GitHub Universe 2018 Special – Interview with GitHub’s Dev Relations Team, Don Goodman-Wilson

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  • Post last modified:2020-11-25
  • Post category:Interview
  • Reading time:14 mins read

As Sider is sponsoring GitHub Universe 2018, we have had a special chance to have an exclusive interview with Don Goodman-Wilson, a member of GitHub Developer Relations Team.

Two and a half people serving the world as Developer Relations

Soutaro:
Thank you for joining us today. I am going to start with the following question: What do you do at GitHub?

Don:
I am on the Developer Relations team. I, myself, am an engineer but I work on the Developer Marketing team. And the goal of the Developer Marketing team, in general, is to create super fans of GitHub, to go out and find the people who are very passionate about GitHub and empower them to help others learn how to use GitHub as well.

In Developer Relations, we focus specifically — as you can imagine — on GitHub as a platform. And this platform, of course, has two parts.

It has the people who are using the platform and people who are building tools to enrich the platform. And so on one hand, some of our work involves reaching out to those who are building these tools and building things that integrate with the GitHub API, and empowering them to build the best tools so that they can use the best practices and take advantage of new API features as we launch, and help them get past the technical hurdles that they may face along the way.

On the other hand, we reach out to developers who are using GitHub as their software development platform of choice, to tell them about all the different kinds of things that are available on GitHub Marketplace. That will be helpful for them in their software development lifecycle, so they can be as efficient and productive as possible with GitHub.

Soutaro:
How many people are working on your Developer Relation Team?

Don:
So, in the Developer Relations team, there are two of us. There is Brian Douglas, who is based in Oakland, California, and there is me in Amsterdam. And our manager, John Britton is based in New York City. He does Developer Relations work but he manages quite a large team of people in Developer Marketing broadly, not just Developer Relations. So two and a half people in the world.

Soutaro:
Ah. It is much smaller than expected.

Don:
Yes, well, we just started. Our team is less than a year old. And we are hiring (laugh)! I don’t know when but, at some point, we will probably be hiring in Tokyo for our team.

Soutaro:
Really?

Don:
I will have to double check on that. I don’t know if we are still looking to hire in Tokyo but we might be. We certainly were a couple of months ago.

Love of Teaching Led him from Philosopher to Advocate

Soutaro:
I think you started your career as a software developer and changed to developer relations in Slack. Could you tell us the story behind the career change?

Don:
Haha. The story actually goes further back than that. So, I have actually had many careers over the course of my life. Probably, the first career that I had was as a professor. I was a philosopher. I taught philosophy. I have studied philosophy. And I really enjoyed teaching. I didn’t enjoy the research aspect of it so much or the writing aspect of it so much, but I really enjoyed teaching. And I particularly enjoyed teaching classes like Introduction to logic.

During the housing crisis of 2008, the job prospects for philosophers tanked very badly. And I had looked for alternate work, so I moved back into the software world because I had studied engineering in school. I did some teaching in computer science on the side. And I started my own company, developing electronics with model trains, which was a lot of fun because I got to play with model trains all day, it was fantastic. And so, I stayed in the engineering world for many years. Then, I left my own company. I joined Screenhero, which was bought by Slack. I left Slack and joined the French company called Sqreen. And then I left Sqreen to join GitHub.

While I was at Slack, they started a Developer Relations team. And I was looking for a new team to join inside of Slack. There is a lot of lateral movement, so people frequently moved from project to project inside Slack because the teams are organized functionally. So, if you see something really cool that you want to work on, you can change teams to work on it. And so, they were looking for people, the staff, the team to run Developer Relations.

And I didn’t really know what it was at that time, but I was drawn by the idea of travel and giving talks, which is something that I enjoyed as well. But it turns out that a lot of Developer Relations is teaching, teaching people how to use an API, teaching people how to use in this case, like the Slack App Directory, build tools. It is helping people to be more successful in their work. And I realized that I really missed that teaching aspect from my previous career. And so, what I really like about Developer Relations is I get to combine my teaching with my love of engineering. So, I get to be both of these things at the same time. And it is quite lovely.

Soutaro:
Yes, thank you very much. So, you said you changed your career in Slack and moved to Sqreen and finally got into GitHub. And the reason you chose working at GitHub was -.

Don:
That is a good question. So, why did I choose to move to GitHub?

Soutaro:
Yes.

Don:
I think I very deeply believe in GitHub’s mission. I have been a user of GitHub for eight or nine years now, so almost all the years that it has been around. GitHub has a mission of helping people to learn how to code. So, this kind of outreach is very central to what we do in the Developer Marketing team. And I like that. I like that quite a lot.

But often times, in Developer Relations, the job consists of essentially selling a product by convincing the developers that they should be using your tool because it is cool for them. And in some sense, it is not sales exactly. It is not marketing exactly but it is very, very similar to those sorts of things. And we do that in GitHub, too. Of course, we work to convince people to use GitHub.

But, that is sort of incidental to what we actually do, which in many cases, is focused on empowering software developers to be better software developers and those who want to be software developers to be software developers. And I find this really powerful. What the developer marketing team does at GitHub is focused on empowering other people to do better, to be better. And that mission really resonates with me very strongly, I think. Yes, so that is my answer.

Soutaro:
Are you the first Developer Relations in GitHub?

Don:
No, I was the second, but there are only two of us at GitHub.

Soutaro:
So you are the last one.

Don:
Yes, I was the last one. GitHub is a company that has always been about Developer Relations in a way. It is a developer tool, first and foremost. Almost all the customers are developers. But Developer Relations is a job that everybody would do in a way at GitHub. It just seemed to be the natural course of everybody’s job. Of course, you would talk about GitHub to fellow developers. Of course, you would give talks about the technology behind it and get people excited about what we are doing and so forth. But of course, it is an organization’s rule. What happens is everybody’s job becomes no one’s job.

And if nobody is responsible for it, it doesn’t get done or it doesn’t get done in a way that is consistent and has the power of impact that you want. And so, my manager, John, saw that we could be doing a better job if we had an organized Developer Relations team who is solely focused on this work. And we began building this team probably about a year ago.

So in some sense, yes, I am the second person on the team but on another hand, I am like the 800th on the team, because everybody had been doing it.

Soutaro:
So if we have a Developer Relations team, we can provide a more consistent way to make the relations with people.

Don:
Exactly.

Soutaro:
Great, thank you.

Soutaro:
Do you have any question as a Developer Relations at GitHub to some of the startup CTOs like me?

Don:
Yes, I have many questions. How long have you been working on Sider? It is only about a year, I guess. Is that right?

Soutaro:
It has been two years.

Don:
Two years, okay. GitHub API has changed a lot in two years. So, how has it been for you navigating those changes in the API — the introduction of apps, the introduction of the marketplace, the new checks API- these kinds of things?

Soutaro:
Are you asking if we like the changes?

Don:
Has it been difficult for you managing the change? Right. So you have been building the software for a while. You have announced something new that is very relevant to your product…
Now, you have to make a decision. Well, do I adapt to this new thing or do I keep going with where I am? And then that you make a decision to adopt the new thing. You have to change everything to work with the new thing. We have done that several times in the past two years. Has that been a difficult process for you and how do you manage the decision making around that?

Soutaro:
Yes. In fact, we are currently working on the Checks API, but the difficult thing is that Sider has GitHub OAuth App implemented. The project started before GitHub app was introduced, and it is not migrated yet. So when GitHub Checks was announced, we decided to start the migration. We heard that GitHub Checks won’t be provided in OAuth apps. We have been working on this migration for a few months, but not finished yet.

Don:
Are you sure that you won’t migrate to GitHub apps?

Soutaro:
Without taking care of Checks API first, I don’t think we can migrate to the GitHub app from OAuth app.

Don:
Oh, I see. So, the Checks API was what motivated you to change?

Soutaro:
Yes, it was the last point to start the migration.

Don:
Mm-hmm, but it is a big change. It is a big change to your current base to support that. I see, okay.

Are you a part of any sort of program where you get preview access to new APIs?
Sometimes when we release a new product, for example, the Checks API, we allow developers to sign up for preview access or data access to it while we are building it up to get their feedback. Were you a part of any program like that?

Soutaro:
We would be interested in, but we haven’t been a part of it, at least as far as I know.

Don:
Okay. I know some people were but I don’t know how that program is managed. That is a sort of thing that will be very interesting for me to know because I think we need to be more organized about the way that we do that.

What to See at GitHub Universe 2018

Soutaro:
Sounds great. I would also like to ask you about GitHub Universe, which is coming up on October 16th and 17th. Is there any way to get the gist of GitHub Universe 2018 remotely? And for those who will be attending GitHub Universe, what should we check out on the site?

Don:
So, there will be a live stream of the keynotes. I don’t know if the GitHub Tokyo office is hosting the live streaming party or not. I know we are having one in Paris.
There will be a live video feed of the main announcements and I recommend watching that. I am going to be watching that myself. That is a really a good way to enjoy GitHub Universe remotely.

(For the attendees,) there are two really big features, actually I guess, there are three main features to GitHub Universe.

The first is the keynote part where we announce a whole bunch of new products and new features for GitHub. And that will be live streamed. So, in some sense, that may be the most important thing.

The second feature is that we are hosting two days worth of workshops. There will be a lot of workshops going on. I do not believe these are being live-streamed but I will inquire about that as well. And that kind of content I think can — if you were interested in seeing some of that in Tokyo, it is a sort of thing that, — could be arranged independently of GitHub Universe. So some of it (workshop) is how to use GitHub or how to build the GitHub app right, which, of course, is a sort of thing that at this point hard to do. And it is a kind of content that we like to provide on a regular, ongoing basis in different cities and communities because it is important. But, this is an opportunity to do it all in one place while everybody is gathered together. You can sign up for workshops and so forth.

And then the third thing is the community, meeting other people at conferences, networking, socializing; that can’t really be live-streamed. That has to be done in person, unfortunately. And so what we do in those cases is we have GitHub Satellite. There was Satellite just recently in Tokyo, maybe six months ago I believe.

Soutaro:
I think it was in June, three months ago.

Don:
Is it June? That recent?

So, three months ago. This is the other thing that we do for those who can’t make it to GitHub Universe. We run this kind of satellite events all over the world. We try to visit all the major cities about once a year. And we offer workshops, local talks, and the opportunity — again, to meet the GitHub community in that account. That is what we do for people who can’t fly out to San Francisco to the GitHub Universe.

Soutaro:
We will be a sponsor at the GitHub Universe this year and we are really excited to have a booth at the GitHub Universe.

Don:
Oh, that is very nice.

Soutaro:
Yes. Do you have any suggestions for us as sponsors?

Don:
Oh, I see. Yes. As sponsors. Well, of course, you should talk to as many people as possible while you are there. For the booth, stickers are always fantastic things to have. People new to us, love our stickers. I am trying to think. You should certainly attend the workshops as well.
(While you are there, to take advantage of that time), you know there is a very lively Meetup scene in San Francisco. I would strongly encourage you to look at meetup.com for meetups relevant to Sider, like DevOps meetups, general software development meetups, meetups in the languages that your tool supports, and maybe sponsoring some of those. And even if you don’t sponsor those events, attending them and showing up, wearing Sider T-shirts or polos and handing out stickers, those can be very effective when you are doing some very inexpensive marketing to the San Francisco developer community.

Soutaro:
Great. Thank you very much for your time.


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