SAN FRANCISCO -- With Jack Dorsey at the helm once again, Twitter Inc. has its product visionary back. But as the second-time CEO splits his time between Twitter and Square Inc., Dorsey will be relying heavily on leaders within Twitter, in particular one who has emerged in a key role over the past year, a 28-year-old New York native and West Coast transplant with a memorable name: Bear Douglas.
"Bear" conjures a burly image, but in this case Bear is about 5-foot-5, long brown hair, wearing jeans and a black T-shirt with pink flowers on it. Her real name is Madeleine Douglas, and Bear was a nickname her parents gave her shortly after birth. "I'm definitely not a Maddie," Douglas explained.
The nickname suits her in her role leading the global effort to lure developers back to Twitter's flock and convince them to once again build apps on Twitter. Think of it as a giant "Bear" hug.
“In general the role of the advocate is to be the engineer who does marketing. You create collateral that helps people understand your product. You’re tasked with being the end super user," Douglas said in an interview at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.
It could be a long road back to "on again" in Twitter's on-again-off-again relations with third-party developers. Initially Twitter was an open platform and developers built apps and a great many businesses around Twitter's data. But Twitter shut much of that ecosystem down in 2012 and added huge restrictions to its application program interface [API], to which Box CEO Aaron Levie tweeted:
Twitter's API has more rules than North Korea.
— Aaron Levie (@levie) August 16, 2012
But Twitter is invested, now. Over the last two years, the in-house developer advocacy team has grown approximately three times to a total of 50 out of Twitter’s roughly 4,000 employees. That group has helped build Fabric -- a tool that allows developers to build Twitter-based mobile apps -- and grow Twitter’s API, syndication system and ads platform and assisted in rewriting the story of the company’s developer relations.
Twitter's advocates have now spent the last year re-convincing developers to choose Twitter over Facebook, Google or Yahoo. Fabric now touts big-name clients such as popular dating app Tinder and mobile game Dots, and the company announced Wednesday that a quarter of a million developers use Fabric.
That's where Bear comes in. Developer Mitchell McLaughlin said he met Douglas at a Twitter developer conference in Chicago. “She was so kind. She offered my dev friends and I onto the Twitter bus,” McLaughlin said. “We sat and chatted for a couple hours even after that. So long after the conference was over she was still working."
— Mitchell McLaughlin (@m23mclaughlin) February 11, 2015
@maddy_531 yeah! So awesome to meet you in person! Will drop you a line next time I'm in MI :)
— Bear Douglas (@beardigsit) February 13, 2015
@bshine Hey there :D your last name is pretty great, too!
— Bear Douglas (@beardigsit) September 3, 2014
— Bear Douglas (@beardigsit) May 18, 2015
"Developer advocates love to go out and shake hands, kiss babies, write code and bond with developers whether it's in a hotel bar after a meet-up or after the session's over and they get mobbed at the stage. They just live for that conversation," said Prashant Sridharan, Twitter's global director of developer and platform relations. "Bear is the best I've ever worked with."
From Dirt To Code
For Douglas, her academic career was not always driven by coding. She did gain an early appreciation for the field from a first-grade class on programming and again in seventh grade where she learned the programming language Pascal. Douglas also took courses and participated in extracurriculars around coding for all four years of high school.
But when she arrived at Stanford in 2005, she chose to major in archaeology and economics. “I was enticed by the many things you could do in college,” Douglas said. “It was academically exciting, having a scientific view of people in the past and trying to make sense of them based on their things. I loved digging into the behavioral parts.”
Douglas spent the majority of her summers on archaeology digs, yet as graduation was inching closer and the computer science field (recently named the most popular major for women at Stanford) was growing, Douglas rejoined the community and decided to take computer science courses while simultaneously pursuing a master's in anthropology.
“Luckily I graduated at a time when native programming for iPhone and Android was pretty nascent. So I didn’t have years and years of experience, but I was positioned well to learn,” Douglas said.
— Jon Bulava (@jbulava) August 9, 2015
And she did learn, in part by working part-time at a startup called SkyGrid while at Stanford. Following graduation number two, Douglas joined a search marketing company called Confluence Media. She later headed to Strobe Inc., a software company that was acquired by Facebook in 2012.
The social networking giant absorbed Strobe’s software engineers, but as a product marketing manager, Douglas was left out. But she did not give up and applied to a position as a developer advocate and soon became one of the company’s first hires in that department.
Facebook was where Douglas said she not only fell in love with a career as a developer advocate but also learned lessons in how to work for a tech company with great reach.
“Going from a startup where we peppered everything with emoticons, I learned it was really important to be clear. It’s not about being stodgy corporation. It’s about making sure you’re being understandable to everybody,” Douglas said.
She managed to impress a Facebook employee who sat next to her, Prashant Sridharan, who would later be her boss at Twitter. “She is one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. She has a clarity of thought [that] is amazing, and she’s very personable and very friendly. She’s a force of nature.”
That praise came from a man who worked as a product manager for Microsoft and a marketing director for Amazon before he received a call from Facebook. “My boss at Microsoft had this thing where the product managers he would hire he called ‘reformed nerds,’ people who could code but love to get up and speak,” Sridharan said.
He described a developer advocate as someone who has not only the technical chops but also a passion for learning, and for teaching. “I really love working with engineers … Flighty is not the right word, but I get excited by making different things,” Douglas said. “On a day-to-day basis I get to do a million and five different things.”
During her two years at the social network, Douglas became a face in the hackathon circuit as “the Facebook girl,” she says. But when Sridharan called about a position at Twitter, her main question was something external developers themselves have asked: How invested was Twitter, really, in app developers?
“It was always news when Twitter worked with Google. But if we had an indie developer building the next Flappy Bird, what are the resources?” Douglas said.
Beyond Hatching Twitter
At Twitter's first mobile developers conference last year, Douglas gave a 20-minute demo of Fabric that wowed not only the hundreds of developers in the audience but also Twitter's other leaders.
Twitter product manager Michael Ducker was in attendance and, after seeing her presentation, thought, "Who is this person? Where did she come from? Twitter's a large company. You don't always know everyone."
But she's now cast herself in Twitter internally and externally as the "face of Fabric," Ducker said.
For the past year, Douglas and her team have been working on its communication with developers as well as preparing for Twitter’s second mobile developer conference, to be held Wednesday.
The Sunday leading up to the event, on the 11th floor of Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, the developer team worked until 11 p.m. The hours have been long in the short hours leading up to Flight, but Sridharan says the mood has also been light.
While finalizing presentations and keeping up communications, the team -- some of which flew in from overseas -- has been watching episodes of Gossip Girl on Sridharan’s Netflix. “I’ve never been in a place that this much fun. And it’s not just fun. It’s a team that gets a lot done,” Sridharan said.
“The Twitter culture is like hand-in-glove for me," Sridharan said." If you are a natural leader, then this company rewards that. Looking at someone like Bear, it’s amazing to watch her thrive."