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How to Build Developer Personas: It's All About Motivation
Nov 20th, 2020

How to Build Developer Personas: It's All About Motivation

When I work with clients to build developer engagement strategies, I always begin by creating personas. Oftentimes, my personas for each client overlap because they are valid for most developer audiences. So, I thought I should share a few common developer personas.

My personas are drafted based on motivation, not who developers are as a person. I want to know the best way to motivate my target audience to engage with me.

Passionate open source developers: doing what they love

Motivated by:

  • Sense of belonging: They want to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Status symbols: Are they one of the best?
  • Public or social recognition: Do people know who they are in the community?
  • Self-actualization: This is their true passion and contributing to open source helps the feel good about themselves.

How they think

Open source developers are passionate about their work and will usually build things with no intent of seeing their investment returned. They are generous about giving back to the open source ecosystem.

The one downside of OSS (open source software) developers is that they are more vocal and opinionated when you wrong them. Ensure you are listening to this audience and implementing their feedback.

Incentivized by:

  • Open source contribution credits
  • Sponsorship for their work
  • Reputation growth
  • Sponsorship for communities they participate in
  • Marketing their new business or venture

Keep in mind that open source developers are not motivated by money. They do not tend to make a lot of money because they don’t have the desire for it. They do appreciate things like thought leadership opportunities, rank, status, and showcasing of their work—especially if that work helps them earn an income.

They enjoy swag, but swag is plentiful in the developer space. So be creative if you go the swag route. Stickers can be a big hit with this audience.

If you really want to incentivize these developers, sponsor the open source projects they contribute to. Not many companies are giving back to open source and it earns major trust with the developer community.

High product usage developers: better product experience

Motivated by:

  • Basic needs: How well can they do their job daily?
  • Status: Sometimes they want to be the best person using your tool or recognized as a power user.
  • Safety and protection: Will changes to your product directly affect them and their ability to do their job? Can they influence this at all?

How they think

These kinds of developers use your product frequently in their day-to-day developer lives.

You will most likely find these developers working for an agency or freelancing. They use your product to build many projects for clients. As a result, they are hyper-focused on how to better it in ways that would improve their daily work.

Incentivized by:

  • Roadmap reviews and input
  • Feedback opportunities
  • Showcases of their work
  • Free access to your product
  • Extra product benefits
  • Access to your product team
  • Beta testing new features
  • Swag, even better if it’s program-specific around a feedback program

Remember that these developers NEED to use your product or one like it. So the more influence they have over it, or feel like they have over it, the better. If they do not feel like their motivations and needs are being met, they may choose a competitor with more opportunity for feedback.

Career search driven developers: financial stability

Motivated by:

  • Basic needs: Can they find a job by participating in this community? Will it bring them opportunities for freelancing?
  • Status: Will this give them a leg up on their competition in their job hunt?
  • Public recognition: The more people who know them, the more in-demand their work will be as they apply for jobs.

How they think

Developers who are looking for work are either seeking freelance gigs or their next career opportunity. These folks are both personally and professionally invested in their involvement with you. Every action they take is most likely a strategic move in their job search.

Consider doing showcases and shout-out’s as soon as you recognize that there are job-seeking developers in your community. A solid reputation boost through a social shout out, presentation, or other opportunity to showcase their work will build a very strong relationship with this person. They need financial stability and every bit of public recognition or acknowledgement of their status helps them achieve it.

Depending on how long they’ve been seeking work, they may actually be open to paid gigs. It’s rare that I recommend money as an incentification, but you might be able to swoop in and be a hero when they need it most.

Incentivized by:

  • Thought leadership opportunities, like public speaking
  • Podcast interviews
  • Technical writing
  • Open source contributions that are displayed publicly
  • Reputation within your community
  • Paid gigs
  • Unpaid gigs (like authoring eBooks, hosting webinars, etc.)
  • Network introductions (job leads)

Both paid and unpaid work is appealing to this developer. While they are actively seeking advancements in their career, they may need to add to their portfolio so they can prove their expertise. Remember that anything you can do to help them get more work will incentivize this developer.

Thought leader developers: status

Motivated by:

  • Status: This person cherishes their status above all else. They want to be the very best at what they do and get recognized for it.
  • Social and public recognition: Do people know their name? They want people to know who they are.
  • Sense of belonging: Thought leaders need people to follow them, but they also want to feel like they are a valued part of this community.
  • Self-actualization: This is their true passion and what makes them who they are at the very core.

How they think

These folks are working hard to build their own personal brand and reputation.

It could be due to their geographical location and their lack of opportunity there. Or it could be that they are seeking to shift into a more public facing role, like Developer Relations, and they want to become a more appealing candidate.

Whatever the reason, something is motivating this developer to care about their reputation. Provide them opportunities to be publicly recognized and showcase their work. They will see this engagement as a major incentive. They care about things like badges and roles in your community. They make great core contributors and moderators in forums, as long as you make sure their work is public.

Incentivized by:

  • Elevated (leadership) statuses in programs with ranks or ranks
  • Public recognition
  • Swag that makes it clear you’re in their circle
  • Social shout-outs that recognize their expertise
  • Public speaking invitations
  • Content creation—blog, tutorials, webinars, videos, paid programming
  • Networking opportunities
  • Placement on your core contributor list
  • Recognition on Github

Just a Start

These personas are just a start. If you’re creating personas for your developer audiences, these may get you very close.

However, ensure you focus your personas around motivation, not who they are and what they do. You want to know what is going to motivate developers to engage with you first, then learn more about how to engage with them as they evolve in your community.

This article was originally posted on Devocate, which joined the Common Room family in August 2022. For more developer relations insights and resources, check out the Common Room blog. Learn more about Common Room’s solution for DevRel teams if you're looking for an intelligent community growth platform to educate, empower, and enable your community.

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