Metcalfe's Law applies to your developer tool

Developer tools are fundamentally social.

Even if a technology is terrible, if enough developers are using it, it exerts a pull on your potential customers. Recruiting is hard. Onboarding new teammates to a stack is expensive. One of the ways to reduce challenge of recruiting and cost of onboarding is to use technologies that already enjoy broad adoption.

Another approach is to use technologies which are superior, with low onboarding costs, and which make a job an exciting opportunity for a prospect to abandon bad tools.

So your sales process begins long before you get on a call. You can’t escape the gravity of developer mindshare. Every developer who participates in your product’s network is someone who will contribute to your success—or, if things go poorly, make it their mission to chip away at it.

When you win the hearts and minds of individual developers, you earn opportunities to see grassroots development of content that supports your cause. These tutorials, explainers, sample projects and supporting libraries can make the difference between sustained growth and stagnation as new prospects investigate your offering.

No one wants to be the expert in the bug they’ve just met.

When a critical mass of existing developers is participating in a product’s network, new adopters know that they’ll have plenty of resources for resolving issues, training their team, and otherwise understanding how to best use the technology. When a product’s network participation looks spare and lonely, that’s a negative signal.

Artifacts and social proof aside, the evolution of tools thrives on enthusiastic and experimental usage. Any sufficiently powerful and expressive tool has an undefined possibility space, where the best applications and opportunities are waiting to be discovered. Your headcount is finite. Your team’s time is limited. Far less bounded is the enthusiasm of a growing network of developers, pushing the boundaries of what your tools allow and giving you new ideas for the roadmap.

There’s a thornier consequence to all this, if we haven’t spooked you already. It’s culture. A culture defines your tools. How they’re perceived, how they’re engaged with. Culture determines how people work together, and even how files are structured in projects. You have a part in molding it—especially in the crucial moments before and during hello world, where developers are first encountering you. Still, you don’t get absolute control of culture. Culture exists as a collaboration between the nodes of the network, setting expectations, guiding behavior, welcoming some while alienating others. It is both within the individual developer, but also in between.

One way or another, this stuff is exerting force on your product, your users, and the outcomes of all your planning. Networks are notoriously challenging subjects, and that complexity should be on your radar as your company and strategy evolve.

But nurture your network of developers, shape its culture, and be deliberate about its organic growth? You can accomplish things that impact the lives of millions of developers, and their customers. It’s a lever unlike anything else in human history.

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