Developer Experience: The new frontier of Digital ecosystems

By Suhita Ghatak May 4, 2022
Developer Experience: The new frontier of Digital ecosystems
Developer Experience: The new frontier of Digital ecosystems

Now is the era of digital ecosystems as businesses are rapidly moving towards being digitally native. With this, businesses can now diversify by collaborating beyond their domain to deliver innovative products and services, which mutually benefit all. Apple card and Uber - are some prime examples. 

This revolution in the nature of the business can be conveniently attributed to APIs; the fundamental units of this transformation. De facto, these have the potential to go beyond being mere units of collaboration. 

However, to be able to project APIs as potent units open for experiment by developers, organizations need an interface. Enter - Developer portals. Simply put, a developer portal is a platform where developers access your APIs. It acts as the bridge that connects your APIs and their users. Here, your users, primarily developers, view API documentation, configure security settings, access toolkits, and browse support resources like documentation, blogs, tutorials, etc.

With an exceptional developer portal, Accuweather productized their highly efficient APIs that can handle the massive volumes of data required by the mobile world. 

Merely, within two months of launching their portal, they recorded over 6500 user sign-ups, 2,500 API keys, and 60 purchases of about 3 API packages. Their developer portal processes over 30 billion API requests per day. 

So, build amazing APIs, place them on a portal and voila! You kick-start creating business ecosystems. Sounds like a cakewalk, doesn’t it? 

Unfortunately, this is exactly where the disconnect also begins. Businesses often believe that a great API is enough to entice skilled developers to experiment and innovate. This is folly! Knowledgeable developers are the royals who invest only when they spot a hallmark developer experience.

Demystifying Developer Experience

IEEE defines developer experience as, “a means for capturing how developers think and feel about their activities within their working environments”

In layman's terms, ‘developer experience’ is the technical equivalent of ‘user experience.’ A lack of which will put your customer (in this case developer) off to the next available option/portal.  Therefore, great developer experience is the secret sauce you need to drive API adoption. 

APIs are the tools that help developers innovate without needing to reinvent the wheel. It is only natural that they would want to spare minimum time in understanding the tools and focus on maximizing utilization. Often developer portals fail to guide the developers even with basic API-related queries like:

  1. Why should I use the API? 

  2. What is the sign-up process?

  3. How do I start using it?

This creates a gap in their experience and forces them to try and apply guesswork. However, the end result is frustration and abandonment of the developer portal.

Unboxing the Developer Experience - Identifying What Lies Inside

The recipe for good developer experience is never static. It is ever-evolving in a manner that can answer the developer’s question and has self-service capabilities. However, organizations can start with some basic portal features that include:

  • A catalog of available APIs

    This refers to the comprehensive cataloging of APIs in the form of a marketplace. Each API category should have its own list of use cases for a clear understanding of usage.

  • Self-service onboarding for new users

    This is the ability to find answers to the three questions mentioned above as well as to get started with the APIs. It should follow these steps: Create an account > Log in > Create an API key or other authentication token > Connect to your API

  • Role based access (RBAC) to maximize security

    The developers should be able to do things like manage API keys, create proxies for APIs, and much more. This can be customized according to the organization’s standards. Developer Journey

  • Documentation & Tutorials and user guides

    APIs are integral and complicated. Thus, even the most talented developers will be rendered clueless unless they have adequate knowledge about the APIs. Easy navigation to these assets save time and effort for the developer. Similarly, sample code and SDKs are a developer’s starter kit.

The next step to enhance the self-service capability of your portal is hosting an active developer community via:

  • Educative information via blogs, customer success stories, and newsletters

  • Forums, that allow discussion and exchange of ideas

  • Hackathons, meetups, and conferences to promote innovation and out-of-the-box thinking

A sustainable ecosystem requires continuous improvement of APIs and extending support to developers

Your APIs aren’t a one-time cut-out product. In the sense, that these would be updated from time to time to fix issues or clean the code, etc. Therefore, versioning them is the only obvious solution.

API performance and usage analytics are some of the other decisive factors in API versioning. A slow API response rate, API latency, error rate, etc., are some key indicators of your API health. Underperforming numbers are a good reference point, to begin with. 

Also, considering user feedback to upgrade your APIs is a wholesome approach. You’d need a discussion forum where your users can flag the issues or needs feedback or report a bug. 

The role of a discussion forum is not limited to feedback, it also serves as a support system for the developers. Apart from this, the FAQ section, ticketing system are other necessary forms of support for the developers.

Communication is another significant aspect of a good developer experience 

Timely communication is the bedrock of building trust among your users (developers) and also reflects your brand ideology. Your API users should be aware of its downtime, bugs, errors, event of breach etc., so that they can keep up the smooth functioning of their apps. Timely notifications should be sent out to your users via email or other means of communication so that they can avoid any failures in their systems.

Good Developer Experience Leads to Great Engagement

The importance of good developer experience encompasses multiple aspects and leads to promoting API adoption, opening monetization avenues, and enabling a sustainable ecosystem. Accuweather is a prime example. This case study successfully substantiates that a developer portal is no longer a good-to-have component but a must-have feature for . The right kind of portal with accurate developer experience is capable of opening the gateway to a variety of opportunities, like new revenue models, adding another vertical to your business, boosting API adoption, etc. Our team can take developer portals from the proof of concept to the implementation of the final product. 

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