- One role, many tasks
- Why does a tech community need management?
- What distinguishes tech communities from any other community?
- What does managing a community of developers entail?
- What hard skills are essential for a developer community manager?
- What soft skills are essential for a developer community manager?
- How do you ensure positive engagement within a tech community?
- How can a community manager improve their skills?
One role, many tasks
Over recent years, effective community management has come to play an increasingly important role in the coding and programming world. As a result, developer community manager skills and role encompasses numerous different areas, not all of which are technical in nature.
In fact, the successful CM also has to possess or acquire various soft skills that are vital to the growth and sustainability of a community of developers. From recognizing individuality when encouraging teamwork, to the ability to communicate to a disparate demographic effectively, a tech community manager requires more than just technical capability to succeed.
Why does a tech community need management?
Given the accelerated adoption of remote working and the need for digital innovation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, public and private groups alike are exploring new ways to boost the collective spirit. But any community needs guidance to survive and prosper, which is as vital for a tech community as any other.
Although a community that focuses on a niche technology, non-mainstream language, or specialized area of coding might seem to enjoy something of a monopoly, there is a real risk that the members – if acting without a defined support hierarchy – may become disheartened and dissatisfied through a lack of planned direction.
Additionally, group image and reputation is how new members are attracted, and old members retained. Particularly in the age of increased social media reach and impact, a consolidated approach to all communications – both internal and external – is key to ensuring a positive community culture.
Someone has to consider the impact and import of individual member needs, balance passion with practicality, and plot a path to the community’s ultimate goal. From group DevRel to individual tasks, there has to be an oversight; every activity needs to be assessed for usefulness and every event organized for efficiency – which is where a developer community manager skills come in.
Responsible for the big picture viewpoint, a CM needs to ensure that they’re viewed as the de facto authority, and having all the answers when asked is a major plus when building community trust.
What distinguishes tech communities from any other community?
In terms of the motivations of the people involved, there is little difference between a tech community and any other. All have a shared interest or passion; most are managed by an enthusiastic member, and all have a common goal in mind.
Where a tech community differs, however, is in the expected nature of any personal connection. That is to say; a tech community is perfectly placed to adopt innovative approaches to communication and outreach.
While everyone benefits from the added personality of meatspace meetups, virtual connectivity can be just as effective in bringing community members together – as long as they are designed with a disparate demographic in mind.
A digital community is more likely to be geographically diverse, which means that online group activities and events need to be carefully managed as changes that impact attendees (particularly from different timezones) are more likely to cause bad feeling.
A developer community manager’s skills, therefore, have to include the capability to identify every aspect of potential need and risk, and plan their community’s strategy to suit.
Frankly, a tech community members’ comfort with advanced technologies makes building a virtual community much easier than with other groups. The downside, however, is that tech community members will be not be impressed by the method of communication and will be much more likely to be critical of poor organization and lack of timely information.
Just like a CM, a member has non-community commitments, so their involvement needs to be visibly valued, and the best way to do that is by keeping them in the loop.
What does managing a community of developers entail?
An effective tech community manager has a balance of hard and soft skills. The first skill set is based on technical competencies, while the second encompasses every interpersonal skill or communicative habit they have spent their life developing.
Usually honed in professional settings, soft skills are the most important part of a community manager’s arsenal when guiding and curating its membership.
As a tech community is largely made up of hard-skilled members, a community manager needs to be able to at least meet the median technical competency to ensure authoritative capital. But it is a CM’s soft skills – both online and in-person – that will position them as an effective leader of the community.
A developer community manager needs to act as a liaison between the community members – and often a wider audience – so an ability to tailor their interpersonal approach to the individual or marginal demographic is key.
Therefore, one of the under-appreciated benefits of having hard as well as soft skills is that when reaching out to industry peers for support and amplification, tech community managers can identify shared interests and communicate effectively in a shared language.
Coordinating and expanding the active community, as well as persuading less connected third parties to become involved, is just as important as reaching a technical milestone. But to do all that while keeping the ultimate goal in sight takes no small amount of big picture appreciation and careful organization.
What hard skills are essential for a developer community manager?
Depending on the community in question, some of the hard skills required by a community manager will be related to the community purpose. These may include, but not be limited to, coding, web technologies, and experience of niche environments. To perform as the manager of a community of developers it isn’t necessary to match the other members’ depth of knowledge.
In terms of, however, a tech community manager will also have to be aware of the wider developments and innovations in order to be able to effectively build engagement momentum. They should be able to appreciate and clearly explain where or how a methodology, artefact, or service fits into the broader world.
That requires not only an understanding of the potential benefits of the community goal but also how that goal’s achievement might have greater impact and associated reach.
As a key responsibility of community management is communication, it is also advantageous to have an understanding of the functionality of the platforms designed for it. Just like every other aspect of community management, building an audience takes persistence and a plan. But by knowledgeably utilizing all the channel-specific tools, a CM can increase awareness and encourage community growth with intuitive and accessible interfaces.
What soft skills are essential for a developer community manager?
A developer community manager’s top soft skills are mostly organizational. Being able to assess, plan, and budget – predominantly time and resources – is the only way to manage a technical community successfully. Every aspect of tech community management relies on a smooth and complementary relationship; think cogs and wheels rather than disconnected plate-spinning. And to make that work, a CM also needs:
- Effective time management
- Team building and mediation skills
- Confidence in taking the lead
- The ability to delegate
- The ability to assess and apply critical feedback to future activities
- Tactful and empathetic communication skills
- A creative approach to problem-solving
- Personality and emotional intelligence
The benefit for you as a CM with a development background is that you will understand the range of motivations of your hard-skill members. Networking opportunities and community connections, for example, are secondary – but no less important – event goals for online code jams and meetups.
Accommodating the commonalities and ameliorating the differences of a demographic requires tact, creativity, and empathy.
Ultimately, a community is made up of individuals, and it is a community manager’s job to recognize and harness their unique values for the benefit of the whole. This may involve identifying those who work best as a team or persuading those who prefer to be more independent the need for a series of interlinked community tasks.
Whatever it is that the community needs, a developer CM has to chart the organizational path to get them there.
How do you ensure positive engagement within a tech community?
Success in the CM role demands effective communications planning. Developer community manager skills need to include versatility, flexibility, and adaptability when dealing with community needs. The ability to create a clear framework within which a tech community and its members can flourish, covering all areas of interest and expectation, will help to steer the collective towards its defined goals.
In simpler terms, managing a tech community means giving serious thought to how to keep the members happily engaged.
A well-thought-out schedule of activities and events is just the start; knowing how to communicate and organize the various tasks – ensuring member buy-in and giving a clear path for feedback – is arguably more important for community cohesion. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but social media can be the easiest way to kick-start engagement.
Obviously, there are differences in audience demographics between Facebook and Twitter. Still, a consolidated message tailored to the channel and redirecting users to an in-house platform for more details be very effective. It will give the existing community a trusted repository for centralized information while gathering interest from potential new members.
The most logical way to build a framework is to breakdown the whole into manageable parts: communication channels, recognized forums, rules of behaviour, feedback facility and SLAs, dedicated communicators, an agreed community ‘voice’, and a schedule for updates, for example.
A tech community manager will have many concurrent responsibilities, so the option to delegate clearly defined tasks will be hugely helpful in terms of time management.
Why is DevRel so important?
DevRel, at its very core, is fostering trust to build relationships. To be able to build a community – both on and offline – a tech community manager has to act as a digital strategist, project manager, tech lead, event organizer, and expert communicator—basically, anything the community might need to thrive.
A level of familiarity of the expectations of DevRel advocates – and the “practicalities of DevRel activities” – will, therefore, help to inform community development plans fully. Although all members of a tech community are important, it is the active developers – and their individual relationships within the wider community – that can make or break a community culture and reputation. Again, planning is the key to success.
By anticipating member needs – even something as simple as easy access to food and drink for meatspace meetups – a CM can be sure that there are no distractions from an event goal. Forging connections and encouraging collaboration and growth are the underpinnings of every community management activity.
DevRel is not just for the community, however; CMs need to be able to create their own individual connections in order to encourage member buy-in. By viewing these connections as a team-building necessity and rolling it into a community development plan, a core of the more dedicated members can eventually act as delegates of the CM in order to create a more efficient and functional community.
What does a community development plan look like?
Much like a technical spec, a community development plan should have milestones and end-goals. Unlike a technical spec, a community development plan deals with the human aspects of the interconnected activities. By dealing with each step logically, a community manager can provide a reactive framework for the community members to act within.
First, consider the following questions:
- What needs to be done?
- By whom? By when?
- And what resources (monetary or otherwise) will be required?
Answering these basic questions will describe the aims of the community to potential members.
Next, decide what the behavioural expectations should be. A community covenant or memorandum of understanding will lay out the roles and obligations of all members, avoiding potential conflict (or providing a way to resolve conflict should it be needed).
Finally, design the method by which community-wide communication and information sharing will take place. By offering clarity in how decisions have been made and providing a dedicated channel for feedback, a community manager can utilize the expertise of the members to improve the collective experience in a controllable environment.
Once the ‘rules’ of the community have been defined, it is time to plan activities and events that support the common goals. Building in flexibility is important, as external factors (milestone failure or event cancellation) can have a domino effect on a schedule.
Having a contingency plan in place (or being able to come up with something on the fly) can ensure that engagement momentum is maintained.
How can a community manager improve their skills?
Particularly in areas where your developer community management skills may be lagging behind, seeking advice is always recommended. At the launch of a new community, a CM may very well be the only person dealing with all the tasks.
Planning with the intention of growth, however, means that the framework can be designed to accommodate and effectively utilize members who are willing to take a more active role. Until this happens, a CM is on their own, so having a list of skills to be acquired is vital.
The easiest way to handle the skill gaps is by asking some of the same questions that defined the community during the development plan creation.
- What do you need to do?
- By when?
- And what resources do you require?
By treating each task as a separate problem to solve, a tech community manager can design a personal schedule that can accommodate non-community commitments, like the day job.
Speaking of which, existing professional (and personal) connections can be a valuable resource for a new-to-the-role CM. If considered in terms of time management and efficiency, being able to ask objective third parties for help can be incredibly useful.
But be careful to keep reliance on non-community members to a minimum – it can be counterproductive to make a free resource feel pressured.
If you want to grow further your developer community manager’s skills, we suggest you read our guide on how to become a better developer community manager. And if you have any further doubt or need help, do not hesitate to contact us or subscribe to our free platform made for community managers where you’ll find many of your peers to exchange ideas and advice with.