How do developers discover and evaluate products? What do they look for in documentation? Where do they go for community support?

As part of CatchyFest 2022, our annual company retreat, we hosted a panel of developers to learn about their journeys with tools and solutions, their experiences with product marketing campaigns, and their views on community resources. The panel allowed us to speak with our audience, hear their perspectives, and gather insights to help our clients deliver their developer products more effectively.

Marketing Strategist Ziwei Chen was joined for the panel by:

These panelists shared their insights about the developer landscape and their perspectives on marketing strategies for technical audiences.

Key Takeaways

Developers discover and evaluate new products through communities

Our developer panelists view product discovery and evaluation as community-led processes. Resources like GitHub and HackerNews help developers find new products and technology with a little help from peer recommendations. This exposure can lead to short-term solutions and long-term product awareness, which can help solve problems further down the line.

GitHub emerged as the go-to resource for evaluating products. Criteria included community-based factors, like how many people star the product as a favorite, how many issues are open against it (primarily inquiries, how-tos, and bug reports), and, crucially, how many of those issues have been closed. A tool with an active community allows developers to find help and ensure product maintenance.

Ultimately, developers are trying to determine if a tool that’s good today will still be good five years from now. Reliability, community help, and maintenance are crucial for avoiding problems in the future.

Here are a few questions one of our panelists provided for product evaluation:

  • Does it solve my problem?
  • Does it have good documentation?
  • Is it currently being maintained/improved?
  • Is it the de facto standard in its space?
  • Does it have a large community?
  • Can it handle both simple and complex use cases?
  • Does it perform well at large scales?
  • Does it integrate into my existing ecosystem?

Developers appreciate documentation that is practical, thorough, and easy to understand

Our panelists covered various topics around documentation, including their communication preferences and examples of what works and what doesn’t.

Here are a few examples of what works in product documentation:

  • Clean and readable page design
  • An overview of the technology with the possibility to go in-depth
  • Simple and practical code examples
  • A mix of getting-started guides and exhaustive API reference docs
  • Information about integration with other tools in the ecosystem
  • A system diagram (if applicable)
  • Ease of getting hands-on with the product
  • Documentation is available for previous versions of the product

And a few examples of what doesn’t:

  • Poor readability
  • Lack of context for using the product
  • Naming conventions that aren’t self-explanatory
  • Code examples that use outdated tools or techniques
  • Outdated documentation

Developer marketing should strive to feel personable and be specific

For example, our developer panel mentioned that humor and memes are universally loved, and the panelists want to see more of them used in marketing. It can go wrong, usually when a marketing team doesn’t understand what they’re joking about, but for the most part, it’s well-liked.

Unanimously disliked claims included “faster” and “easier.” Faster is context-dependent and largely misleading. Easier is always true until it isn’t. Both of these claims depend on who’s using the product, for what purpose, and in what scenario. And both are ineffective for speaking to developers.

Developers rely on community support to do their jobs well

The first place developers usually look for help is GitHub, which provides product and community engagement information. Many product teams will also start their own community pages on Slack and Discord. You can also see how much these teams care about their community from blog posts and documentation about the product.

A few other community resources include:

  • Hacker News helps developers stay up-to-date and see what new technology the community is talking about.
  • StackOverflow is useful for addressing problems and finding community-based help.
  • Twitter has been the longtime home of technology-related dialogue, facilitating access to people who can help and the latest information from brands.

Developers like to feel like their voices matter. Active communities allow them to speak up, and companies can stand out by responding effectively. One of our panelists named Apple, Zoom, and GoPro as examples of companies that have cultivated highly engaged communities.

Last but not least: developers love what they do 

One of the most notable takeaways was our panelists' excitement when speaking about their work. Throughout the panel, themes of community, experimentation, problem-solving, and innovation emerged as the main positives. All three panelists have career aspirations to continue working in the space.

Watch the full discussion 

Looking for more developer insights? Check out the full video of our developer panel below.

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