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I got on Skype for a chat with Ossama Alami, who heads up developer advocacy at Firebase. Firebase is a realtime backend service which is very popular at hackathons. Over 125,000 developers worldwide use Firebase, which is now an independent team within after an October 2014 acquisition.
Brief overview of Ossama’s background
Ossama’s first company was acquired by Accenture - he took his tech + consulting background to developer relations at Google (Ads, Geo, Commerce, and Glass)
Transitioned over to Firebase from Google, becoming the VP of Developer Happiness
Brief overview of Firebase
Firebase’s API lets you store and synch data in realtime
Firebase allows you to build powerful and collaborative tools only using front-end code.
Firebase shines with real-time applications - , building a realtime infra (for chat or is hard, but Firebase lets you create it quickly
Firebase makes it easier to add collaboration or chat
Store and synch data in realtime (with just front-end code)
Notable implementations of Firebase -
Firebase, like other developer tools, allows smaller teams to tackle bigger problems
What was the genesis of Firebase?
Firebase is a YC company
Founders of Firebase started working on Firebase in 2011 and launched first version in early 2012
What are the unique challenges of developer relations?
Developer Tools are hard to build because it’s hard to convince people to build on top of your tech if you are a startup
Adding to difficulty of creating a developer tool - software developers are very savvy and have highly varied requirements in their use of a tool
Developer Relations is a two-way street because you need to balance education and taking feedback from the outside to your engineer team
Google prefers the term Developer Advocate, to acknowledge their role in representing the developer community’s needs to the teams who are shipping product
The power of involvement in the community and events is to close the feedback loop, making your product better
Before Ossama joined Firebase in April 2014, what was their developer advocate program like?
Most of the outreach was Jame’s responsibility
Ossama came on to push the gas pedal and scale up a developer relations team
As of November 2014, Firebase has 125,000 developers using their technology.
More about evangelism
Advocacy humanizes the product which helps with growth
If a company does evangelism, it’s clear that they are investing in the future of the product, it’s safe to build on top of their technology
It’s hard to define what your typical day looks like - the work is varied
events - speaking, and hackathons
engineering - documentation and developer samples engineering tasks
support - on stackoverflow and inbound via email
product management - developer and API feedback
What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?
GitHub - a true essential tool fo the trade
side benefit is that GitHub promotes open source
GitHub makes advocacy easier because of the huge developer community all in one place
Other notable communities
How can you use GitHub or StackOverflow data to get insights into how to improve Firebase?
Aggregate data can tell you what technologies are popular or trending up, which can help you make educated decisions for which features or open source initiatives to prioritize
Recurring StackOverflow questions about your software point towards where your documentation is weak
Is it valuable to partner with other developer tools companies?
Yes under the right circumstances
Electric Imp partnership was great because of the synergy between two tools to solve complicated problems
EI was especially interesting because many Internet of Things (IoT) apps need realtime signalling.
Firebase also has a partnership with Zapier and Pebble
Electric Imp partnership -
great way to solve a specific problem and expose yourself to a bigger set
it was a natural tech fit … a lot of IoT products NEED realtime signalling
partnership also with Firebase + other services like Zapier, Pebble,
What is your favorite hackathon format?
Competitive - pitch for big prizes (Salesforce, Disrupt, AT&T)
Collaborative - science fair expos, finalists demo (MLH)
Themed - (Space Apps)
All have their place - biggest fan of themed hackathons.
Also likes Competitive but prefers collaborative. Giant prizes are trying to bend hackathons into something they don’t want to be
Themed hackathons - another benefit is having critical mass of the right stakeholders in one place
Why do people try to run hackathons for selfish reasons (free labor?)
It doesn’t really make sense - developers aren’t stupid
A developer’s time is so valuable that prizes seem exploitive.
Avoid hackathons that are all about the company which is throwing it
well-run hackathons are not cheap from a real cost and in terms of human capital (people hours) - net net it’s not productive to run a hackathon just to get one idea built
Throw a hackathon vs sponsor one - Which choice is better for a company who wants to get involved?
It’s preferable to participate in the hackathon scene before doing your own
Holding a hackathon is a big investment
If you have new tech it’ll be hard to draw attendees based on your brand - especially because no one has experience using your stuff
Now if you are a more well known brand, it may be attractive to give developers early access to your tech specifically at your event to get ready for a big launch
Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?
Devs have always wanted richer querying support. In November, Firebase delivered. This significantly improved Firebase.
Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have?
Firebase is hiring!
Ossama wants you to apply to be part of the Developer Advocacy team
Firebase has joined Google, but remains an independent team within Google Cloud.