Building developer communities, part one: Unity

With the growth of the Internet of Things, companies large and small are suddenly finding themselves in uncharted waters: creating and growing developer communities. These communities are vital now for any company trying to create an ecosystem around their products and services.

What are the best ways to create a developer community? What are the dos and don’ts for the care and feeding of these groups? With the Game Developer’s Conference in town last week, we decided to go talk to two of the best at building raucous and loyal developer communities: Unity Technologies and Crytek. Today, we sit down with Unity’s Carl Callewaert, their Americas Director & Global Leader of Evangelism.

Carl, what do you think has led to the success of the Unity community?

I think it’s the community that has done it correctly. Our community has always raised their voices and is very clear and professional in all our forums, and I think that is one of the contributing factors. And working with our community and visiting with our community to build what they need and what they want. And we focus on what can make them successful, and that really goes back to our founders who always worked with the idea and keep to the idea of democratization. And this idea that our community can access anything they want without hassles.

Our CEO John Riccitiello also says all the time this is about us solving the hard problems so our community can focus on what they love to do. And that is why we have doubled down on engineering and making sure we have stable versions and that our community has access to software, but also doesn’t have to worry about the hard problems.

And then the last thing we are contributing very hard on is to make sure that the community not only has access to it, but also they can be successful with it. And that helped the growth of the community and one of my personal passions has been visiting this community and as an evangelist going around the world and listening to the local communities. And then taking that feedback and bringing it back to our product marketing and our product development, and really creating a product that is asked for by the community.

So there is a balance between your development path and listening to your community…how do you manage that?

Well, my role is to work with the community hands-on and in the field and it comes from the same philosophy to help and support and to really listen to our community. And we keep learning from that and making sure that we find that balance, and it’s a very difficult balance. We learn how to be better and that is why every three months we bring out a new version, and that is why also last year we released a road map.

Screen shot of Unity Game Engine

Screen shot of Unity Game Engine

But that was a criticism in the past that you only released when you were ready

Well, that’s a nice example of listening to our community and providing what they need to be successful.

Now recently you started the certification program, what brought around the decision to add certification?

Actually, it was our community that asked for it, and they wanted a way to show that I know Unity and I want to show that so I can get a job, And we got the request from the community and it took us a while to fully understand what was really required, We brought in the right people for that who really created that for the community and we got great feedback from that and we are very excited to bring that to all the regions in the world now.

How did you decide what were the qualifications for certification, was that a give and take with the community as well?

So, no, it was a lot of work, and we listened to our key companies and key individuals who really contributed to that, and we had a whole advisory board. Then we had individuals in education who worked very closely with our partners to understand what to define, and we hired educational experts who worked very closely with those individuals. And of course, there is a lot of come and a lot of steps still, different types of certification, and we still have a lot of work to do. But it is very exciting to see people are excited and proud to show that they really know Unity.

So given your experience, what are the one or two things they have to do right and the one or two things they should avoid starting a developer community

So, that is always a very difficult question, I don’t think there are one or two elements that will make it a successful community, there are so many elements that play into that. But one is listening to your community, go visit them at their offices to build that community and understand their needs. One advice I always give is you have to help them build the community, but don’t try to run it. We have a bunch user groups around the world and we help them start it, but we give them total freedom to create their community because they know their local communities better than us. And these are the things I would advise.

And what is one big mistake?

Well, don’t dictate the community, listen to them, they run the community better than you.

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