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Great GitHub actions for techdocs sites

There are two main options for techdocs sites. You can use a SaaS solution like Readme or DeveloperHub. Or you can use a static site generator like Jekyll, Hugo or Docusaurus. There are strengths to each approach, but for this post I want to look at continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) tasks you can run on staticly generated tech documentation.

Why use CI/CD for your docs site? CI/CD tools let you automate code or documentation tasks. For documentation, you can run checks to ensure consistency and correctness which make your documentation better.

GitHub Actions is the CI/CD tool I’m going to refer to, but similar functionality is available with other CI/CD solutions such as CircleCI or Jenkins. Additionally, I’ll talk about the content living on GitHub in a repo, but you could use self hosted git, gitlab, bitbucket or other version control solutions.

This post has a couple of assumptions:

  • Your content is in version control.
  • Your content is in a format that needs to be processed before it is ready for publishing. In other words, you are editing text files in a certain format (markdown, asciidoc, etc) that are then processed, rather than using a WYSIWYG editor.
  • The people writing your content are comfortable using version control and tools like markdown.

Here are tasks you should automate:

Deploying The Documentation

This is the first one and the easiest win. You should have a workflow which automatically deploys changes when a PR is merged to your primary branch. This lowers the barrier to entry for contributing to documentation, because you only need to get a GitHub PR approved. Similar to continuous deployment of a SaaS application, it makes it easy to push changes regularly. Because it is a GitHub PR, it also is easy to roll back–you just revert the PR.

You may wonder at my including this, because it seems so obvious, but I’ve been on teams where the deploy process included sshing to a server, pulling the branch, and running a script.

Automating deployment was well worth it, because it changed “I found a typo, oh man, what a pain” to “I found a typo, I can push a PR and fix it in 3 min”.


Vale is an amazing, free linter for your prose. I haven’t witnessed it used at its full potential, but it is a spell checker, word police and living style guide all in one. It’s kinda imposing to start with since there are so many “nerd knobs”, but start simple and add to it as you learn it.

Vale runs fast enough you can have it run on every PR.


Deploy a spell checker to run against your documentation to prevent misspellings and typos.

You have two choices here:

  • spell check just the changes (vale is good at this)
  • spell check the entire site (pyspelling is good at this)

The former lets you block a PR if there’s an issue, while the latter takes a lot longer and should run on a schedule. The latter is a good fit if you have non-technical docs (perhaps from a marketing site) that you also want to check for correctness.

You should plan to add a lot of words to the ‘known words’ file because most techdocs have jargon or names that aren’t in standard dictionaries.

Look For Dead Links

Running a link checker regularly will help your users avoid 404 pages. No matter how cute they are, they annoy folks because a 404 is a dead end. Techdocs are all about enabling end users to solve their problems and a 404 page doesn’t help.

You should run the checker periodically and fix busted links as soon as possible. I haven’t found a way to run it quickly enough to link checking on a PR. (Update July 7: someone on a slack pointed me to this open source partial link checker. I haven’t tested it, but they say they use it.) I like this fast link checker which catches 404s but also will error on page anchors that don’t exist. The latter are not as annoying as the former, but still impact developer experience.

Side note: link checkers only prevent internal linkrot. You can prevent external linkrot by being assiduous about your redirects. Never let an external link be sent to the home page or, worse, a 404 page.

Check For Closed Issues

Often documentation references an externally facing issue tracker, such as GitHub issues or Jira. After all, if there is a known problem that has a workaround or enhancement planned, adding a link to an external tracker lets the dev audience know and can help them accomplish their goals or know to wait for a future release. Often issues are closed but are still referenced in the docs, which means that the link is confusing.

This job mitigates that by iterating docs, looking for issue links, then checking to see the status of the issues. If the issue is closed, this task reports the problem that the doc can be updated.

Shrinking Images

Small images lead to a faster experience for your users, but it can be hard to remember to shrink the images as you are creating documentation. Automating such image shrinking using a tool like tinypng is an easy way to improve user experience.

This is best done on a pull request, but will require committing the changes using a tool like git-auto-commit.

Generic Content Checking

You can write a shell script using grep to look for known content issues. Examples:

  • Images without alt text.
  • Documents without a title or description tag.
  • Alt text that is not a full sentence.
  • Descriptions that are not a full sentence.
  • Enforcing that every blog post is in a known category.
  • Absolute URLs that point to your docs site. Everything should be relative so it’s easy to stand up locally.
  • Markdown syntax issues

In practice, this looks like: exit `find astro/src/content/ -type f -name "*.md*" | xargs grep ']()'| wc -l |sed 's/[ ]*//g'`

That one liner looks for a markdown link with an empty URL. The above GitHub action will fail if there is a non-zero exit code.

Custom Checks

Once you start automating content quality checks, you’ll find opportunities everywhere. Some ideas:

  • If you show example applications on your techdocs website, but store the code elsewhere in a repository, you can check to see that the numbers from each source are equivalent.
  • If you have handcrafted JSON examples, making sure they parse using a tool like jq. It can be easy to miss an errant comma.
  • Making sure every API page has example code on it.

As you look at your docs, I’m sure you’ll think of others.

How To Handle Errors

Many of these tasks will throw an error when something is incorrect, such as a misspelling or syntax error. There are two ways to handle these errors.

  1. If you can run the check quickly enough, run it on every push or every opened PR and provide feedback for fixing the issue. The doc author can then handle it immediately before the PR is merged.
  2. If the check takes a long time, like spell checking your entire site, then run it on a schedule. The last person to edit the workflow will get the notification, so it’s best to catch the error and have it send an email to a shared alias to capture the issue and then fix it.

Also, configure these tasks to be run manually (the workflow_dispatch event for GitHub actions). This helps with troubleshooting or testing when a fix has been made.


All of these tasks can help you remove some of the toil from creating an excellent techdocs site. You don’t have to do them all at once, but adding them will reduce your effort and increase your documentation quality.

Tech talk checklist

When you do a software related talk at a conference or a meetup, there are lots of things to consider.

This is a checklist so that next time I do a talk, I have something to reference.

My target audience is technical folks at meetups and conferences where the audience size is 5ish to 100ish. I’m sure things change as audience size and content types do.

Slide content

  • Have a QR code for slides
  • Have a QR code for any other action you want
    • “Apply for a job with us”
    • “Try our software”
    • “Read our content”
  • End on QR code slides and include “thanks” and contact info
  • Have a resources slide with more info
  • Display your twitter/social handle on every slide in the corner
  • The infamous about me slide
    • Make it quick (> 1 min)
    • Even “who cares”
  • Have a conclusion slide just before the QR code/Thanks slide
  • Ranking of content (all other things being equal)
    • Fewer words is better than more words
    • Pictures or memes are better than words
    • Animated diagrams are better than pictures
      • Easy implementation: have multiple slides that you arrow through
    • Demos are better than animated diagrams
  • Audiences are forgiving of demos, but you can always record a video for backup if the stakes are too high
  • Make code big enough to read
    • Including if you are displaying it from your IDE
  • Highlight important code bits with color
  • Add code to liberally licensed repo
    • Include on the resources slide
  • If presentation is long, break into sections and have section nav on the main section pages to orient audience
  • Don’t be afraid of too many slides
    • Be afraid of people reading your slides
    • Be afraid of boring people


  • Sections of audience won’t be paying attention
    • Focus on those who are
  • Remember that you are the expert and people want you to succeed
  • Pause for questions
    • Include a slide or time at the end
    • Incorporate answers into talk if you get them regularly
  • Be good about time limit
    • Practice
    • Cut stuff in the middle (questions, other sections) to get to conclusion


  • Promote on socials (schedule it)
    • 2-3 weeks out
    • 2-3 days out
    • same day
    • after (include slides)
    • Tag the organizer or conference/meetup if you can
  • Don’t plan on doing anything intense the hour or so before your talk
  • Download a PDF of your presentation in case you don’t have internet
  • Get to the presentation room at least 15 minutes ahead of time
  • Test AV connections including mic if needed
  • Bring your power cord for your computer
  • Connect to people who attended talk if they send a request
  • After talk, hang out for a bit if you have time, to chat with folks. Many won’t ask questions during talk, but will after.

I’ll plan to add more to this as I think of it, but this is a good starting checklist for me.

New adventures, same company

I recently shifted roles at FusionAuth. Where I was previously head of developer relation (devrel), I’ve relinquished this role to Tony Blank, who is now leading that team. I can’t wait to see what Tony and the team do to help developers build on and learn about FusionAuth.

But why did I switch roles? I’d been leading the devrel function for almost four years and built the team to:

  • two full time employees
  • one part time contractor
  • three agencies

Last year, I took a long hard look at what I was doing and what I wanted to do.

I noticed I didn’t want to be on a manager’s schedule and didn’t want to spend a large chunk of my workday in meetings. I enjoyed the impact of the devrel team and am very proud of everyone who was a part of it.

Yet I also noticed a pattern in my career. I have often:

  • been hired in an IC role
  • had an opportunity to take a management role, because the business needed it and I could do an okay job
  • took the opportunity
  • didn’t enjoy it but also didn’t see a way out
  • started looking for a new job
  • quit the company

I can think of three times this has happened in the last decade.

When I started to build out the devrel team at FusionAuth, especially when I was hiring the full-time employees in the last year or so, I communicated clearly to my managers that I’d build the initial team because I saw a business need. Devrel and market awareness go hand in hand and I think the latter is what FusionAuth needs right now.

But I was also clear that I wanted to hand team management to someone who cares about that as a discipline. I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I like some parts of people management, but that I don’t compare well with others working toward mastery of that craft.

I’m happy to report that my managers at FusionAuth heard me. They were willing to allow me to hire someone who has built out a great devrel team in the past and who really loves to do so; that would be Tony. (Raising our round helped with this too.)

So, where does that leave me? My new title is principal product engineer. What I’ll be doing is high impact individual contributor (IC) work. Combining my knowledge of CIAM, my understanding of the company based on my tenure, and my software skills, I’ll be working on processes, code, and integrations to help solve FusionAuth’s business problems.

At a company growing as fast as we are, there are always bumps to smooth out. Because of my history and skillset, I’m a good person to help. The first thing I’m doing is building out a training program to help employees sell more effectively; it’s been fun to evaluate and select a learning management system, create the curriculum, and build out the training modules.

I’ll miss some pieces of devrel, but I expect to continue to do some devrel-esque tasks. For example, there are several long-form guides and example applications that I can’t wait to write. In fact, building out the training has unearthed holes in our documentation that I can’t wait to fill.

When I look back, I often spun out of a company because I didn’t see a way out of a management role. This is because managers are among the most highly paid employees. Once I was promoted, I didn’t think that my superiors, who were in some cases the owners of the company, would see a place for me. I wasn’t sure there was a high impact IC role at these companies.

But I made a mistake. I didn’t talk to them about alternatives. Part of this was due to my immaturity but a larger part was due to my fear and distrust. After all, if I mentioned I wasn’t happy managing a team, but that was what the business needed, I feared I wouldn’t be needed. But jumping to this conclusion without discussing options removed any agency from my managers. It is possible that I could have moved laterally within the company or found another path forward.

I’m ashamed that I didn’t trust them enough to explain how I was feeling and discuss the job shift I wanted to make.

That’s why I’m proud I had this tough conversation at FusionAuth. I was able to because:

  • I had seen the pattern enough times to know that I could do management for a while but would eventually become unhappy enough to leave
  • I knew I didn’t want to leave because of the team, the problem and the overall opportunity
  • I was in a unique position, having been there for most of the growth yet not having a C level role
  • I’d seen other folks in difficult situation be treated fairly

This conversation could have resulted in a departure for me if there was no budget or need for a high level IC role. The fact that it didn’t have that result gives me hope that there is a path, and a budget, for non-managerial technical leadership, even at smaller companies. In fact, I’m hoping this inspires other folks at FusionAuth, who may want to increase their impact without managing people, to stick around.

I also look forward to solving tons of problems as we keep growing.

Here’s to new adventures!

Should your customers be your devrels?

Saw this spicy take:

If Twitter goes away, this is from Stefan Avram, who said “You shouldn’t have devrels. Your customers should be your devrels”. (Stefan is a cofounder of Wundergraph and head of growth. Good on him! It’s hard to found a company.)

I wanted to talk about this statement because, well, I’m a devrel (a developer relations professional) and I don’t agree with it.

First, let’s rule out a few obvious points.

  • If you aren’t targeting developers as users, you shouldn’t have devrel as a function.
  • Even if you have a devtool, if your main sales channel is top-down, devrel is not super useful.
  • If your product doesn’t have some kind of free version, devrel is going to have a tough time. Not everything has to be free, but it’s really tough to get a developer to offer both time and money to learn about your product.

I hope this goes without say, but it is fantastic if your customers are advocates for your product.

However, I think this approach is a bit naive. It’s a bit like saying “You shouldn’t have sales people. Your customers should be selling your product.”

The truth is that there will be some subset of your users who are enthusiastic and advocate for your product if it is good enough to buy. I have interviewed some for FusionAuth. You should do everything you can to encourage this behavior, including:

  • talking to them
  • learning about their companies and successes
  • giving them swag
  • sharing their stories far and wide

But these folks’ job isn’t to promote or support other users’ use of your product. They’re busy building their product, company or project. As they should.

A high functioning devrel team can offer:

  • quality content
  • support for a community
  • up to date, relevant code

This team should be working to improve all of these and make the experience of all of your potential users better and better.

And they’ll care about the company’s overall mission. And they’ll have inside access to the codebase, the engineering team, and the product roadmap. And they can offer reified, constructive feedback from users to your teams.

That’s a large number of important business functions. If they are performed by customers, who are, again, busy working on their own stuff, they’ll be done at best haphazardly and at worst not at all.

Think about it. How many blog posts have you written about a product? How many of them were deep dives?

I can say that I’ve done it for a few products (stripe, zapier, AWS, lob) and none of those are deep enough to qualify as anything other than the briefest introduction to a product. A developer who encounters posts like these will either be intrigued and want to dig in further or bounce, but they certainly won’t have enough info to make a decision or use the product.

By making documentation, community and code examples the developer relations team’s problem, you’ll get more focus and better results.

And more users and happier customers.

Thoughts on a freemium software product

At FusionAuth, we have a free software product that is a critical part of our business model.

A free product is pretty common in the software space because of two things:

  • Software needs to be used to determine its efficacy; a software package is not like a shovel. With a free option, money is no longer a barrier (though time is).
  • Software has zero marginal cost; once you put the effort in to build the first copy, you can create 1M copies for essentially the same cost.

However, supporting a free software product sure isn’t free. This post covers what you need to think about in terms of investing in a free product.

If FusionAuth were a public company, this is where there’d be lawyerese talking about forward looking statements and safe harbors and whatnot. Suffice it to say that this entire post is my personal opinion.

Side note: a free product is often but not always open source. Free can mean a tier of a SaaS, an open source project, or a downloadable product. Open source has additional complexities, so I’m going to focus on products that are “free as in beer” in this post. FusionAuth has a downloadable product that devs can run for free, within constraints.

We have internal discussions about tweaking the free version of the product. Options include:

  • Keeping the product as-is, but making investments in the community version. This includes bug fixes and feature improvements. Since our free product is production ready and feature rich, this is a solid choice.
  • Improving the free product. There are multiple dimensions to doing so, including:
    • Improving discoverability of the free option, such as highlighting it more on the website, advertising it, or investing in additional documentation around its features and usage.
    • Changing the license to make it usable across a greater number of use cases or with different limits.
    • Move features currently restricted to paid plans to the free product.
  • Degrading or limiting the free product. These are basically the flip side of improving it:
    • Increasing friction to find or use it.
    • Modifying the license to prohibit currently allowed use cases.
    • Clawing back features from the free plan, focusing on features useful to businesses who are likely to pay. For example, the free plan currently allows unlimited SAML connections, which many competitors throttle.

For the foreseeable future, we are following the first path, improving the free product. The free product is usable and robust, and we get substantial benefits from the community’s usage.

Let’s dig into these benefits.

The value of the free users

First, if developers are using our free software to solve their authentication needs, they aren’t using someone else’s. While you can’t pay a mortgage with developer attention, that doesn’t mean it has no value. Such attention expands our mindshare and market share. More mindshare means that people are learning about our solution. Gaining market share means they aren’t using someone else’s solution. Therefore they are neither paying a competitor money nor getting more familiar with their solution.

Second, such users spread the word about our solution. Sometimes they talk about it on social channels and sometimes on a review site. But often it is prompted by us; here is an example of one of my favorite set of blog posts, entirely drawn from community experiences. Talking to community members has opened up my eyes to the wide variety of ways our product is used. Community stories are not, however, useful as case studies for the sales process. They aren’t detailed enough. But they are still helpful to spread the word about the product, highlight our community members and catch long tail keywords.

Third, free users improve FusionAuth. They do this by:

  • Finding flaws in FusionAuth, such as bugs or regressions. Here’s an example issue, including workarounds.
  • Requesting new features. We leverage the community further by asking users to upvote such requests so we know what the community wants from the product.
  • Exercising the software by performing integrations that we would never have done. This is a variant on finding bugs. For example, a free user reported we aren’t to spec with regards to the SAML relay state; that’s never been an issue for the existing SAML integrations.

Finally, free users also offer each other support. While not all community members are active all the time (our community is more of a Google than a Facebook), a few have a presence on our forum, slack and GitHub issues.

The conversion of free users to paid users

Free users may purchase the software in the future. Once someone needs paid features, they may stop using the free plan and buy. We’ve built up trust as a solid solution in their mind and they have already integrated us. So a free user will consider paying you when they are looking to purchase.

Of course, you need  a product worth paying for above and beyond your free offering. At FusionAuth, we accomplish this in three dimensions:

  • Operating the product. Many of our customers are fine with the features of the free plan but don’t mind paying us to run it. This can include service level agreements (SLAs) as well, which are like catnip for enterprises.
  • Paid features. These are either features good when you are at a certain size (like SCIM) or enhancements of features available in the free tier, such as a more customizable registration form or MFA policy. Choosing the features to charge for is critical, but is really hard to get good data for since it is very business specific.
  • Support. Knowing you can ask questions of the engineers behind the product is valuable, especially for larger businesses.

There are two ways for free users to convert.

They can do it directly, where they use the free version to evaluate or run a “proof of concept” to ensure that our product meets their needs before they ever engage with us. We have plenty of customers who say “we’re already a few months into integrating with you” on our purchase kickoff call, and that ability to “get going” with the product without talking to a sales rep or pulling out a credit card makes the decision easier. Again, they trust the solution will solve their problem. They can also see how the company treats the free users and the community in general too.

There are also people who “kick the tires” with the free product and discover that it doesn’t meet their needs. We don’t hear about as many of those, but I have talked to a few. In this case, both parties win; getting to a quick no is not as good as a “yes” but is still pretty good. There are also people who do a self-led POC and incorrectly determine it isn’t a fit. They might miss features through lack of docs or a conceptual mismatch. We keep trying to improve our docs, education and product, but you can’t win them all!

There’s also an indirect conversion path, alluded to in the above mindshare point. Free users may use our software on a side project or to learn about authentication and OAuth in general. This lets them add FusionAuth to their toolkit. Then, later, perhaps years later, they can bring us into a project as an option to evaluate or to recommend us for purchase.

In general, free products let you build trust and de-risk purchases.

Keeping up with the Joneses, err the competition

Finally, competition matters. Lots of our competitors have a free offering. Again, this is due to the nature of software. Yay to zero marginal cost!

This is also compounded by the nature of developer tools. Devs are looking for tools to solve a problem, but once they’ve integrated one, it sticks around. One time I picked a bug tracking system in a few days (phpbt, what what!) and it was used at our company for years. This means if you have a friction free evaluation process, you stand a good chance of being embedded.

Offering a free product matters for our market positioning.

Nothing sells quite like free.

In conclusion

When you make a free product available, you are offering users something of value. Resources are scarce, and supporting the free product isn’t free.

Determining how much time and effort to expend supporting it depends on the value your company gains. You won’t always be able to calculate it in dollars and cents, but it exists nonetheless.

Why Developer Relations Jobs at Startups are Not Entry Level Positions

Developer relations jobs at startups are sometimes seen as suitable for entry-level developers, but this is a common misconception. In reality, these positions require a diverse skill set that can be overwhelming for new engineers.

The Variety of Tasks

Developer relations jobs at startups require a variety of tasks, including writing documentation, creating tutorials, writing example apps, giving presentations, and attending events. You’ll need to be able to prioritize these tasks, drive them to completion (often with the help of other startup colleagues) and re-order them based on changing needs and input.

This is all on top of the normal chaos at a startup, when you will be either searching for product market fit, pivoting or scaling. The combination of these tasks can be overwhelming for new engineers who are still learning the ropes.

The Solitude

This means that you need to be able to navigate the often chaotic environment of a startup on your own, without much in the way of project guidance or career development. You will need to rely on yourself and your own skills to be successful. This can be intimidating for new engineers who are just starting out their careers, but with the right attitude and knowledge it is possible to thrive.

Credibility with Developers

Developer relations jobs at startups require credibility with both beginner and expert developers. This means that you need to be able to communicate effectively with developers who are just starting out, as well as those who are experienced in the field.

While entry level developers can empathize with other beginning developers, technically connecting with experienced developers is a tall order. This requires a deep understanding of the technology and the ability to explain it in a way that is accessible to everyone.

Credibility with Founders

Developer relations is a long game, so you need to have buy-in from the founders of the company. They need to invest in you, in the community, and in your activities that strengthen the company’s ties to the community. This requires a deep understanding of the technology and an ability to communicate effectively with developers of all levels. It also requires demonstrating technical prowess and expertise that will be respected by the founders so they can trust that their investment in you and your activities will pay off. Having a few years of experience under your belt can help build this credibility, as it shows that you are familiar with the technology and have built up a base of knowledge that can be used to benefit the company.

Learning New Technologies

Developer relations jobs at startups require you to get up to speed quickly on a variety of technologies. This means that you need to be able to learn new things quickly and be able to explain them to others.

You need to be able to understand the abstractions your product sits upon, as well as the tools it can integrate with. The more experience you have with different technologies, the easier this is. Conversely, this can be a daunting task for new engineers who are still learning the basics.

Foundation of Production Level Code Experience

Finally, developer relations jobs at startups require a foundation of production code experience. This is because you need to be able to connect with developers who will be evaluating your tool.

You need to be able to speak their language and understand their needs. This requires a deep understanding of the technology and the ability to write production quality code.

Where This Advice Doesn’t Apply

If you are joining a larger startup or company with an established developer relations teams, much of this post does not apply. In this case, you’ll have founder buy-in, support from team members, and more defined tasks.

You may still have trouble connecting to experienced developers with complex questions, but may be able to connect them to other team members who can help them.

What To Do

If you are interested in developer relations, play the long game with your career. Spend a few years as a software developer, working on a team shipping code that users will enjoy. Learn how developers think and approach problems.

You can also engage in the communities that are important to you, either online (slacks, reddit, hackernews, etc) or in-person (conferences, meetups, etc). Volunteer or speak at events, which can help you understand the nuts and bolts of what goes on.

After a couple of years, you’ll have the software engineering foundation as well as the community experience to set yourself up for a fantastic devrel career.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, developer relations jobs at startups are simply not entry-level positions. They require a diverse skill set that can be overwhelming for new engineers. They require credibility with both beginner and expert developers, the ability to get up to speed quickly on a variety of technologies, and a foundation of production level code experience.


What in-person conferences offer: feedback

I was listening to a Twitter space recently and the host had an interesting take: for the amount of money you would spend flying a speaker to an international conference (call it $5000, though of course the actual number varies depending on location, timing and more), you could record a great educational video and get it in front of many folks on Youtube.

Assume you spend $3000 on video production, and the CPM is $4 (hard to find solid numbers, but this post talks about rates in that range), you could put that video in front of half of a million people (1000 views/$4 * $2000). That’s a big number, certainly more than attend any conference.

As someone who is gingerly stepping back into work conference travel, who doesn’t like to spend time away from his home, who is a member of the flyless community, and who came into devrel in earnest during the pandemic, I’m sympathetic to that view point. It is more efficient to broadcast your message wholesale, whether that is with a blog post, webinar, or a video, than it is to talk to people retail at a conference booth, or even to give a talk to a hundred people.

But what I’ve learned is that there are real benefits to in-person conferences too: attention, prestige and feedback.


Think back to the last video you watched, especially if it was technical. How much of your attention did you give it? Perhaps 100% if following a tutorial. But perhaps substantially less if it was background noise or you were looking to learn a bit on the subject.

I’ve definitely “attended” online conferences where I was not paying attention. And I have never popped into a virtual conference “booth”, so I have no idea if the content there is compelling.

I’ve also seen folks at in-person talks on their phones or computers, to be sure, but it is not the rule.

Data is hard to come by, but I believe that folks that are more likely to pay attention at an in-person event. They have made more effort, so they are more committed (research finds “working hard can also make [things] more valuable”). There’s also more distance from the normal work task during an in-person conference. Attendees have far fewer distractions, and an expectation of attention. I think that focusing your attention on a speaker at a talk you are attending is the polite thing to do as well, and there are social norms pressuring folks to do that.

This attention makes an attendee at an in-person conference more valuable than a Youtube viewer.


While not anyone can create a great video, anyone with a camera can make a video.

On the other hand, not everyone can buy a booth at a conference, attend one, or speak. There is a filter on everyone who is at an in-person conference. This filter disadvantages folks who can’t travel, have a disability, or have other constraints. But it improves the value of an interaction at a conference too.

Being able to pay for a booth or have a talk accepted in particular are signals of quality. They don’t equate with quality, as anyone who has sat through a vendorware conference presentation can attest, but there is some level of prestige that accrues to an organization by being at a conference. That’s one of the reasons companies pay to sponsor conferences; there’s value in being seen there. (Others might phrase it differently.)


Feedback is the last, and in my mind, most valuable differentiator between in-person conferences and online educational activities.

At a conference, the opportunity for two way communication abounds!

Any time someone stops by a booth or asks a question after a talk, as an educator you have the opportunity to not just answer a question or address a comment, but to dig in and understand the person’s context. What do they do? Why are they asking that particular question? Is there an unstated assumption in their question?

You can and often do have ten minute conversations at a booth, and this qualitative, high bandwidth feedback from expensive software development professionals is valuable in learning about your market and seeing if your message resonates.

Contrast that with the limited q&a at an online conference or the comments on a video. Yes, that is also feedback, but it is far less nuanced, considered, and interactive.


The ready availability of high quality, intense feedback driven by back and forth communication is the killer feature of in-person conferences. I don’t see any way to replicate that right now online.

Collecting internet points

I’ve been pretty active on HackerNews for the last couple of years and recently made it into the top 100 posters. According to this stats page, in just over 10 years as a member, I’ve posted 3468 comments and had 7824 submissions. That is approximately 1 comment and 2 posts per day, for a decade. (The numbers are as of the time I write this post.)

That’s a lot of hours on a site.

In light of that effort, I’d like to reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly of my years on HN, collecting karma points.

The good:

  • It’s elevated worthwhile posts and sites. I don’t know a single better source of free traffic for technical content. You don’t just get the initial traffic; other sites, online communities and newsletters pick up top ranked HN posts and reshare them, so there’s an echo effect as well that lasts for weeks. It is really fun to find a good article, post it and surprise the author.
  • I’ve learned a lot by reading the comments, especially in fields outside of software engineering. Posts on topics such as economics, physics and careers all receive really insightful comments.
  • I’ve been able to help a few folks get jobs by posting on HN. They have a monthly free jobs board and I know at least two people who have been hired because of one of my posts on the jobs board.
  • While trending on HN doesn’t typically translate directly to sales, it is great for brand awareness. At my current job, quite a few sales processes have been started because an engineer read a post about FusionAuth on HN.
  • For a developer relations position, having an active presence on HN is helpful. You can certainly devrel without being on HN, just like you can devrel without being on Twitter. But in general a public profile is helpful.

The bad:

  • While most folks argue and discuss from a place of goodwill, there are some who are overly pedantic and or just not nice. I can ignore them, but I remember a few flushes of shame where I made a mistake in a comment and was called out on it in an unkind, direct manner.
  • Self-promotion is part and parcel of a community where there’s this much traffic (to be transparent I promote my own stuff, but only 1 out of 10 posts at most). Often, I’ve seen over the top self-promotion. If someone only posts their own content, it simply doesn’t work.

The ugly:

  • HN has its share of trolls. I have personally seen fewer ugly posts recently, but any time I mention HN, folks reflect on the ugly, mean comments they’ve encountered on the site. Here’s an example of some people’s feelings.
  • I’ve had people ask me not to post their content without warning them. This is because of the kind of feedback they get from the site; they want to mentally prepare. That they’d even feel the need to do that is icky.

I think finding a community or three is a key part of growing as a developer.

While HN is not perfect nor it is as welcoming as other communities like the one around the Ruby language, the breadth and volume and diversity of it has been helpful to me.

So, I plan to keep collecting internet points for the coming years.

Thoughts on managing a devtools forum

I’m one of the team members tasked with managing the FusionAuth community forum, where folks using FusionAuth who don’t have a paid support plan can find help and answers.

Here’s some advice for running such a forum. (I wrote previously about why you should use a forum rather than Slack/Discord/live chat.)
  • First, consider why are you going to run a forum? Lots of great reasons: ease a support burden, help with SEO, foster community, get product feedback. Get clear on what you are trying to build before committing, because it is a commitment.
  • Choose forum software carefully. Migration will be a pain. Common options include nodebb (what we use), discourse, and vanilla forums.
  • Seed the forum. This means gathering up questions as you see them pop up in other venues (support tickets, GitHub issues, customer calls). I did that religiously for a few months. I learned a lot about the product and the forum posts meant that folks were helped even when it was new. I’d recommend posting the question and then responding in-thread with an answer.
  • Forums will bubble up commonly asked questions. This can tell you where your docs should be improved.
  • You must groom the forum. It won’t be set and forget. You have to pay attention to it, answer questions, respond to responses. A forum full of unanswered questions is worse than no forum at all. Trust me, developers will notice (we’ve had customers mention that they appreciated how active our forum was).
  • Because we sell support, we don’t answer questions immediately or have engineering staff answer them. There are also questions that we can’t answer such as architecture recommendations. Immediate responses and answers requiring context and research are reserved for paying customers. This hurts my heart some times, but we are open about it. May not be applicable to in all cases.
  • Don’t be afraid to ban users. We ban anyone who spams, no questions asked. Delete the content and ban the user. We luckily haven’t had any abuse issues beyond spam.
  • Have a code of conduct. I grabbed GitHub’s (you can see ours here, and here’s GitHub’s)  but have something. We didn’t in the early days, but it’s a good thing to have out of the gate.
  • Don’t expect a lot of community to grow out of it. At least, I haven’t had that experience, most people just want their questions answered. May be because I’m extremely part time on it and haven’t fostered it, though. Slack/discord is much more likely to build community in my experience. But know what your users want: Google or Facebook?
  • At a certain point, I had to enable a post queue, where a team member approves every new user. We were getting a lot of spam accounts and then they’d post gambling ads and then direct a ton of traffic (1000s of pageviews) to the ads. I don’t know what the spammer endgame was, but approving each new post has solved the issue. I’d definitely look for that feature.
In general I love forums, and so do devs, but they do take some work.

Options for scaling written content as a devrel team

If you are in developer relations, creating content is often a big part of your job. Written content is one of type of content, and a common one at that.

Written content scales well, is easily updated, can be consumed on readers’ schedules, is fairly accessible, and can be reused. It also can serve as a foundation for other kinds of content, such as talks, example apps, or videos.

At FusionAuth, I’m part of a team that creates a lot of written content. I wanted to talk about a couple of ways you can scale written content creation. Note this focuses on creating more content, but don’t forget to write the right content, which is more important than sheer volume. (That’s a whole other blog post, though I feel a bit like Fermat even mentioning it.) This post also assumes you can’t hire more in-house talent, either because of budget or because finding good devrel folks is really hard right now.


First up, re-use your content. You can take pieces and use them in different ways. For instance, write a great piece of long form content. Then, pick a few of the most interesting paragraphs or sentences, and share those in Twitter or on other social media. You can also use these excerpts as fodder for comments on online communities or forums, if they answer a question someone else is asking.

Finally, you can also combine articles. For instance, I lightly edited a number of articles, wrote a few pieces of original topical content, and ended up with an ebook about outsourcing your auth which has been useful to share with readers and possible FusionAuth prospects. The effort was far far less than if I’d set out to write a full book on the same subject.

The next two options require increasing amounts of money, so if you only have your time to spend, focus on this option.

Find freelancers

The next option is to find freelancers or community members who are willing to write articles. At FusionAuth, we paid money for these posts, which is typical. Our rates were between $0.25 and $0.50 per word, typically including an example app that we would host in our GitHub organization and open source.

Thee downsides of freelancers are:

  • it is hard to find good ones. I did find a couple who delivered multiple good posts, but they are few and far between.
  • you have to manage them and their delivery. This can include extensive editing depending on skill level.
  • you have to give them an outline. While I tried to get folks to ‘pitch me’ with interesting ideas, that didn’t turn up much at all.
  • they are not going to know your product or space as well as you do.

If you are larger, you might be able to pay less because it’ll be more of a plum for authors being published and associated with you, but you should pay something. Developers know the value of good content.

You may also highlight articles written by someone on their own blog, but that isn’t your content and You won’t be able to re-purpose it. You could, I suppose, reach out and see if the authors would be okay with you licensing it. Haven’t done that myself; I prefer to keep it simpler and share whatever someone writes about FusionAuth.

Content agency

The final option is to hire a content agency. The active ones that I know of are (disclosure, FusionAuth is a current client), Ritza, and Hit Subscribe. (I am sure there are others.) These agencies have different strengths and approaches, but they all take some of the management burden off of you. Often you can come to them with just an idea and they’ll build out a content brief (an outline), find someone to write it, and do an technical editing pass before delivering it to you.

These are great if you want technical content frequently. It is also fantastic if you want posts written about technologies that aren’t in your wheelhouse.

For example, Joomla is used across 1.7% of all sites on the internet and we wanted an article about SSO and Joomla. I didn’t want to come up to speed on the. So found a Joomla expert who was willing to write an article for us about SSO and Joomla. If not for them, I doubt that post would ever have seen the light of day.

The downsides of these agencies include:

  • you have less control over the freelancer selected.
  • they will not know your product or space as well as you do.
  • you’ll still have to do some quality control and checking. You can’t outsource this entirely, because of the above point.
  • it’ll cost more money. You can expect to spend between $1000 and $3000 for a post (at the time I write this).

These are options that I know of that let you scale up your written content creation.