How to Build and Hire a Developer Experience Team

How to Build and Hire a Developer Experience Team
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If the pandemic and consequently, a rapid switch to remote work have shown us anything, it’s that developers are the unsung heroes of today’s modern, digital era.

And the statistics demonstrate just how important and in-demand developers have become. We’ve seen a huge leap in the number of new developers joining the workforce. In 2019, there were 23 million developers working in the United States. Just one year later, there were 24.5 million developers working. In 2024, we could expect to have 28.7 million developers in the workforce, according to Statista. This is great news because our world is only becoming more digitally-reliant. In fact, IDC expects more than half of Fortune 500 companies will rely on digital products and services by 2025.

McKinsey shared this quote from Kate Smaje, a senior partner and global co-leader of McKinsey Digital, about the benefits of relying on digital-centric software engineering: “Business leaders are… accomplishing in 10 days what used to take them 10 months. That kind of speed is what’s unleashing a wave of innovation unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

Now, when most people think of a developer, it’s not uncommon to imagine someone hunched over their desk, debugging some codebase with unshakeable intensity as a clock winds down.

Well… maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is that while it’s easy to group all developers into one category, there are actually many types of important developers who all use their individual skills to design, program, build, deploy, and maintain software for efficient and streamlined online experiences.

By this point, you might be wondering, “This is interesting, but what’s the point?” We’re glad you asked.

It’s clear, based on trend reports, that businesses need to focus their efforts on creating greater developer experiences and optimize their onboarding processes for new developers. By doing this, team members in business’s software engineering departments can succeed in this rapidly growing, everchanging world.

But exactly how can businesses support their engineering teams? That’s what this blog post is all about.

In this post, we’ll discuss strategies on how build a great developer experience by using Developer Experience Engineers (also called DXE) and Developer Experience Teams (also called DevX and Eng Enablement teams).

We’ll also talk about how Developer Experience Teams can optimize developer productivity and streamline development processes. Plus, what skills you can look out for when hiring a Developer Experience Engineer.

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The difference between a Developer Experience Engineer and a Developer Experience Team

Before we get into some tips on how to create that nurturing environment for your engineering teams, let’s clear up some definitions we’ve been throwing around.

What is a Developer Experience Engineer?

A Developer Experience Engineer (DXE) is a team member within an engineering team who ensures the engineers they are managing “have the right tools, processes, and environment to maximize productivity and create the greatest business value possible,” according to InfoQ.

A Developer Experience Team (DevX) is exactly what it sounds like! It’s a team made of up Developer Experience Engineers. Within this team, Developer Experience Engineers can focus on initiatives to improve developer experiences.

In other words, the job of this team is to make developers’ work experiences better.

The size of a Developer Experience Team will depend on the size of a business as well as the daily demands of the engineering department. However, it’s typical to see about one to 10 Developer Experience Engineers in a team, according to InfoQ.

Each Developer Experience Engineer can be in charge of a certain overhead task, a specific team, or distributed any other way the department needs.

We’ll talk a bit more about Developer Experience Engineers’ roles in a business throughout this article, but if you’d like to get a head start on learning about Developer Experience Engineers and Developer Experience Teams, check out our blog post, Developer experience (DX) and why it matters. This blog post dives deep into the question, “What is a developer experience?”

The importance of building a Developer Experience Team

Before we get into the strategies on how to build a Developer Experience Team for engineers, we first have to understand why a business would need this team in the first place.

Considering the role of a Developer Experience Team is to optimize systems and processes for a greater developer experience, it’s not hard to immediately recognize the benefits of establishing this type of team!

Since the engineering industry is only becoming more complex with cloud-based infrastructures, SDKs, open source code within their pipelines, APIs, automations with complex dependencies, plugins, and much more, it’s more important than ever to have a centralized authority focused on creating streamlined processes and positive experiences.

Specific functions a Developer Experience Team may fulfill are:

  • Developing strategic frameworks and defining workflows for optimal efficiency 
  • Brainstorming and implementing ways to nurture developers and keep the department’s ecosystem healthy
  • Building DevOps teams that can push the department’s velocity to meet goals (without burnout)
  • Building strategic roadmaps to achieve specific company metrics
  • Advocating and coaching engineering teams for continuous collective and individual growth
  • Identifying gaps in the developer experience that may impact the user experience 
  • Writing technical documentation and any other docs that explain standard processes or setups of products, services, and interfaces the department uses
  • Selecting developer tools (more about this in the section “skills to look out for when hiring Developer Experience Engineers”)

While this isn’t a complete list of Developer Experience Teams’ responsibilities (mainly because every business has its own unique set of needs), a Developer Experience Team’s main functionality can be summed up like this:

To relieve overhead tasks from the engineering team so team members can focus more on software development — all while the Developer Experience Team pushes the department wide initiatives forward.

Sara Dranser said this about becoming a Developer Experience Engineer at Netlify: “When I joined Netlify, the team and I worked to alter our composition and strategy. Our founders, Matt and Chris, went above and beyond to set the team up for success — from trusting me to build out our own unique shape and hire against it, to giving us key company OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and allowing us to drive strategy. I can’t tell you how much of a difference this has made in the team’s progression and happiness.”

What makes a great developer experience?

Now that you know what a Developer Experience Engineer and Developer Experience Team are, and you understand why they play a vital role in the engineering department’s success, let’s tackle some strategies on how to build an effective developer experience for engineers.

While every business understands a great user experience (UX) is critical to its success, few realize that the foundation of every great UX is a great DX (developer experience).

That’s why the first step in our strategy is to know exactly what elements make a great developer experience, which can help you recognize if your existing Developer Experience Team lacks any of these elements or what to look out for when you start building your team.

A good DX can look like this:

  • Optimized workflows and processes so that developers can perform their responsibilities with more ease and efficiency
  • Standardization when it comes to processes and tools
  • A work environment that supports developers with the tools and information they need to do their jobs
  • A work environment that supports developers emotionally (e.g. psychologically safe atmosphere, a sense of teamwork, etc.)

In contrast, and as you can probably imagine, a poor DX can lead to:

  • Delays in product delivery to the market
  • Siloed information resulting in brittle code
  • Wasted time because everyone is trying to solve problems differently
  • Burnout
  • A demoralizing environment
  • High employee turnover
  • General dissatisfaction and low motivation

This is why we said at the beginning of this section that at the foundation of every great UX is a great DX.

Skills to look out for when hiring Developer Experience Engineers

The next strategy we’ll look at is how to find the best Developer Experience Engineers for your business. Let’s discuss some of the important skills a Developer Experience Engineer should have so you know what to look out for during the hiring process.

Note: The types of Developer Experience Engineers you hire on your organization’s specific needs, but there are still some general things to look out for to create a well-rounded Developer Experience Team.

Technical knowledge

Of course, if someone is going to solve problems for the engineering team, it’s important that they’re familiar with software development. 

Their technical skills will help them…

  • Know what developer tools will be best for the team, such as tools that can deploy pipelines, test frameworks, tools for observability, and more
  • Strategize workflows and streamline product management to minimize bottlenecks and delays in getting products and services delivered to the market
  • Know how to prioritize and build solutions to common challenges
  • Reduce the number of frameworks, engineering styles, and software your business might use to reduce maintenance, latency and costs

Soft social skills

While engineering is a technical job and requires high-level technical knowledge and skills, a truly great developer experience also incorporates human elements, such as empathy.

This is important because it’s not only a Developer Experience Engineer’s job to understand how to tackle specific matters that improve the department’s morale as well as its output. Though we mentioned some of these earlier, we’ll reiterate that Developer Experience Engineers also need to understand more social matters such as…

  • Preventing burnout among team members
  • Identifying pain points or FUDs (fears, uncertainties, and doubts) and proposing effective solutions
  • Creating standard tutorials, onboarding processes, and/or SOPs (standard operating procedures) that teach developers efficient ways to tackle their job
  • What developer tools to offer to remove daily stressors or tedious work from their daily to-do list
  • Measuring and maximizing developer experience

These (and more) can all contribute to a good DX, a healthy environment, high developer satisfaction. Even more importantly, it’ll ensure the department is able to ship high-quality code quickly and maintain it over time.  

While on the topic of how to create a good DX, check out this blog post we did about 11 developer experience tools and strategies to improve DX! In this article, we take you through cost-effective tools and strategies that can have the largest impact on your developer experience strategy.

Should you hire internally or externally?

As you start thinking about assembling your Developer Experience Team, you might ask yourself where you ought to be seeking out talent in the first place. Ganesh Srinivasan, Chief Product & Engineering Officer at Confluent, shares that he’s seen success with a combination of internal and external team members. “People on the inside have all the context. If you relied on only bringing in people from the outside, they could come up with some brand-new approach, missing fundamental reasons why it would not work in your context. However, you also need people who are experts in certain platform aspects,” he shares.

Going forward

In this article, we talked about the rapidly growing demand for developers, thanks to the quickly changing ecosystem of our world. Now that many companies are relying on digital and digitally-enabled services and products, so it’s never been more important than now to make sure developers have the tools and support they need to succeed in their jobs. 

We talked about how Developer Experience Teams (also sometimes called DevX for short) and Developer Experience Engineers (also known as DXE for short) can help with this issue. Teams all across the organization benefit from a well-established Developer Experience Team.

That’s because it can optimize developer productivity (so employees are working smarter, not harder), streamline development processes (for less confusion and frustration among teams), and improve overall developer experience (and therefore user experience).

We also discussed skills you can seek out when hiring a Developer Experience Engineer, and how there are some general skills needed to create a well-rounded Developer Experience Team.

About the author

Judy Tsuei

Judy Tsuei is a Simon & Schuster author, speaker, and podcast host. She’s been featured in MindBodyGreen, BBC Travel, Fast Company, Hello Giggles, and more. As the founder of Wild Hearted Words, a creative marketing agency for global brands, Judy is also a mentor with the Founder Institute, the world's largest pre-seed accelerator. Judy advocates for mental and emotional health on her popular podcast, F*ck Saving Face. Follow along her journey at WildHeartedWords.com.

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