Book Review: Developer Marketing Does Not Exist

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Developer Marketing Does Not Exist is available on Amazon here.

There’s no shortage of opinions in the API space, and the tech space more generally, that raise eyebrows when you see them written down or hear them said aloud. The title of Adam DuVander’s new book, Developer Marketing Does Not Exist, definitely falls into that category.

DuVander has appeared on this blog before, via transcriptions of his talks at events we’ve run previously. These include musings on the difference between API evangelism vs. advocacy and the concept of a “full spectrum API”. Clearly, this is a man who’s not afraid to tackle big subjects in the API space!

In this post, we’ll be taking a look at DuVander’s book, along with some of its key messages, and examining what sort of people could benefit from checking it out.

What’s It All About?

The core idea behind DuVander’s proposal appears early in the text:

“In The Matrix, Neo visits The Oracle, who helps people navigate the reality of their artificial world. While waiting to see the clairvoyant, he meets a young boy bending a spoon. Though this utensil appears to be solid metal, he is able to make it flexible using only his mind.

‘There is no spoon,’ says the boy, referencing the simulation in which they live.

Developer marketing does not exist in the same way as the spoon isn’t there. How you approach developers will determine whether the marketing is visible.”

In other words, DuVander isn’t so much trying to debunk the idea of developer marketing — cue sigh of relief from the developer marketers out there — as critique some of the sloppy and inconsistent ways in which marketers often approach developers.

DuVander goes on to suggest, in essence, that developers are savvier about marketing (and skeptical about being marketed to) than other audiences. On the surface, that idea seems like it has merit; becoming a professional developer requires a great deal of technical expertise.

Falsely claim that a product is unique or ten times faster than its competitors, and developers will call you out on it. Very quickly. But isn’t that true of most consumers? Yes and no. Developers are reliant on tools and processes in a way that typical consumers might not be.

That’s why so much is written about creating compelling developer portals and API documentation. DuVander highlights the way developers strive for authenticity as follows:

“Developers sniff out anything that smells like marketing. They are a tough audience, because they’ll ridicule you if they sense inauthentic motives. Even when you have good intentions, you can come across otherwise.”

How To Attract Technical Users

Despite its title, Developer Marketing Does Not Exist is really about improving understanding of what makes developers tick and how to attract them to your product in a way that adds value to their processes and feels organic.

You can think of it as a lengthy cheat sheet for anyone looking to attract technical users. The book’s table of contents speaks to that idea, with DuVander providing a number of sub-headings that act as broad suggestions in and of themselves:

  • Preparing an environment where developers will thrive
  • Reaching developers with frequent and helpful articles
  • Listen and contribute to a broader group of developers
  • Enter into long-term partnerships (as opposed to quick growth tactics)
  • Build something the right developers will want to use

Each section builds on this with specific thoughts on that approach. In the case of his Guides chapter, for example, DuVander fleshes out the idea that you need to “show how deeply you understand what a developer needs” by sharing the advantages and disadvantages of open vs. gated content, different channels where you might want to share your content, and so on.

He also provides actionable advice like…

“In fact, the best guides actively tell developers how not to use a product. Developers like to solve problems, so they naturally gravitate toward building a solution themselves.”

…that prompts the reader to consider their own approaches to the content they’re releasing.

About The Author

Peppered with anecdotes from DuVander’s own experience speaking at conferences, working with developers, and so on, the book is definitely an engaging read. Among all that, there’s practical advice on how to reach developers. And there’s plenty of pop culture references too!

With much experience in the industry, including stints with Zapier and SendGrid, DuVander is perhaps uniquely qualified to write this book. The circles that make up the Venn diagram of his career include development, (developer) marketing/communications, and writing. And Developer Marketing Doesn’t Exist is evidence that he’s damn good at the latter.

But it’s those other circles that mean DuVander has seen plenty of poorly executed developer marketing strategies… and maybe even tried one or two of them himself. All of which he uses to inform readers of what not to do. When it comes to practical application, these anti-patterns can be as or even more helpful than examples of what to do.

DuVander draws on his experience at EveryDeveloper, his developer experience consultancy, really effectively too. For example, he shares the DX Index that he uses internally, encouraging readers to score themselves on 13 different criteria:

  1. Libraries in popular languages
  2. In-depth getting started guides
  3. A self-service option
  4. A clear pricing page
  5. A free tier or trial
  6. An obvious place for questions
  7. API status information
  8. Accurate API reference
  9. Sample applications for download
  10. Recent developer blog posts
  11. Interactive documentation
  12. Prominently-featured documentation
  13. Example cURL calls

It’s evident that DuVander is passionate about the topics he’s writing about, and he does jump around trying to cover a lot of ground. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of depth in key sections, but readers should expect to pick up a lot of information as they turn the pages.

Who Is This Book For?

The most obvious audience for this book is, of course, developer marketers. The title itself invites those people to pick up a copy, find Adam’s Twitter handle, and yell angrily at him that “it does too exist!” However, that’s a pretty small audience.

Fortunately, beyond just being an entertaining writer, DuVander does enough to appeal to various other market segments. With insights on developer portals, DX (developer experience), writing tips, and scaling publication/blogging efforts, there’s plenty in here for all sorts of readers.

API developers, evangelists, marketers, and other folks in the tech/API space, should all get something out of Developer Marketing Does Not Exist. Incendiary title aside, this is an excellent guide to a subject that’s usually reserved for long-form blog posts. It’s nice to be able to hold something more substantial about it in your hands, with physical copies available on Amazon that can live in your bedside cabinet for a while.

Oh, and it’s nice to know that the spoon on the cover makes sense before the intro is done!