As we make the shift towards treating APIs more like bonafide products, Developer Experience (DX) is only becoming a more prominent topic. Over the last few years, you’ve probably noticed a growing amount of literature, tooling, and discussion on the subject of DX. You have to wonder: is this just one big fad, or is Developer Experience crucial to the success of your APIs?
Findings from Smartbear’s State of API Report 2019 help put things into perspective. Smartbear’s insightful report — with data from over 3000 API providers and consumers — reveals that Developer Experience is more important than we might think. In this summary, we’ll walk you through some of the key findings that lead us to believe DX should be an utmost priority for API providers.
Developing Faster, Easier, and Cheaper
To understand why Developer Experience is so relevant, we should consider why consumers are using APIs in the first place. According to the report, the top three reasons for consuming APIs are:
1. Interoperation between internal systems, tools, teams
2. Reducing development time
3. Reducing development cost
These three factors are almost equally relevant for API consumers, with just over 50% of respondents voting for each option. Focusing on the latter two factors, this part of the report clearly demonstrates that API consumers are employing APIs to help them build software faster, easier, and cheaper (I would argue the three are inherently linked).
By giving developers a positive experience with your APIs, you’re making it easier for them to do their job. Thus, they’ll be able to build faster and — in doing so — save money for the consuming organization. It’s clear that these are significant criteria when consumers shop for APIs. With good DX, you can be more confident you’re fulfilling them.
The Takeaway: API consumers come to you to make development faster and cheaper. Developer Experience can help them achieve this on a secondary level.
Crucial API Characteristics
You don’t need to be reading between the lines to know that Developer Experience is important since API consumers are explicitly telling us that’s the case. Just look at some of the most important API characteristics, as voted for by State of API respondents:
1. Ease of use
3. Accurate and detailed documentation
4. Service reliability
6. Easy to maintain code
Factors 1, 3, and 6 are objectively related to DX. More than 60% of respondents voted for Ease of use as one of the top three most important API characteristics, while around 50 and 35% of respondents voted for Accurate and detailed documentation and Easy to maintain code, respectively. Surprisingly, elsewhere in the report, it’s noted that only 37% of API providers view documentation as a top priority for their organization.
As a side note, many API practitioners consider documentation the be-all and end-all of Developer Experience. However, the report clearly shows that the number one most important characteristic is that APIs are inherently “easy to use”.
The Takeaway: Strive to write great API documentation, but also strive to make that documentation redundant with an easy and intuitive API.
Quality and Performance Issues
The State of API report includes an entire section on how consumers react to poor quality or performance in external APIs. This section also provides a surprising amount of insight into what API consumers value and how they want to be treated.
When first meeting a quality or performance issue, 34% of respondents report they Consider switching API providers permanently. Not only does this demonstrate how high consumers are setting the bar for API providers nowadays, but it also makes you wonder how many times consumers have quit using an API due to an issue that might have been prevented with better documentation.
Moving on, 57% of survey respondents expect that API quality issues should be resolved in under 24 hours. Even more interesting, however, is that API consumers desire transparent communication on how issues are handled. 75% of consumers expect API owners to Provide [an] immediate notification or alert, while 60% go as far to ask that API owners offer a description of the problem and “steps being taken to resolve [it].”
The Takeaway: API consumers don’t like it when things go wrong. Make sure your docs tackle common hurdles and keep developers up-to-date while you fix things.
The numbers say it all: Developer Experience is a major selling point for API consumers. Whether consumers are asking for it directly — in the form of easy-to-use and well-documented APIs — or indirectly — by using APIs to build faster and cheaper — Developer Experience should be a major consideration in how we design APIs from start to finish.