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How to Build and Grow a Developer Champion Program

Discover some of the most important lessons learned to establish and grow your own developer champion program. 
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Do you have passionate contributors within your community – people who love to advocate for your product and help others while doing so? In that case, you’re in luck and should amplify their work in the best way possible. One way to bring these individuals together, give them credit for their work, and set them up for continued success, is to build a champion program. But where to start?

When building a champion program, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Instead, it’ll always be a reflection of your unique community. Nevertheless, if you plan to set up a similar program, this post can help you get started. We launched the Camunda Champion Program less than a year ago, so I still know the feeling of not being completely sure what steps to take first. In this blog post, I will share some of the most important lessons learned. 

Start Here

Step 1: Define the why

Before rushing into setting up your program, be clear about why you need it and what you would like to see as a result. Being clear about the problems you want to solve according to your purpose and your program’s goals is a crucial step in determining if it’s worth initially establishing the program.

In addition to defining the why, it’s also essential to identify the success metrics for the program and how you’ll measure them. Tracking the success of your program from the start will be crucial in demonstrating the value of the program, particularly if there’s a need to justify further investment. 

What are possible goals?

  • Give your most active and influential contributors credit for the work they’re doing and reward them. 
  • Encourage community engagement, and educate and enable your contributors to advocate for your product. 
  • Identify your most engaged community members to be able to reach out to them. 

There are plenty of possible goals for a champion program and being clear about the unique goals for your program will create a strong foundation to build upon.

Step 2: Define what makes someone a Champion

Once you’re clear about your program’s goals and success metrics, you should define what’s needed to become a Champion. What kind of activities would you like them to execute? What kind of traits are you looking for? What makes your Champions special?

Keep in mind that each person is different and has varying strengths. Instead of expecting everyone to fit into a standardized criteria, you might want to think about what you can do to support diversity and help individuals from underrepresented groups become part of your program and thrive.

There are some criteria that are easily tracked. These include, the number of blog posts someone has written, questions answered on forums, events organized, libraries or plugins released, pull requests opened, or social media posts engagements. You could even rank the activities you’ve identified and weigh them differently according to importance, which will give you an even more accurate picture of how active your applicants actually are. Ideally, you can automate gathering this data to increase efficiency. For example, we use Orbit as a tool to gain a better understanding of community activity and engagement.

There are other criteria that are harder to quantify but are just as important. If someone is extremely passionate about your product and advocates for it with great enthusiasm, that’s huge. Or, there might be specific individuals who are extremely supportive and regularly onboard other community members with a welcoming attitude. 

Looking at a combination of both types of criteria will help ensure you identify the most suitable individuals for your program.

Step 3: Define the benefits for Champions

Now that you have basic goals and criteria set, it’s time to think about rewards for the people who join your program. This part is especially fun!

According to research done by Matthew Revell (Hoopy), there are four main reasons why developers usually take part in champion programs:

  • Access to key people
  • Progress their career
  • Make friends
  • Access knowledge

Take these insights as a starting point, but don’t forget that your rewards should be unique to your community and organization. 

Some of our rewards within the Camunda Champion Program include amplifying our Champions and their work, supporting and educating them along the way, and making connections with key people across the company. Plus, we invest in building a champion community including special events like our annual Camunda Champion Summit. And of course, there’s special swag. 

And Now What?

Step 4: Identify potential candidates and involve them from day one

Compile a list of potential candidates you already have in mind for the program and nurture this list along the way. Make sure to include your potential candidates directly from the start. This program is for them so always ask yourself, “What will be most meaningful to my community members?” Or even better – ask them. Doing so will help you stay close to your community and keep your program heading in the right direction.

Before we launched the Camunda Champion Program, we did a feedback session with five community contributors we’ve identified as Champions and asked them for feedback on our idea, improvement points, and what rewards they would perceive as valuable. These insights were extremely helpful to us and following this session, we made significant changes to the broader direction of the program. For example, we reconsidered the application process and added additional rewards. Plus, we gathered feedback regarding the long-term orientation of the program that we still continue to review. 

Step 5: Form a champion committee and encourage people to apply  

Before opening up the application process, it should be clear who’ll assess the submissions. You can form an internal champion committee, ideally with a diverse set of people who can bring in different viewpoints and review the applications from different perspectives. The more diverse your committee is, the more innovative the insights and in turn your program will be.

If you’ve made it to this point in the process, you’ve already compiled a list of potential candidates. Proactively reach out to these people and let them know that you believe they’d be a good fit for your program. Impostor syndrome, where people suffer from chronic self-doubt and are uncertain about their talents and abilities, is real. Some people might never assume to consider themselves as Champions, especially individuals from underrepresented groups. Use specific examples to underline what makes their contributions unique and explain why they would be a good fit for the program. This way, your contributors feel recognized and seen, and they might be more likely to apply.

Step 6: Test, get feedback, iterate, repeat

As with every community program, it’s a constant process of testing and iteration. Test things as early as possible and get your program running. Don’t be afraid to try out new ideas and let go of them if they don’t work. 

Your champion program should be dedicated to your unique community, so involve its members in the process. Leverage their expertise and let them help shape the program. Some things that might work in the beginning might not work later on. As your program grows, your members’ needs will change, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s how it should be, and that’s what makes it a lot of fun to facilitate the process.

Look Beyond Your Own Community

Have you set up a similar program already or would like to start one? Though your program will be as unique as your community, you can also get inspired by other programs as there are many amazing ones out there. Take a look at the Camunda Champion Program as well as a few that we admire: the Confluent Community Catalyst Program, the Twilio Champions Program, the Docker Captains Program, and the Microsoft MVP Program.

Feel free to connect with me to talk about your ideas, questions or experiences. Get in touch with me via [email protected], Linkedin or Twitter.

Luca Buchholz is a community builder at heart. She is passionate about building meaningful relationships that serve global communities and empower individuals. Luca is the Global Community Management Lead at Camunda and manages the Camunda Champion Program.

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