Top-Skillsets-for-API-Developers-to-Hone

API development requires a unique mindset and set of skills, especially in light of the rapid iteration that is common in the modern space. The API industry is prone to rapid changes, and accordingly, having a strong developer base set of skills is incredibly important.

Below, we’ll look at the top skill sets API developer should hone to be more effective and efficient. While these are not the only helpful skill sets to develop, spending the time to hone these specific domains will pay huge dividends!

Design and Aesthetics

APIs may be highly technical, but the reality is that many of your clients (in the business sense of the word) may not be. When you build an API, you never know who will be using it — simply building it to do what it says on the tin and walking away is no longer acceptable. In addition to great functionality, APIs should boast an intuitive interface with great developer experience.

Accordingly, developers seeking to level their development skill set should pay close attention to aesthetics and invest in understanding digital design and its current trends. This is especially true for small API-as-a-product teams or solo endeavors. When a client utilizes your API, your adoption will suffer if the frontend is too complex to understand or is riddled with issues. Spending a small amount of time to ensure you know the design and aesthetic principles of modern application iteration is key.

We should also note here that design is not necessarily just visual. Understanding how to build consistently while maintaining an API style guide and specification dramatically improves the user experience. This ranges from the simple aesthetics of the documentation to the base design paradigm and endpoint naming decisions made in the development of the API itself. Simply put, developers should invest in understanding systems and their resultant design and aesthetic requirements.

Marketing and User Experience

In a related sense, marketing is a skillset that all developers should hone, regardless of whether the project in question focuses on generating revenue or not. In the broadest sense, marketing is understanding the user’s needs and responding to those needs. Marketing is not just putting a big ad on a billboard — it’s understanding that someone driving down a highway might want to pull off to the side of the road for a break, and creating a service that fulfills that need in a positive and engaging way.

When it comes to API development, investing in understanding the user, their user story and purpose, and ultimately the use case for each user type can help deliver a product built for the consumer’s actual needs rather than the needs assumed by the developer.

Remember that “users” doesn’t just refer to end users — these are also fellow developers utilizing your API for additional functionality and iteration. In this sense, considering the user experience as a marketing function results in a better experience for everyone involved.

Security

Security is perhaps the most important thing a developer can hone in the modern space. Things are more connected than ever before, and with every passing day, more technologies are added to the software stack. Over the course of the last decade, we have seen the rapid rise of the Internet of Things, high-end mobile computing, and always-on cloud devices. With so much connection, we also have an incredible surface area for security issues.

Accordingly, developers should ensure they are routinely investing in this area of expertise. Firstly, developers should adopt a secure mindset and ensure that everything is built with security in mind from the beginning. Endpoints should be designed to minimize data exposure, permissions should be routinely set and reviewed, and functions should be limited to their core purpose to prevent runaway requests and exfiltration.

Security is perhaps the most intense skill to hone, as it requires a major professional investment in training and a boost in awareness. Training programs, security conferences, security blogs, and books will be your best friend. Adopt a proper mindset, invest the time in understanding and adapting, and ensure that this becomes a major focus.

Technological Awareness

As said in the introduction to this piece, the API space is constantly evolving and iterating, and new technologies and approaches are continually being introduced to the market. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it should be adopted, but inversely, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t warrant attention. Awareness of new technology trends and developer resources is thus a key skill set.

Some may not consider this a skillset, but overreliance on a specific technology can be a real issue. There are many stories throughout a plethora of organizations in which a product was developed using a particular specification, language, or framework, and by the time a new mode or method was required, the developers realized they were so deep in their existing tech that an entirely new system had to be developed. To avoid losing sight of the broader offerings, developers should experiment with new languages, approaches, and paradigms.

It’s not just new tech you should be familiar with, but new standards and ways of working. Even if the developer doesn’t directly use it, understanding various API-specific solutions like GraphQL, asynchronous applications, OpenAPI specifications, and so forth can help create a wider library of possible solutions. This will open up more solutions when a complex problem presents itself. Accordingly, developers should endeavor to open their minds to technological possibilities beyond their current stack.

For example, consider the age-old REST vs. SOAP comparison. It’s good to know the ins and outs of RESTful design and to apply them throughout your development process. It’s even better to understand alternatives like SOAP and know when each style is appropriate and effective. Knowing both the best tool to use for a problem and the worst tool to use for a problem, and why, is a helpful skillset developers and architects should hone.

Development and Lifecycle Paradigms

Similarly, API developers should be familiar with common development and lifecycle paradigms. If you are using agile development, that’s very cool! However, you should still understand waterfall design paradigms. If you’re planning on a long lifecycle, you should understand how to support versioning and long-term support, and how to plan a clear sunset timeline. Developers should understand how to properly retire an API and move it into obsolescence to avoid shadow APIs.

In essence, developers should have a firm understanding of the development and lifecycle approaches commonly used and be able to justify the specific choices they make for their projects. When you first sit down to develop an API, consider this long-term view of the lifecycle with the following questions:

  • Do you want to support multiple versions?
  • What is the minimum viable product?
  • What are the update expectations, and who will rely upon the integration?
  • What does the long-term support infrastructure look like?

Of course, you don’t need to have all the answers right off the bat, but these questions are worth asking and worth keeping in mind throughout the development process.

Business Logic

It’s very tempting to just think of APIs as a development effort, but many APIs have the potential for revenue generation or supporting a core business function. Developers who only consider the technical objectives are missing a secondary consideration of how it enables a business function. This is especially valid if your project ultimately drives a business, such as an API-as-a-product.

For example, imagine we are creating an API to serve book titles to a user based on their favorite genre or other books they’ve liked. If we look at this from a technical solution, we can simply provide the complete response all at once and with an infinite number of results. From a business perspective, however, maybe we want to break this apart into smaller paginated chunks. Or, perhaps we want power users, people requesting thousands of books a month, to pay a small fee based upon their use rate, while regular users get to use the API for free.

In a development sense, these are very different goals. One requires no rate limits or pagination, and the other requires it as a business function. These simple business logic-centric thought processes are hard to intrinsically adopt, as they often feel counterproductive to the core effort at hand. The real trick is balancing the development mindset with the business logic mindset and finding the delicate balance that allows you to develop amazing APIs while paying the bills.

Conclusion

As said at the start of this article, these are not the only skillsets developers should hone — that being said, these should be the base skills that any developer puts some time and attention into. A small amount of effort in honing these skills will pay off majorly over time, resulting in a development environment that is closely coupled to business logic, results in something users like to use, and is rationally constructed and designed.

What do you think of these skillsets? What do you think API developers should hone? Let us know below!