How to engage developers - Speak with us, not at us

To reasonably speak with any geek be they dev, engineer, appsec pro, or anyone else that spends more energy attempting to hold back our enthusiasm around our favorite topic(s) that could most aptly be compared to the heat of 1000 dying suns constantly threatening to boil over and crush a mere mortal than deciding what to watch next on CSPAN, you must understand us.

We’re not trying to be this way. We are this way. If we’re wearing a batman t-shirt, it’s because we played with the thrift store found plastic toy we had as a kid until the decals peeled half off and we fixed them back on with tape, not because of the latest craze in geeks being cool. If we quote Star Wars or Firefly at you, it’s because it moved us, changed us in some way that stuck with us and is now something we consider a part of the fabric of our being. Every D&D reference is a subtle tip of the hat, a bid to allow you the chance to engage in a meaningful way. Which is important, because without engaging in ways that feel genuine, you won’t reach us. You, very literally, cannot buy our attention.

In fact, the more you attempt to do so, the further you alienate us and increase the size of the yawning chasm that is the distance between many companies’ fervent attempts at traditional marketing, and most geeks’ woefully uninterested yet respectful glance at their email, social media tile, or banner ad before summarily deleting, if not blocking as spam.

So how do you get our attention? You provide value .

You understand what it is we do. What we need. What we’re passionate about. Want to engage developers? Find subject matter experts on current trends in development to create content or advise those that do so they can create content that’s compelling, thought provoking, and/or directly helpful to your desired audience. Have them weave in topics that are about or tangentially related to your org and your brand. Have them be technically accurate. Emphasis intended.

Allow us to get our hands on your product, for free, as fully functional as possible, and be sure to call out the API endpoints that allow for automation. Freemium offerings, open source, public facing APIs, easy to check out, no cold calls afterwards no matter what full functioning demo instances sitting in the cloud of your choice, just waiting for our eager test drive. These are sirens’ calls we will not work hard to resist.

Do not, I repeat, do not hire a model to wear your branded t-shirt, smile on camera, and think it will hold our attention.

Geeks are, at our core, passionate about what we love. Whether that’s football, bread, skiing, or software, give us the opening, the correct special handshake to show that you won’t be annoyed when the flood gates open and we rant about our love for BSG, Anime, Tolkien, or…whatever, and we will giddily talk your ear off about our subject(s) of choice. We are brimming, at all times, with an unbridled gusto if you happen across the right subject, and seem authentic. But that’s the rub, that authentic bit? That’s important.

Want to engage geeks like most devs? Respect us enough to understand us, dig into the things about which we’re passionate because you took the time to either learn something about what we’re doing, or compensated someone that does, to engage on your behalf. Learn about the code we’re writing, the solution we’re building, how that relates to your brand, if at all, or at least the vertical in which your brand is represented. Let us get our hands on a thing, poke holes in it, discuss it with our friends, post about it wherever we post about things, and listen when we do .

Be confident, not cocky, humble, but not timid, and listen because you’re glad we’re sharing our thoughts on how you can make things better, more engaging, more interesting. Do that, and we might come back. Keep doing that, and we might become a regular, and maybe eventually even a geek for your brand. And that? That’s how you get your sticker on our laptop.

If it sounds like this will all take a bit of time that’s because it does. Building geek cred is a meritocracy and you have to earn your value with us before we’re willing to spend our time on you.

You can’t pay for a fast pass to get our attention. You can’t swipe a credit card and assume that someone will point out which stickers to put on your laptop to be sure you look correct and counterculture enough. Pro tip? Those stickers aren’t counterculture. They’re collected from favorite cons, places we’ve visited, and gifted by other geek friends that really get it and understand the important things like Han shot first, you never go all in against two untapped islands on turn two, 2d6 is more consistent than 1d12, subtitles > dubs, always, and you can’t take the sky from us. No matter how hard you try.

Tldr: Speak with us, not at us.