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Meet the Developer: Introducing Allen “Tell Me a Story” O’Neill

August 21, 2018 - Business Psychology, Practitioner Marketing -
By: Yolanda Fintschenko

What about the developer?

Have you ever wondered about the developer experience of your advertising? If you are marketing to developers, you absolutely should. Our goal with “Meet the Developer” series is to give you, the marketer, insight into individual developers. Meet the people behind the code and learn about how they experience the advertising and content you are throwing at them.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Allen O’Neill. Allen, a self-taught developer in Ireland, really values the support of the developer community in his own education and growth in his profession. That’s why he gives back and writes for developer-to-developer (D2D) communities like CodeProject and C# Corner. Here’s what Allen had to say about himself, D2D communities, and his experience with advertising and content directed at developers.

Tell us about yourself.

I do data engineering with large data. I consult with companies that have a problem where they need to bring their data systems up into the cloud. I help them scale—This involves a lot of architecture work, data engineering, and problem solving. In the middle of all that, invariably, their own personnel are stuck in legacy tools, so I help them jump across the chasm in terms of using new technologies and practices. For example, my current project is a Big Data automation project, ingesting 2 TB of data/day and transforming it to 200 million records of data a day. My role is to automate that so it can be boiled down to just five engineers. I use the best tool for the job. As a result, I need to keep on top of all the latest tools to solve the big problems we have. I’m always evaluating the latest tools for what type of support, reach, spread, how many times have they branched on GitHub, etc. before use with a client. In terms of the tools I tend to use, at the end of the day, when you are doing things like using AWS, Alibaba, and Google Cloud, as a developer, you are still doing a lot of infrastructure as a service, doing a lot of the heavy lifting. With Microsoft Cloud products, they abstract things, so their tools often make it easier for productivity.

Why do you write for developer communities?

Because initially, I was self-taught. I didn’t do a tech degree, I did business. I got back into it in my 20s. It was the openness of the developer community, in supporting me and pushing me, that makes me want to pay back the community. Also, I think it is critical that those who are able to and can get up there and share knowledge via blogs, talks, podcasts, etc. to support, build and improve the tech community do so. The tech community has a problem attracting and keeping people in (not to mention diversity.) I have this feeling—Somebody has to do it, why not me? I have a drive to support, to teach, to mentor. And I know from experience that if you really want to master a subject, teach it. If you’re afraid you’re not an expert, you are an expert to someone who doesn’t know what you know.

And I’d really like to add why I write for CodeProject, and C# Corner specifically.

When I started writing, I started looking at various communities—I looked at StackOverflow, starting my own blog, and more vertical communities. I found a number to be quite caustic. I found CodeProject and C# Corner warm and non-confrontational and much more inclusive and fair. At the end of the day, that’s why I went for writing for those two sites.

What is the newest tech you are using, learning, excited about, curious about, and why?

Data engineering and machine learning, particularly machine learning analytics. We have so much data that we don’t do enough with. I have a friend who’s a former teacher doing an analytics conversion course. She did a project that will predict flooding. This is the type of stuff that we didn’t think of years ago. Suddenly, having access to all this data in a myriad of different ways is opening up a whole new world.
When I talk to businesses about the treasure trove of data they don’t know they have, I tell them that what they are doing is like driving in a car looking at the rearview mirror at what happened. They should be looking through their windscreen at what is ahead. That’s what AI and algorithms can deliver to companies. Most algorithms are generic things that any developer can learn, to do basic machine learning—and when they do, they really deliver value to their company. I’m pushing to get that into the community. I am getting a masters in AI, for my sins, which are many. I’ve just started that and I’ll hopefully come out that backend of two years and I’ll be able to say something sensible.

Where do you go for info about developer tools?

I generally go to Google. I start putting in keywords and stuff. I roughly home in on what I’m looking for. Then I will go to people’s blogs, then I will look for reviews. I’ll go to CodeProject and look for “experience with” or “opinion of,” and sniff out the good and the bad and cut the chaff out.

When I’m starting to narrow down what I want to use, and I want to get more in-depth, I will go beyond the written word. So, I am drawn more and more to videos that will go quite deep into a technology and look at specific solutions and use cases. Linux Academy has great videos that teach aspects of Linux programming and DevOps. Along with teaching and educating, they are also subtly pitching a product. That’s so much more powerful than an ad.

Another powerful way that I fall into finding things is by floating around Twitter. I might see some little nugget that pops out, then click on it, dig deep.

What ads for developer tools and services attract you?

The only ads that resonate with me are ones that are done by way of a story. In the West, when we go look at things we want to buy, we look at features and benefits. But if you go to a large Asian country, you see a proliferation of images and pictures and things that don’t seem to be associated with the product. In that culture, the visual cues are linked to stories. Now in marketing in the West, the truth is that plain ads don’t work well. Embed the product in a story.

Here’s another thing that catches my eye. Sometimes with YouTube, if you move your mouse within the vicinity of a video, it shows a few frames, or if you go through Twitter and scroll through, the video in a Tweet will start playing without the audio—That grabs my eye greatly, because it’s not intrusive, but it is respectfully saying, “Hey, look at me.” That draws me in.

If you are interested in a product or service because of an ad, do you click on the ad or search the product/advertiser you see in the ad on a separate browser instance?

It depends. It could be just me, because I’m a privacy freak—Because I know that if I click on something, I’ll be seeing ads for it everywhere I go. The only times I would actively do a click-through is if I really hate it. Then I’ll go in incognito via lots of browsers and click through, so I can make sure the advertiser is charged more for all the clicks.

How do you feel when you visit content or another site you are interested in based on advertising, only to find that you have to give a phone number to get what is offered?

Not happy. It’s a very common trick that sites will try. And that type of advertising may boost your subscriber base in the short term, but long-term it will damage you. Offer upfront value, then ask me if I want to stay in touch. If they ask for something like a phone number or email before I see the content, then I give a throwaway email or phone number, or I’ll just shut it down. They’ve lost me.

Same as above – except about when you are asked for a credit card?

Oh my god, no, no. No. I have disposable credit cards for that as well.

In the developer tool market, while it may be someone in the C-suite that will be saying “buy this or buy that,” it is the developer who says what product they’d recommend using. You get a developer through a good relationship rather than slapping things down and saying you can have content or a trial through a paywall.

CodeProject is highly respected for not doing paywall stuff. It’s kept very community-based, even though people never meet up.

What makes you bounce? Meaning—At what point do you navigate away when you visit content or a tool trial that you want, but you encounter a lot of requests for personal information? Email? Name? Phone number? Credit card? Other?

I use my throw away info if I want the content or I just go away and never come back if I don’t want the content that badly.

Once you’ve been asked for a lot of personal information in order to take advantage of an offer, how do you feel about that brand or product?

Shut ‘em down. I don’t have anything to do with them. If a client asks me to check out a product, the very first thing I want to see is the price. If I have to give too much info and get a call back to get to a price, then I will advise my client not to use it. I just want up front, easy-to-obtain info.

Have you ever found a technology and purchased it based on an ad run in your developer community? Why or why not?

Yes, I have. I did because it was the right thing at the right time, and I purchased the product for a client. It ultimately didn’t do what I wanted it to do, so they gave us a refund. A particular ad caught me. I had been searching on CodeProject, and the product came up as an ad. It was a good product, from a good company to work with.

I know that on CodeProject I have seen articles written on behalf of Alibaba Cloud, and they have given good information, including comparisons. That gave me the idea that if I were doing something in China (and I was), that I would go to them and give them the sale. I liked their content because they gave me something (information). They didn’t try to get something from me. Due to those articles, I gave Alibaba Cloud the business.


Yolanda is a scientist, writer, marketer, coach and avid runner who lives and works in Livermore, CA.  She founded Common SciSense, a marketing company for technical products, and co-founded founderTRACTION, lean marketing services for startups. 

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