Long before my time as a developer, I was a teacher. I developed curriculum, and cultivated young minds. I like to think that I know a good education program when I see one - a bit of a "connoisseur of fine learning", if you will.
This weekend I began the Postman 30 Day Challenge . I was genuinely interested, because I love, and use Postman almost everyday. Also, based on the posts I saw in the community, people looked really into it.
I am only on day 4, and what I have learned in 3 days has me stoked to continue. I have also noticed some nuances that have given me insight into how Postman tackles developer education. Most importantly, I see how much they prioritize developer education.
An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. - Ben Franklin
I didn't go into this challenge thinking about developer education. From the moment I started, I spiraled into teacher mode. I was dissecting their curriculum, lesson organization and educational philosophy. I appreciate when a curriculum is captivating, engaging and most of all fun.
Postman clearly takes developer education seriously. Their passion for it is evident. It is embedded in their tooling, visible in their community, and they have projects that facilitate super users to become Postman evangelists. The 30 Day Challenge showcases a fundamental understanding into why developer education is important. It displays how to incorporate different learning modalities, and takes the time to get it right; ultimately the product sells itself to a developer.
Why does developer education matter?
Developer education is usually seen as a form of product enablement, but can also serve as product marketing to a developer. As technologists, we have experienced the best and worst of technical enablement materials. Developer focused products should know that when developers are under-prepared to use their product, those developers often end up underwhelmed and frustrated. This results in developers dropping off and retooling.
Avoid developer frustration by cultivating creativity, engaging users, and using your own product - like Postman does.
We can help developers avoid frustration and product fatigue by creating enablement that is clever, attractive, and dogfoods everything from the developer documentation to advanced features.
Questions to consider at this point:
- Can you turn out creative use cases that require a developer to problem solve utilizing your tool and documentation?
- Is that use case relevant?
- By dogfooding, did we learn and fix issues that were not obvious before?
I think that by answering the questions above we can captivate a developer audience and ensure a positive narrative for our technical facing products.
Take the Postman 30 Day Challenge for an example...
This challenge is a daily challenge, therefore, they are bite-sized and meant to be completed in about 45 minutes. So, if a developer was to actually take a lunch break... (I know, getting up from the keyboard is tough), it would be doable in that time frame.
These challenges utilize the Postman product in its entirety. The documentation is embedded; by following the step by step instructions you walk through various product features. Each day builds on skills that you have previously gained (from my 3 days of experience). The documentation provides a scenario that you are to solve, and the automated tests allow you to get instant feedback on your progress.
The best practices here are:
- Use the education process to instill "gritty" skills like utilizing the documentation.
- Build a path towards mastery that allows new and established users a way to grow.
- Provide instant observations of success or failure, don't allow the user to go on too long without feedback.
Discovering how to best educate developers can be difficult.
Developers tend to be life-long learners. We can also become easily distracted by the latest technology trends. If the tutorial or program we are using to learn something loses its appeal it can be hard to get our focus back without significant effort. This is why having programs that are engaging is important. We need to feel involved and get engrossed in the curriculum.
How the Postman 30 Day Challenge captured my attention.
Well they had to go and call it a challenge, and I can't back down from a challenge.
It wasn't just the name that hooked me. It was the format. I was using the tool, but I was also using core product concepts, and able to apply my learning. Using a top notch tool to its fullest has kept me coming back to learn more.
Remember that great things take time.
I have read that,
Good Things take Hustle. Great Things Take Time. - A smart person on the internet
I feel like that goes for most things; an education program definitely makes the list. One of the things that inevitably happens when I have a great educational experience is that I think to myself, "How can I do that?".
Recreating an experience like the Postman 30 Day Challenge will take a lot of consideration, care for the user, and time.
However, I challenge you to pause before pushing out a developer education program that is not robust enough or hasn't been thoroughly tested. Knowing the developer persona - if you lose those early adopters it may be hard to get them back.
My question to you... Is it worth the risk to have an education program that is lackluster, or should you take the time to really make it shine?
Developer education is not an easy task. To all the developer curriculum and content creators out there - I applaud you for doing the hard work.
If you are struggling to start a developer education program, I highly suggest going through the programs at Postman. They are some of my favorite courses and I draw a lot of inspiration from them.
The big highlights that I want to call out here are:
- Know your audience, go deep into their persona.
- Get creative with your example use cases.
- Engage the user and offer safe spaces for them to connect with others.
- Use your product and test your training.
If you start here, and give yourself time you will have a top notch developer training program for your product that might even rival Postman.