Season 2, Ep. 33 – How we advocate for developers, with Talent Growth Advocate, Victoria Stahr
At the heart of what we do at Gun.io is our amazing community of developers. In this episode, Talent Growth Advocate, Victoria Stahr, shares how integral they are to our success, what we do to support them throughout their contracts, and how the support for our developers has grown with our team.
Hi, Victoria. (Victoria: Hi, Faith.) Welcome back.
Thank you. Thank you. Good to be back.
How have you been since your last foray on the Frontier podcast?
I’ve been well; been busy.
Highs and lows. What’s been your high?
<Laugh>. Gosh, my high just…we hit the holiday season, so I was able to slow down a little bit, start planning better for the next year, and I dunno if there’s necessarily lows involved in that. All highs <laugh>.
That’s friggin’ awesome. No lows?
No lows, all highs.
My low was driving all the way home to upstate New York where I’m from for Christmas, and there being plenty of snow to ski on, but it was freezing. Like, below zero. (Victoria: That’s fair.) Yeah, we did not fly down mountains on skis, unfortunately.
I think even my low would be considered a high. Went back to Nebraska and didn’t think it was that cold <laugh>. It’s like, I haven’t lost it, yet.
You haven’t gotten soft during your time in the South. I certainly have. I’m a big wimp. It was like sixty degrees this morning when I took the dog for a walk. I’m back in Nashville, obviously, now, and I had my like, knee-length coat on, I had big ol’ socks, I wore my mittens. I was like, “This is pathetic.” (Victoria: <Laugh>. Stay warm out there.) Oh, my god. My rule used to be like, as long as it was above thirty-two degrees, so like, above freezing, I didn’t have to wear a coat when I went to the bar. (Victoria: Yeah.) Twenty-year-old Faith <laugh>. (Victoria: A long lost rule <laugh>.) Yeah <laugh>. Well, I’m glad you had a good holiday season. How’s it been like, jumping back into work, and what you do, and talking to people all day?
Just right back in the swing of things. Luckily, I think, everything just stays busy. Especially, in the beginning of the year. Onboarding sessions have stayed full, keep going, and–
Have you noticed any seasonality with developers signing up to the platform? Like, do there tend to be more in the new year, or is it like, pretty consistent?
I think it remains pretty consistent. I would say that there’s some over-peaks and some, sort of, lower sign-ups during the holiday season, but I also think there’s a lot of variables that play into that. Holidays tend to see a little bit of a drop, but as soon as those holidays end, you see an uptick in terms of people signing up for onboarding or signing up to the platform. And, I think that’s also the nature of a new year, looking for your next role. (Faith: Yeah.) That’s what we’ve seen, I think, just historically in the almost, three years that I’ve been a part of the team.
Three years, baby! (Victoria: I know.) Oh my goodness. It’s so funny, ‘cause I measure your like, involvement at the company, obviously the same as Covid, because you came on like, two weeks before Covid?
Yeah, it was like right before we switched to working remotely.
Yeah, it’s like my, one of my friends had a baby in 2000 and so I always know how old she is cause I’m like, you’re born in 2000. Oh my god, she’s gonna be twenty-three this year. That’s insane! <laugh>. (Victoria: <Laugh>.) Ok, so three-year anniversary of you at Gun.io, three year anniversary of Covid (Victoria: <Laugh>.) Crazy times.
Both just…(Faith: <laugh>.) coinciding.
Oh my god. Ok, Victoria, we are talking about developer advocacy today, which is kind of a hot topic. People, like…developer advocate is an entire job title, it’s an entire department at a lot of companies, and everybody kinda defines it differently. Like, some folks call themselves dev advocates, and really they are salespeople (Victoria: Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>). So, we’re talking about something a little bit different. So, when I say like, here at Gun.io, we really value advocating for developers, what does that mean to you? Like, how would you define that to somebody?
If I had to define being a developer advocate, it’s being a guide on the side. Kind of working with developers, helping them have a better understanding of the work that they’ve done, how they can tailor that information and present it well, while us still being able to be a spokesperson when we do interact with clients during any, sort of, our process. But, making sure the developer has full control of the information that’s being presented, that we can help contribute to. It’s making sure that they have, sort of, autonomy in being able to present themselves well.
Hmm, that’s interesting. I always think of it as like, if you have an advocate when you’re job seeking, like our developers do, you don’t have to be a bunch of things that you’re not. Like, you don’t have to figure out how to be a marketer. You don’t have to figure out how to be a salesperson. You, you don’t have to like, figure out SEO for your personal site, so that people can find you, and you can get hired. Like, you have an advocate kind of coaching you through those things, and in a lot of cases, making sure that those things are done on your behalf.
And, I think the coaching aspect, from my perspective, is more geared towards the information set up within your Gun.io profile. Everything else that you’re speaking about in terms of advocacy is something that we do, and that definitely ties into what it means to be an advocate on that client side. (Faith: Mmm. <Affirmative>). But, I think, being a developer advocate for just an individual developer, is making sure that there is a level of growth involved that we can help tailor.
I feel like our approach to developer advocacy has changed a lot over the years, and you’ve really been the person kind of guiding that roadmap, and so you’ve got the best idea of, kind of, where it’s been and where we’re going. Do you wanna kinda paint that picture for us?
Something that’s always been consistent is we’ve always been a talent-first platform, so we have always been able to interact directly with the developers that have joined, whether that’s pre web app or during our web app days, making sure that we always have meaningful interactions and have a good understanding of how we can best help those developers land the next gig that they wanna be a part of. And, I think that’s something that’s really important. As that has evolved over time, there’s more touchpoints, in a way, where we’re able to initially have a conversation with you when you join the platform, and so you have a good understanding of how we work. And then, as we get to know you on a more individual level, just throughout your time on the platform, that’s always gonna be something that help ties into how we can advocate for you in the future. Which, I think, is always really helpful. There’s always a human interaction that is available at any point during your job hunt and beyond, essentially.
Yeah. Yeah, and something huge that you implemented this past year has been the onboarding sessions. So, all incoming developers who sign up for the platform, and are past the initial screening, are invited to attend an onboarding session, where they meet you <laugh> and sometimes other members of the DevRel team. What benefits have you seen come from that, in terms of like, what developers kind of experience?
We’ve seen a lot of benefits come from that. I think the nice, added addition with onboarding sessions is they were introduced as a way to provide more guidance to developers as they join the platform. I think as much as we wanna be hands-on with every single person as they join in, sometimes that influx was more than, sort of, the capacity allowed on our side. So, having these onboarding sessions was a way to, sort of, start grouping people in small groups, have these sessions where we can introduce how we work, what we’re looking for, as far as updates to your profile as you get started. If you do have any questions, we’re able to answer those, sort of, directly and candidly. And as more questions can develop from that, roll off of that, we’re able to have really engaging conversations. But, it also lets us have a good understanding, just initially, of what developers are looking for out of the platform. And so, we’re able to give more guidance, give more direction, but also make adjustments on our side, too, as we continue to have those conversations.
Yeah, it’s not like, “Hey, welcome to this piece of software. We’re gonna send you like, the little like, interstitial pop-up that teaches you how to use this.” We’re actually gonna walk you through, human to human, (Victoria: Yeah) and then you can Slack me, you know, as you’re doing it on your own, and you know, we can do it together, as well.
And I think, just overall from those onboarding calls, we have seen profile quality improve. It’s like the level of detail and work history entries, overall profile completeness, which ultimately lead to having those better conversations, which let us help you more, has been the biggest benefit.
Yeah, and I think one of the results of kinda being obsessed with the developer experience and having these, like, human relationships with folks is that we end up knowing our developer community really well, and not just like, “Oh, this person has like, badass experience with machine learning. So, whatever ML opportunities come in, we should present them.” But it’s also like…there’s this nuance; it’s really only discernible by a human that’s like, “No, there’s something really specific about the way this person works or the team culture that this person thrives in,” and we can see those like, matching opportunities between clients and developers. So like, that’s a huge benefit to clients, right? ‘Cause when your team presents a candidate, it’s not just about their resume. It’s also…we’re taking a bet. We really think that this person is gonna be a good fit, culturally, for your team. How do you guys do that? Like, how does the DevRel team choose candidates that are a good fit on all of these, kind of, indexes, not just a resume?
I think that’s the most important part of being talent-first and being very, sort of, human-driven is anyone can come on and create a profile, give us that information. But, by having extended conversations around your work experience in machine learning, and knowing more about the things that you worked on, specifically, and what you enjoyed working on in that project, and with the team size, really does give us that nuanced information that becomes really helpful, as we have conversations with clients, as well, have a good understanding of what that environment looks like. People sort of say, “Top-of-mind,” and we’re able to continue to advocate for those developers, because we have those personal connections from onboarding, through approval calls, and throughout any application process, making sure that we have the ability to have conversations, and fill in, sort of, those gaps that you don’t necessarily get just from filling in a profile. We’re having real conversations around real interests and making sure that those align. (Faith: Mmm. <Affirmative>.) That leads to just more quality engagements for both sides. We wanna make sure that there’s that right match for you as a developer based on what you enjoy working on, not just what you have worked on, if that makes sense.
And, it’s hard to do that. I haven’t seen anyone do a good job of doing that like, through software, right? (Victoria: Yeah). Like, it’s a good start. Like, we have our work style assessment, and that gives us a good, kind of, map for, kinda, where to focus with folks, but I think those human relationships are key.
We do get a lot of praise for the work style assessment. As I do onboarding sessions, I highlight the work style assessment as a tool that’s really beneficial, from a client perspective, to understand how a developer would best fit into an existing team, or the type of environment that they do well in, and 99.9% of the time, developers will be like, (Faith: It’s spot-on.) “My results were spot-on,” <laugh>.
<Laugh>. There’s like, I feel that way about all kinda like, personality tests, too, except for my astrology chart, which is probably another episode. I need someone to come and explain that to me. But, the match is important, and that’s what a lot of folks know us for. But, a benefit that folks experience, once they’re working with us, is like, we stick around, and it’s not just to support clients. The talent also has access to their advocates for however long they’re engaged with Gun.io clients. How does your team specifically support developers when they’re on contracts with clients?
When a developer is brought onto an engagement, the developer relations team, one: is just always available. That’s gonna be pre-engagement, during engagement, post-engagement, anything you need. There’s always gonna be someone you can reach out to. But, during an engagement, specifically, we have the developer relations team, our operations team, anyone you might have a question for, all involved in your own internal Slack channel, which allows for you to have that very open communication around how your project is going. If you do have any questions around client communication, or updates on your contract overall, if you have questions around billing and how that works, there’s always gonna be someone that’s available to answer those questions. We also like to provide the opportunity to give help in any way we can. So, if you ever have any issues that you run into on a project, our developer relations team is also very technical and are happy to, sort of, dive into, potentially, some of those issues and see where we can provide a little bit of clarity, guidance. We’re just happy to, sorta, answer questions around anything that you might have on an engagement, especially for people new to freelancing and not necessarily sure how it works all the way <laugh>. We’re able to step in and give a little bit more clarity and guidance around, “This is how we would operate in this situation,” which I think is really beneficial, especially for people new to freelancing, allowing them to focus just on the communication with the client and that scope of work that’s laid out for them, and then being able to answer any, sort of, side questions from our team. How we handle everything else (Faith: Yeah.) is top-notch for an engagement.
<Laugh>. It is, and I think what’s cool is like, you know, obviously developers have us and the DevRel team and their specific advocates, but they also have access to a community of other folks like them. And so, we see a lot of questions surface around like, freelancing best practices, like tax questions, developing an LLC. Like, it’s cool to have that hive mind available. And then, in the more technical scenarios like, let’s say we’ve got a dev on an engagement, and they run into something that they’ve never seen before. Stack Overflow is void of any answers, and maybe even like, our technical team doesn’t know which way up, we can really easily kind of like, run through our community based on what we know about folks and be like, “Oh, this would be a really good person to like, bring in as a mentor on this or just like, set a coffee date and like, walk through this problem.” So, I think that’s another benefit of just like, having a DevRel team that’s really in tune with the community is being able to make those connections when we need to. (Victoria: Absolutely).
The final question for you, Victoria, and I think this is relevant for folks that are in industries or on teams where the developer experience is really important, and they’re thinking about how to create a better one, whether it’s for developers who might be their customers, or developers who are like, on their team and their communities. What’s maybe a mistake to avoid and maybe like, your best piece of advice for those folks, as it relates to creating a great experience for developers?
I think a mistake to avoid is going to be not communicating. (Faith: Mmm. <Affirmative>). So, even if you don’t necessarily have an answer right then and there, or you’re not sure what the answer is, still communicate that. Knowing that a communication structure can be open, even if you don’t have the answer right away, being like, “Hey, I don’t have an answer for you right now, but I can go find it,” or just being responsive in general. I think everyone deserves some sort of response as you’re going through a working process, some acknowledgement that a question has been answered, or is being presented, an issue is being presented, making sure that there’s always gonna be some form of communication that’s responsive and timely. It’s just showing respect for other people’s time and what they’re looking for, as far as working together. And, having a communicative and responsive environment is the most, I think, beneficial to the way that we work, and that can definitely be applied to other areas.
Yeah, I think I say that a lot with just…I think this is a trend, whenever I’m wondering like, how to best work with or for developers, I just think about the standards that developers hold themselves to and how developers work, because they’re gonna expect that of everybody else. Whether you’re a DevRel advocate, whether you’re a marketer, whether you’re a salesperson. And, one of those things is like, speed and responsiveness, right? Like, developers are tasked with responding to things very quickly, especially when things break, and if they don’t do that, they’re not gonna have a job, right? <laugh>. And so like, they expect that from everybody else, too. So, that’s a really…that’s a good piece of advice, you know, just like, speed of communication and communication in general. Even if you don’t know, make sure that you respond quickly.
Yeah, I think even in an asynchronous environment, which is what we see a lot from a developer perspective, especially on engagements, or as we are helping clients find the right talent, making– I mean, having an understanding that, you know, there’s time zones that are not necessarily overlapping, but communication within a timely manner, given those expectations. But, that’s always gonna be key in making sure that everything runs smoothly, is, at least, (Faith: Mmm. <Affirmative>) there’s some acknowledgement of communication happening, and that it is timely.
Yeah. Awesome. Good advice. (Victoria: Thank you.) <Laugh>. Well, Victoria, this has been awesome. I hope it’s helpful for folks who are, you know, working in developer-facing roles, or developers, or clients who are interested in joining the platform. They know how to reach you. Victoria’s always on Slack. If you’re in the Cantina Slack, just shoot her a message. She is an absolute delight to chat with. (Victoria: Thank you <laugh>.) Her calendar is very full, but she is a delight, if you can squeeze in there <laugh>.
Always happy to chat.
Yeah. All right, well, Victoria, I’ll see you next time we convince you to come on the podcast.
Anytime. Thank you, Faith.
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