Under the Hood of DevRel: Roblox’s Grace Francisco
Grace is VP of Developer Relations at Roblox.
She is responsible for leading developer and educational programs and engaging with a growing community of 3+ million developers to empower them across multiple platforms. A seasoned developer relations leader with over 12 years of experience, she has co-authored three patents and led worldwide developer initiatives at Microsoft, Intuit, and Atlassian. Prior to joining Roblox, she established Atlassian’s Global Developer Relations organisation to nurture and expand their rapidly growing developer community. She is also a celebrated diversity advocate, establishing and driving diversity programs, including mentoring rings, at Microsoft and Atlassian. Grace graduated cum laude and holds a BA in Business Management from Golden Gate University.
How long have you been in the role?
I have been in this current role for a year and it has been a fantastic adventure so far. This is my first foray into a consumer-facing service as all my other roles have been enterprise focused, so this has been a refreshing change. The other aspect of my job that makes this experience special is the developers we get to work with that are a vital part of the Roblox community. Specifically, I am referring to what we call emerging developers – first-time developers – creating their first ever experiences on the Roblox platform.
What was your journey to Developer Relations?
I left home at 17 and worked my way through college for nearly 10 years. I was fortunate to find my way into tech during this time. I did development work without a degree for some time and earned a couple of patents along the way while I was an engineer at Lotus/IBM.
I eventually wanted a change and went into technical marketing and then pre-sales engineering at Borland. After that, I went to Microsoft to be a developer evangelist on their first enterprise developer suite which was called Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) at the time. I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my career while at Microsoft, but actually, it was just the start! I was at Microsoft for eight years in a variety of developer relations roles from VSTS to leading the planning of channel9.msdn.com (a developer focused transparency channel) to driving web and open source initiatives.
I have since led and built teams at Intuit, Yodlee, Atlassian, and now Roblox.
So in your evangelism role were you on the road, developing content, etc?
At Microsoft, I enabled the worldwide field evangelists who were the employees on the road in their local markets. I built out a lot of content – samples, demos, decks, and train the trainer materials. I also met with strategic customers and partners. Some of the partners I worked with in my VSTS days were “frenemies” – they were competitors in the space we had just entered but our joint customers wanted a seamless experience from their tools to ours. I really enjoyed looking for win/win situations that served the best interests of both companies.
Back to your current Roblox role, how are you organized?
The developer relations organization is its own organization, reporting to the Chief Business Officer. Marketing, engineering, and product are all peer teams to our organization. I have four core groups reporting to me in our developer relations organization – Top Dev Programs, Developer Community, Information Experience and Education, and DevRel Operations.
What are your team’s responsibilities?
We focus primarily on providing resources that are designed to accelerate the success of developers on the Roblox platform. We have a rapidly growing audience of over three million developers who have largely grown out of our player community. We are focused on creating great self-serve content and education, as well as building a self-nurturing community whose goals is to provide our creator community the resources they need to build imaginative, immersive experiences on our platform. We also provide our education partners with core content which they extend and deliver in summer camps and after-school programs or build into their existing class curriculums.
We accelerate the success of our top developers via two highly competitive, onsite internship programs called Accelerator and Incubator. These two programs are either three months or five months long and take place twice a year (Spring and Summer). The programs are designed to bring young developers into Roblox to learn best practices in game design, marketing, and monetisation and have direct lines of communication with our engineering teams as they work to either create a new experience on Roblox or update a current one. The interns provide valuable, ongoing feedback about the tools and resources available on the Roblox platform that helps us continue to evolve and improve Roblox both for the developer community as well as the community at-large.
Do you recruit from these programs?
We don’t actively recruit permanent employees from our Accelerator and Incubator programs. The intent of both programs is to help developers either build new, successful games or improve existing ones. Our top developers are also now forming their own design and development studios where they collaborate with others in the community to build and monetise their experiences on Roblox. Others decide that they really like the idea of working in a bigger company that includes benefits and other employee perks, have had a good intern experience, and therefore pursue opportunities at Roblox. Given the success of top developers on the Roblox platform (over $30M paid out in 2017 with top devs earning over $250,000 per month with their games), it’s easy to see why.
You have a very different audience to the typical developer program!
Our core player audience is 9 to 13 years old. Our top developers are in their late teens to early twenties and many started on Roblox as 8, 9 or 10 year old members of the community. This emerging developer audience has the ability to build content that resonates in a special way with our core audience. They build unique experiences like “Work at a Pizza Place” – one of our top games – where players simulate working life in a pizza parlor. These are highly imaginative experiences that are less likely to come from an adult developer. We find that many young people have this “a-ha” moment between the ages of 10 and 12 when they self-determine that they want to build something themselves on Roblox. Our developer tools and hosting platform are free which lowers the barrier to entry, and many developers are making really good money from their games. As their games grow and become more popular Roblox provides the backend support to ensure a quality of play that our community expects.
How do you approach the ethical side of marketing to children?
We’re COPPA compliant and follow industry guidelines and policies related to marketing to children. We are also implementing GDPR by the May 2018 compliance deadline. Do you describe your work as DevRel or Developer Marketing, or something else?
I think of these areas as distinctly separate. Credible developer relations is about the technical conversation, enablement, and relationships whereas marketing tends to be about higher level messaging and broadcast to create leads and new customers.
Do you share/discuss best practice with other practitioners?
Yes, I attend and speak at different developer relations conferences and meetups. We have similar challenges – How do you do things at scale? What are the right platforms and technologies to create great content and API docs? How do you identify best practices to nurture those developers? At Roblox, we just use the extra lens that our audience is particularly young.
Is your program International?
Our platform is being used globally, so for us, it’s about how we support language-specific ecosystems. We recently released a localisation tool and we are building out data centers in key markets around the world to ensure the best experience for our player and developer communities. Now we are looking at how we incentivise developers to be first movers within non-English-speaking markets, to build native experiences that will appeal to local markets and help Roblox gain market share. We have to keep in mind that developers in these new markets are typically very young so the opportunity may not be apparent for them.
How do you measure the success of your program?
We keep track of the number of developers on the platform, metrics around game quality, play time, engagement and retention metrics. We also invest in helping our developers understand why these are important.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Over the past year, a big focus has been hiring and building up the organization and putting processes in place to help us scale the business as we grow. The developer relations team has grown from two to 20 people really quickly, so we are expecting to get a lot done over the next year. We take cultural fit really seriously. What stands out here is the level of collaboration between teams and a genuine sense of wanting to help each other out to get work done. We have a collegial atmosphere and this is the most polite engineering organization I have worked with to date!
What are you most proud of?
A lot of people burn out in this line of work. I have been doing it since 2004 and I’m really proud that I have been able to navigate the waters in various roles at multiple companies and continue growing in this boutique field. I’m one of a few long-standing developer relations experts in the field and have often been consulted for my expertise. I’m proud of the teams I’ve built over the years and our achievements. I have always sought more knowledge and information and I am convinced that if you want to continue to push the boundaries and continue learning new technologies, best practices, and new information, these are the best roles you could wish for.
I believe we are creating a new category of entertainment, but it didn’t start out that way. The original vision was an educational tool to help teach physics but quickly morphed into content and games as students began working with the physics engine to create their own experiences. Only now are we beginning to fulfill the original vision around education and as we have grown, we are seeing the type of engagement on the Roblox platform that is reserved for some of the largest entertainment platforms (ie. YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, etc.).
Given this popularity and our focus on education, we are now getting into educational curriculums and building relationships with large educational institutions who will be integrating Roblox into their various programs, which our founder is really happy about.
We aspire to have school programs in the future which is no easy feat given the understandably high bar set by formal educational institutions. However, we’ve made great progress so far with nationwide organisations to run summer camps and after-school programs and there is clear interest from the education community in the Roblox platform.
We’re continuing to scale up what we’re doing with our top developers to ensure the same level of support and services are available to the masses of developers we have on the platform. We’re building the next waves of top developers in much larger cohorts and doing so for a global market.