Developer Evangelist

The role of a Developer Evangelist(DE) is part thought leader and part explorer. They have to be on the cutting edge of technology and in par with new software products and how to use it.

Everyday millions are wasted in companies because non-tech people and tech people either do not communicate at all or completely miss each other’s points. Even more money is then spent on promoting your products internally or external communication and advertising to get people excited about your new product.

A developer evangelist (DE) makes it their personal mission to make developers using the API successful and build cool apps using the company’s API. When creating an API strategy, the DE has to embrace the responsibility of establishing the vision and mission of the API. Then, s/he should act as a spokesperson for the API and as a mediator between the company, the technical staff and the developers.

Usually, assigning a non-technical person to champion your API is not a good idea to win the respect of programmers. If an evangelist cannot demand the respect of the internal developers, how can they engage the rest of the developer community?

The next problem companies’ face is to recruit a suitable person as a DE. First, you have to look for an internal developer who might fit the bill. Or you can reach out to developer community managers to make a connection and help to find an ideal person.

According to the developer-evangelism handbook, an average developer evangelist has the following duties

  1. Writing code tutorials – As a person well-versed in popular programming languages and coding practices, a DE can pioneer and provide insights about using APIs
  2. Blogging – The DE has to maintain a lively and informative blog, and also actively engage with other developers who use the company’s API, thereby encouraging and inspiring them to do more
  3. Public speaking – As the spokesperson for the API, DE should convene meetups, techtalks and hackathons to create and cultivate developer relationships, find new talent and provide incentives for growth and innovation.
  4. Social media coverage – It is important to advertise your API in social media. Success of a particular product is nowadays measured by the number of followers, favourites, retweets, shares and likes. This also serves as an effective marketing strategy and therefore, providing valuable content is essential.
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Public API Value Chains

Public APIs have created new ways to deliver business services. The biggest and most powerful technology companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are able to scale public APIs in amazing ways. Some of these API economies run on cash, and some have other motivations. The millions of apps that have been created are the most profound testament to the power that APIs can have to spark innovation given the right business conditions.

Here are the basic elements of a public API value chain:

  • The business assets
    • Public APIs are frequently used to extend a successful product into new arenas and niches that cannot be reached efficiently in other ways.
  • The API provider
    • In addition to designing and creating the API, the provider must create an environment in which the API can be understood and used. The provider must create some sort of incentive to encourage developers to use the API. And then must promote the API to developers
  • Developers
    • Some developers are motivated to experiment with interesting technology. Some developers are interested in public service or activism. Others are motivated by the challenge of innovating.
  • Applications
    • The apps created using a public API must have a distribution channel to find an audience. Public APIs have been used to create millions of apps for diverse audiences with different needs.

Following are the ways Public APIs can be used in an organization:

  • Enhancing value and extending the brand
    • The companies with successful public APIs have been able to reach new audiences and niches, benefiting from the creative energy of thousands of developers. Most of the successes just mentioned are based on a wave of excitement about the business asset. Creating the API helped harness that excitement in new ways. One common mistake is that companies confuse the excitement about business assets with excitement about an API.
  • Reaching niche markets
    • Public APIs have been used to create apps to reach niche markets. eBay and Amazon have pioneered this use of APIs. In addition, the public APIs make it easy to embed the ability to buy a product or service.
  • Expanding reach across platforms and devices
    • Making APIs available also allows developers with a wide variety of motivations to solvetheir own problems.  APIs make it easy to work with developers who have skills to create specialized apps. Talented developers can access the API and create apps. One interesting aspect in expanding the reach of a business asset through an API is the motivation of the developers
  • Fostering innovation
    • Public APIs can support innovation both directly and indirectly. A direct approach to supporting innovation might involve exposing some business assets through APIs and then running a contest to promote creation of solutions. Another way that public APIs help support innovation is by providing good ideas that can then be completed or enhanced by the API provider.

There are many benefits of using Public APIs, including

  1. Innovation and brand awareness
  2. Recruiting and public relations
  3. PR – Generate goodwill in the marketplace

But there are also some risks to be taken into account while adopting the Public API Strategy

  1. Rights infringement
  2. Attacks against the API systems
  3. Attacks against the content
  4. Potential cannibalization of your core business
  5. Overexposing your business assets to your competitors
  6. Conflicts in expectations between public developers and potential partners
  7. Resource allocation out of line with the value proposition

Private API Value Chains

The value proposition of public and private APIs will vary depending on the nature of the business. To understand this point, first let’s see how private APIs are used. Here are the elements of a private API value chain:

  • The business assets
    • In private APIs, a company may have no interest or right in having these business assets used outside of their organization or outside of a tightly controlled domain. The apps created by private use of APIs may or may not be used in public.
  • The API provider
    • The API provider is often the same party as the owner of the business assets. A private API is private because it is available only to an authorized population of developers.
  • Developers
    • Developers using a private API are often employees of the organization that owns the business assets and publishes the API or partners with a close relationship with the business.
  • Applications
    • The apps created by a private API can be used internally, by partners, publicly, or all of the above. Depending on the way that the apps are going to be used, attention to promotion and distribution varies widely.

Private APIs can be used to create apps to release to the public. This model is often used by large brands with the resources to develop apps and who want to control what their public apps do. Private APIs can be used by partners to create apps or to implement integration services.

Many SaaS companies offer this type of API. As an example we can think of software companies that offer integration services with Salesforce. They also can be used as a way to more efficiently build apps for internal use in an organization.

Following are 3 ways Private APIs can be used in an organization:

  • Efficiently Creating Public Apps
    • The biggest and most far-reaching impact of many private APIs is when companies use their API internally to build public apps. Using an API in this way tremendously increases efficiencies in extending products or features for customers.
  • Supporting Partner Relationships
    • Private APIs can be used to create apps that support partner relationships. The owner of the business assets or the provider of the API can arrange for developers to create the app so that the partner can put it to use.
    • Apps created by internal teams to support partners include the use of private APIs to support channel relationships. Large retailers are using APIs to allow thousands of companies participating in cooperative marketing programs to get access to content that can be tailored to their needs.
  • Creating Internal Apps
    • Great value can be realized when companies use APIs to create apps for internal use. Teams create APIs to make content and services available to the rest of the company on a self-service basis. Private use of APIs to create apps for internal consumption can solve a huge number of problems.

There are many benefits of using Private APIs, including

  1. Provide more value than public APIs by an order of magnitude.
  2. Enable rapid and scalable development for mobile strategies.
  3. Help simplify an IT infrastructure to meet that demand.
  4. Improve business development as they make it much easier and faster for partners to integrate.

However these risks also have to be considered while using a Private API Strategy

  1. The power of an API diminishes dramatically if the only people who can use it are the experts who created it.
  2. If people cannot rely on the stability and speed of an API, if they cannot tell when it is working, if they are not informed of changes, developers will not rely on the API and it will fail.

It’s just as important to actively drive adoption

Understanding the API Value Chain

An API is an indirect channel for working with partners and more importantly reaching end users, providing much needed distribution for the company. Offering an API is not just a technology problem; it’s a people and process problem as well and it is imperative to understand all the players and all the different pressure points.

The first thing to do is to ask the  following key questions in order to understand what is happening when an API is being used to advance a business

  • Who is the API provider? How will the API be published and promoted?
  • Who is the target audience for the API? – Size, Motivation and benefits.
  • What business assets are going to be provided through the API? What information, services, and products will be available?
  • What types of apps will the API support? What features and functions will these apps have?
  • Who will use the apps created using the API? What benefits will the developers, the API provider, and the owner of the business assets get from their use?

The answers to these questions give us the elements of the API value chain. It uncovers the motivations of everyone involved in bringing an API to life as a way to help a business execute its strategy.

The value chain starts with business assets, something that a business wants to allow others to use. It is vital to understand how exposing the business assets will eventually benefit the owner of the business assets.

The next step is to create an API to expose those business assets. The API provider’s job is to design the API so that the intended audiences can make the best use of it. Most of the time the provider is the same as the owner of the business assets, but not always. If they are the same organization, then the benefits simply flow back to the business owner.

However, if the provider is a different organization, the provider usually needs to establish an agreement for redistribution to reward both the owner of the business assets and the API provider. Once the API is published, some population of developers will hopefully put the API to use to create apps.

Once created, the application must then find its way into the hands of users. This means that the app must somehow be discoverable and obtainable by the intended user population.

Finally, end users will hopefully use the apps in some way that they benefit from but also provide value to the owner of the business assets, the provider, and the developer. When API strategies fail, it is often because one or more of the links in this value chain are too weak to support the creation of a healthy API economy.

API as a Business Strategy

In my last post, I have tried to give you a glimpse of the trends that are influencing the use of APIs. New realms of businesses have begun to embrace APIs. It is a popular belief that this profound shift will continue and that is the impetus behind APIs as a business strategy. End users use a large number of different connected device types, social networks and various forms of messaging to access the information services they need.

APIs can be thought of as the “backend” of an application, enabling the application to reach into a company’s data or services. APIs are essential to enabling a rich application ecosystem that extends customer reach. APIs make it relatively easy for companies to scale up dozens or hundreds of implementations in a relatively short period of time. Some of these scenarios were difficult to support at first, but they are getting much easier, because practices for successfully using APIs are emerging along with the supporting technology.

Market conditions have changed in ways that make APIs relevant to any business with assets that others would like to use. Statistics show that the world’s largest companies and hottest start-ups have now got more than half of their traffic through APIs. And this also allows small businesses to join in and make the most of it.

As a business owner, you may have a multitude of reasons to advocate the use of APIs

  • You Need a Second Mobile App
    • If your mobile app strategy is a success, you will need apps that run on iOS and Android And then it might need to run on Windows Phone.
  • Your Customers or Partners Ask for an API
    • Sometimes sophisticated customers or partners ask if you have an API to help make a technical integration easier.
  • Your Site Is Getting Screen-Scraped
    • If your site is getting screen-scraped, this could be considered a sort of passive-aggressive request for a public API. You obviously have business assets that developers would like to access. Offering an API lets you exert control over your data and the terms of its use. The best way to determine your next steps is to talk to the people doing the screen scraping to see what they are trying to do.
  • You Need More Flexibility in Providing Content
    • For a variety of reasons, neither websites nor RSS feeds are enough to handle the flexibility most companies need these days. APIs can provide the ultimate level of flexibility for providing content when and how you want to, under your terms and with better control, while meeting your users’ needs.
  • You Have Data to Make Available
    • It is quite common for companies or government organizations to have treasure troves of data that they have no time to make use of. Data distribution is an important API function for content providers.
  • Your Competition Has an API
    • When one company in an industry publishes a public API, it is quite common for the rest of the industry to follow suit. In a way, this is a more general case of a customer requesting an API from a particular company
  • You Want to Let Potential Partners Test the Waters
    • When a potential partner wants to do business with a company, the company can steer them to an API that allows the partnership to get started. By adjusting the terms of the API properly, it is possible to let potential partners start experimenting with the API and converting to a more formal partnership when the partnership starts to generate enough mutually beneficial revenue or traffic. An API removes barriers to experimentation.
  • You Want to Scale Integration with Customers and Partners
    • Having an API provides a simpler and more flexible way to integrate with high-volume customers and partners. Customers who have their choice of vendors are attracted to companies that are set up to succeed quickly. An API sends the message that you are in such a position.

The API Opportunity

An API helps to connect colleagues, partners, or third party developers to access data and services to build applications quickly.

Pioneering companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter have created wonderful technological solutions to the public using APIs. The use of APIs by these large companies has also helped transform existing businesses and fostered new ideas and industries as well. The success of these ventures is largely by virtue of APIs that link people, their devices and the underlying platforms together. This supports a rich partner ecosystem by enabling developer applications and thereby increasing the sales force.

As the world steps into the era of internet traffic explosion, statistics points towards increased Smartphone sales, improved wireless connectivity and faster internet. This implies a huge shift towards applications and devices. Looking at these trends it is very easy to surmise that APIs will likely power most of the internet traffic in a few years.

An API is like a contract. Once such a contract is in place, developers are enticed to use the API more because the contract increases confidence and reliability. Many people draw parallels to a website while visualizing APIs but an API is quite different from a website.

If you dramatically redesign a website, the only impact is on the user being accustomed to the layout of the content. However, you cannot change the API that way because programs are built on top of it, and programs – unlike humans – are not flexible. If you alter anything in the contract of the API, the potential of its effect upon the apps built is amplified. So, APIs must be treated like software products including the following notions in consideration:

  • Versioning
  • Compatibility
  • Documentation
  • Maintainability
  • Scalability
  • Availability

There are two types of API

  1. Private API
  2. Public API

Private APIs are the more prevalent variety. Popular companies like Facebook and Twitter, make much more extensive use of their own APIs to drive their websites, mobile applications and other products. This use of an API often proves to be more valuable as it supports internal efforts as well as partner relationships – used by staff and by partners with contractual agreements.

Public APIs are available almost to anyone with little or no contractual agreement with the API provider. Often a company starts with a private API and eventually open up some or all of it for public access, probably with some restrictions.