Developer Experience at Vercel

Lee Robinson

Lee Robinson / June 20, 2022

5 min read––– views

Developers want to be productive – but are often slowed down by the complexity of their tools.

Tools that keep developers in the flow state have a magnetic force. An often unexplainable, invisible pull that attracts and retains them to certain products. This pull is developer experience (DX).

DX, like magnetic forces, either attract or repel. Products with a great developer experience are invaluable to a developer's workflow. I've used hundreds of devtools in my career. The products that kept me in the flow state stuck around. Vercel was one of those products for me, which is why I joined the team.

It's an honor to share that I am now the VP of Developer Experience at Vercel to continue to invest in the foundations of DX and community as a core part of the company strategy. This post outlines why my role is expanding beyond DevRel and why Developer Experience is now part of the executive team.

Investing in DX

DX isn't just important for customers – it's also critical for product-led growth. Providing a world-class developer experience for our products and tools has led to hypergrowth:

  • The future is Edge first: By enabling developers to git push and receive a global application in seconds, Vercel is now serving over 25B requests per week at the Edge and steadily growing. New Edge computing primitives are taking this further, like server-rendering SvelteKit from an Edge Function.
  • Empowering the frontend developer: Whether it's ~40k developers in the Next.js Discord community or hyper-local groups of 40 JavaScript developers, we're helping educate and enable the next generation of developers.
  • Frameworks enable the developer: We created Next.js to simplify the process of creating server-rendered React applications. By investing in the developer experience of the framework, and enabling developers to quickly build optimized React sites, we've seen Next.js grow to 2.7M downloads per week (and more GitHub stars than Node.js / Kubernetes 🤯).
According to their landing page, #Nextjs more than doubled in NPM downloads last year. Remarkable.
We’re evolving with the Web. ◆ 37.5 million builds on Vercel in 2021 ◆ 2.8 billion Edge Function requests since October ◆ 35 frameworks with zero-config support The future will be even faster. Here’s what we expect.

DX at Vercel

A great developer experience requires empathy for the day-to-day challenges of building software.

At Vercel, Developer Experience is a superset of Developer Relations (which is focused on building community and advocating for the product) and Documentation.

Our organization has four DX pillars:

  • Education: Enable developers of all experience levels to build on the web and master their craft.
  • Documentation: Provide clear reference materials for using our products and unblock developers to complete their desired tasks.
  • Community: Foster a frontend developer community that can build and learn together through meetups, conferences, and online communities.
  • Templates: Make it easier to get started building with our tools while focusing on performance, accessibility, and design.
💡

Engineering organizations can also have internal developer experience (or developer productivity) teams. They make tests more reliable, build shared tooling, improve build performance, and help teams get code shipped faster.

My team has four operating principles that help us build a great developer experience:

  • Increase exposure hours: We can understand if developers are struggling with our product by increasing our exposure hours. We talk to developers, watch their videos or read their articles, and even sometimes join their live streams.
  • Learn by building: We should use our product and be alpha testers for new features. Not only does this help us create educational content, it also surfaces product feedback and areas for improvement.
  • Empathy first: We want to enable any developer to build quality software, and that requires understanding their day-to-day challenges. Having empathy for both beginners and experienced developers is critical.
  • Hell yeah or no: If you're not feeling “hell yeah!” then say no. This helps us focus on the most important work that is aligned with our values.

What I love about Vercel is that every team focuses on DX. Our team is ensuring the end-to-end developer experience of the platform.

A New Vision for DevRel

DevRel as we knew it is dead – and that's exciting.

Most products don't have a dedicated CTO but there is value when people in DevRel think and act like a CTO. DevRel should be more than speaking at conferences and writing code samples. DevRel should be strategic and play a critical role in shaping the product.
So this just happened! 🤩 I reached out to @kelseyhightower for some advice and he chose to video chat, which turned into a *coaching* session. What an incredible experience. A lot was discussed, but one I will quote here is "(as DevRel) You are the real CTO of the product". 👊

In the past, Developer Advocates might have traveled around the world speaking at conferences, spending months preparing and rehearsing for their talks. The last few years flipped DevRel on its head as travel wasn't an option anymore, and teams shifted to online conferences, live streams, and even more YouTube videos.

Now in 2022, we've started to return back to in-person conferences. But all this time away has changed the rules of the DevRel game. The power now lies with the content creators.

Hyper global and hyper local is the future of advocacy. Conferences can still be incredibly powerful for connecting with a global community, but they have to be online-first. The quality of the online event should be as good as in-person. In my opinion, DevRel teams should be saying no to more conference talks. They should focus on the highest impact talks that are hyper global, cut out the cruft in the middle, and double down on local meetups to engage and educate smaller communities.

DevRel in service of a better DX has to be the priority.

Thank You

I've been at Vercel for almost two years now. And I'm more excited than ever about our team, our product, and our wonderful community.

A sincere thank you to everyone at Vercel who has helped me grow along this journey – as well as everyone in the larger Next.js and Vercel community for always providing feedback about our tools, jumping on calls with me to talk about what we can improve, and showing up to our meetups and conferences.

Let's make the Web, faster.

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