Takeaways from API World 2017

Navigating the world of API developer relations, developer evangelism and advocacy, and developer marketing is no easy task.

Navigating the world of API developer relations, developer evangelism, and advocacy, and developer marketing is no easy task. APIs are dime a dozen (over 16,000 listed on Programmable Web!), but quality developer experiences are rarer. Last week I visited San Jose, CA to hear best practices from API developer program managers and marketers.

API World 2017 was September 25-27 at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, CA. It was a whirlwind of insightful speakers, energized audiences and fun activities, like a Hackathon, API Awards, VIP lunches, mentor meetings, and block parties!

DZone’s Director of Customer Care, Mark Hopkins, and I attended over 15 sessions in less than 48 hours — just a handful of the over 65 great sessions in multiple tracks at API World! Below are a few of the key takeaways from the conference:

1. Ensure there is a clear vision for your API. Then share it internally and articulate your vision externally to developers.

While this sounds like a simple first step, it’s often overlooked — and can be the reason that your API isn’t adopted in market. Without truly understanding the vision, Kirsten Hunter, Developer Evangelist at Akamai, noted an example from her time at Netflix. She mentioned that many developers were using the API to create queue managers. But Netflix really wanted the API to drive new sign-ups — which developers weren’t working on.

Creating an API because your competitor has one or “APIs are cool” isn’t a good reason to create an API. Your team needs to map a clear vision for the API and understand the business goal. Are you looking to drive revenue growth? Product adoption? Gain market capitalization?

Aaron Hedges, API Product Manager at Vimeo, recommends using a schema model to document and share the API vision. You can then you can effectively talk to developers about potential use cases and guide them with sample code and recipes. Creating a schema model will also help your team keep endpoints and definitions consistent, therefore mitigating confusion across business units and to external developers. This will also help you communicate to executives the true purpose — and that your APIs may not be designed to directly drive revenue for the business.



Aaron Hedges, API Product Manager at Vimeo, takes the main stage for his session “Tips for creating stable, usable, APIs (in a constantly changing company)”.


2. Developer experience can make or break your API in market.



Kirsten Hunter, Developer Evangelist at Akamai presents “Irresistible APIs: Creating Interfaces Developers Love” on the API World 2017 Main Stage

“It’s not hard to create an API. A talented developer can do it in a few hours. It’s hard to create an API that has a delightful developer experience.” – Kirsten Hunter, Developer Evangelist, Akamai

Well said, Kirsten. Companies once viewed developers as lucky to use their API, however that cannot be the case today. It’s likely that developers have another option (and you don’t want to send them to your largest competitor), not to mention they have more buying power and influence in buying decisions than ever before. The experience you create for developers is what will keep them using your API.

So what really creates a strong developer experience? David “I” Intersimone from Evans Data notes that communication is key for both good and bad communications and in a timely manner. For instance, if you’re announcing end of life for an API version or possibly an entire program, give your developers plenty of time to make plans and deliver the news honestly.

You also need to provide developers with tools and ecosystem to support usage and adoption. According to Evans Data, 62% of developers won’t use your API if you don’t have a developer relations program. How you provide this program for developers? Take a look at the next takeaway.

3. The Developer Funnel is not your average marketing and customer success funnel.

Reaching and engaging developers brings unique challenges that traditional marketing and customer success tactics cannot overcome. Think of the classic marketing funnel — the third party developers you’re bringing into your ecosystem have different needs and don’t deal with your sales team. They have a unique funnel, ask depicted by Paul Nerger, SVP of Products at developerprogram.com.



Slide from Paul Nerger’s presentation, “Best Practices in Growing a Developer Ecosystem around your API”

Think through each stage of the developer funnel from adoption of your API to the time they (hopefully!) become evangelists. What is their intent and how can you push them to the next step?

The Developer Funnel is based on education and knowledge — that is how a developer advances through the funnel. Developer Programs need to provide proper learning materials for all stages, from onboarding documentation to communities for providing support.

“Provide support and at the time and point developers need it. Communities are a great way of doing that. We recommend Q&A hubs.”– Paul Nerger, SVP Products, developerprogram.com



Slide from Paul Nerger’s presentation, “Best Practices in Growing a Developer Ecosystem around your API”

But educational materials don’t need to equate to all static documentation or boring materials. Your job is to engage them with the right content at the right time. Ashley Roach of Cisco DevNet ran an API scavenger hunt campaign to train their SE’s into advocates. They took what could be boring classes and documentation and gamified the experience in a 3-day event. Be creative, but don’t add fluff!

Thank you, Dev:Network for putting on a great conference and to all the speakers and sponsors for their efforts! We’re already looking forward to next year’s event!