Assessing the Maturity of Your Developer Marketing Program

Have you ever visited a website with a ‘ghost’ developer zone? You know the type I mean? Where the blog posts are over a year old, nobody has posted on the forums in months and there haven’t been any new releases on GitHub for quite some time. I think we’ve all seen these portals, and maybe even worked on one (I know I have!).

we are closed

Image source: Konrad Forstner on Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

They come about when a company has ambitious plans for engaging with developers, but somehow, things don’t quite come together. Perhaps there wasn’t the appetite to provide the staff to build a convincing developer product and support it? Or maybe the product just wasn’t great, or as good as the competition. There are many reasons why developer marketing goes wrong. This blog post is how to tip the scales in the balance of success, and take your developer program from strength to strength.

A maturity model for developer marketing

You may be familiar with maturity models for assessing the “ability of an organization for continuous improvement in a particular discipline” (Wikipedia). Formal or informal evaluation of particular characteristics, such as processes and structures within a system, against agreed stages or levels are used to determine maturity. A number of  models have been developed by practitioners and academics over the past years, if you are interested, there is a thorough academic review here; the capability maturity model and ISO/IEC 15504 (SPICE) are probably the most familiar formal models within the software industry.

In marketing circles, there are various ways to assessing the maturity of your digital marketing, such as Boston Consulting Group’s approach for digital marketing maturity based on organizational structure.

digital innovation

Image source: Boston Consulting Group

However, when it comes to measuring software developer marketing, metrics and maturity models are not yet part of a common toolset. As we’ve previously observed, developer marketing is still a young and fragmented industry, with pockets of best practice locked within the companies that master it. We have recently answered the lack of recorded thought leadership on the subject, by publishing a book about the essentials of developer marketing. But we’ve yet to see a discussion about the way to measure the maturity of your developer marketing efforts.

Why market to developers?

Perhaps the first question should be – why market to software developers? Increasingly, we are seeing developers make technology adoption decisions and take control of the process by which software enters their organisations. In much the same way that IT departments, which were a rarity 20 years ago, have become standard in most companies today, it seems likely that, in the near future, companies will need to become conversant with developer marketing.

Good software developer marketing is rather different from consumer marketing; it consists of technical outreach and education, such as software documentation and example code, tools and downloads, knowledge bases and contact points both online and in real life, through focussed events. A developer marketing program has a number of aspects and channels and the maturity of such a program can be measured, in part, by their uptake. Let’s take a look at some details by working through the phases of developer marketing from the least to the most mature.

maturity phases developer marketing


newbie developer program

Image source:

Newbie developer programs are the entry-level for companies wishing to engage with developers. They are limited in scope and provide just a few APIs or SDKs, with limited documentation or hands-on support. The developer liaison team is of a small size (2-3 engineers focused on API product and documentation) and runs on a small budget. A developer portal to attract and encourage registered developers will be on the list of must-haves, and the team will endeavour to engage with potential developers in other online channels, such as StackOverflow and Reddit, but they will have limited visibility and few external advocates.

Developer programs at this stage of maturity should be asking how to build momentum to encourage engagement with their program. They should be looking at building developer interest that can be retained and built into a larger program.

Examples include Memgraph, OutSystems and Zebra Technologies.


challenger developer program

Image source: wetwebwork on Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Challenger developer programs are Newbies that are taking root and growing. They have matured to the point of offering a range of APIs or SDKs.  The portal provides solid levels of documentation plus hands-on support. The audience is typically focussed in one area, and has grown from Newbie levels to about 10,000 developers. Engagement is mostly online through the developer portal and typical third-party channels, but there is some face to face outreach via hackathons and meetups, typically within a single region.

There is a overall developer marketing budget of up to $1M in place, and a team to provide product management and product engineering plus developer outreach and support engineering.

Challenger programs are asking questions about marketing strategy, such as the best activities for RoI, reaching an audience, and best practices for the marketing team to follow to justify their budget.

Examples include Pivotal and Mastercard.


authority developer marketing

Image source: Camera Eye Photography on Flickr CC BY 2.0

Authority developer programs are well established and offer a portfolio of developer products for their audience. There will be a range of APIs or SDKs available for a disparate developer audience of up to several hundred thousand that is located in multiple global regions.

The total developer marketing program is staffed and funded at a level appropriate to its size, typically up to $5M. There will be a need for a number of product managers and product engineers, plus a separate team for developer relations and developer marketing, plus a level of developer product business development.

Developer marketing will be able to present a range of events, and provide a solid online presence via a mature developer portal that has suitably high levels of documentation and technical support, as well as engagement external via third-party channels. Authority developer programs are sufficiently established to run a number of developer facing events per year across different regions, including hackathons, conferences and sponsored events. They may also provide training and developer certification.

The Authority programs are looking for validation for their marketing spend, and want to develop a strategy to target the right segments, extend their reach and build upon their established audience.

Examples include Mozilla and Unity.


unicorn developer program

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Unicorn developer programs are well-established, providing a number of different APIs and/or SDKS to a range of different developer profiles across a broad audience that numbers in the millions. The program is well staffed and funded with a budget of over $5M, which is used to provide a wide level of engagement online and in person at events, hackathons and training.

The Unicorns need to focus on the competition to stay ahead, and look to build up regional audiences where these do not currently exist.

Examples include Google and Microsoft.

How to evolve your developer marketing program

Having set out the characteristics and levels of maturity for typical developer programs, the natural question is how a program makes transitions between them. It’s dependent on the core platform or product, of course, since regardless of the size and skill of your developer marketing team, it’s not possible for them to deliver unless developers see value in it. And that comes down to your place in the market and how you deliver on your roadmaps and vision.

Investment in the right elements of the developer program is also key; if you do not provide what your audience needs and values, you will not reach it. SlashData’s Developer Program Benchmark reports tracks the leading developer programs through twice-yearly surveys that that assess developer satisfaction across 20+ developer program features and services, including marketing. The reports show the levels of importance that developers place upon each feature, which can be used to guide the focus of marketing spend within a program of any stage of maturity.

developer program benchmarking

Ultimately, building reputation among developers comes down to the quality and nature of the communication you have with them, and in this, your developer marketing and relations team are crucial. As we explain in Selling it Softly, developers possess a healthy level of cynicism towards anything that could be interpreted as marketing. Anyone venturing into developer marketing swiftly becomes aware of the developer’s disdain for the hard sell. Our book sets out some best practice in some of the many aspects of developer marketing, but a central message runs through it: respect the unique character of your audience!

If you’re setting up a developer program as a Newbie, or already up and running and aiming to ‘cross the chasm’ to the next level in the maturity model, we have data to help you focus your efforts and budget in the areas that matter most to your developer audience. Our mission is to help the world understand developers. We help the top 100 technology firms understand the profile of developer communities and measure the ROI of their developer strategies. As an analyst firm, we survey 40,000+ developers annually and analyse that data to help our clients target the right developers, prioritise the right features for their products, and optimise their marketing budget to drive developer engagement and satisfaction. If you’ve any questions about what we do, or want to find out more, please do get in touch!

PS: While you’re here. if you want to find out more about the subject of developer marketing, check out our book, Developer Marketing: The Essential Guide.


The largest developer community: a critical view

When developers evaluate new technologies, one of the elements they often look at is the size and strength of the community surrounding that technology. “Can I get help and support from peers when needed?” It’s one of the reasons why open source technologies tend to be so popular. Conversely, technology vendors regularly signal their virtue with community numbers: “Our product is used by millions of developers, choose us!”

However, there is reason to be critical of this line of thinking. The activity of a core group, or indeed the vendor itself, may matter more to get great support than the sheer number of users. Most technologies are not subject to network effects: they don’t become inherently more valuable when more developers adopt them. Even in open source projects, there is often only a small number of core contributors. Furthermore, vendors may bloat the numbers they report: deliberately, or simply because they don’t have good data available.

At /Data, we’ve been maintaining and publishing estimates on the global developer community for a few years now. Our biannual survey also gives us a solid idea of how those developers are spread across various communities. So let’s see where some of the largest developer communities can be found and how powerful those communities may really be.

What do you mean by “community”?

The largest regions in terms of developer population are North America, with an estimated 4 million active software developers in mid 2018, and Europe (3.8M in the EU28). However, calling these communities is a bit of a stretch. Developers in these regions are fragmented across countries and cities, as well as technologies and languages. North America includes the relatively homogenous USA, but also various Latin American countries. Europe includes software powerhouses like the United Kingdom, but also smaller Eastern European countries. From the perspective of finding peers to support you (or talent to recruit), looking at small groups gathered in cities around specific technologies is more useful than considering the wider geography.

The largest developer program in our research, with over 10 million active users globally, is Google. Google is great at empowering and supporting their community through forums and the likes. This said, they also have excellent developer satisfaction scores when it comes to vendor-driven support of developers with documentation, tutorials and training, tooling, and so on. Google is the default choice for many developers; it’s not clear whether that is due to the strength of their community or due to the value they provide themselves. They of course offer a multitude of technologies, where experience in one product doesn’t necessarily translate into another. Perhaps it’s more correct to view them as a collection of communities.

What about different sectors of the software industry? More than 14 million developers are involved in creating web apps. Once again, we can wonder about the fragmentation in this community across technologies. A sector view may not be the right level of analysis.

Finally, we can look at a technology. There are over 10 million active Javascript developers, making it the most popular programming language in the world today. Here we may see a stronger sense of community, with forums, real-life groups, learning institutions and more being organised specifically around the language.

In short, when we say “community”, it’s not trivially clear what we mean by that. (Neither is “developer” for that matter, but that’s a story for another blog post). Community size is not necessarily an indicator of homogeneity, coherence or level of activity. That makes it less than straightforward to assess the value of a developer community.

developer community

How (not) to count developers

If you’re interested in estimates of developer communities, you will have no doubt seen very high numbers being floated. Developer tools routinely reports user numbers in the millions; communities who claim a broad reach, like Stack Overflow or Github, will report tens of millions of developers. At /Data, we are skeptical of such numbers, in particular if you intend to use them to make adoption decisions.

First, because it is not clear where each source draws the line in what they consider to be an (active) developer. Are IT professionals, DevOps, or sysadmins included? What about people who once made an account, but never actively used the product?

However, the bigger issue seems to be where such numbers are sourced. Most estimates floating around the internet are based on (unique) pageviews, downloads, IP addresses, and the likes. All of these are susceptible to a multiplier effect, not in the least due to multi-machine and multi-browser software testing, frequent cleaning of caches and cookies for testing, repeat downloads of developer tools, and development automation (e.g. build servers). Abandoned accounts may significantly skew the estimates as well. Sometimes, numbers we’ve come across seem to be based on nothing at all.

Measurements like that are only a vague indication of the number of actual active developers and therefore of the strength of the community. They tend to be not comparable across vendors. Not to mention that it is in the self-interest of the vendor to report the biggest number they can find. Indicators that indicate actual developer activity, like Monthly Active Users, are exceedingly rare.


Whether you’re a developer thinking about the direction of your career, or someone who is deciding on which technology to adopt, the question of how strong the supporting community is, is perfectly legitimate. To asses the true benefit of community, however, make sure to use the right scope and reliable, meaningful numbers. On our part, we will continue to provide you with our best estimates of active software developers, using sources that are direct evidence of recent coding activity.

If you are interested in having a look at a list of the largest developer communities in terms of active users have a look at the 1 Million Developer Club .

Virtual reality: Where did it all go wrong?

In this article, I’m going to talk about how I perceive the mainstream consumer audience to have rejected virtual reality, and suggest that its child, augmented reality, may be the Slope of Enlightenment that convinces us to buy in. While these are my views alone, towards the end of the piece, I’ve dug out some data from software developers around the world who are working with AR and VR. 

Tomorrow’s world, today

I worked in the smartphone industry before it came of age. Our mission was “a smartphone in every pocket” at a time when simple feature phones like the Motorola RAZR were the must-have communications device. Within a few years of our early projects, the competitor, Apple, launched the iPhone. The rest is history. The App Store opened its doors, the stars aligned, the technology dream was realised and smartphones went on to rule the world.

I grew up in a time of change. We had a BBC microcomputer before I was ten years old. As a teenager, I sashayed along to the sounds of the eighties on a tape Walkman, and later mobile CD players and minidiscs. Then Napster, now Spotify. Change. The cadence of technological evolution was a rapid heartbeat, sounded out by the Internet, mobile phones and a maturing software development industry, which I joined enthusiastically.

Maybe I just got used to an unrealistic pace of change? But whatever happened to virtual reality (VR)? Its heartbeat seems to have flatlined. Nothing much has changed in the years that have passed since the “year of VR” (pick your year, we’ve had a few of them), which turned out to be nothing much of the sort. When I look at my mobile phone of a few years ago, or my website developed in 2004, I think how clunky and quaint they look compared to the sleek form factor and execution possible today. But when I look at the VR headsets of yesteryear and today and compare what they deliver? Not so much.

Take a look at this slideshow of legacy VR hardware. Sure, we’ve come some way since the Sensorama, but the Sega VR of 1993 wasn’t significantly more dorky than today’s HTC Vive Cosmos, was it?

Does anybody really want to strap a heavy, nerdy headset on that makes you suffer motion sickness after a few minutes use, tethers you to a PC, dulls your senses to the real world outside the headset and causes you to trip over your furniture?

Sure, expensive and shiny, next generation VR devices, are coming. But much of the hardware available is unchanged from when it came to the stores two or more years ago, which means hard-core early adopter audiences aren’t shelling out again.  While availability of more cost-accessible hardware for casual users has increased, e.g. the Oculus Go, the handsets are still expensive enough to give mainstream consumers pause, and typically compromise on aspects of quality that mean the VR experience is somewhat flawed.

Convince people that you’ll change their lives

In the consumer world, expectations for VR were raised early and sadly led to disappointment as it became clear that the ambitions went far beyond what was possible given the technology available. Overpromised, VR lost the attention of mainstream audiences, as it simply could not deliver. In part, this was down to problems with the hardware, such as cumbersome headsets, inadequate processors, poor displays and weak audio. Then there’s the secondary reason: there is no “must-have” killer app that convinces sufficient people that you’ll change their lives.

The two issues go hand in hand (the ‘chicken and egg’ situation) since if technology is inadequate, the content creators see no justification for investing heavily in VR. In turn, this means insufficient buyers and revenue to justify the investment in improving the technology. (It’s worth pointing out that secondary uses for VR, such as in industry, education, healthcare, have a very different uptake/content model, and as such, I’m considering just the mainstream here).

And, as such, entertainment content is the key to unlocking adoption by persuading consumers that VR devices are a must-have item. Like 3D TV, VR has thus far failed to deliver a sufficiently convincing experience that sends people rushing to shops to buy the hardware, despite its costs and the limitations involved.

What’s more, VR content isn’t coming along as fast it used to. Hollywood used it for marketing, e.g. to promote films such as 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and TV shows including Game of Thrones. But this has dropped back as consumer uptake and gratification was found to be negligible.

Venture funding for consumer VR software companies may drop by more than half this year, to $265 million from $576 million a year ago, SuperData says. And this isn’t surprising. According to the SiliconANGLE. VR headset sales have dropped nearly 34% since Q2 2017. Even committed hardware manufacturers are showing signs of taking their foot off the gas. Samsung, which was one of the first to market with its Gear VR mobile headset, didn’t say anything about VR in its major announcements at CES this year.

Is AR the way out of the trough of despair?

Experts predict that new kids on the block, Augmented Reality (AR) on smartphones and Mixed Reality (MR) headsets, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens. will pick up the audience that VR failed to serve. In terms of the Gartner Hype Cycle, AR and MR — the children of VR — look to serve as the Slope of Enlightenment.

AR can be delivered by the hardware already in your pocket. It doesn’t need the level of resolution or processor power demanded by VR. AR is also far less cumbersome than VR and can be used on the go since it doesn’t require total immersion in the experience. The software brings in a virtual element without losing the real world.  

Certainly, analysts report adoption of augmented reality and mixed reality to be on the up, with earnings expected to come from mobile AR apps, particularly games. Google and Apple have strongly embraced this market with ARCore and ARKit, enabling developers to access AR services on more than 500 million devices in the wild today. Both Apple and Google envisage third-party apps and services that use AR as valuable additions to their app stores. Successful apps add billions to the top line (Apple was expected to make $3 billion revenue over 2 years from in-app purchases within the best known AR title to date, Pokémon Go) and high-profile AR apps also strengthen the ecosystems of both companies, boosting other revenue streams.

The smart money is now shifting to companies working on AR and MR. Apple have a rumoured research project to build a headset for delivery next year. Investment in companies working on MR is expected to jump by nearly 50 percent this year, according to SuperData, with sales of MR headsets expected to ramp up significantly and surpass earnings of VR headsets within the next two years.

The above is purely my opinion, based on observations of the tech industry over a number of years and a healthy degree of skepticism when it comes to inflated expectations. It’s uninformed by experience at the coalface of development however. So, what do software developers working with AR and VR, have to say?

Software developers working in VR and AR told us…

Here at SlashData we run regular surveys of software developers around the world to uncover valuable insights from those working in mobile, desktop, IoT, cloud, web, game, AR/VR, data science and machine learning.

In our Developer Economics 14th edition report, which is based on a large-scale online developer survey that ran over a period of eight weeks between November and December 2017, we reached over 21,700 respondents in 169 countries. We studied the data returned from developers working in AR/VR and found the following:

  • 25% of professional game developers say they are targeting AR and/or VR. This figure falls slightly to 19% across the entire corpus of developers surveyed.
  • Dedicated VR hardware, such as Oculus Rift, is attractive to games developers (61% report using it), but across all developers working on VR projects, we see a much lower uptake (33%), reflecting its early adopter status in fields other than games.
  • Across all developers working on VR projects, 32% are targeting smartphone hardware using Google’s Cardboard, and 19% are using Daydream View, built into Android Nougat and beyond, reflecting that developers, and consumers, are still experimenting with the technology on their existing hardware.
  • A similar picture emerges for AR, with Android and iOS taking the lead in most popular AR platforms across all developers targeting AR.
  • Of the dedicated AR hardware available, Microsoft HoloLens leads the pack, with Google Glass at Work and MagicLeap trailing behind when the survey ran in late 2017.

We are currently running another survey and we would value your input. If you’re a software developer working in the field of AR or VR, or considering doing so, please consider answering the questions. If you’re not a developer but are working in the AR/VR field, pass the link on to your developer friends and colleagues.

Every survey completed has a chance to win Oculus Rift +Touch Virtual Reality System to test your creations (or simply play around), Samsung S9 PLus$200 towards the software subscription of your choice, or other prizes from the prize pool worth $12,000!

Plus, if you refer other developers to take the survey, you may win up to $1,000 in cash. Just don’t forget to sign up before you take the survey, so that we know you want to be included in the prize draw!

What do you say, are you in?