Lessons I learned from leading 72 dev community leaders
Note: This article includes my personal takeaways and does not represent my employer or the Developer Circles program.
After an amazing 3.5 years as the Developer Programs Manager for APAC, I am moving to a new role to lead content strategy for our Developer Circles communities globally. While I’m excited to get out of my comfort zone, expand my scope, and eventually move to Facebook’s HQ, this transition feels bittersweet.
I had a fantastic time in my APAC role. I launched and scaled the Developer Circles program to over 18 countries, supported 72 community leaders, and served >80k developers in Asia. 💪 #lowkeyflexing
This was an exceptional job-passion fit, and I realised that I want to grow and expand my capabilities to serve more developers.
To celebrate of our time together as I move onto my next role, I shared a few key lessons with the Developer Circles community leaders. These are lessons that shaped how I see my career within and outside of Facebook and honestly, how I see the world.
Below is an expanded version that I thought could be helpful to a wider audience.
Talent is everywhere, opportunities are not
I started the Developer Programs Manager for APAC role in 2016 and inherited a handful of Developer Circle communities, including a planned launch in Malang, Indonesia. Back then, I remembered asking in my head, “What is a Malang?”, as it’s not the capital city nor a major city.
Yet, this tiny unknown city in Indonesia left a huge impression on me - it consistently topped the charts for community engagement, produced many community success stories, and Sheryl Sandberg publicly acknowledged their achievements!
It was immensely inspirational to watch how much the warmth, passion, and energy the Developer Circle leads can achieve with so little. I wondered what they could achieve if they have the opportunities I have as a middle-class Singaporean. This was when I first learned about my privilege.
Malang taught me that talent is everywhere, opportunities are not. Brilliant people can come from anywhere and speak any languages, not just English.
I’m glad that Malang was the first city I visited because these early lessons framed how I approach my career - to advocate for the under-served talent.
A team is more than the sum of its parts
From the early years of my DevRel career, I built my reputation as a strong executor - I get things done. I enjoy having autonomy over a project and I had to learn what it means to be leader and more importantly, to let go.
Letting go of automony doesn’t mean letting go of quality. Over the years, my Developer Circles leads and I worked as a team to:
- produce the first Developer Circle Pakistan Conference where people from 17 cities travelled to attend
- pilot a Women of DevC meetup in Indonesia that scaled across 70 countries globally and hosted the first #TechbyHer APAC Online Conference
- launch new initiatives such as the Developer Circles Vietnam Innovation Challenge in HCM and Hanoi and the Developer Circles JS Course in Indonesia.
Given that these projects are novel, there were challenges to overcome, plenty of uncertainties to figure out, and honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing.
Despite that, I was never afraid that we cannot deliver because of the skills and passion the team has. People have different strengths, weaknesses, and working styles. But when a group of people pool their talent together to push towards a shared vision, magic happens.
Leading means to serve & empower others
It was challenging to build communities across Asia as I’ve lived in Singapore all my life. With >2000 spoken languages, a range of cultures and perspectives on women, Asia is not a monolithic region.
Given the distance, language, culture, and connectivity issues, there’s a limit to how much I can execute on projects. If I can’t execute better than the people I support, how do I be an effective leader? And what does leading means?
After learning from different senior leaders and trying different things, I have some hypotheses on what leadership is. While I’m not an expert, leadership means to:
- create psychological safety for the team to share their opinions, and most importantly, safety to fail. Potential of failure is the price of innovation.
- asking the team the right questions or provide suggestions to help them plan their strategies.
- provide resources (time, money, connections, people) to help the team achieve its goals.
Leadership still requires execution, but instead of booking a venue or designing a marketing asset, leadership means to execute on mentorship, gathering resources, and building trust in the team.
Take time to find the right people
Strong executors with the right heart, integrity, and commitment are extremely hard to find. And once you recruit the right people right, half the job is done.
Nothing drains me more than trying to motivate someone unmotivated or having to micromanage every step.
Take the time to find the right people. I promise you that work doesn’t feel like work when you’re working with people of same vision, have integrity, are hardworking.
3 questions I always ask prospective community leaders are:
- Purpose: Why do you want to be a community leader?
- Everyone has a why, and not everyone has the right why. This question helps identify who has the right heart.
- Past behaviour: What relevant experiences do you have?
- Many people have passion, and few will do something about it. I genuinely believe that if one has access to the Internet, one does not need permission to contribute to one’s community.
- Vision: What does a successful community look like? How would you know that you’ve been an outstanding community leader?
- This question always trips people (read my answer for TechLadies here). Building a community is a journey, and I’ll like to know where we’re going.
We are more alike than we think
This job offered me the amazing chance to see Asia. I would meet local folks in tech and who run developer communities to learn more about their culture, how they build communities, and what challenges they face.
So many people have welcomed me with open arms - being gracious with their time, knowledge, and yes, food. 😂 (Pakistani’s hospitality is unbeatable. They feed you, ask you to eat more, and tell you to pack some food back in case you get hungry later.)
Despite living in a world with different cultures and languages that’s getting more divisive every day, I’ve found that the passion for developer communities and community service is the same everywhere.
Whether if it’s someone from Melbourne or Tokyo or Karachi, people start communities for very similar reasons and face similar challenges. It was such a joy to find my tribe, no matter which city I’m in.
That got me to realise that people are more alike than we think, and perhaps we should put in that little effort to understand each other rather than focusing on our differences.
Goodbye, and hello from the other side 👋
As someone who came into this role after being fired from a startup after failing my startup, this role was fantastic!
It’s where I’ve found my footing and confidence and has helped me grow so much over a short period despite being my first DevRel job.
I’m excited to see how I’ll grow in my next role, but I know I’ll miss referring to the Developer Circles leads in APAC as “my Developer Circles leads” and I’ll miss them calling me “mum”.