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Meta-Observability – Observing the Observers with Jordan Chung

Jonan Scheffler talks to Founder and CEO of Krunch Data, Jordan Chung, about Krunch being a tool for content creators to understand what their audiences are finding engaging.

They discuss regional salaries and the belief in paying people for the work they perform, not paying them based on where they live, how there are more opportunities to work in Developer Relations now more than ever, that half of working in DevRel is convincing people that DevRel should even exist, and soon every company will soon need a Chief Developer Relations Officer (CDRO)!

Jordan also gives solid advice for newbies in the field: follow your curiosity and be open-minded.

Should you find a burning need to share your thoughts or rants about the show, please spray them at devrel@newrelic.com. While you're going to all the trouble of shipping us some bytes, please consider taking a moment to let us know what you'd like to hear on the show in the future. Despite the all-caps flaming you will receive in response, please know that we are sincerely interested in your feedback; we aim to appease. Follow us on the Twitters: @ObservyMcObserv.

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Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome back to Observy McObservface, proudly brought to you by New Relic's Developer Relations team, The Relicans. Observy is about observability in something a bit more than the traditional sense. It's often about technology and tools that we use to gain visibility into our systems. But it is also about people because, fundamentally, software is about people. You can think of Observy as something of an observability variety show where we will apply systems thinking and think critically about challenges across our entire industry, and we very much look forward to having you join us. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of The Relicans podcasts on developer.newrelic.com/podcasts. We're so pleased to have you here this week. Enjoy the show.

Hello and welcome back to Observy McObservface. I'm joined today by my friend, Jordan. How are you, Jordan?

Jordan Chung: I'm good, thank you. Thanks for having me on.

Jonan: It is my pleasure. I'm so glad that you finally made it to the show. We've been trying to do this for a little while, and I had to cancel the last one. I apologize for that. Life has been busy. How are you holding up over there? Are you pretty busy?

Jordan: Yeah. So I'll give the audience a bit of a background. So I'm based in Hong Kong. And we just had our Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a pretty big festival in China, in Hong Kong. And when we do this, we have a holiday. We have a mooncake. And a mooncake is basically this really big, fatty cake with a big egg yolk in the middle. And we have a lot of them on that day. And so I'm feeling a bit sick still and a bit full.

Jonan: [laughs]

Jordan: But yeah, it was a good holiday. And now I'm back to reality.

Jonan: And mooncake is sweet, though. It's like a dessert.

Jordan: It is, yeah.

Jonan: And then inside is a cooked egg yolk or raw egg yolk?

Jordan: It is a cooked egg yolk, but it's very nice.

Jonan: I'm really disappointed in myself that I've never had a mooncake. Why is this a Mid-Autumn Festival? Is that when the moon hits someplace?

Jordan: It's when the moon is the biggest and the most rounded, yeah.

Jonan: Okay. So this is a big deal. You get time off work.

Jordan: Yeah.

Jonan: I remember visiting Hong Kong when I was in high school. I want to say it was maybe '95. So it was a very different time, but I went to KB Toys or some toy store. It must have been a Toys "R" Us or something, just a monster Toys "R" Us. And I bought a hovercraft. I don't know why I have this memory of this toy, but it was a remote-controlled hovercraft.

Jordan: [laughs]

Jonan: I wanted to go drive it around, but then that night, there was just this huge storm. And we were staying on the 40th floor of some giant tower, and it was swaying because of the wind.

Jordan: Oh wow.

Jonan: Yeah, it was terrifying. I didn't realize skyscrapers could move like that when I was a kid. Anyway, random story from Hong Kong. [laughs] I don't know why I felt the need to share that. The Hong Kong association, for me, is not so much mooncakes as it is radio-controlled hovercrafts and terrifying stays in skyscrapers. So did you grow up out there?

Jordan: Yeah, I grew up in Hong Kong. But I spent a large part of my life actually in the UK. So I did my studying there, and that was in a place called Dorset in the UK where I went to school. And then I finished my university there and spent one or two years working in the city of London as well. And then, I came back to Hong Kong and worked a few years here, and then started my entrepreneurial journey.

Jonan: Your entrepreneurial journey is what brought us together. We've known each other for how long now? Like maybe almost three years, I think, right?

Jordan: Almost. Yes.

Jonan: It's been a hell of a ride working with you.

Jordan: Indeed. Time flies.

Jonan: Yeah. So I'll give the listeners the background here. I met Jordan because I was working in DevRel, and Jordan was reaching out to people to get advice on Krunch in its early days and what direction the product should take. So, Jordan, you are the CEO and founder, and I'm going to go with emperor too. I'm appointing you emperor of Krunch Data.

Jordan: [laughs]

Jonan: Krunch Data does some really, really useful monitoring for DevRel, an exceedingly difficult thing to do. And you reached out to me to ask for advice for the product. And now you've just recently...I guess you went into a public launch.

Jordan: Yeah, indeed.

Jonan: How long ago was that?

Jordan: So that was two months ago.

Jonan: Busy two months, I bet.

Jordan: Very busy two months and actually thanks to all the early supporters like yourself, Jess Rose, Mary, and all these DevRels who have really helped us make some noises on Twitter as well to let everyone else know about us. But mid last year, I think we launched a version then to a group of users. We got some feedback, and obviously, it wasn't very ready yet then. So we went back to the drawing board and started rebuilding it again, and it took us another almost year to launch again.

Jonan: Wow.

Jordan: And I have to give credit to you, Jonan, because you've been one of the few DevRels who really spend a lot of time with us to really refine the product and giving us ideas on how we can make it more useful for the DevRel teams who actually are more focused on content creation.

Jonan: So I thought it would be interesting to have you on the Observability Podcast because that is, in fact, exactly what you do and what you've been able to provide for us. You mentioned it's for content creators to understand what they're up to and report up to management. And while we do that, I think what's more important to me is understanding what is effective because you're able to show us what people actually find engaging.

We're not measuring...most platforms are like, well, here's how many people viewed your video, but I don't really get much detail beyond that. I can go digging into multiple dashboards across multiple platforms every day like it's my whole job, and I can find some of that data. But I don't really care that someone watched the video. I care that they cared, that they're consistently coming back, that they're liking multiple videos, they're commenting on them. They're on the Twitch stream. They're in the chat, chatting with us regularly. And they're not just lurking, or maybe they're watching while they're doing something else because it's a convenient time, but they're not really there and engaged with the content. Those are the people I want to talk to. Those are the people who are our community.

And then you have people who are less engaged, and it's not to say that they won't be in the future. But if you're going to focus your energy somewhere (Because DevRel is a very busy business, we have a lot of stuff going on.), then focus your energy on those people who are getting the most out of your content. And it helps us figure out which ones...if we write a blog post about Rust, for example…we found this very surprising actually. I would never have expected our Rust content to perform as well as it has. The total number of people using Rust in their professional work is like 0.7% or something, one of the smallest percentages that people pay attention to. It's rapidly rising, but still a very small segment of people who get to write Rust professionally.

But then we start producing Rust content, and it's outperforming every other form of content. We're doing a JavaScript one, and we're doing Ruby or Python. JavaScript outperformed. I mean, everyone's all up about JavaScript these days, and Rust was crushing it. And then this Stack Overflow survey came out where they said that 80-some-odd percent of all developers say Rust is the next language they want to learn, and it made sense suddenly. But those kinds of things are really useful to us to identify in our community. If we're talking to a bunch of people who wish we were talking about Rust, we want to know that. You got to give the people what they want. That's our whole job.

Jordan: Exactly.

Jonan: So growing a company is no small task. And you kicked this one off a few years ago, and then you had this...it wasn't so much a pivot. It's like a re-imagining.

Jordan: Exactly. Yeah.

Jonan: And you have rather a large team of people helping you build this thing.

Jordan: Yeah. [laughs] We started out with just three of us, actually the two founders, and then one person was handling the marketing side of things. And then we started recruiting people. And the majority of the team is actually quite young, so most of them just graduated. And we will have Akhil, my co-founder, lead them to give them guidance. But these are people all from emerging countries, and they're overeager to learn and then to gain exposure to working in the tech world, especially with us because we're basically working with tech companies, a lot of them in the Valley. And this is something that they dream of being able to do. And so we have so far nine people now in the team. They're learning very quickly. And they definitely really enjoy the experience with us, yeah.

Jonan: So you mentioned emerging countries, and I have some questions first of all. But I want to start with this one that I get the opportunity that you are presenting to them and that many American companies present to them. That makes a lot of sense to me. What I think that sometimes turns into in practice is quite exploitative. Forgive me for being so blunt. American companies have often been called out publicly for going into these emerging markets where you can pay less and still pay quite handsomely.

People are making a lot of money according to their regional salaries. And I am a firm believer in pay people for the work that they perform. That being said, you may not have a company if not for being in a market, and Hong Kong included as opposed to San Francisco salaries. Hong Kong developers are still quite expensive by global standards but compared to what people are making over here; you are able to get your development done for less money because of where you are in the world and where you are hiring people in the world. But are they getting the payoff in your mind?

Jordan: Absolutely. I think just to give you more background; actually, a few of them are all friends of ours. So one of the countries that we have a big presence in with our team members is actually Thailand. And we go to Thailand very often to one of their university called Chulalongkorn University. So this is like the top University in Thailand. And Akhil and I often go there to visit their university, and the professor there is one of our friends. And they recommend these very talented individuals do come and work for us. And we talk to them, and we understand what they want. That's the first conversation we always have with any new team members, you know, what are you looking for? Because I always feel that it's a two-way relationship. When you're working with someone, it is not just you helping me. It's also me helping you to open up doors for you.

So when it comes to discussions like compensation or even how much stock options, we're very open to that. It's not like we have a number here, and we slap it on them. Okay, this is what you're having. It's more based on their family situation, what they want to do, where they want to be. Because some of them actually want to do a Master's in the U.S., and then they want to go elsewhere. And they already have a target they need to save. So we work with them on what is your goal in a few years’ time? What are you trying to save? And then we work with them and try to meet their needs. So I think from that perspective, we are helping them. It's not like this is a number, and you just take that. It's more like we're understanding their goals and what they're looking to achieve. And then we try our best to meet their expectations, so yeah.

Jonan: I have to admit, I was setting you up with a little bit of a softball pitch there. Despite kind of a mean-sounding question, I know very well you treat your people extraordinarily well.

Jordan: [laughs]

Jonan: Because I speak to many of them regularly, and they are very happy to be at Krunch. I don't think it is too much to say; it has been a life-changing experience for many of them already. And you're really just getting started. So I'm very impressed with your company and the way you've built it. I think you're making good decisions, and I wish you the best of success.

So let's talk more generally, maybe on the subject of Developer Relations and what sorts of things you are seeing out there. I know many of our listeners are working in DevRel, and many of the people we have on this podcast work in DevRel. It kind of turned into a secret DevRel corner podcast on odd days.

Jordan: [laughs]

Jonan: Really, we get up to all sorts of things on here. It's not always about observability, although we did find a way to stretch this conversation to make sense in that context. But what sort of things are you seeing out there in the developer world? Like, if I was going to ask you to make a prediction about where DevRel was heading or where software is heading in the near future, this remote thing is here to stay, for example. That's pretty clear. Give me something risky that I can call you out on a year from now and be like, "Jordan; you were so wrong. I can't believe you said that."

Jordan: [laughs] Sure. We've been very fortunate to work with a very diverse audience here. We've been working with people in the U.S., people from Europe, a few of them from Africa as well. And it's interesting to get...I think the first thing that really hits me is it's just so diverse, DevRel, the kind of things they do. As I mentioned earlier, some will be focused on content; some are very community-focused, some of them are product-focused.

And definitely, there are a lot more people talking about DevRel versus when we first started back at the end of 2018. If you look at the newsletter from Mary, there's a lot more job posting about DevRel as well. And on Twitter, a lot of people are talking about DevRel. Even when we talk to our investors, they start to hear about DevRel too. And money is being put into this industry. Just look at Orbit and even Commsor or Port. Recently, Commsor acquired Port. So there are a lot of things going on. And I'm really positive about this space.

Although this DevRel, I do hear how they have a team being hired by a company, and then after just six or seven months, suddenly this is all disbanded because there's a mismatch in expectation. And I think this is the part where we want to help is to help DevRel show the value of what they're doing and to align that expectation right from the start. But yeah, I think definitely I'm very positive about this space. That's why I'm here. And we'll continue to invest in this space to support you guys.

Jonan: I'm so glad that you're doing this. There are so many times that I have built small, broken versions of what you have built here. I can't tell you all the scripts I have to collect all this data, throw it in spreadsheets and CSV files, and even proper databases occasionally. It's just so much work. I think fully half of my work in DevRel is convincing people that DevRel should even exist.

And it's a very tiring thing when you're doing the work, and you can see so much value in what's happening, and clearly, the industry can see the value. They're looking at these companies from the outside with strong, well-funded, and resourced DevRel orgs, and they're crushing it. And they're like, well, we want to do what that is, whatever they're doing. I'm not sure, something, something make us money. You bring people in, and they set about going out to help the community, the people they actually work for, right? [chuckles]

Jordan: Yeah.

Jonan: And then you're like, "Well, wait a minute, I thought that you were like a marketing channel. You're not like a paid ad as a human being?" I'm like, "No, I'm not actually that, not even close. [laughs] You should keep looking if that's what you're interested in." I think that misunderstanding is pretty fundamental, unfortunately. And there's a desperate need for companies like yours. So I'm excited for the future. So you think that over the next year, your prediction is DevRel will continue to grow? Again, I'm looking for something risky, Jordan. That's a pretty easy...that's a gimme of a prediction.

Jordan: [laughs]

Jonan: Give me something risky.

Jordan: Look, okay. Let's make my statement a little bit more specific here. I believe that all companies that need to engage with developers will have a DevRel team, and there will probably be a Chief Developer Relations Officer sooner or later.

Jonan: The CDRO.

Jordan: Yeah.

Jonan: Well, I aspire to be the first CDRO then.

Jordan: I'm looking forward to that. [laughter] No, I'm serious. I do think there will be a seat for DevRel on the board. I'm very positive about that because this is just the power of developers that companies just can't ignore.

Jonan: I think they did for too long. I think people misunderstood the equation where you were talking to the CTO, and the CTO was interested in your product. But CTOs are wise enough to talk to their teams first about any new product they're going to buy. I got multiple questions from management all the way across my career when they were looking at buying a product. "Hey, do you like this one or this one? Which one of these is better?" And it was always a really clear choice to me. And had they purchased the other one, I would have been enraged.

[laughter]

There are a lot of conversations. There are a lot of reasons software companies buy from each other. Sometimes it's because I met their CEO at a conference and he was nice. And I'm like, "Don't buy that. You will break the company. Please stay away from their garbage software." I'm so glad that that's coming about, and I agree with you that it's going to grow. But I also do think that we've got some work to do. It's growing very quickly, the number of people doing DevRel around the world. I think maybe since the pandemic hit, especially, it has doubled. It's really been kind of a boon to the industry as people look to explore other ways to engage with developers when they don't have physical events. So you came from a background in finance, accounting.

Jordan: Sure.

Jonan: You're a CFA. What's a CFA?

Jordan: CFA is a Chartered Financial Analyst. [laughs] To give the audience more background, so I studied accounting finance actually at university. And my first job was actually in a profession called forensic accounting. So what we did there was a forensic accounting method to investigate bribery, corruption, anti-money laundering, these sorts of corporate crimes. And it was then when I first started to try to understand systems, gain visibility into systems by using some sort of tools. In this case, the system we were trying to understand was the accounting system of a company because you can have accounting standards that is a standard accounting applied for everyone, but people can interpret it differently and play it differently. And this is where loopholes are created. And this is where these kinds of corporate crimes come up. But obviously, doing forensic accounting for me was too boring. [laughs] And I just couldn't stand it.

Jonan: Look, I want a TV show about that. Forensic accounting sounds fascinating.

Jordan: Really? [laughs]

Jonan: Yeah.

Jordan: So after a year, I had an opportunity to then work in a company's treasury department where they were doing investments so investing their excess cash into the stock market, bull market. And that's how it got into investment. And that's when I was required to get a CFA, which is something that you need to have in order to provide investment advice or make investment decisions. And it was then that we were building systems to understand the financial market, to help the financial market to monitor the health of the system. And so I think when it comes to talking about observability, I've always been doing observability but on different systems, not computer systems, but it's accounting system or the financial market ecosystem, for example.

And then, after my investment career, I was working in London there for a number of years. Then I came back to Hong Kong, and that's when we started to think about maybe I want to start something on my own. And I got my friend Akhil to join me. He was a developer. He was a mobile game developer. He was working in Europe, and then he went back to India. And I think he started a small logistics company which he'd done very well. And he's exited, and he joined me to start Krunch again.

The initial thought of Krunch was it was actually more of an investment analytic tool to help people understand the crypto market and help them to pinpoint what crypto is going to do well or not. And the way we did that was okay; for a crypto to do well, you need to have a vibrant developer community. And so what we thought was okay, why don't we crowdsource insights and feedback from the developer community to inform us what crypto is going to do well next? That was the initial idea. But then, when we started doing that, we realized that it was very difficult. We didn't know how to develop engagement, how to reach out to them, how to talk to them.

I mean, Akhil was a developer, but he also sort of had that more of a maybe marketing sense on how to do it. So this is when we came across Developer Relations. And we started researching more about this field and realized that there was this profession which is dedicated to building relationships, advocating for developers. And we got more interested. We started reading books, for example, The Business Value of Developer Relations. And from there, we saw a small interview with you, I think. You are in the book, Jonan.

Jonan: I am in the book. My face is on an avocado on the cover.

Jordan: Yeah. [laughter] Exactly. So that's when we reached out to you as well, Jonan, and so we started just going out talking to people to understand more about the industry. We even flew to San Francisco. We were there for four months, and we just went to meet up there. I'm not sure if any of you remember us. But we were there for quite some time and just talking to people.

Jonan: Wow.

Jordan: Yeah. And so, for the good part of the first year and a half, we were just understanding Developer Relations. And we pivoted from the crypto idea because when we were doing it, the crypto market was going to winter period. Everything was plummeting, and just no one wanted to do crypto. And we thought, okay; maybe this is an opportunity to explore more about Developer Relations. And that's how we got started. And there was all this pivot, understanding, and researching for almost three years now. And this is where I am.

Jonan: This is where you are. It's been a long ride, but a good one. I'm glad that I got to come along with you for part of it. It's really been interesting to watch you all grow. And this crypto piece, I hadn't actually heard about that, but it's very interesting because it was like a crypto winter. Right as you started off to build a business around cryptocurrencies, the global market collapsed.

Jordan: [laughs]

Jonan: There is something of a resurgent in recent history, of course. I now hear people talking about Dogecoin at the bus stops, and I think it's hilarious [laughs] because there's so much education to do there for so many people.

Jordan: Sure.

Jonan: But anyway, that's a whole nother thing. I've seen a huge uptick in people recruiting me to go join crypto companies recently. I think they have a steep hill to climb in crypto. I think there is the reputation that all of the proof of work, studies of electricity have created for crypto. There's a lot of pushback and segments of developer communities. Beyond that, it's all very confusing technology with lofty promises for change in the future. And the confluence of those three pieces makes it very difficult to do DevRel. They are desperately in need and very interested in getting people to do this work right now. I'm interested to see where it goes. I'm not entirely opposed to it, but I think there's a challenge there.

I asked a couple of friends recently. I was like, "What would y'all think if I joined a crypto startup?" And one of them goes, "Oh, I'm sorry. I thought it was a rhetorical question," [laughter] and I feel that. That's an interesting challenge. That being said, I think there's a lot of interesting stuff going on there, especially if they focus on some of the new stuff, like the zero-proof kind of work that's going on or proof of stake. There are a lot of ways to minimize the impact on the environment that is getting embraced now. Anyway, so we got distracted talking about Dogecoin.

Jordan: Yeah. [laughs]

Jonan: But again, par for the course, that's what Observy is all about. If you were just starting out again in your career and you were a young forensic accountant trying to track down the billionaires, a huge number of which live in Hong Kong, who are evading taxes.

Jordan: [laughs]

Jonan: And I'm not saying that the ones who live in Hong Kong are tax evaders, but where there are billionaires, there's something going on. It is an unnatural state when someone is able to accrue that much money, right?

Jordan: True.

Jonan: So, what advice would you have for yourself just starting out again if you could do it again? I'm sure there are plenty of people who want to be where you are today, leading a company of their own that is growing so rapidly. I mean, 99 out of 100 people go down this path, Jordan, and they don't end up where you are. What advice would you have for people who set out to do that?

Jordan: When I first started out, I didn't have an idea that I will be here, and I didn't think I would start a company. It was more of a series of events that pushed me to where I am. So, in my case, it wasn't that well planned. It was like, okay, forensic accounting thing, I did it for a year. And I stopped doing it because, at one point, they asked me to start picking some ripped receipts in the bin in order to put them back together to form a picture of this transaction. And I was like, oh my God, I'm not doing that.

Jonan: [laughs]

Jordan: Picking rubbish, picking receipts in the bin and then just putting them back together, [laughs] oh my God. And when I was doing investments...I mean, I like doing investments. I really love it. My boss, who basically married the founder's daughter, had a lot of stories about how he's meeting all these entrepreneurs and then the company founders. And so, when I was doing this investment job, I always heard these stories, and that got me inspired and wanting to go down this path. So yeah, it was a series of different events and exposure that got me to where I am.

But what advice I would give is you got to be open-minded, whatever comes to you. So you might have one path. You might have a goal already that you want to achieve, and that's fine to achieve that goal. You're fixed on that goal. But it's also important that you keep an open mind and just listen and just read and talk to different people to make sure that you get a more diverse view of the world. Because your view of the world is always incomplete, and you need to talk to different people and read different things in order to get a more complete view. And I think that helped me as well in getting to where I am. I mean, some people will be like, how did you get from finance to Developer Relations and building tools with Developer Relations? It's quite a jump if you think about it. But I think this happened because I was very curious about different things around me, and so that's my advice.

Jonan: Follow your curiosity. I think that diversity of experience actually lends itself to success in this industry. In DevRel specifically, you see a lot more people from non-traditional backgrounds, a lot more people who used to do very strange things for a living and then ended up here. People who were poker dealers or bouncers like myself, and then hey, I'll just go and do this thing instead.

It's been really nice chatting with you today. Do you have any parting tips for people out there, maybe someone just getting out started in DevRel? I bet you have advice for someone who's starting a team from scratch as to what they should focus on first because you talk to a lot of DevRel people who are in exactly that position.

Jordan: Yeah. The first tip is if you're starting out in DevRel, find Jonan for advice, seriously. We wouldn't be where we are without Jonan. I'm not exaggerating; I’m serious. He literally spent...Every two weeks we'll meet for a meeting for one hour. One hour every two weeks that's a lot; I know that's a lot…and to help us to build the product. So yeah, that's the first tip.

And the second tip is on building teams. I think it's about finding...we started off finding friends and then friends referred other friends. We didn't use any things like Upwork or any recruiting agency because we just felt that firstly, we didn't have much money to pay anyway for the fees and recruitment fees and all that. And secondly, it would take time for people to get to know each other. And especially in the early stage, you want to have this piece to be dealt with later rather than now, like in the early stage.

Jonan: I think you made a wise decision. I also hope that you realize that it was mostly a selfish pursuit hanging out with you all. I like you all. But you built a hell of a product, and I've always gotten a lot of value out of it. [chuckles] It was certainly a fair trade for both of us, Jordan. But I'm always happy to help people out who are trying to understand and get into DevRel. I just want to see more DevRel because more DevRel means more developers. And it makes the world, in my estimation, a better place if we do it right. And doing it right is the hard part, but you're on the right track.

So thank you again so much for coming on the show. I look forward to having you back in a year and hearing about your next pivot back to Dogecoin. [laughter] But one way or another, I expect we're going to be hanging out with each other for a long time in this industry. Thank you, Jordan. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Jordan: Thank you and you too.

Jonan: Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of the rest of The Relicans podcasts on therelicans.com. In fact, most anything The Relicans get up to online will be on that site. We'll see you next week. Take care.

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