One theme that surfaced for me at SxSW this week was the incredible amount of energy being expended trying to find developers for projects. It certainly is a theme that should help the guys at StackExchange, if only they figure out how to reach this audience. I was in so many rooms where the number of companies with ideas needing devs outnumbered the developers in the room – sometimes as high as 25x in a single room.
At first I thought that this was a systemic problem with SxSW. I’m not sure I have the data to support that conclusion, but there was a different problem afoot. Each and every one of these entities with ideas was going about their developer search completely wrong. Showing up with an iPad with large font text saying “I need devs” is not a good marketing strategy.
I also met quite a few companies trying to hawk their API wares and didn’t know how to go about getting developers excited. The skill set I have been building over my working career is understanding the mind of the developer, and how to reach them. I wanted to share this out so that others can reduce what was perceived as frustration as a lack of ability to find developers or get them excited about a project they had.
Go Where Developers Are
It’s a bit of an obvious statement, but seriously, if you are a company looking for developers, go where they go. If you are at SxSW, they may not be at the meetups. Why? Because they are off demoing/showing their apps. They are at these broader events for the same reason you are – to do business. Developers are in hot demand right now, and that supply/demand imbalance dictates that they are not only busy, but not partial to interruptions.
Go where they go. Is there a local iPhone developer group in your area? What about a technology specific show (PyCon FTW)? If the developers are at the event to learn versus to do business, you are likely better off.
Be a Coder
I got called a “marketing douchebag” on a panel at SxSW. I tried not to take offense. I am a product manager after all. However, I am a hobbyist coder. How can you be a developer marketer and not be? I love spending time writing code to make something cool. Is my solution the most elegant and efficient? Probably not. Can I wax philosophically about string interpolation of C#? I can now (thanks Miguel).
If you cannot speak the language, or understand the issues, how can you have a constructive conversation? More importantly, it’s just not as hard as you think. Seriously. We have a Windows Phone series for absolute beginners. I know the notion of downloading tools may seem scary. Try it. Most of the dev communities have walk throughs to make it mostly doable by anyone who can install Office. If you can wrangle an XLS, you can likely get through some of the really beginner stuff. You may even like it. Net net, being credible in conversations in the dev user groups means at least being conversant.
Have a Prototype
Even if your design is awful, getting your concept across with working code is FAR FAR FAR more effective than PowerPoint slides or your highly polished 25 words or less routine. Here’s a secret about developers – any one worth their salt will see what you have and want to make it better. They may want to join your project, or they may just give you some tips on how to improve on what you are showing so that the next dev who sees it may get interested. Either way, you get some good feedback which is actionable by you. You are more likely to not change your slides or 25 word pitch, and just move on to the next developer, but getting actionable feedback from a developer is priceless.
The other benefit of having a prototype – a completely unpolished turd even – means you have had to communicate your ideas to the screen. That will show you the flaws in what you are trying to explain in words or PowerPoint, and makes for a much more constructive conversation with potential devs. Your idea gets better simply by trying to work through it on the screen.
So there you go. I hope that’s helpful for all the non-technical types looking to get to the dev community. It’s a great time to be a developer, and so much positive energy around projects.