Blogs / Sebastiaan van der Vliet / Expanding the developer community

Expanding the developer community

Wednesday 03 August 2011 7:59:03 am

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By : Sebastiaan van der Vliet

I have been working as a developer with eZ publish since 2002 and version 2. For the past 10 years I had my own company and exclusively developed eZ Publish websites. As the technical director I was responsible for the sales, marketing, development and support of eZ Publish, clients including Hitachi and the UNESCO. eZ Publish has been my main source of income for those years, and I consider myself a loyal supporter of the product. However, as a mid-sized company it has been a continuous and very tiresome struggle to find and keep developers who were capable and motivated enough to work with eZ publish for more than a year. I think my company was not the only mid size company with that problem.

Why is it so hard to find developers for eZ Publish? First of all, the learning curve of the product is just too high. For an ‘average’ developer takes between 3 to 6 months to become ‘fluent’ enough in eZ Publish.  This means that there is a diminished chance that a developer will give eZ Publish a try for a new site to see if it ‘usable’ enough to implement in other projects.  Given the limited visibility of eZ publish freelance/job opportunities it is also not clear to a developer if his efforts to learn about the product are going to pay off in the long run.
 The pool of eZ  Publish developers really needs to grow. This is very urgent issue and much more important that further technical/functional improvement of the eZ Publish product. If this is not realized within the next year, I predict that eZ Publish will lose its momentum. It is all about adaptation of innovation from a developer’s point of view. Is eZ Publish worth the effort? Well, to make it worth the effort, either the effort has to be reduced,  or it has to be more clear what can be gained by developing eZ Publish, beyond the argument of technical/functional superiority of the product.
 How to reduce the effort for developers? Some ideas:
 - Have a very, very visible training programme. Be way more flexible with the training locations. Make it possible for people to sign up first, and then determine the most appropriate location. Support and certify training sessions by partners as much as possible by providing standard training material. Only offer courses in English and make the eZ community (partners) responsible for the ‘non-english’ training sessions.  Maximize the number of training sessions available. Ask volunteers to organize local demo days. Announce these demo days on a main site, but leave it up to the volunteers to organize the presentation at the demo day. Have a list where people  can sign up for these demo days so demo days can be organized as soon as there are enough people. Have a dedicated support person for installation problems with eZ publish, available by phone, charged by the minute. Part of the training session could be non-technical and should deal with how to sell eZ publish (freedom and reliability), explaining about how to make money with the enterprise programme and how to make proper estimates for a quote. Do more research/survey among the developers using eZ Publish.
 -make it very, very visible that following a training session will pay off instantly by providing a job board for (freelance) jobs under 15.000 euro. Jobs over 15.000 euro should go to the eZ systems partners. Combine the job board and an overview of the training sessions on one webpage so people see that learning eZ publish will pay off. Have a dedicated twitter account for advertising training sessions and job opportunities. Make someone at eZ Systems responsible for collecting job opportunities.  Make it very clear that developers can make money through the eZ Market. Be clear about the percentage that eZ Systems will take, be clear about the price range that products can be offered for). Provide some essential and high quality extensions for free. Allow people to rate and comment on the market products. Make it easy for people to add products to the market. Automate quality control for eZ market products as much as possible or use peer evaluation.  Group ez market products into products sets such as ‘community applications’. Include themes/designs into the eZ market. Use the eZ Publish installation pages to advertise the products in the eZ Market. Have a page during the installation that asks: “what additional extensions do you need from the eZ market”? Present the list of available extensions.  End the installation process with a page explaining about the community and enterprise services. Also present a list with upcoming training sessions or the option to sign up for a future training session somewhere near. Provide a paid telephone number or a  chat account for support on all pages during the installation process. Make it possible to sign up for a trail period of a month for enterprise support. Also have a look at the Acquia Drupal installation process (for example).
 - More ‘radical’ changes. Focus less on eZ Publish technical and functional improvement for the coming year. eZ publish is already way superior to comparable products, further technical improvements will not substantially contribute anymore to the adaptation by developers. Slim down the basic eZ publish product. Move some of the functionality into community maintained or commercial extensions. Make it clear on the pages that there is an active eZ publish community. Simplify the product so ‘average’ developers can use it as well.
 I have more suggestions, but this should be enough to get the discussion started. Once again, this blog post is not meant to slag off eZ publish and the efforts of the whole eZ community, but because I care about this product and its future. I have invested a lot of time in eZ publish and I would hate to see that time wasted. I think the community needs a less technical focus and more people who know how to sell and market a product. Not only to clients, but also to the developer community.

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Expanding the developer community