Under the Hood of DevRel: Microsoft’s Jeff Sandquist
As general manager of Cloud + AI Developer Relations at Microsoft, Jeff leads the team reinventing Microsoft’s relationship with software developers around the globe. This team is maniacal about making the world amazing for developers of all backgrounds. As Developer Advocates, the team is spreading awareness of Azure and enabling developers to do what they love; write, code, and learn.
Jeff and team are responsible for creating global developer online experiences for Microsoft like docs.microsoft.com, and Channel 9. They connect with developer communities through their programs including Microsoft MVP, Microsoft Regional Director, our annual Build conference and third-party developer events around the globe. Prior to Microsoft Jeff spent two years at Twitter as Global Director of Developer and Platform, building their Developer and Enterprise business. Prior to that Jeff was a 16-year Microsoft veteran.
How long have you been in the role?
For well over 20 years I have been helping Developers, but actually, from childhood, I’ve worked in and with technical communities. My first computer was the Commodore 64. I lived in a small town of 100 people, so there were no local user groups. I then got a 300 baud modem and at 12 years old I got interested in the power of online communities. That’s how I learned to program and I’ve been fascinated since then by how you can use the internet to learn.
What was your journey to Developer Relations?
I went to Microsoft around 1996 starting off answering the phone taking developer questions on Active Server Pages or connecting a database to a server. As a company, Microsoft literally started by offering developer support and tools from an engineering background.
I was always inspired by how people could create something, and then through the power of community, go and solve problems. I moved through the ranks and was involved in the popular Channel 9 community. This was all before social media. I learned from those times if you can be your authentic self and allow engineers to talk to engineers peer to peer over a beer, then that’s how you develop relationships.
I then left Microsoft for a few years joining Twitter in SF, which provided me with a real focus on mobile, and then came back to Microsoft, because here there’s an opportunity to work with any developer.
How are you organized? Is your team in marketing / product / engineering organisation?
We are in engineering. I love when developer relations teams are right alongside product engineering. My team of engineers is within the Cloud + AI Engineering Team. I lead developer relations across products like Azure. We see Developer Relations as a discipline, rooted in engineering. Across my team, in addition to Developer Advocates, we have Product Manager, Technical Writers, Software Engineers and Solution Architects all working to make the world better for developers.
Our global developer advocates are engineers that connect with developer communities via content, public speaking, local meetups and online around the world.
We actually stopped using the word “evangelism” as it implies it is a one-way communication channel. It is very important that our team works with developers to understand how best to use Azure, but also how can we make Azure easier to use as well. Whether its Linux, Node, .NET, Kubernetes, Windows, Cosmos DB or mySQL we want our cloud to be for all Developers.
That’s really interesting – how do you make that feedback transparent back to your community in an organisation as large as Microsoft?
Microsoft’s founding moment was in building developer tools – BASIC for the Altair. We are rooted in doing things for developers.
We prioritize feedback in our workstacks, and Microsoft does more open source projects than any other publicly traded company. Our software is built in Github, as is our documentation. Anyone can do a pull request. We use Github tracking right on our content pages and feedback on progress. A lot of teams (like ASP.NET) lay out their roadmaps in public. Many teams also public standups, live coding on Twitch, and in person meetups too.
You have been doing this a long time. How do you approach metrics?
First, it is about measuring adoption – everything is measurable – everything from the take up of free trials to conversion into signups. We are able to link most of our advocacy efforts to downstream results: does it result in more consumption of our online content (docs, Solutions, videos, etc)? Does it result in more trial sign-ups? Does it result in more service consumption and revenue?
We do this not to stack rank developer advocacy, but to understand which levers are most effective: which events, which activities in which countries, which third-party sites to place our content, and so on. We have a Power BI dashboard that gives us all insight into these things so that everyone is empowered to analyze and act.
And, of course, we also examine traditional customer satisfaction metrics. We look at the number of companies in the ecosystem, do we have traction? We ask, are the people using our products being successful? Are our customers happy with our products, and are we seen as thought leaders?
What has been your biggest challenge?
Hiring really great people and building the overall team. We are constantly recruiting around the globe. We need people who are deeply technical, have the ability to communicate and have empathy with their communities.
On top of that challenging criteria, I’m really proud we have 50% diversity across all metrics on the team. I’m extremely proud of the team – it’s like a developer advocacy dream team. If you want to learn more about our openings and the team, visit http://aka.ms/awesomejobs
That’s really impressive. How do you retain and grow such great people? I have seen a lot of burn out and unclear career paths for Developer Evangelists in some companies?
Having the team embedded in engineering is a big factor, and we have a big focus on development. As I mentioned we are an open source company and often my team is doing pull requests against the main product code bases. We also empower our team to create and deliver their own talks – our people don’t just deliver corporate decks.
I think good planning helps avoid burnout. We plan the year and when the team is not on the road they are getting involved in development sprints. Recruiting curious lifelong learners also ensures people are always striving to develop themselves and not stand still.
What do you love about Developer Relations?
It touches every aspect of the company – tech, marketing, sales, everything. It’s so diverse. You have the privilege of seeing developers do amazing things, and you get to see our products in the hands of customers. It gives you a unique perspective.
Ultimately it’s about making developers successful, then getting out of their way so they can build something amazing. Developer relations is a wonderful discipline and something I am very proud to work on with the community.