Don't Waste Developers' Time With Your API Program

This guest post comes from Brian Koles, Business Development Manager at ChallengePost. Brian is a startup junkie and frequent technology columnist.

This is the third installation of an ongoing “Developer Evangelist Playbook” series in partnership with ChallengePost. Part one covered the API Developer Outreach Checklist and part two discussed Making Your Hackathon Stand Out.

Software developers have a lot going for them. They’re highly paid, in demand, and have an unlimited number of projects where they can add value. The one thing they DON’T have in abundance is time, and they HATE wasting it. It’s wise to keep this in mind when setting up your API program.

Helping developers make money is nice - it’s a sign of respect, and a statement that you're not out to take advantage of them - but larger motivators are intellectual stimulation, having a positive impact, garnering exposure for their work, and learning new skills.

They spend their time making products and processes more efficient. Again, by definition, they hate wasting time, so outreach efforts for your public API need to reflect these values. To that end:

  • Create a developer page (usually at that feels more like a community hub than a stagnant website or simple Code Repository (GitHub is awesome, but it’s only part of the equation). The Portal should have discussion forums, easy access to API Key registration, a dedicated blog (i.e. separate from the main company blog) and showcase of high quality partners. Luckily most of the better API management partners provide high quality white-labeled portals as part of their product suite.
  • Make the documentation clear, thorough and easy to use. Developers want to build, not dig, and will be turned off quickly if they need to spend more time navigating your tools than implementing them.
  • When questions are posed on discussion forums or via email, they’re likely to be direct, specific and not easily answered through existing Documentation. Hacker ethos is a DIY mentality, meaning they most likely gave a solid effort figuring out the issue on their own before asking. Respect this effort by replying quickly, honestly and thoroughly. Then make sure this answer is easily found for the next person in a similar situation.
  • If you opt to engage developers through in-person Meetups or hackathons, make sure they’re well organized. One pet peeve to avoid is when conference organizers schedule hack days that overlap with education sessions that participating developers are likely to want to attend, forcing them to choose between doing one well or half-doing both. For more event time savers, check out making your hackathon stand out, and hackathon organizer best practices.
  • When running online dev contests that target higher-level app development and a broader developer community than live events can accommodate, provide adequate resources for exceptions work. In addition to giving easy access to APIs and data sets, inspire participants with problem statements, and provide matchmaking forums for people with complimentary skills to find each other. Here’s more on how to run an online app completion.
  • Enabling developers to build awesome applications using your APIs is only half of the battle. Next, help them drive awareness and adoption for their work by showcasing them in a gallery or marketplace. After all, your API program is only successful if people actually get to use your APIs in new an exciting ways! Feature contest winners on your blog. Build case studies around your most successful or innovative partners. Promote, promote promote!

Developers need to know that there are real people who care about their success on the other side of the digital wall. Anything you can do to that end - to show them you mean it - will in turn signal that they aren't wasting their time.

Be sure to read the next Best Practices article: PW Interview:Bob Bickel CoFounder Redline13