In this episode of Semaphore Uncut, Stephanie Wong, Developer Advocate at Google Cloud and the creator of the Google Cloud Youtube series Networking End-to-End and Kubeflow 101, talks about her work of creating remarkable online developer content.
- Online content maximizes reach
- Tailoring content for greater results
- Defining goals and metrics
- Updates: part of the content creation process
- Adopting an agile approach to content development
- DevRel: roles and responsibilities
- Engaging the whole persona
- Becoming a Developer Advocate
Listen to our entire conversation above, and check out my favorite parts in the episode highlights!
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Darko (00:02): Hello, and welcome to Semaphore Uncut, a podcast for developers about building great products. Today, I’m excited to welcome Stephanie Wong. Stephanie, please introduce yourself.
Stephanie: I am currently a developer advocate at Google Cloud and help lead some of the go-to-market strategy and the online content side of things. If you are not familiar with DevRel as a position or an organization, we empower the developer community or other technical practitioners. We create content that helps address their challenges. We also provide feedback, back to product, to hopefully improve the product with more actionable insights based on what we hear back from the DEV community.
Online content maximizes reach
Darko (01:44): Why do you think that online content is the future of developer engagement and learning, in general?
Stephanie: I think it’s become more apparent, especially with COVID, that online content is a way to truly maximize reach as a company, to not just your consumers, but also your technical audiences that are building upon your platform.
Developers and platform architects are the ones who decide which applications to migrate, what to target next for digital transformation at their companies. And as an audience, they increasingly just refuse marketing fluff and demand very quick information that can solve their particular issue. Reading technical documentation just does not cut it for them. More and more developers need high engagement and free open-source information, even if it comes from a private offering or a platform.
Tailoring content for greater results
Darko (04:14): How do we adequately distill that information into pieces that are easy to consume and not, as you said, a dry, long, boring piece?
Stephanie: That’s probably the hardest part of what I do as a developer advocate. If you want to go in a deeper dive level of information, then a talk, a session, a webinar, and a meetup is very appropriate. I think if you are creating video content, people’s attention can be shorter. And I’m sure you know that you can lose engagement with your audiences faster when you are watching videos.
The first step is to think about who your audience is. Are you targeting, for example, a data scientist versus a data engineer? Or a Kubernetes infrastructure operator or application developer? Maybe it’s a database admin or an architect. Their needs can intertwine, but you must truly think about the story you want to tell because you ultimately need to serve their interests and challenges.
So, I’ll give you an example. I was writing a video series called Kubeflow 101, a free and open-source machine learning platform, for enabling ML pipelines and orchestrations on Kubernetes. And I had to decide whether it was the needs of the data scientist community versus the data engineering community that I wanted to focus on because you ultimately are going to tell a little bit of a different story. And there is a slight nuance in that. You are responsible for building an end-to-end data pipeline. But maybe as a data scientist, you don’t want to know all the superfluous details of the pipeline. You just want to be able to deploy your model, know that there’s support for your favorite ML framework, and then just start making predictions.
That’s step number one, asking who are you targeting for this video series, and is there a narrative arc that can string together all of the topics? And then step number two is taking all of the existing documentation and material that you have and putting the pieces together. Put together a table of content across, let’s say, 10-episode topics you want to cover. And for us, it was simply, how do you get started with Kubeflow? Because it wasn’t as clear in the documentation, and we wanted to make the road to getting started much easier.
You can use that as a starting point to create additional forms of that same information. Then you can do a follow-up, social media campaigns and create a podcast about it. You can use it as a launch point to create micro pieces of information from that point forward.
Defining goals and metrics
Darko (07:42): As you said, as you were picking the target audience and assuring that you have content for them, how do you verify that you made it, that you achieved your goal?
Stephanie: We try to track as many metrics as we’re provided. So, how many subscribers did we gain from that one video? We try to engage with our audiences by commenting and answering their questions when they ask them via the platform.
You really just want to make sure you understand your target goal for the video series or the podcast, or whatever you’re creating, or the blog post even. And then in terms of knowing that you’re able to target your audiences adequately, much of our goals consist of evangelizing an idea of a theme. For example, many of our video series cover migration to the Cloud and explain all the various routes that you can do that.
Updates: part of the content creation process
Darko (10:32): When creating content, how do you make sure that it doesn’t get outdated in six months or a year? How do you handle that?
Stephanie: That’s a really good question. And that is a challenge that we face because content is inevitably going to become outdated. And that’s just part of the process. I think at Google specifically, it took a while for everybody to come on board with the idea that creating video content was more beneficial than disadvantageous. It’s definitely something that took work to establish at a company of this size.
In terms of how we perceive the content, I think we understand that it can be outdated. And then most of the time, that’s why we want to link to documentation because those get constantly updated by those technical writing teams. It’s really important to make sure that you have links to dynamic documentation and materials that people can point to and look at for the most up-to-date information.
Many times, we don’t always get it right. Sometimes, there are small little hiccups in pieces of content, where people correct me. I take those immediately and fix my piece of content and thank them. And it’s all this community-based thing, where we’re not blaming others, it’s a blameless community, hopefully. And we can be forgiving to one another, to update pieces of content when we feel the need to.
Adopting an agile approach to content development
Darko (13:14): On your journey with creating this content, what are some of the challenges and solutions that may help other people in the same area of work?
Stephanie: If you’re not a company in this area of work, I think you should be. You’re able to reach such a vast majority of people. But I think one of the biggest challenges of creating online content for developers is being able to, for me at least, connect the dots across products and keep up to date with the rapid product releases that we encounter. Keeping up to date with the fast-paced nature of quick releases. This can include all of the serverless products that we come out with all the time. Cloud Run. I work on security products. I work on Kubeflow and machine learning and partner ecosystem products. And then, our continuously updated new support for frameworks and languages.
That’s the biggest challenge as a DA, at least on this scalable content team, is just constantly consuming a vast amount of information and quickly distilling it into a new piece of content. Because my team has come out with hundreds of pieces of content in a year, just a lot. It’s insane to think about. And the reason why we do that is we want to come out with high-quality content. But it’s really important to come out with a very frequent number of content pieces throughout the year because you want to grab the attention of your consumers, and your developers, and your technical practitioners. To do that, you need to constantly be iterating and coming out with new things. The biggest challenge there is just learning as much as possible and then immediately, be able to apply that information. Even if you don’t know anything about it, prior to creating that piece of content.
Something else I focus on is live events. If you are in DevRel, traditionally, many people go to live events, whether that’s meetups or virtually. So, I’ve built an online content strategy for live events to better target developers and tech practitioners. And that meant enveloping an incredible amount of information and aligning priorities between Google’s executives, our product teams, our marketing teams into this cohesive program.
DevRel: roles and responsibilities
Darko (16:14): In terms of creating a team focused on developer relations, can you maybe give us an insight into your team’s structure and what are some key roles?
Stephanie: So DevRel at Google, for Google Cloud at least, is comprised of a few different roles. Developer advocate is one, and then we also have developer programs engineers, and we have a number of other roles, like program managers and other managers in the org. But as I mentioned before, developer advocates focus on outreach to the developer community. We’re constantly doing talks, meetups, writing, and so much more. And so, you’re the front-facing person to engage with the technical community that you represent.
Developer programs engineers do some of the same work. Although, many of them focus on working on client libraries that support their particular products. They might be a little bit more hands-down in code, creating various demos and working on these client libraries support. And then, our project managers help organize these programs that we constantly develop with our developer communities and make sure that all of these events and programs are a success.
Engaging the whole persona
Darko (18:27): How do you come up with new ideas? Is it like a brainstorming session in your team, or it differs based on the work that you are doing? What are the ways for engaging developers that you’ve come up with?
Stephanie: We have to push the boundaries of how to reach developers constantly. We’re all people scouring the internet for things to watch and information to consume and to learn. And it’s a great example of when your passion for technology can crossover with your favorite pastimes, hobbies, and passions, or shows that you watch. As a content creator, I asked myself, how can I tap into both my passion for technology and content so that I can engage my audiences, not just for a developer persona, but also for your persona at home.
For example, when I was creating a series called Season of Scale, on how to build scalable architectures on Google Cloud, I thought, okay, how can I incorporate something that’s really relevant during COVID? And I realized that Animal Crossing was a really big game that gained massive popularity during this time. So, I incorporated that as a theme in my videos, although I had to change the name and what it looked like, so I didn’t get sued, of course. Just thinking of fun, creative ways so that it’s not dry information or videos that you’re watching.
Becoming a Developer Advocate
Darko (21:44): Developers who are maybe thinking about getting into DevRel positions, what piece of advice would you give them, and what can they expect, and how their lives will change?
Stephanie: Many developer advocates and people in DevRel come from being a software developer, a SWE, and they just want to pivot over to becoming more external-facing because they like to leverage their public speaking skills. They enjoy engaging with the developer community. And so, that’s definitely a path over to DevRel. Although, I will say that I came from an extremely different path. I came from sales. I just fell into this niche, where I could do video production and merge my two passions there.
But I would say, definitely, you want to make sure that you enjoy engaging with the community and you have a passion for that particular, let’s say, language or products. You have experience in that. And you learn how to communicate and write. Many DA positions require you to constantly come out with blog posts, walkthroughs, courses, tutorials, talks, and travel to many countries across the world to do these talks. Writing about your passion area for technology is important. Communicating and being able to build bridges with other organizations’ developer communities. You want to be very comfortable building bridges across organizations, teams, and working across dev communities across the world.
One other thing I will say is, you should try not to be married to a specific technology. Often, within a DevRel career, you will switch what you’re working on. I think that’s the beauty of it, is being able to change what you’re working on constantly. In my team specifically, I’m changing that every five seconds. But in some DevRel teams, you are focusing on one product for a year, and then you can switch to a different piece of technology. Especially at Google, with such a large number of options.
So being very nimble and agile in what you’re working on. And being able to learn in public, and also teach as you learn. As I’ve said before, I’m constantly consuming new information about all these various segments. I need to be able to apply it immediately. You want to make sure that you’re able to learn in public, learn with others, and then teach others as you learn, encourage one another.
And in order to transition into DevRel, start acting like you’re already in DevRel. I think that’s probably my number one, is if you’re already a SWE, if you’re already in sales like I was, or if you’re even in a different part of the business, start acting like you’re already a DA or a DPE, and start building pieces of content and putting it out on your own blog. Because often, that’s how employers find you and hire you, because you’re already a star in that area, and you already have a personal brand in that area. That’s probably my biggest piece of advice.
Darko (26:05): Thank you so much for joining us, and good luck with content creation.