My name is Nate Aune, I’m the CEO of Appsembler, a self-paced training platform to learn about Redis through hands-on product sandboxes, training labs, and self-paced courses.

I started my career as a software developer and, pretty early on, I got involved with an open-source community. I learned way more about software development as a part of the community than I ever did getting a formal education at University.

In this article, I’ll talk about successful developer education, who has done it and what it looks like. Having been both a developer and an educator, and as a founder of a software company, I have a unique perspective on what kind of impact developer education can make on the overall success of a software company.

The topics we’ll cover:

Let’s get into it. 👇

Why is developer education important?

Reality check

You're losing about a third of your sales because the developers say no. Indeed, 34% of sales opportunities are lost as a direct result of developer influence.

Even though the developer doesn't traditionally have the budget, more are getting it and they have enormous influence at the companies you're trying to sell into. If you don't get developer buy-in, they'll reject the product and you might as well kiss goodbye to that opportunity.

If your salespeople do manage to make the sale but the developer never endorses the purchase, they won't adopt your product and they will cancel the subscription at the next renewal.

The shift in the buyer journey

economic buyer gets involved at a much later stage

There's been a fundamental shift in how software is purchased today. It's now a more bottoms-up approach, which means that the users or the developers are doing a lot of investigation and evaluation well before the buyer even gets involved.

In this typical user and buyer journey, there are eight steps, and the buyer doesn't get involved until step six. Therefore, if you're not doing everything you can to get developer buy-in in steps one through six, you can forget about reaching the buyer because the developer will have already rejected your solution.

The developer’s journey

developer's journey

Essentially, developers want to know what something does (what?), see it doing something amazing (wow!), gain confidence they can use it (how), test it out, and make a purchase (buy now) or recommend it to their boss to purchase it if they don't have the authority for it.

For companies who make a tech product, there's typically a huge gap between the activation step and the conversion step as the developer does a proof of concept internally.

This means your marketing team is flying blind and forget about providing any insight to your sales team. The sales team isn’t going to reach out because there's no indication that the timing is right or, worse, they're going to reach out prematurely and scare away the developer.

What we can learn from companies doing it successfully

What is the secret to keeping the developer engaged, then? It's quite simple actually. Engineers are more interested in content that teaches them something, rather than content that is just trying to get them to buy.

It seems obvious but it's rare when companies do the teaching part really well. Let's look at some examples from companies who have successfully launched thriving developer education programs.

Interactive courses & hands-on labs

The first thing successful companies are doing is offering interactive courses, including hands-on labs.

devops engineer quote

Why not just have a free trial and drop the developer in your dashboard to figure it out on their own? That’s not the best approach because engineers have little patience for a poor developer experience and, if you don't make it easy for them to grok your product, they're gonna move on pretty quickly.

content preferences for learning new skills

In a 2019 survey, 800 developers were asked what their preference for learning new skills was, and 83% of them said they prefer tutorials.

You should create content that makes initial use of your product as seamless as possible. Any content that minimizes how long it takes for someone to get up and running, such as how-to tutorials, should be prioritized.

documentation and tutorials aren't enough

Developers rank tutorials as super important but not all tutorials are created equal. We’re going to look at the downside of static tutorials and the benefits of interactive tutorials that provide the learner with a way to check their knowledge and grade their work.

In a survey, almost 16,000 developers were asked what the most important things companies should offer to support developers are. Professional and experienced developers cited that the most important things were documentation and sample code, tutorials and how-to videos and tools, integrations and libraries.

However, the developer population is growing every year and there’s now a new generation of developers who need more than docs and tutorials. The most successful companies don't just stop with docs and tutorials but go the extra mile and build out project-based courses with hands-on labs (extended core).

To sum up, what will differentiate you from other companies, and at the same time create a superior developer experience, is providing online courses with hands-on labs.

learn chef example

For example, Chef software built the Learn Chef site to educate developers about cloud automation tools with a bunch of different courses about their software.

With the click of a button, they can instantly spin up an environment and start doing exercises. There's no downloads and no installs necessary so the idea here is to make this whole experience frictionless and give the developer a great learning experience.

Jody Wolfborn, a developer advocate at Chef, explains why hands-on product sandboxes are so important: “developers need to be able to spin up the product quickly because if they have to learn how to set up an environment just so they can learn about your product, they're not going to stick around.”

when to use tutorials versus courses

Developers like tutorials and they're great as a first touch experience because they don't require the developer to register and they’re teaser content to get the developer excited about your products.

However, courses take the experience to the next level with knowledge checks. The learner gets immediate feedback as they're going through the material. You have the ability to give pop quizzes or even timed exams.

You can embed discussion forums into the courses so developers can learn from their peers and not in isolation. You can issue certificates or badges to reward them for their achievements and, most importantly, both you and the developer are able to track their progress, which is difficult to do with the simple static tutorial because it's just anonymous users that you'll see in Google Analytics.

Nurture engagement and growth

The second thing these companies are doing is recognising that learning is a continuous journey. There's no end because the product is always evolving and the developers' use of the product becomes more sophisticated over time, meaning the learning doesn't stop after they buy the product.

Successful companies are finding ways to nurture engagement with the developer, help them grow and learn new skills.

quote from ashley smith former cmo at gitland

Connecting with developers is about giving back and teaching them something valuable… and that may not necessarily be about your product. Teaching, and not selling, is your strategy.

basic courses to support learning journey

What developers really value is learning new skills. On the Learn Chef site, they're teaching their developer audience not just how to use the Chef products, but also general developer skills such as DevOps, Git and bash scripting.

They found that developers often end up on the Learn chef site because they've Googled about DevOps and, before they know it, they're learning about Chef.

homework reminders encourage engagement

Similar to the Learn Chef site, the Redis University site offers a bunch of courses about the Redis products. They were experimenting with different ways to encourage learners to come back to complete the courses they had enrolled in.

They discovered that simply sending them an email every week reminding them their homework was due worked wonders. They got a 67% open rate on these homework reminder emails, which is an astonishing kind of open rate in the marketing world.

continuous learning journey

Snowflake has thought about the idea of a continuous learning journey and crafted multiple paths you can take, encouraging learners to continue to build on their previous skills and get deeper knowledge about the product.

They've also built out a Snowpro Core certification program where you have the choice to earn your certification by taking only on-demand courses, or use the instructor-led option.

promote in person workshops

Snowflake also uses their university site to encourage learners to attend one of their free Data for Breakfast workshops, which is another way they're nurturing and helping people to continue growing in their knowledge of Snowflake’s products.

Use telemetry to measure and inform

We've seen how learners can get immediate feedback, but what about a feedback loop for the company? As they say, you can't improve what you don't measure!

learning data informs and answers critical questions

Companies like Redis and Chef are able to capture data. This learning data informs and answers critical questions that your organization wants to know.

Your educators and your instructors want to know how we can make our content better.

Your marketing team wants to know who's highly engaged.

Your sales team wants to know when's the right time to reach out as they don't want to do it prematurely.

The product teams want to know where people are getting stuck in the product and which features they most want to learn about.

Lastly, your executive leadership team wants to know how all this education drives more revenue and reduces costs.

rich developer profiles allow for deep personalization

Many companies now sell their software in a subscription model, so Zora introduced the concept of a ‘subscriber identity’ record that gives you information about each subscriber.

Similarly, companies like Chef and Redis are collecting all kinds of data about learners, which allows them to build a ‘developer identity’ record.

With this data, these companies can then send highly personalized messages to these developers to guide them on their learning journey.

chef can perform deep dives on engagement metrics

Being able to track course enrollments, completions and badge activities in Marketo and tag all this information in Salesforce, enables Chef to perform deep dives on engagement metrics that can identify user personas and enable marketing touchpoints.

It also helps them to better understand the learning journey, and gives them a way to share reports through the entire company using Salesforce.

redis measures roi on mqls generated

Redis goes so far as to consider any learner who's completed a multi-week course as an MQL. If they've graduated, they're considered an MQL.

Redis has even been able to measure not just MQLs but to make the connection of recurring revenue where the first touch that they had with that person was that they took a Redis University course.

The impressive results

impressive results

Developer education has had a positive impact on lead generation, increasing the number of certified developers building awareness in developer communities, and increasing engagement and product adoption for these companies.

How you can launch or improve your developer education program

Reaching this level of maturity in your developer education program comes down to three main things:

  • The right people
  • The right partner
  • The right product

Get the right education team

an education team will ensure authenticity and quality

In older organization design, you have more siloed departments, but in the modern software organization, the teams in the organization are much more interdependent.

If you believe the best way to attract potential developers is to produce quality educational content, then you probably don't want your marketing or product marketing team producing the content as you'll likely get very polished stuff that sets off the BS detector in most developers.

Good educational content is designed with learning objectives in mind and addresses the user's technical problems in an authentic way.

When choosing a partner, work with developer education specialists

If you needed to have brain surgery, you wouldn’t go to your family doctor but to the best surgeon who specializes in brain surgery.

It’s the same thing here. So many software companies select partners or vendors who have a one-size-fits-all approach and don't understand the unique education needs developer oriented companies have, and that’s not the best approach to take.

Here’s a couple of questions you might want to ask your prospect partners:

  • How many software companies have you worked with before?
  • Do you have a way for learners to split up hands-on lab environments?
  • Can you provide instructional designers who specialize in creating technical educational content?
  • Is your system a silo, or can people integrate it with other third-party systems like CRM, marketing, automation, and data warehouses?

Choosing the right product and tools

choosing the right product and tools

Most developer-oriented software products require more education and training for the customer to adopt and fully realize the value.

This means there's a need for a solution that can embed quick and easy learning experiences during the pre-sale stages, guided instruction in Sandbox environments during a proof of concept stage, as well as more comprehensive courses and certifications in the post-sale stages.

There are three capabilities you need to be able to offer a great developer education program:

Key takeaways

Companies with successful developer education programs are:

✅ Offering interactive courses with hands-on labs.

✅ Nurturing their developer audience with valuable educational content and encouraging them to come back to continue their learning journey.

✅ Using telemetry to not only measure and improve the educational content, but to generate new leads and drive new revenue for the business as well.

If you want to build your own developer education program:

✅ Have a dedicated education team, even if it's only one person to start.

✅ Find the best partner to work with who has experience around developer education.

✅ Select a product that's going to not just work for you today, but will scale with you as you grow.

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