outcomes to be. [0:28:38]
Richard Rodger: [0:28:40] Excellent. I just took a load of notes on that one, because there's a lot of good pointers there. And if you're doing this for the first time, it's easy to trip up, especially if you're applying traditional marketing strategies. Let's change gear a little bit, because the other thing that you do, just for the – we've five minutes left, so just for the last bit. The other thing you do is work with partners and set up partnerships for Codurance.
Now that is something that a lot of companies that have developer relations activities also end up doing, especially as they get bigger, because they need partners to help with integration work against their APIs or their service or whatever. Talk to us about that. How – what are the key elements of setting up a successful partnership program? What should we be watching out for? What way would you approach it if you were starting from scratch. [0:29:42]
Natalie Gray: [0:29:45] That's – partnerships is a very broad term for lots of different things. We have different types of partners for different things. We have joined the AWS and the Microsoft Cloud global partner programs, which require us to invest a lot in certifications and opportunities and trainings and all sorts of things. But they help to drive great sales opportunities for Codurance. It gives our people opportunities to go on great trainings and certifications and ultimately to better support our customers.
In terms of the developer relations angle from those, we love partnering with those organizations who have amazing speakers, who can speak at our events and talk from a bit more of a product angle. They have – we've run – sometimes we've run our software craftsmanship communities in their locations and they've run a specific workshop in their place. And again, it gives our community the opportunity to learn from some other engineers that are doing some really cool stuff with different AI or different cloud technology. That's quite an exciting partnership.
And then we have other partnerships where we have friends in the industry. So, if we have a particular customer that's got a certain challenge, and for example, they might be looking to solve some kind of dev sec ops or security issue. Then we'll have partners that we can suggest a particular technology or platform that might help them to solve that as part of a wider modernization project.
So, for us, being an independent, fairly technology agnostic consultancy, we can bring in best of breed partners and be seen as a trusted advisor. So, there's a lot of noise and loads of different products on the market, but we choose the right tool for the job, and our customers trust us to bring in the right partners that collaboratively, we can help to move that problem forward quicker than trying to solve everything individually. And that's in general the power of partnerships; it's about helping customers solve challenges quicker than trying to do everything individually the power of collaboration. [0:32:34]
Richard Rodger: [0:32:35] It comes back to the human side as well, doesn't it? Because a lot of people get fairly focused on the commercial aspects of the partnership and that side of things. But what you've just described some of the more powerful aspects are again where you're – you have cross-fertilization with different people coming to your events and you're going to their events, where you're again sharing knowledge, where you're pulling in expertise. And it goes back to empowering the developers and making their lives and jobs either.
Somebody ultimately has to worry about the commercial side of things, but the execution of a partnership, from what you've described, a core element of that, something that's really important, is making sure that the developers on either side can get together in various ways and help each other. That's the [inaudible, 0:33:32.]
Natalie Gray: [0:33:33] Absolutely, and developers are very influential people. A lot of developers start off their career as developers, but a lot of them will become senior architects and tech leaders and CTOs. So, making sure that developers are using tools correctly and they love them. And that's how product companies can have that land and expand and renewal process, without developers being able to properly use technologies, and make sure they're using them in the right way. Then the likelihood of those renewals reduces.
So, for Codurance to be in there helping these businesses, not only modernize their platforms and technologies but also their ways of working, then these platforms, technologies, tools, are much more likely to be leveraged in the right way and therefore be more successful. And the customers rare able to realize better ROI. It is a good partnership from our perspective as well, to make sure that our customers ultimately are seeing the value and their projects are being delivered successfully.
Richard Rodger: And it's one aspect of the developer relations space that is still quite underdeveloped. Compared to 10 years ago, now you see most software service companies understand that they have to have an API and eventually, they have to have developer relations and they're going to hire a developer advocate or two. But you don’t see yet too much execution around partnerships.
You see it with the much bigger companies, of course, because they have the resources, but you don't see it as a key strategy. Developing, again, a community of partners, people who understand your system and can help your clients make things happen. I think we'll see more of that though. It's definitely something that has a lot of potential. [0:35:39]
Natalie Gray: [0:35:40] Yeah. Starting small as well is – sometimes maybe companies are – smaller businesses are a bit scared off by – you see these very large, complicated global partner programs, and it doesn't have to be like that. You can start really small and a few friends in your industry that you get on well with. Then start to say, "Let's do something together and see if we can support this customer better together." Put something together, quick, simple VP, their value proposition, that might help to drive this customer opportunity forward. So, I think start small and don't be scared. [0:36:20]
Richard Rodger: [0:36:21] Natalie, thank you so much, lots and lot of insights. I've two pages of notes here; I'm going to be pondering these and writing up some show notes. Thank you so much. [0:36:30]
Natalie Gray: [0:36:31] Great to chat as always, Richard. Thanks for having me. [0:36:33]
Richard Rodger: [0:36:34] Wonderful stuff. Okay, take care, bye-bye. [0:36:36]
Natalie Gray: [0:36:37] Bye-bye, thank you. [0:36:38]
Richard Rodger: [0:36:39] 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. [0:37:06]