To delight developers and to keep your product or project as a mission-critical part of their tech stack, you must deliver a great developer experience (DX).
A delightful DX begins when a developer discovers your solution and starts using it, but that’s only the beginning. Considering developers' preferences and continuing to invest in DX will guarantee developers continue to use your offering; rather than seeking a competitor who might better accommodate their preferences.
Developer experience is how developers engage with your platform, tool, or framework. This includes the usability and design of your tools, the documentation and support provided, and the overall ease of use and productivity of the development environment.
For a great DX, you want to create an environment where developers can do their best work because ultimately, the goal of DX is to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for developers to create high-quality software.
Developer experience also represents developers' prevailing perceptions and feelings when using your product or project, accessing the resources related to your offering, and interacting with your company overall.
Creating an environment for a good DX means developers have the tools and resources they need from planning to production—because a good developer experience is holistic. The quality of your DX will determine how developers feel about your offering, and whether they will continue to use your product or look to a competitor instead.
A poor DX can result in
Your developer experience rests on how easy or difficult it is to perform essential tasks to implement a change. For example, if a team is in the build stage, how easy or difficult is it to verify that changes are free of syntactical errors? Or, if testing, what is the experience like when trying to confirm that all automated tests pass?
If your product is invested in making these actions as easy as possible, the returns on that effort will grow the longer the a developer uses your solution. In other words, if you have a strong offering with a great DX, developers and their teams will have no reason to seek out a new solution.
With all of these things considered, delivering a great developer experience is now table stakes for software providers who build solutions for developers. This section will provide best practices to deliver a world-class DX.
Like any user, developers desire an easy onboarding experience, clear resources, helpful automations, and the ability to self-service.
To deliver this, you must first understand your developer, including their skillset, role, and motivations. What needs and knowledge do they bring when first interacting with your product or project? How does that impact their initial onboarding? From setting up developer machinery to delivering code to production—understanding where tasks become tedious for developers will help you deliver a better DX.
Start by thinking of DX like UX (user experience) and consider the cognitive load your product demands. For example, do you know how long it takes to complete an action or how many context switches are involved?
A proper grasp of the developer's journey with your framework, language, or platform is paramount to all best practices. Only then can you identify points of friction developers may experience with your product and remove them proactively.
Great documentation is an excellent way to guarantee developers continue to use your solutions for their own projects and products. If your tool offers great features but lacks easy-to-use documentation, the developer experience will be subpar and could mean they look for another solution.
Strong documentation helps developers to understand how to use your offering. It should include detailed explanations of the various features and capabilities of your product, along with examples of how to use those features. These details will help developers learn how to use your solution more quickly and effectively, so they can take full advantage of its capabilities.
Documentation can also help to reduce the amount of time that developers need to spend searching for answers to their questions. If documentation is thorough and well-organized, developers can easily find the information they need, which can help to improve their productivity and reduce the amount of time they spend trying to figure things out on their own.
Similarly, building a user community around your project or product is another critical way developers can get (and share) best practices for using your solution for a great DX.
User communities are groups of people who use a particular platform, tool, or framework, and get together to share their experiences and knowledge with one another on channels like Discord, Reddit, Stack Overflow, GitHub, and more.
They can be a valuable resource for developers, as communities give them the ability to ask questions and get answers from others who have experience with the product or project—as well as your team if you’re engaged in the community. Involvement in a user community also helps developers to stay up-to-date with the latest launches, features, and resources, and best practices around an offering.
As you master the fundamentals of developer experience, you’ll see developers starting to do more with your products and projects. This is a great indicator that your efforts to improve DX are working, and you want to capture and foster this innovation to push your solution forward.
Community, again, can be a great tool for facilitating developer engagement and innovation. Cultivating a user community will give you greater access to these important individuals, enabling you to do things like build a champions cohort or developer feedback program.
These programs allow you to get input on how to improve DX as well as your product or project overall.
In addition to the tactical best practices described above, a great developer experience is also enabled by a team or company’s investment in three core principles: culture, community, and communication.
Prioritizing a great developer experience should be a core tenant of your company’s culture. Strive to create a culture that prioritizes and is responsive to developers' needs, with resources readily available to offer support in a timely fashion.
Often, this culture comes from the top, so be sure that your company's leadership is committed to this goal and understands its value. Once you have executive buy-in, be clear with everyone at the organization their role in delivering a great DX.
When you company is aligned on and living a culture that prioritizes DX, developers will feel in in their interactions with your people and products—often through interactions across your community channels.
In addition to the tactical elements of community discussed above—what channels you’re using, response time SLAs, champions programs, etc.—be sure you have an overarching community goal tied to developer experience.
Community represents the sum total of all the interactions you’re having with members across digital and in-person channels. It is how developers will feel the DX-first culture you’ve developed.
Developers, like most, want somewhere to go when they've hit a snag or a roadblock or if they want to share something cool they learned or created. And they need to know that whatever they’re sharing will get a positive and timely response. Good user communities can help cultivate strong DX because they provide the platform and framework for communication, collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving.
Growing a community and ensuring developers experience the culture you’ve created requires communication. Implementing this principle breathes life into the first two.
Your community members are not your audience; you’re talking with them, not to them. Be open, welcoming, and transparent in how you’re interacting and you’ll see greater engagement and better feedback.
Building a community provides the best environment for developers to learn more about your product or project. It help you stay responsive to devs' needs and gives them access to other community members. This way, they can solve problems quickly and learn from each other at the same time.
Platforms like Slack and Discord make connecting with developers using your product easy; these platforms can help you generate product feedback so you can make improvements for your community members. For example, taking the most common pain points your community members express and turning them into better documentation.
Building a community is really about building and growing human relationships. A community will help you identify your most impactful community members and more deeply engage with them to drive your product and business forward.
Common Room is an intelligent community growth platform that can help you engage and grow your community. If you're ready to put DX best practices to use, it's time to get to know your users better.
Common Room's platform helps organizations empower and educate their community of developers. With Common Room, DevRel and DX teams can scale and measure impact via intelligent insights, automated workflows, and custom reporting.
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For more resources on developer experience, check out What is developer experience and Essential elements of a great developer experience. To share DX tips and best practices, join 1000+ community and DevRel leaders in the Uncommon community Slack.