Machine Learning is Changing Developer Nation and the World

Breakthroughs and advancement in machine learning (ML) models, techniques, frameworks, and applications are having a growing influence on the developer ecosystem. Machine learning is enabling new experiences that allow computers to tackle more complex tasks that once only humans were able to. In the 14th edition of SlashData’s Developer Economics survey, the influence of machine learning can be observed throughout the collected data and analysis. Both the growth of new platforms and experiences as well changing infrastructure and programming languages are being driven by innovations in machine learning.

The State of the Developer Nation report 14th Edition summarizes some of the key findings from the survey and provides a snapshot of today’s developer ecosystem. Underlying these findings is the importance of machine learning is in driving future trends. As the capabilities of machines and humans begin to converge, implications extend well beyond the developer community. To be well positioned for future technology shifts, it is important to understand where and how machine learning is influencing the direction of the software industry.

ML is revolutionizing how we get around

52% percent of developers believe that advances in self-driving cars will have the most impact in the next five years. Machine learning is at the core of advancements in this area. The pivotal role that machine learning is playing in these projects is an indication of the power such advancements have in changing how people live their lives. Machine learning not only teaches cars to drive themselves but supports computer vision that can identify objects such as stop signs and pedestrians. The tremendous economics of this segment is attracting boatloads of capital that is leading to new advancements and new opportunities.

Machine Learning impacts AR

The growth of augmented reality is another area where ML will have an important impact. Deep learning is improving the simulation, localization, and mapping (SLAM) capabilities of leading AR platforms. SLAM enables AR platforms to identify objects and to overlay augmentations. It also recognizes and tracks features within a scene. These advancements are directly impacting the 15% of the developer community who are working on AR projects by supporting more advanced tools to create more fluid experiences. This takes the AR space beyond the Snapchat dogface mask. Given that mobile is the most popular platform for AR developers, 53% are targeting Android and 37% are targeting iOS, the developers in this space are also seeing a significant impact.

Image classification models are the #1 project that machine learning developers are working on so we expect continued advancement in this space to support driverless cars and AR. 22% percent of ML developers were working on image classification and object recognition. Another area where machine learning developers are working is conversational interfaces or natural language processing (NLP). 20% of ML developers were working on NLP/chatbots, ranking third in our survey of ML developers. Chatbots are already all the rage and NLP models have made significant advances. The next challenge is creating even more sophisticated models to make chatbots smarter.

ML drives Python and Serverless growth

While the work that machine learning developers are doing to create new experiences is having a profound effect on what developers can create, ML is also having a big influence on infrastructure and programming languages. Python rose to the third most popular language in our latest survey reaching 6.3 million developers behind JavaScript (9.7 million developers) and Java (7.3 million developers). Python supports many ML libraries and is easy to prototype and experiment with making it very popular with machine learning developers. The growth of serverless architectures is also being fueled by new machine learning models. While the development of models requires dedicated compute resources, serverless architectures can make implementing these models much easier. Not only can models easily be executed closest to the application but models can be tied together via functions that can span different languages and platforms, making applications even faster and smarter. Today the vast majority of workloads handled by serverless are web and mobile API calls but developers plan on using serverless for machine learning and conversational experiences more in the future.

The advancement and impact of ML is no news to developers. In our survey, 37% of developers believed that advancements in ML models would have the greatest impact over the next five years. Specifically, models that won’t require large training datasets, for example, using transfer learning or capsule networks. With less reliance on huge datasets, barriers to the exposition of new machine learning models are lowered and developers can create more models and smarter applications.

As the prevalence of machine learning grows, developers will need new skills that go beyond coding and computer science but incorporate, advanced mathematics, probability, statistics, and data modeling. Developers at the top of the food chain will be able to bring together skills, knowledge, and understanding from all these areas and apply them to next generation of problems.


Explore the data pointing to the influence of ML as well as data and analysis around additional developer trends by downloading the State of the Developer Nation 14th Edition report for more data and graphs depicting top developer trends.

Under the Hood of Developer Marketing: Grace Francisco from Roblox

In our latest installment of interview series with the leaders in developer marketing and developer relations, we talked to Grace Francisco, VP of Developer Relations at Roblox.  Grace shared with us her experiences building developer relations programs, the challenges her team encounters and how they measure success.

Grace is VP of Developer Relations at Roblox. She is responsible for leading developer and educational programs and engaging with a growing community of 3+ million developers to empower them across multiple platforms. A seasoned developer relations leader with over 12 years of experience, she has co-authored three patents and led worldwide developer initiatives at Microsoft, Intuit, and Atlassian. Prior to joining Roblox, she established Atlassian’s Global Developer Relations organization to nurture and expand their rapidly growing developer community. She is also a celebrated diversity advocate, establishing and driving diversity programs, including mentoring rings, at Microsoft and Atlassian. Grace graduated cum laude and holds a BBA in Business Management from Golden Gate University.

developer marketing, developer relations, grace francisco, roblox


How long have you been in the role?

I have been in this current role for a year and it has been a fantastic adventure so far. This is my first foray into a consumer-facing service as all my other roles have been enterprise focused, so this has been a refreshing change. The other aspect of my job that makes this experience special is the developers we get to work with that are a vital part of the Roblox community. Specifically, I am referring to what we call emerging developers – first-time developers – creating their first ever experiences on the Roblox platform.
What was your journey to Developer Relations?

I left home at 17 and worked my way through college for nearly 10 years. I was fortunate to find my way into tech during this time. I did development work without a degree for some time and earned a couple of patents along the way while I was an engineer at Lotus/IBM.

I eventually wanted a change and went into technical marketing and then pre-sales engineering at Borland. After that, I went to Microsoft to be a developer evangelist on their first enterprise developer suite which was called Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) at the time. I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my career while at Microsoft, but actually, it was just the start! I was at Microsoft for eight years in a variety of developer relations roles from VSTS to leading the planning of (a developer focused transparency channel) to driving web and open source initiatives.

I have since led and built teams at Intuit, Yodlee, Atlassian, and now Roblox.

So in your evangelism role were you on the road, developing content, etc?

At Microsoft, I enabled the worldwide field evangelists who were the employees on the road in their local markets. I built out a lot of content – samples, demos, decks, and train the trainer materials. I also met with strategic customers and partners. Some of the partners I worked with in my VSTS days were “frenemies” – they were competitors in the space we had just entered but our joint customers wanted a seamless experience from their tools to ours. I really enjoyed looking for win/win situations that served the best interests of both companies.
Back to your current Roblox role, how are you organized?

The developer relations organization is its own organization, reporting to the Chief Business Officer. Marketing, engineering, and product are all peer teams to our organization. I have four core groups reporting to me in our developer relations organization – Top Dev Programs, Developer Community, Information Experience and Education, and DevRel Operations.

What are your team’s responsibilities?

We focus primarily on providing resources that are designed to accelerate the success of developers on the Roblox platform. We have a rapidly growing audience of over three million developers who have largely grown out of our player community. We are focused on creating great self-serve content and education, as well as building a self-nurturing community whose goals is to provide our creator community the resources they need to build imaginative, immersive experiences on our platform. We also provide our education partners with core content which they extend and deliver in summer camps and after-school programs or build into their existing class curriculums.

We accelerate the success of our top developers via two highly competitive, onsite internship programs called Accelerator and Incubator. These two programs are either three months or five months long and take place twice a year (Spring and Summer). The programs are designed to bring young developers into Roblox to learn best practices in game design, marketing, and monetisation and have direct lines of communication with our engineering teams as they work to either create a new experience on Roblox or update a current one. The interns provide valuable, ongoing feedback about the tools and resources available on the Roblox platform that helps us continue to evolve and improve Roblox both for the developer community as well as the community at-large.

Do you recruit from these programs?

We don’t actively recruit permanent employees from our Accelerator and Incubator programs. The intent of both programs is to help developers either build new, successful games or improve existing ones. Our top developers are also now forming their own design and development studios where they collaborate with others in the community to build and monetise their experiences on Roblox. Others decide that they really like the idea of working in a bigger company that includes benefits and other employee perks, have had a good intern experience, and therefore pursue opportunities at Roblox. Given the success of top developers on the Roblox platform (over $30M paid out in 2017 with top devs earning over $250,000 per month with their games), it’s easy to see why.

You have a very different audience to the typical developer program!

Our core player audience is 9 to 13 years old. Our top developers are in their late teens to early twenties and many started on Roblox as 8, 9 or 10 year old members of the community. This emerging developer audience has the ability to build content that resonates in a special way with our core audience. They build unique experiences like “Work at a Pizza Place” – one of our top games – where players simulate working life in a pizza parlor. These are highly imaginative experiences that are less likely to come from an adult developer. We find that many young people have this “a-ha” moment between the ages of 10 and 12 when they self-determine that they want to build something themselves on Roblox. Our developer tools and hosting platform are free which lowers the barrier to entry, and many developers are making really good money from their games. As their games grow and become more popular Roblox provides the backend support to ensure a quality of play that our community expects.

How do you approach the ethical side of marketing to children?

We’re COPPA compliant and follow industry guidelines and policies related to marketing to children. We are also implementing GDPR by the May 2018 compliance deadline.
Do you describe your work as DevRel or Developer Marketing, or something else?

I think of these areas as distinctly separate. Credible developer relations is about the technical conversation, enablement, and relationships whereas marketing tends to be about higher level messaging and broadcast to create leads and new customers.

You have to be able to initiate and carry on a very authentic conversion with engineers, so I know many organisations are careful about separating Developer Marketing & Developer Relations.

Do you share/discuss best practice with other practitioners?

Yes, I attend and speak at different developer relations conferences and meetups. We have similar challenges – How do you do things at scale? What are the right platforms and technologies to create great content and API docs? How do you identify best practices to nurture those developers? At Roblox, we just use the extra lens that our audience is particularly young.

Is your program International?

Our platform is being used globally, so for us, it’s about how we support language-specific ecosystems. We recently released a localisation tool and we are building out data centers in key markets around the world to ensure the best experience for our player and developer communities. Now we are looking at how we incentivise developers to be first movers within non-English-speaking markets, to build native experiences that will appeal to local markets and help Roblox gain market share. We have to keep in mind that developers in these new markets are typically very young so the opportunity may not be apparent for them.

How do you measure the success of your program?

We keep track of the number of developers on the platform, metrics around game quality, play time, engagement and retention metrics. We also invest in helping our developers understand why these are important.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Over the past year, a big focus has been hiring and building up the organization and putting processes in place to help us scale the business as we grow. The developer relations team has grown from two to 20 people really quickly, so we are expecting to get a lot done over the next year. We take cultural fit really seriously. What stands out here is the level of collaboration between teams and a genuine sense of wanting to help each other out to get work done. We have a collegial atmosphere and this is the most polite engineering organization I have worked with to date!

What are you most proud of?

A lot of people burn out in this line of work. I have been doing it since 2004 and I’m really proud that I have been able to navigate the waters in various roles at multiple companies and continue growing in this boutique field. I’m one of a few long-standing developer relations experts in the field and have often been consulted for my expertise. I’m proud of the teams I’ve built over the years and our achievements. I have always sought more knowledge and information and I am convinced that if you want to continue to push the boundaries and continue learning new technologies, best practices, and new information, these are the best roles you could wish for.

What’s next?

I believe we are creating a new category of entertainment, but it didn’t start out that way. The original vision was an educational tool to help teach physics but quickly morphed into content and games as students began working with the physics engine to create their own experiences. Only now are we beginning to fulfill the original vision around education and as we have grown, we are seeing the type of engagement on the Roblox platform that is reserved for some of the largest entertainment platforms (ie. YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, etc.). Given this popularity and our focus on education, we are now getting into educational curriculums and building relationships with large educational institutions who will be integrating Roblox into their various programs, which our founder is really happy about.

We aspire to have school programs in the future which is no easy feat given the understandably high bar set by formal educational institutions. However, we’ve made great progress so far with nationwide organisations to run summer camps and after-school programs and there is clear interest from the education community in the Roblox platform.

We’re continuing to scale up what we’re doing with our top developers to ensure the same level of support and services are available to the masses of developers we have on the platform. We’re building the next waves of top developers in much larger cohorts and doing so for a global market.


Liked this article? Read also our interviews with Intel’s Scott Apeland and Amazon’s Adam Fitzgerald to learn more about Developer Marketing best practices.

SlashData measures developer satisfaction twice per year, across the industry’s 20+ leading developer programs. Want to find out more about our Developer Program Benchmarking research? Contact Chris at