What is the ultimate purpose of an API program? When do we call an API program successful? Is a great Developer eXperience (DX) enough? Or is there something more needed?
This blogpost was born out of 2 conversations: the first with Matthew Revell, the founder and organizer of DevRelCon and the second with Erik Wilde API community builder and catalyst. The first conversation lead to a panel conversation at DevRelCon lead by Matthew, with Carla Teixeira (DevRel program manager at Miro), Jonan Scheffler (Director of Developer Relations at Parity Technologies), Cat McGee (Head of Developer Relations at Hype), and me (Kristof Van Tomme, CEO of Pronovix).
We discussed 2 definitions of developer success:
- Developer success as a practice or even a job profile similar to customer success.
- Developer success as an objective that goes beyond developer experience.
Developer success as a practice
DevRelCon Prague 2022 took place at the start of a massive wave of layoffs in the IT sector. And these times are often extra scary for developer relation teams.
Developer Relations (DevRel) has become an important aspect to accelerate product lead growth, and it has been the foundation for the rapid international growth of a range of successful IT companies. DevRel leverages friendly developer communities that—with a great product—can be a non-linear multiplier for hockey stick growth. The unpredictability of community engagement however also means that DevRel is inherently complex and therefore hard to measure and predict. So when management goes looking for redundancies DevRel budgets often suffer.
That is why the abstract of the panel was:
'In a time when developer relations needs to focus as much on retention and driving revenue as it does anything else, what is developer success and how can we add it to our DevRel programmes?'
When you look DevRel up on Wikipedia (12-02-2023), you’ll find the following list of 5 sets of practices (as described in Lewko and Parton’s "A Framework for Developer Relations" Developer Relations - The Book):
- Developer Marketing: Outreach and engagement activities to create awareness and convert developers to use a product.
- Developer Education: Product documentation and education resources to aid learning and build affinity with a product and community.
- Developer Experience (DX): Resources like a developer portal, product, and documentation, to activate the developer with the least friction.
- Developer Success: Activities to nurture and retain developers as they build and scale with a product.
- Community: Nourishes a community to maintain a sustainable program.
The easiest way to understand Developer Success in this framework is to compare it to the customer success practices that a lot of companies have established. It is a relationship focused practice that is similar to support - but more proactive in seeking to help customers to become successful with your company’s products and services.
Developer Success similarly is not support, or sales, but still helps to protect the bottom line by ensuring that customers will renew, because they are receiving value from your products.
Developer Success as an objective
At the DevRelCon panel we also discussed developer success as the key objective for API/developer programs. Too often we’ve seen API programs that lose sight of the bigger picture: they get so carried away focusing on the implementation of tools and proximate goals (e.g. number of APIs, time to hello world, number of developers that signed up for a program) that they forget the big picture.
In developer portals this often translates into a focus on Developer eXperience features or gimmicks that will delight developers. While Developer eXperience is essential for a successful program, it is not sufficient to achieve Developer Success.
When I talked about this with Erik Wilde, he challenged me (with good reason) that we already have a lot of these buzzwords, and that he wasn’t sure if the API community needs another proximate goal.
He pointed out that there are already 3 of “these”:
- Developer eXperience (DX): how easy it is for a developer to use a technology to build something (I’ve previously talked about DX as the inverse of developer friction throughout the developer journey)
- Application User experience (UX?): in this case the user experience of an end consumer interacting with an application that was built on top of an API
- Value eXchange (VX): the exchange of value that make APIs sustainable, and that make it worth for companies to invest in their development and maintenance
Each of them represents a KPI that is more or less important for the different participants in the API economy: the end user that interacts with an application, the developer that builds the application, and the organisation that funds the API the developer uses.
Developer Success as an objective can be seen, however, as the combination of these 3 metrics/objectives. In some cases when APIs facilitate machine to machine interactions there might also not be an end user that directly consumes the capabilities of an API, instead developer success might be a more indirect objective.
I personally prefer to stick with UX as a name of a practice, rather than a metric for the experience an end user gets: at Pronovix our UX specialist colleagues can facilitate the definition and improvement of all 3 of these success metrics for our devportal customers. But I’m not sure what to call the application User eXperience, Application eXperience (AX)? Interface eXperience (IX)?
I would love to hear if you have further insights on the topic, maybe as a guest at the API Resilience podcast?
Kristof van Tomme
Kristof Van Tomme is an open source strategist and architect. He is the CEO and co-founder of Pronovix. He’s got a degree in bioengineering and is a regular speaker at conferences in the API, developer relations, and technical writing communities. He is the host of the Developer Success & the Business of APIs and the API Resilience podcasts.