A Cheesemonger’s Guide to Developer Success Engineering

A WorkOS Developer Success Engineer describes his personal approach to success engineering by drawing on his experience as a high-end cheesemonger, focusing on education, empathy, and good taste.

By Logan Gingerich, Developer Success Engineer

If you’ve ever walked into a really great cheese shop, you were likely hit by a few thoughts once you adapted to the smell of sweaty-foot-scented, washed-rind cheeses:

  1. I’m hungry (and/or nauseated depending on your disposition).
  2. I know my way around a cheddar, gouda and Kraft American single, but how am I supposed to make sense of the 70+ cheeses starting back at me from this case?
  3. Am I going to have to fake my way through this and blindly put together a cheese and charcuterie board? How can I possibly make the most of this process?

All-in-all, you may recognize that you’re in the presence of “grate-ness” (sorry) but you’re wondering if you have what you need to get the most out of it. This is a very valid concern! Likewise, if you’re a developer integrating a new tool into your app, you want to make sure that you’re getting the most value that you possibly can and that you do it right the very first time. You shouldn’t have to have to have your PhD in Cheese Science to make an excellent cheese board, and you shouldn’t have to be an expert in all areas of a new SaaS platform to leverage it in the best way possible.

So, what is the solution? Well, you need top-of-the-line support! If you’re in a cheese shop, that means a cheesemonger who knows how to guide you all the way to cheese board nirvana. If you’re integrating a new SDK or API, you need a Developer Success Engineer who can make the process seamless and pleasant, while ensuring you’re set up for long-term success and getting every last ounce of value out of the new tool that you can.

Now, maybe you’re feeling skeptical about the connection here. Isn’t this like comparing Python to Parmigiano? Well, as a WorkOS Developer Success Engineer with a cheesemonger background, I’m here to tell you that certain customer success principles are simply universal.

Don’t wait for the customer to engage. Be proactive!

A high-end cheese shop can be an unfamiliar or even intimidating place for the uninitiated. As with any new environment or topic, just knowing what questions to ask in order to begin assembling what you need can be tricky. You may be the world’s best chocolatier, but when it comes to cheese, you might have a killer fondue recipe, but are still a novice when it comes to picking cheeses for a charcuterie board. Or maybe you’re a vegan, and have even less context - you just know you need to serve cheese to impress your guests! As a cheesemonger, I saw many customers enter the shop with a look of hesitation. It was clear that they didn’t want to bother me with what may seem like basic questions, and would opt toward silently (and maybe even nervously) wandering around. As a good cheesemonger, you want to cut out this entire awkward stage as soon as possible.

You’re not a passive observer; you’re the customer’s guide! Starting the interaction and putting them at ease with something like “Would you like to try this new alpine-style cheese we got in, it’s really delicious!" or "Can I help you find anything specific or offer you some suggestions that will pair perfectly together?" is often all that’s needed to break the ice. It lets the customer know that the cheesemonger is taking the work upon themselves so they don’t have to do any heavy lifting.

In Developer Success Engineering, there is always a risk of falling into that category of the passive observer. You wait until a developer comes to you with a problem and you simply put out the fire. In order to provide true white-glove developer support, you have to engage proactively and cut out that awkward “wandering around the code and docs” stage. The ability to proactively reach out to a developer about an issue before they even have to write in is certainly a bit tricky, but 100% possible with the right tooling.

For example, at WorkOS we have a Slack channel dedicated to streaming live error messages and exceptions. This enables us to reach out immediately to a developer experiencing an issue and the weight is immediately taken off their shoulders. They know that the Developer Success Engineer is their guide, ready to help them navigate an issue right from the start.

Practice empathy. Understand what type of interaction this customer wants and needs.

Customers are not a monolith, and they shouldn’t be treated as such! This is where empathy comes into play and is, in my humble opinion, the true cornerstone of all great support. A really great cheesemonger will start trying to empathize with a customer immediately. Do they appear to be in a hurry and need you to make all of the decisions and simply get to the point? Do they appear delighted by the environment and want you to wax poetic about more esoteric topics like alpine transhumance or tyrosine crystallization? With time and practice, a savvy cheesemonger should be able to empathize with any given customer so that they can cater their support approach to their specific needs.

I mentioned that empathy is the cornerstone of all great support, and Developer Success Engineering is no exception. Empathizing with a developer is our roadmap for how the interaction should proceed. The developer’s tone, general communication style and sense of urgency all need to be taken into account in order to step into their shoes and tailor your communication to exactly what they want and need.

Some developers are looking to get straight to the point; cut out all of the fluff and just convey the necessary information as clearly and concisely as possible. Others are looking for something more light and conversational; let’s get to the bottom of this but let’s also communicate with some friendly fluffiness and maybe take some tangents into other topics or best practice recommendations that could be helpful in the future. This is a tricky skill to teach or learn, but I’ve found that it comes over time if the Developer Success Engineer really puts in the effort to be an active listener and observer on a daily basis.

Set the customer up for continued, long-term success.

As a cheesemonger, there are times when your customer may be sweating bullets and needs you to put your head down, make every decision and just put together the cheeseboard that they had meant to reserve for their anniversary date starting in exactly fifteen minutes. The vast majority of customers, however, are looking to take away knowledge and an increased cheese expertise with their wedge of aged sheep’s milk gouda. They want to know where it came from and maybe a fun fact about the cheesemaker, what those little crunchy crystals actually are, and what type of beverage to serve with it. Each time a customer leaves the shop, they should feel enlightened and empowered to navigate that no-longer-intimidating cheese case.

At WorkOS, one of the top priorities for Developer Success Engineers is to provide highly technical advice and best practices to our developers so that each interaction leaves them more enlightened and confident that they know the best path forward for their specific use case. Anyone who wants to be truly effective in the world of Success Engineering needs to consider themselves an educator in part.

A focus on conveying best practices, giving implementation recommendations for any given use case and generally helping to level up the developer’s knowledge of the product is a fundamental part of avoiding a support infrastructure focused only on putting out fires. If a new developer needs to reach out about general best practice recommendations for the product, a great Developer Success Engineer should examine how they could have conveyed this information sooner in order to make the most seamless and magical developer experience possible.

At WorkOS, our Developer Success Engineers take their role as educators seriously and our aim is always to go above and beyond in this area. Whenever possible, we provide our developers with the recommendations, tools and resources needed to advance conversations with their Enterprise clients. From giving developers information or responses needed to work with a tricky IT Manager to providing the education needed to expand possibilities with a new client, we cherish the opportunity to level up our customers however we can.

Conclusion: Cheese or Code, it’s all about the customer.

Ultimately, whether you’re helping a customer make the perfect cheese selection to go with their sparkling beverage, onboarding a developer onto a new product or interfacing with a customer in just about any other environment, the ultimate goal is the same: make it the best experience for them that you possibly can. It’s a clear and simple goal, but it takes a proactive, knowledgeable/technical and empathetic Developer Success Engineer (or cheesemonger) to accomplish it.

At WorkOS, one of our primary values is being developer-obsessed, and the Developer Success Engineering team is one of the biggest manifestations of this value. We really strive to spark joy in developers and give them an experience unlike any other.

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