The Meaning of Developer Personas

What happens when you get a couple of dev relations folks together to talk about audience segmentation and developer personas? A spirited podcast discussion on why they are important and how not to screw it up.

The Community Pulse podcast is run by Jason Hand, a senior cloud advocate for Microsoft, Mary Thengvall, newly appointed Director of Dev Relations for Camunda and P.J. Hagerty, Founder of

Devada’s Chief Developer Advocate, Jesse Davis was interviewed for the “Audience Segmentation: Why Finding Your Core Community Is an Integral Piece of a Successful DevRel Strategy” podcast along with Sarah-Jane Morris, Senior Program Manager, Developer Relations with Hubspot.

You can listen to the audio here.

Morris’ last job was as a dev community lead with the e-commerce platform Shopify, a platform that lets developers create native, third-party apps that help companies run their day-to-day e-commerce business without needing to leave the Shopify platform. That reminded me of how I think of the word segmentation: A B2C tactic for sending the consumers emails, and other marketing messages, that will get them to engage and (and hopefully) buy something.

Pull quote from Sarah-Jane Morris

Segmenting developers is a whole lot different

While you can pour over data to segment consumers, that doesn’t work as well in the developer world. “You can’t really do Dev Rel without getting to know your audience – who they are, what they need and what makes them tick,’’ Morris says. “There are so many different kinds of developers and so many motivations.’’

Davis agreed noting that for a newish software solution, “You have architects with 20 years of experience in the same situation as someone two years out of college.’’ And you need to reach them both. Content segmentation is one aspect of the approach. Offer heavy tutorials to the newbies while engaged experienced architects in a more nuanced way including asking them to contribute to your community.

“We can segment by their title, we can segment by their experience level, we can segment by probably 50 different things, but the center of your developer relations strategy has to be how you’re going to build relationships with each of these developers to meet their goals. The segmentation is foundational to finding which direction to take your strategy.” pull quote for Jesse Davis

Marketers : Think Carefully About Those Developer Personas

Those personas that marketers (and especially marketing consultants) love to build are not going to be your segmenting tool of choice. As a long-time content writer and manager, I sometimes need to write content to match personas. It’s a common approach for creating communications and collateral.

But Morris said this gets tricky with the developer audience. Sometimes the developer personas are built around internal nomenclature – the way the company has evolved to think of its products.  She recalled a situation at Shopify where too much emphasis ended up on front-end developer resources leaving developers working both front-end and back-end feeling shorted. The segmentation process had broken down.

“With Dev Rel you need to keep a pulse on these people and make sure the rest of the company knows these stories,’’ Morris says.

Davis agreed. “You can’t shove people into a mold. You have to have relationships with these people to be able to serve them better.’’

Morris says sometimes these developer personas end up being “a fake mashup of a bunch of data and market research. . . Like Jesse was talking about, I much prefer to show real people.’’

pull quote from Sarah-Jane

“The longer you work in the industry, the less these (consultant-driven) personas mean anything to you. You cannot relate to them, you cannot empathize with them,’’ Hagerty says. “And yet, because that’s the metric that has been given out, it continues. Which is kind of sad, I think.’’

Real People Rather Than Robotic Personas

At this point, the podcast briefly digressed into the misuse of stock photography in illustrating personas. I can’t do it justice. You’ll have to listen. You’ll love the part about pictures of women eating salads.

Woman Salad

Davis wrapped up the developer persona discussion by talking about a community advocate and DZone contributor, Erik Dietrich, who has been one of Davis’ models for authentic personas. “I’m a huge fan of using real human beings.’’

The podcast provides a wealth of information on segments, personas, and going beyond that to build relationships with users and customer advocates. We don’t want to give away all the good stuff.

But we’ll leave you with thoughts on how to stay authentic once you’ve made it past the generic persona stage to getting to know your customers and building a community. Says Hagerty, strip the verb “leverage” from your vocabulary when discussing community members. “Community should never be the leverage. You don’t mess with your peeps. Your peeps are not your leverage.’’

You can listen to the podcast here.

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