Hear how Apollo's Developer Experience team invested in learning channels, events, and supporting champions and how it has helped to grow their community. As well as, how they are using Orbit to connect with developers in a more meaningful way, and integrate Orbit into their workflows to scale their community operations.
Finally, Peggy covers how the Orbit Model provides Apollo with a shared language and framework to talk about community across functions at the company, including sales and marketing, as well as get exec buy-in.
Josh Dzielak: Hello everyone and welcome. I'm Josh Dzielek, the co-founder and CTO at Orbit. Today I have with me Peggy Rayzis, who is the senior director of developer experience at Apollo. Hi, Peggy. Welcome.
Peggy Rayzis: Hey Josh. I'm so excited to be with you here today.
Josh Dzielak: Yeah, really great to have you here and really look forward to the conversation. If you wouldn't mind first, can you introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about your background and your path leading up to being a developer experience leader.
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah, absolutely. As Josh mentioned, I lead developer experience at Apollo and my org's mission is to inspire and equip developers everywhere to be successful with Apollo. And so we tackle that in a number of different ways. We have the education team. They're focused on educating developers at scale. So they build out our learning platform, Odyssey, which has really fun, short, snappy, interactive courses to teach people Apollo, as well as maintaining our docs and making sure that everything we ship has complete up to date friendly and approachable documentation.
Peggy Rayzis: We also have the DevRel team and they are all about helping developers at scale. So they are out there in the community, listening to developers, figuring out what their pain points are and then either crafting code or content solutions in order to help them. And in my org as well is our video team, which is pretty new for us, but also very exciting. Short form video has been working really, really well for our team so we decided to invest in a full-time team.
Peggy Rayzis: And so no day is really ever the same working in developer experience. But one thing I think that unites us all is just our passion and desire to really help the Apollo community succeed. And it's been quite an interesting journey building up the team and scaling up the Apollo community. We're at over 50,000 developers now, which is really exciting. And Orbit has certainly been a really big part of that journey as well.
Josh Dzielak: We're grateful for the opportunity to work together. And Peggy, you've been a great source of feedback and a champion for a long time and we really appreciate that. 50,000 developers, that's a large number. That's a lot. I'm interested in the story of the scale there and what's changed from like 15,000 to 50,000 in terms of what your team has had to do, but then also what the community member experience is like? Maybe we can, yeah, I think we could drop in somewhere there because I think a lot of people watching this might be thinking or hoping that they're going to have that kind of journey at some point.
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah. I would even start it sooner or earlier rather... Here, let me back up. I would actually start even earlier in our roots. Before Apollo was a company, we were an open source project. And we had a very small community at that time, but developers who were using our software, and I was actually part of the Apollo community before I joined the company. They were just so, so passionate about our tools and wanting to share with the world how much more productive a graph made them in their day to day jobs. And so community and open source have always been such a strong focus for us because it's literally how we got started and it's really been attributable to much of our success as well.
Peggy Rayzis: And so over the years and as Apollo grew from not just a open source project to also a company as well, we started investing more and more in our learning channels. One of the first things that I did when I started was revamping our documentation. We were shipping things without complete documentation. Developers were unhappy about that. That was step number one, get our docs in order. Then we also expanded hosting events as well. Events, they've been really successful for us and just has given a reason for our community to gather. And so we host GraphQL Summit, which is the world's first and largest GraphQL conference, both in person and virtually as well as smaller events throughout the year. Also, our forums and having a place for developers to go and ask questions. We've had a couple of iterations over the years moving from Slack and then to Spectrum and now to Discourse, but having a really friendly place where developers can connect with each other and get their questions answered has been really successful for us as well.
Peggy Rayzis: And so then kind of how we got to that 15,000 number, which was about the time that we started working with y'all and discovered the Orbit model like two years ago, we were just in this place where we had so many different community channels. We had the open source projects on GitHub. We had our social channels on Twitter and Reddit and Stack overflow. Then we had our Discourse forum, and then our events as well and our Slack community where our customer advisory board lives. And so we needed a place to make sense of all of this. It was pretty messy at the time. We were just kind of using like Google sheets and various ad hoc integrations to organize things and nothing was quite right. But when we stumbled upon the Orbit model and eventually started using and testing out the tools, suddenly we were able to connect all of those different data sources very, very easily.
Peggy Rayzis: And so that kind of brought us to our 15,000 number. Then as we started adding even more community channels and figuring out even better ways to connect with developers, we started adding even more integration. So the Orbit API, for example, allowed us to connect our learning platform Odyssey so we could see how developers were interacting with our courses. And then also wiring up custom API hooks for our events as well. And so I think just really being everywhere that developers are because that's what they expect nowadays, coupled with really organizing our integrations and our tooling. That's really kind of, I think that maybe the secret sauce that has helped us get to that 50,000 number because it helps us operate at scale. It helps us connect with developers in a much more meaningful way. And it's really been a huge driver for our growth.
Josh Dzielak: That's great. I think a lot of the confidence in scaling and community comes from being able to stay on top of what's happening so that you don't provide a bad experience or so that the quality of the experience doesn't diminish. Do you see community members helping each other in answering questions, things like that in those channels? Because just one team, and I know it's multiple teams and there's a lot of people on it, but how is the community helping scale what you do?
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah, absolutely. We wouldn't be able to manage a community this size if we didn't have our champions out there helping each other in the forums, commenting on GitHub, connecting with each other at events, teaching each other at workshops. None of this would function without them because our developer experience at Apollo, we're about like 18 people. We're not going to be able to help all 50,000. So we wouldn't be able to do it without our community helping us scale. And also just the tooling, like helping us kind of be smart about where we should focus our efforts, where we should double down, where we should maybe expand in the future for sure.
Josh Dzielak: One question about, you mentioned champions, and also earlier you mentioned a customer advisory board, and I know since you used the Orbit model, probably familiar with the concept of Orbit 1, 2, 3, 4, or the inner circle all the way up to the outer circle. I'm wondering which groups do you consider to be kind of in your inner orbit levels and how do you provide and how do you think about the level of treatment or service that those people need since they're giving more by virtue of being there?
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah, I think there are many different ways that you can become closer to Apollo and drawn more into our Orbit. Obviously we have developers who are leading large strategic graph initiatives at their companies, and they're participating in maybe a more formal leadership role in our graph champions group. They would be considered part of our inner orbit. But we also have developers who maybe don't work at these larger companies, but have found success with Apollo, maybe as a developer on a smaller team. Maybe they have spoken at one of our events or they've written a blog post for us. Those are also people that we continue to engage with and figure out how to serve even better. One of the other really great ways that has been an excellent predictor for us is completing the graph developer associate certification on our learning platform.
Peggy Rayzis: That was something that we launched at the end of last year and has already seen really, really great traction with hundreds of developers getting certified and sharing that with their networks. That's been another way that we also just identify champions and figure out how to help them even better. There's many different ways to become a champion of Apollo and we don't try to limit it by company size or even experience level. I think developers of all experience levels have something to share and something valuable to teach the community about how they learned the graph or implemented it. We really go out of our way to amplify those voices who may have not been heard otherwise.
Josh Dzielak: Yeah. I love how the education component is really helping you see someone's progress through the community and the progress, the deepening of the commitment and the involvement that they have. Do you find that once someone has completed that certification that they're more active in the community going forth from there? Is that a part of it when you grant the certification? Are there rewards, benefits, expectations that come with that, or that you just observe after awarding it?
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah. Rewards is something that we're going to be implementing pretty soon actually. We want to give developers a sticker pack for completing their certification and we're planning on using Orbit to help us wire that up through our swag provider Sendoso. But one of the really cool things about our learning platform Odyssey is just developers recognize and appreciate good UX, great learning experiences and high quality content.
Peggy Rayzis: And what's really cool is that developers take a survey at the end and those all get piped to a Slack channel and we literally read every single one. But all of our courses on Odyssey average a course quality rating of 9.5 out of 10, so it's highly likely that when a developer goes through the course and they have those magic moments of running their first queries in Explorer and hooking their graph up to an app with Apollo client and they really get that full experience, they are so much more likely to continue engaging in the Apollo community, posting on the forums, starring our repos, attending our events. And so that's been super successful for us is just giving back through education and then watching the community grow and strengthen those relationships.
Josh Dzielak: Yeah. Congratulations on such a high rating for the courses. That's-
Peggy Rayzis: I know, right.
Josh Dzielak: That's amazing.
Peggy Rayzis: Developers are a critical bunch. I think it just speaks volumes of the team to be able to achieve that and still with a pretty small agile team and be able to craft something really high quality for our community.
Josh Dzielak: Yeah, there's so many flywheels that happen because of that. You mentioned some of them already, like with the follow on activity and with how the quality of that experience then leads to more participation. It just means quality is very important in both in documentation and product and community, the experiences people have. I think that's very, very important.
Josh Dzielak: I'm interested in from a business perspective and on the business impact side, what have you measuring these days? What kind of flywheels do you see? Or do you track from here's a community or an education participation, and now we're seeing that over on the marketing sales success retention side, how do you have any of that machinery set up and when you consolidate that information, what do you present upward?
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the most impactful things about Orbit is it's just given us a shared language and a framework for talking about community with other functions at the company. It's been really, really cool to see just the internal attachment with Orbit grow throughout every different function. We have, and this is maybe a little bit controversial because I've heard from my peers that they don't grant the sales team access to Orbit, but we do. We use Orbit to help educate them about the value of community and how we use community to build long term relationships and create more value than we capture.
Peggy Rayzis: And so we give them full access to the tool and it's been really helpful for them because say like, and this has actually happened with a customer when a champion has left and gone to another company, then they can use the organization's feature in Orbit to search that company and see all of the activity that's happening, and then based on maybe a forum post, where developer is talking about federation and scaling like an enterprise level graph, then we're able to get in contact with them and be like, "Hey, how can we help?"
Peggy Rayzis: And suddenly now we have a new champion at that company and that account isn't at risk of churning, which has been incredible. We've seen that developers who are in those inner Orbit levels, their companies are a lot less likely to churn, which has been an incredible impact on the business, both with just retaining champions and also continuing to renew.
Peggy Rayzis: We've also seen customer success use Orbit to figure out like, "Okay, what issues our company is facing, how can we better serve them?" We've seen marketing use Orbit just to understand our developers better and really get inside their heads with where they're struggling their pain points so we can craft better content in order to serve them. And so I think between just giving us a shared language and clearly understood KPIs in terms of community growth and engagement, crafting those stronger relationships with our customers, reducing churn, and then also using Orbit to educate the rest of the company about our developers in our community, we've seen so many just positive impacts to the business across the board.
Josh Dzielak: That's great to hear. I think the cross team collaboration sounds really, really good. And then it's true that every company and every culture is different. It's nice to hear about this high trust culture you have where it's okay, we can trust other people to be in the workspace and we know that they're going to do the right thing with the community data. And that just speaks a lot to an organization's culture, I would say. And then also have the developer experience team's ability to set some ground rules or some standards.
Josh Dzielak: Have you done some internal communication around that? Like put together a document or a presentation for the team that's, here's what you should do, here's what you shouldn't, here's how to get the most out of what our community is doing. I'm kind of curious how you do that internal communication.
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah. I would say that community won't work unless every level is bought in and it's a strategic initiative across the company and that every function is working together to harness the power of community and figure out how to serve them better. And so one of the things that I do is with each new sales hire that I give Orbit access to, I have some training materials. I also get on a call to explain just our roots and how important our community is to us. But we have four values that we internally teach each other in order to interact with our community in a healthy way. And so those values are consent. Obviously we want to ask anyone's consent before using their likeness to promote Apollo. Authenticity, we want to be authentic with each community interaction that we have.
Peggy Rayzis: We don't want to misrepresent our tools or our services. And so we want to strive to be authentic with everything that we do. The third one is building long term relationships. This is kind of an interesting one because, as you know, a community motion is very different than a traditional sales funnel, where you're trying to move people through the funnel as fast as possible. Community is different. It's about building long term relationships and some of those may lead to a sale, but some of them might not. It's all about leaving folks with a positive impression of Apollo at the end of the day, whether or not we are right for them because they may leave and go to another company where Apollo might be the right choice for them and they'll remember that and have that positive interaction. And I've literally had that happen with community members three years down the line.
Peggy Rayzis: Building long term relationships, super important for educating other functions. And then the last one, which I think is really important and just speaks to our responsibility as stewards of our community is to give more than we take. We're always striving to having to just give back to our community, whether that's producing high quality learning materials through Odyssey that we give everyone for free, whether it's paying our content creators to write on our blog and speak at our events, whether that is giving them access, like access to the core team if they need help solving issues. We're always striving to make the most of the opportunity that we have and be good stewards of our community and to ultimately create more value for them than we capture.
Josh Dzielak: That's great. I love that idea of having the community values it sounds like. And those are, if I understand it correctly, that those aren't the company level values, that's a set of values that is directly around community interaction or the how we serve the community.
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah, absolutely. Our company values are different, but the community values are tied to those. One of our values is stewardship so that very directly connects back to our community values. But what our community values do is they help give everybody a framework for decision making. I think when you're going down the road with community and especially at scale, you're dealing with humans and humans are sometimes there's a gray area, things aren't black and white. And so you need a framework for making decisions when maybe difficult things pop up. And so being able to always tie back to our values and use that as a shared framework for making decisions has been super helpful for us.
Josh Dzielak: Oh, that's great. Given that leadership is also aware of those values, does it make those executive buy-in conversations easier? And then I'm wondering if you're, for the people who are watching and listening, sitting there thinking around getting executive buy in, how am I able to do that? Maybe some of my bosses care less about long term relationships or stewardship and then others do, but how can I speak to both of them? I'm kind of curious what tips and advice, what works for you and the Apollo team and where do you think where it works generally when it comes to getting that executive buy in?
Peggy Rayzis: Yeah, I think we are very fortunate because our roots, we're an open source and so it has just always been part of our DNA to have that strong focus on community. But I would say for folks whose companies are maybe a little bit earlier in that journey and you don't have that executive buy in quite yet is to use orbit as a way to have those conversations. And so I think it clicked for some of the leaders when we were able to just drawing back to that previous example where we had that account where the champion left and we were able to very quickly identify a new champion because of Orbit, having those proof points really, really does help kind of sell the value of community.
Peggy Rayzis: When we can have one window into everything that's happening and be able to draw upon those trends and actually be able to use the tooling to better serve our community and then also be able to show that business impact as well, I think that's when it really clicks. And then they're like, "Yes, okay. Now I understand why this community thing is so important." But it's definitely not an easy journey, especially at folks coming from companies where they are maybe bought into the idea of a funnel, using the Orbit model as a way to kind of reeducate and present perhaps a more modern view on a community strategy may also be helpful as well.
Josh Dzielak: Switching gears a little bit. What are two or three things that you're looking forward to that are on the road ahead, that are coming up for you and the Apollo team? What has you excited these days?
Peggy Rayzis: So many things. We have a lot of exciting product launches coming up this year all centered around the super graph and helping developers be more productive and giving them a really delightful developer experience. I'm super pumped about all of that because I think developers are really going to love it.
Peggy Rayzis: I am also excited with the growth of my team this year. We're going to be, we currently have five roles open and there'll be more throughout the year. I just love being able to expand the team and serve our community even better than before. I have been super inspired by everything that we've been doing on the video side. I think obviously the pandemic kind of threw everybody's DevRel strategies for a loop. We all were so used to in person events and meetups. And then with the pandemic kind of forcing everything virtually, we were able to rethink our strategies and our virtual events can reach so many more people around the globe.
Peggy Rayzis: Our last one had over 10,000 developers from over a hundred countries represented. So video has just been working really, really well for us, especially short form. Super excited to continue to build out our YouTube base and continue making videos for developers. What else? With that, also looking forward to possibly the return of some in person events. I think I'm just really excited to hopefully later this year be able to see folks in person again and connect with them. I think that is also something I'm looking forward to.
Peggy Rayzis: And one thing that will be happening quite soon is also a formal community team at Apollo, which I'm super pumped about. It's obviously been something that we all work on together because it's important and we believe in it, but our community now with over 50,000 developers, we need a person to be accountable for those KPIs and to live and breathe in Orbit all day long. So I think a formal community team will be another really exciting chapter for us as well as we scale.
Josh Dzielak: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Given the number of members and the amount of care and attention and commitment, I'm sure that will be great. And then that person will come in with an amazing amount of groundwork set up so if anyone is listening, depending on where you are, definitely check out Apollo and Peggy and the whole team there.
Josh Dzielak: Well, Peggy just want to say thank you so much for spending some time with us today. It's been awesome to learn about the Apollo community and your perspective on developer experience. So, yeah, thank you very much for being here.
Peggy Rayzis: Thank you, Josh, for having me, and also thank you for building such an incredible tool. I don't think we would be where we are today without it so I have to give you props as well.
Josh Dzielak: Well, thank you so much. And we're really happy to have you and Apollo pushing the limits of what we can do and we've got a lot of great stuff ahead. At that, thanks a lot. And thank you everyone for listening.