Hear how developer buying power is driving new opportunities for community-driven businesses. We learn how CircleCI tracks conversations and leverages feedback from members to inform product decisions and improve product marketing. Then deep dive into how Jeremy starts from company goals to align activities, programs, and metrics for his community team.
Bryan Robinson: Hey everyone. I'm Bryan Robinson, Senior Developer Advocate here at Orbit. I'm super privileged today to sit down and have a chat with Jeremy Meiss, who is the director of DevRel & Community over at CircleCI.
Bryan Robinson: So welcome Jeremy, thanks so much for taking the time to sit with us today.
Jeremy Meiss: Thank you, I appreciate it. I'm glad to be here.
Bryan Robinson: So you've been doing DevRel & Community work for a while now, why don't you run us through a little bit of your history with the industry?
Jeremy Meiss: Oh goodness. So history, I've always been doing, in some way, working between developers and helping developers understand how to work with people in the business and help people in the business understand how to work with and talk to developers. And there's kind of been that thing. And so a variety of different areas of tech that I've worked in over the last 27 years now, it always kind of comes down to just that kind of being that bridge, that liaison, that advocate. Whatever term we want to use for it, I've just kind of fit there for many years.
Jeremy Meiss: And so back probably, round about 2008, I started working, even when I was still working full time in different areas of IT, I started working with some mobile development community, kind of things online and started to just kind of get involved and get a taste of some of the community moderation and community management type of pieces. And then moved into doing more of that as I progressed through, as the community life cycle tends to be, progressed myself up through the ranks, I guess is one way to put it. But eventually started managing that community and then running it from a full on admin perspective. And then really from there, kind of translating into doing developer relations for that community as they worked with the likes of Sony and Samsung, and HTC and such, around mobile development. And so really kind of cut my teeth when it came to high level community management and developer relations, trying to explain the GPL v2 two open source license to HTC and Samsung.
Jeremy Meiss: So, that in itself is probably worth a conference talk in itself there, and really kind of eventually became like, this is what I want to do when I get old, when I grow up, which hopefully never happens, this is what I want to do. And so I started working, did some DevRel Community consulting for a while, and then took a job at Odd Zero, worked with our community, kind of built up from what it was, and started to put a lot of things in place to grow and build out and collaborate with the champions and ambassadors that were already there to refine some Dev Rel strategy. And from there moved on to a company called Solace and worked a lot with enterprise, DevRel, which is a completely different animal itself, because especially in that realm, you're dealing with large banks and large companies and corporations that have been around for, some case 50 to 10 years.
Jeremy Meiss: And so there's interesting dynamics around doing developed relations there. And then had a great opportunity back in February of 2020, to work at CircleCI, take over the position and kind of build out the DevRel strategy and community there. Unbeknownst, that was two weeks before the pandemic, the panini, everything that changed, everything that we know is the normal. And so, it's been an interesting ride for the last over two years. And it wasn't long after that that I started using Orbit very early on, kind of looking at that, even in the air table days, just kind of understanding how all that works.
Jeremy Meiss: So, it's been great to see the trajectory, to borrow a space term. Hopefully I used that correctly, but just to kind see where things are and, yeah, that's me.
Bryan Robinson: Awesome. Awesome. So first and foremost, kudos on starting in moderation and sticking with it. That's a force of will right there.
Jeremy Meiss: Yes.
Bryan Robinson: So let's talk about past two years. You're at CircleCI, it's a very competitive space. There's tons of developers that nowadays need continuous integration services. And so there have been a bunch of companies that have sprung up around it. How does Community provide you and your team with a competitive advantage in that space?
Jeremy Meiss: Yeah, you're right. There is a lot of opportunity there. I think for us, Community, it is really getting and understanding what the developers that are using our product, or those that are in that space, are actually interested in. Who are the ones that are actually influencing the decisions? Maybe they're not the ones that have the card to swipe, but they're the ones that are out there actually using the products. And they have a lot of feedback that goes up into their teams about whether or not they should use one thing or another. Sometimes it's listened to, sometimes it's not. But an opportunity to really kind of build that relationship and understand what they're looking for, and so it helps us refine a lot of the strategy.
Jeremy Meiss: I think, when you think about communities, especially in the technical space, their biggest impact for the company is the value they can bring back in their interactions with the community. And so for us, it is very much making sure that we're tracking those, that we understand those touch points, and when we've had those conversations and be able to go back and reference them and do it. Bring that all as a specific thing. Especially, when we think about influencing the company, it's been my experience over the years, that product teams and engineering teams, to know, I think no real fault of their own, I think they get so accustomed to hearing, this doesn't work or that doesn't work, and man, we wish that this did things better, that it all becomes like one whole lot of noise that's out there.
Jeremy Meiss: And so, I've fallen into this trap many times in the past where we say, Hey, we're at X conference, and we heard a lot of developers say they didn't like this. And you can almost feel and hear the eyeballs roll back in the head of like, yes, we've heard this before, it's very ambiguous. There's nothing very quantifiable with it. But for us, especially over the last two years as we've refined processes, we're able to now kind of keep track of those conversations, know who's said what, and then be able to bring that as actual physical, this person at this company had this to say. And when you're able to make it personal, it's a lot harder to discount that, and it becomes a whole lot easier to help to have those conversations, to kick them off, to be valuable. And so I think, as we think about the community piece for us, that gives us, I feel, an edge.
Bryan Robinson: That's, I think, a really important point. And the community has this opportunity to be a multiplier inside of a lot of companies, especially across multiple teams in the company. You mentioned product and engineering, to name a couple. How do you specifically do that? What are the processes in place to work with those other teams? You said you're bringing the physical evidence back in. What are some routines that you and your team go through inside the company?
Jeremy Meiss: So, it's an ever evolving kind of process. And so for us, the biggest piece is making sure, so we use Orbit, in the sense that when we have that conversation, there's multiple ways that we have it. Sometimes if we're at a conference, we have those lead scanners and we can type in. Well, we have that, we can go back, we can take that piece. We can import it in, and now it's there, and we can tag it and we can look at that and go back and search for that data. Or, if we're out there and we have a laptop and such, we can pull up over of it. We can do it manually, we can do it through imports. We're working on some other different ways that we can kind of integrate it into our flow.
Jeremy Meiss: But the point being is that, because we're able to tag it as whatever event, plus it's a product feedback, we can add those specific tags, we can now sort, find it all, and have that sheet. So then we go and we set up our regular check-ins with product managers to bring that, it becomes that open forum where we say, Hey, here's what we've heard. And then we really want to flip that around, is also like, what's new? And it becomes this good two-way street, which you definitely want within stakeholders within the company, but also just collaboration should always be that win-win.
Jeremy Meiss: And so the opportunity we have to hear from product of, here's the new things we're working on, we'd love to hear feedback. When you build that trust, you get product and say, we'd love to hear feedback about this thing, and now you can go and take it back to the community and say, Hey. Even those that have said, here's a problem, you can come back and say, Hey, what do you think about this? And you're building the two-way trust. So that's the process that we continue to evolve and work through.
Bryan Robinson: So when it comes to other teams as well, so that's getting that kind of advocacy piece, getting the feedback in and feedback back out. Do you have any processes in place with say marketing teams, sales teams, and kind of those areas as well?
Jeremy Meiss: There's that sense that because we've established ourselves with the internal teams as having this kind of data, it enables us to be seen as a resource. And so we can enter in. So whether it is sales, they want to know who are some of the people of the different companies we can help in, not give them the leads in that perspective, but more of like, Hey, there's 25 people at X company, you should maybe have a talk to them about, Hey, we got 25 people in the community already at your company that are using us, there's that kind of reinforcement we have. So we've tried to position ourselves as a resource for those other areas.
Bryan Robinson: Awesome. So I also heard a few minutes ago, you kind of were talking about bringing the feedback for the product back into the product team, into the engineering team, and maybe in the past you had that kind of eye roll feel. Yeah, no, yes, we know that there's this bug. What are some strategies for getting around that? You mentioned the personal aspect of it, but I'm sure they've heard personal stories before as well. How do you actively build that trust with the product team, for the community outcomes?
Jeremy Meiss: I think for us, it's being very intentional. You can often sound like a gong that's continuously being hit. When you ping somebody in slack, or whatever comms tool is, and you say, Hey, that you're like, Ugh, they've come to me with 15 different things before. There's that. And so I think it is trying to enter into other conversations, not just be that group that's always coming with a problem, or coming with a, Hey, you should do it this way. Like that. But also, being seen more as a resource and somebody that has a voice that is not always complaining, and that's always a hard one for us, I think for anyone really, is when you are in an, especially a large organization that you don't talk to everybody every day, that sometimes it is the, well, I only hear from you when things are bad.
Jeremy Meiss: And so there's a piece there where we try and just build that trust, and that's also where those regular meetings come in. You're able to see people more as a friend and more as a coworker and acquaintance, than a resource. We tend to think about, and this isn't just DevRel & Community, this is everybody. We tend to view people as resources sometimes instead of as not only a real person, but somebody that we can collaborate with, and somebody that we can really build relationship with. And so, for us, I would say I definitely don't do a great job of it, but it' something we try to do.
Bryan Robinson: It sounds almost like there's a lot of community building that has to go on inside the company as well, right?
Jeremy Meiss: Absolutely. That's a great point.
Bryan Robinson: So we've talked a lot about qualitative things, bringing feedback in, talking through the feedback, building trust around that feedback. Let's talk a little bit more quantitatively. DevRel & Community is a relatively new discipline at least within commercial contexts. So it's important for us to go out and build trust in the metrics that we want to report on and the metrics that we view as important. So how do you go about picking the metrics that you're reporting on, reporting up to various departments in terms of those metrics, especially the quantitative ones?
Jeremy Meiss: Yeah, definitely done a variety of different ways over the years, and I think it really becomes what do you view as success. You got to start there, you got to track back from there, understand the success piece and what does it mean and what's those success factors, especially with other areas of the company. And so when we look at it, we always try to align with what are the main goals for the company, what are the main goals for the department? And make sure that we align up there. Because if you can't align whatever community or DevRel, it doesn't matter, it's not just that department, but if you can't align your department to what the company's goals are. Eventually you're not going to be around, because you're not contributing to the company's goals.
Jeremy Meiss: And so we look at those first, and then we start to identify what is success for us if we do that? And that makes things clear. And so different things for us is, we're identifying all of our different activities. Are we able to grow certain activities based on other things that happen? If we get somebody that rolls into being a part of our champions program, then are they doing more activities, are they not? Those kind of things that come out of just interacting with our product. And then we look for the other things of like, what can we produce and what can we do, and how do those generate activities, or how do those generate reach, so that we've reached 25 developers or 2,500 developers, based on this type of content.
Jeremy Meiss: And so, it's kind of that two-way street, is understanding for us, the success levels for that goal, and then where can we fit the community and advocacy pieces in.
Bryan Robinson: So it all starts with those company level metrics. And then as you're planning out what you're doing, there's so much that we can do in the community space on a daily basis, weekly basis, quarterly basis. How do you align every individual activity that you might have to do on a regular basis with that roll up into that company level 1,000 foot view?
Jeremy Meiss: I think that's actually the hardest piece, is because you're always looking for, Ooh, this is the new thing we can go do. And I've heard it said, if you can do something in five minutes, don't put it off, just do the thing in five minutes. But if it's something that's going to take you longer, then it is the, okay, let's plan this out a little bit more, let's make sure does this align or not. And then it's also having that space for us to experiment. At CircleCI we do a lot of, let's experiment on if this thing is going to work, and let's make sure that while we're experimenting for that short period of time, what are we hoping to get out of it? And then let's identify, what did we actually see, and did we meet it? Do we go under it? Did we go over? Did that add any value? And then do that.
Jeremy Meiss: And so we're always ready and willing to try different things, but it does come back to, if it's not something to be done quickly, then let's make sure we're a lot more focused in that. Doesn't mean we're always successful at that. Doesn't mean that we don't always stay away from those rabbit holes. I'm one of the first ones to go, Ooh, shiny, let's go try that thing. And so I have a great team that tries to keep me grounded in some of those things, and we work really well together.
Bryan Robinson: Awesome. So I'd be curious to maybe talk hypothetical examples of when you're thinking through one of these programs, what are specific goals that you might be looking for? Certain activity types or metrics specifically? What's the big number that goes up that makes us happy when X experiment finishes?
Jeremy Meiss: Yeah, that's a great question. So when we think about that, when we think about like big number, it still comes down to, is that something that's moving the needle for the company? It's not just about submitting an issue to GitHub. Does that influence any other thing? Is that for docs? Well, that means that's a good thing. And so when we think about, like for instance, our champions program. As we're building out, our newly launched champions program, is understanding those that say they want to be involved, are they already involved? Are they already contributing? If they not, then we need give them things to do. That these are the paths to get there.
Jeremy Meiss: And so for us, when we look at that program, it is, are those activities being done that's driving the program? And, is it the big number of X number of activities that are performed by champions, versus activities that are performed by non? Where is that shift? Are they driving more? Are they not? And so that's one way we look at it is just, if this is a program, what are those activities that identify success or not?
Jeremy Meiss: So again, champions, that's a great example of are they answering more questions in our discuss, which is our discourse form. Are they doing that? Are they also maybe contributing to docs? Are they speaking at a conference? Those things that we identify as activities, are those going up or are they not? And that tells us whether or not that program is being successful.
Bryan Robinson: Nice. And so I think one of the things you kind of said there is you've got these goals for your champions. And I think they're relatively obvious high level goals. The more people that are supporting community members in your discuss, everyone can be happy about that. How do you go about for maybe things that are less obvious, proving those metrics up to other folks inside the company? Again, like people who might be on say a marketing team and want big number goes up and you reach 25 with something, but those were 25 high impact developers. How do you go about proving that inside the company?
Jeremy Meiss: Well, and that's where I think, there's the term that's made its way around the DevRel circles over the last couple years, the DevRel qualified lead kind of thing. And I think that's where this really plays out, is when you're able to have those activities and show that it may only have been 25, but if you're able to fit them into your customer journey and understand your customer journey and where your DevRel community fits from start to finish, then you're able to have those reports that says it may have only been 25, but they contributed to the value here. Maybe those 25 did 10 activities, and those 10 activities happened to be around product feedback that influenced product, that's a great result. And that brings value to the whole company.
Jeremy Meiss: And so understanding the different value areas that can be given is important, but you have to know your community and how they fit within the whole journey of a customer. And when you understand that, then that's where you start to show even more value across the organization. Just to what you're asking is, you can say, yeah, these five people actually helped us land a $100,000 client. That's a value that's very manageable, or very real. It's something you can say, boom, here it is. But you can't know that until you've understood your customer journey, understood and make sure that your whole tracking tool. So that's where Orbits come in, is we've been able to bring that and fit that in throughout the journey and understand how that filters up.
Bryan Robinson: Amazing. As you mentioned earlier, a salesperson comes in and is saying, we're approaching company X, what can you tell me? And you'd say, I can tell you that I've got eight people inside my Orbit workspace that are inside that company and they're doing X amount activities every month. And kind of report back on the fact that that's, again, as you put it, a DevRel qualified lead, right?
Jeremy Meiss: Yeah.
Bryan Robinson: Perfect. Well, Jeremy, thanks so much. This has been super insightful. I know that I've gotten a bunch out of it, so I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.
Jeremy Meiss: Love to. And thanks a lot. And thanks to Orbit for everything you all do.
Bryan Robinson: Thanks.