Happy Developers

I’ve always been all about removing barriers to help people get where they want to go.  It’s how I get gratification from my work, my play, my entire life.  This week at the amazing I’ve always been all about removing barriers to help people get where they want to go.  It’s how I get gratification from my work, my play, my entire life.  This week at the amazing I’m surrounded by engaged, curious, challenging people who are committed to bringing the API world to the next level.  We’ve grown the API ecosystem organically up until now, all doing our best to meet our own goals, but being around people who have looked at this world from so many different directions makes it possible for us to see the patterns.

I spoke yesterday on a panel on API design – and I talked, as I frequently do, about happy developers. Jakub Nešetřil of Apiary.io made an insightful comment when he noted that we’re used to designing APIs for computers – they are, after all, programmatic interfaces. But in this world where developers are the interaction level, we have to make user interface choices. Developers are users of your API and if you don’t treat them as such they’ll be frustrated and less likely to be successful.

My talk, as always, was peppered with visual metaphors.  Developers are the wild animals out on the savannah, looking for a watering hole they like.  When they come to check out your API they’re giving you a valuable gift of something they’ll never get more of – their time.  Show them you value and respect that gift by communicating with them clearly about your product, your goals, and giving them ways to engage right away.  Play with them – provide tutorials and examples that give them a sense of progress (yes, level them up.  Game theory isn’t a bad thing.  Developers are, by nature, gamers.  Use that.)  Give them building blocks of working code, like legos so they can build new toys.  Play with your developers.  Seriously.

And support them.  Not just in the usual ways, but if you want to earn developer love, get them out there evangelizing your product, helping you support other users… teach them to be successful.  Give them tools, give them strategies, tell them how to solve the problems on their own so when they’re hacking at 3AM they can finish the toy they wanted to build.  Celebrate their successes with them because when you work with them, those successes are yours as well.

Your developers are users, yes, but they are also your peers.  They may have a different context or be coming to your system from a foreign programming world, but they want to interact with your product, and helping them to be successful is the best way to ensure the success of your own platform.

Dialogue & Discussion