You Don’t Have to Write Code to Be Part of the Developer Community

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Tim Falls: Thumbs Up!I meet a lot of people, from all over the planet. I’ve met an especially large and diverse group of people over the last 3+ years, within my role at SendGrid. Most people I meet are operating within a world similar to mine, professionally speaking: think startups, tech, [insert geeky buzzword here], etc. I’m not a developer, yet time and again people assume I am. And they assume that you have to be able, to code to be part of a developer community.

Most conversations begin something like this:

Other person: “What do you do?”
Me: “I lead a team of Developer Evangelists. We’re crafting a global community of developers, by helping them make the internet a better place for all.”
Other person: “Cool. So, are you a developer?”

Putting myself in Other person’s shoes, I guess it’s easy to feel  safe in making that assumption. After all, SendGrid is a technical solution to a technical problem. Our founders are developers, our customers are developers, and our community is largely composed of developers. I’m surrounded by developers!

Inside the hacking spot

Fact: I am not a developer.

Have I attended more hackathons than most developers? Probably.
Have I written code before? Yes, but not much.
Have I built an app? Kinda, but not really.
Do I want to learn? YES!

If you can relate, then this post is for you. Especially, if, in light of knowing what I do for a living, you’re itching to ask these questions:

As a non-developer, how do you…

  • fit into the developer community?
  • hire and manage a team of developers?
  • work with [predominantly] developers on a daily basis?
  • not feel like a complete idiot at all times?

…and how do you do all this effectively and with success?

It’s pretty easy to be an equal member of the developer community, if you keep some simple ideas in mind.

Be you

Don’t pretend to be anything that you’re not. Whether you’ve never written code and have no desire to, or you’re a dedicated, novice student of the craft, present yourself to other community members as such. Don’t overstate your experience or your level of interest in gaining said experience, just in the interest of winning over a new developer friend. A developer won’t shun you for lacking experience or interest in programming. Heck, she might even want to learn more about your “other” experiences and interests.

Know your role

Once you know who you are, you can determine where you fit among your fellow community members. As you meet people, try to gauge where you fall within the spectrums of experience and passion. As you learn more from those people, identify your own personal areas of interest and explore them. Get an idea of what pushes your buttons, and what’s not so cool in your book. As you follow your own path, you’ll figure out where you fit within the broader community landscape.

Provide Value

After you’ve introduced yourself to the community and reached an understanding of how you fit into the puzzle, you should be well-equipped to jump in as a fully participative member of the community. You’ll see ways in which your individual contribution can add meaningful value to the collective good of the community at large. As cliché as it may sound, each community member brings to the table a unique perspective and personalized input. And a strong community is characterized in part, by the collaborative intersection of these diverse and unique personalities, perspectives, and actions.

Developers are humans, too

Unicorn attack by Sam HowzitThe average developer could be described in the following way: one who has gained proficiency in a language that allows him to communicate intelligently with computers.

Somehow, that simple (and accurate) description has turned into something more complicated (and inaccurate), like this: one who has had bestowed upon her magical powers, making her capable of manipulating the internets, to follow her every command.

Developers have a highly demanded skill. But the fact of the matter is that almost anyone can learn to code, if they so choose. On the other hand, each of us non-developers has a skill of our own – some more and some less highly demanded than coding. Whatever it is that you do well, embrace it, do it, and share it with others. But don’t think that you or anyone else is above or below a certain standard, because of that thing that you or they have learned and decided to sell.

Developers are not unicorns. Unicorns are unicorns… silly.


Being part of a community is awesome. That’s why communities exist. That’s why so many of us consider ourselves members of so many different communities. If you are looking at the developer community from the outside, and want to see it from the inside, be a part of it. If it’s not for you, you’ll find another. If it is for you, you’re in for a fun experience.

#Protip: These ideas can be applied to almost any setting – not just the developer community. It’s not rocket science, by any means, but sometimes just thinking about the simple concepts helps us be better members of communities, societies, and civilizations.

Thoughts? Related experiences? Funny joke? Share with us in the comments!

Director, Developer Relations at @SendGrid. Passionate about bringing people together around things they love. I tweet at @TimFalls.

Tim Falls on Twitter

5 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Write Code to Be Part of the Developer Community

    • Brad –

      1. Thanks for the kind words, and glad it was worthy of a bookmark – please share with others to whom you think it would be helpful!

      2. Every little bit helps – even simple, somewhat subliminal, messaging, when delivered consistently over time, can potentially trigger a change longstanding generalizations (women write code, too!)

  1. I am the least technical member of the Samsung Developers team (I've dabbled with a bit of HTML and flash but no more) but I am responsible for a bit of developer outreach & coordination, which as you mention involves a whole heck of a lot of other skills. I see my role as helping people who are often very busy, understand what we currently have on offer and the ways they can use services to their advantage (£££). Being interested in technology helps, but not quite as much as having a good relationship with the platform specialists and technical writers. :-)

    • Ben –

      Thanks for your comment – it certainly rings true for me personally, and I'm sure for many others who play roles such as ours.

      Your points remind me of an analogy of sorts that I often use when answering the question, "What does a developer evangelist do?" …
      Evangelists (Developer, Product, Tech, Brand, etc) can accurately be described as "Connectors of Dots" — i.e., they excel in the following relationship flow: meet someone new, learn about them and what they do, understand where they fit into the broader community picture, and finally facilitate a connection between them and other people/organizations, with a focus on fostering mutually beneficial relationships.
      1) meet a customer, customer has product feedback, connect them to the product team, so their voice can be heard.
      2) meet a startup CEO, founder is seeking investment, connect them with an awesome angel investor or VC firm.
      3) meet a potential partner, determine symbiotic opportunity, connect with business development team, along with some background info and a vision of where things might lead.

      This all goes along with the general theme of helping people. As long as you're bringing value to your fellow community members (whether that value is based on your technical expertise or not), they''l return the favor, and everyone will benefit from the collective effort!

      Thanks again for reading and taking part in the conversation!



  2. Pingback: Tips to Embrace Your Developer Community

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