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APIs: A Strategy Guide by Dan Woods, Greg Brail, Daniel Jacobson

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Putting Together a Team

Once you establish your vision, mission statement, and strategy around the API program, you are ready to assemble a team to execute on the strategy.

A successful API program is driven by like-minded people who understand the potential that the API offers the business. The team should include a few specific roles (see Table 4-1) as well as a group of committed developers and operations personnel. With a strong team in place, the resulting API will be much more robust and the seeds of a vibrant community more easily planted.

Of course, at the beginning of an API program, each team member may have multiple roles until the team is able to grow. Some roles (like legal) are more consultative than part of the team in most cases.

Table 4-1. Roles in an API Team

RoleTasksQualifications

Developer Evangelist

Sells the idea to all stakeholders: internal and external

Gets out from behind desk to engage with developers

Gets the support of an executive sponsor

Must be technically savvy enough to understand the API and what it can do

Passionate about building cool apps with the API

Strong marketing instincts and good judgment in representing your brand

Effective social skills both online and offline

Product Manager

Creates overall product roadmap

Facilitates decisions about features

Understands how API is performing for customers and business

Drives API improvements

Ability to rapidly prioritize competing requirements

Ability to understand and simplify customer requirements

Community Manager

Often the same person as the developer evangelist

 

Engineers

Design the API

Write the API

Provide technical support for the API

Experience in API design

Knowledge of JSON, XML

Quality Assurance

Validates that the API is delivering the output as expected

Understanding of dependencies and how to interact with customers

Experience in test development and continuous integration

Marketing and legal

Provides branding guidelines for using the API

Promotes the API

Understanding of developers and the company’s marketing strategy

Ideally, understands developer communities

Legal

Provides rules and guidelines for using the API

Defines appropriate use of corporate data and customer data

Vets any content licensed from third-parties

Understands developers and technology

The Developer Evangelist

Behind almost every great API program is a great developer evangelist. A developer evangelist makes it their personal mission to make developers using the API successful and to provide the API team with feedback to make the API better. The best developer evangelists are extroverted, technical people who get out in the developer community and frequent the same online and offline forums as key influential developers and thought leaders. This applies equally to a company with a private API—you must convince internal developers to adopt your API, and you need their feedback.

What do you look for in a developer evangelist?

  • First and foremost, a great passion for building cool apps with your company’s API

  • Strong marketing instincts and good judgment in representing your brand

  • Technical skills (coding experience is a plus) that can relate to developers and their feedback and represent this to your API team accurately

  • Social skills that can be effective in both online social forums and offline developer events, such as hackathons

You are looking for someone who can find developers and connect them with each other. This gives a small team the power to make a large group of developers successful with your API.

API programs that lack a developer evangelist typically have a hard time getting off the ground. Many companies mistakenly assign a nontechnical marketing manager who tries to cover the responsibilities part-time. This is not a good formula for winning the respect of programmers. If an evangelist cannot demand the respect of internal developers, how can they engage the external developer community?

Where can you find great developer evangelists? Often they are right under your nose, inside your company. You might first look for an internal developer who has a passion for building apps with your company’s data and APIs. You can also reach out to and get to know some of the great developer community managers for other API programs; not only will you get a feel for what kind of person you are looking for, but they may make a connection that can help you find your ideal evangelist.

We asked Kin Lane, API evangelist for Mimeo.com, who also runs apievangelist.com, about his view of this role. “Having an open public presence for developers is really important,” says Lane. “I blog and tweet in real time, as I’m building and coding and solving problems from developers. But it’s also critical to be listening and participating in key developer forums. For me this includes sites like Github and Stackoverflow. In the general open world this includes Twitter, Facebook, my blog and guest writing for other blogs. Doing this in real time is critical. You can’t go silent for 2 weeks while you’re at an event or you’ll lose credibility.”

Kin emphasizes the importance of evangelism for working with partners. “With partners, I need to always be educating them. Not only on my API, but also bringing to the table other complementary APIs and what is happening in the API space,” says Lane. “I also make sure I’m pointing them to any private resources they need. Many of your partner’s developers may be mandated to work with your API. You need to focus on their vested interest in making it work.”

In terms of internal accountability, Lane says evangelism cuts across all departments. “I have to report to all departments—technical, business, sales and marketing—to make sure they understand the opportunity and impact of the API and decisions related to it. Again, this also includes educating them on the existence of other APIs, for example, APIs that drive mobile development, so that they don’t reinvent the wheel. I constantly reassess the API program all the time. The investment and return of the API program is constantly evaluated, so I need to be constantly reassessing and selling the API program internally.”

Often the developer evangelist and the community manager are the same person. If not the same person, they should be very close in technical expertise, personality style, and willingness to go the extra mile to help developers use the API effectively.

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