Your Guide to Building an API Developer Community That is Strong & Thriving
Community is crucial to developers doing their jobs well. 79.48% of professional developers claim to use the public platform Stack Overflow to help them solve problems with their work, while 46.2% contact co-workers or friends in the same industry.
Whether internal or global, these communities and connections unite programmers and developers around common issues and interests, giving them a space to share new ideas and build on one another’s innovations, as well as helping with shared issues. This sort of engagement promotes a culture of creative collaboration that is critical to API development.
APIs have become a critical aspect of digital transformation, as the primary means for businesses to interact with partners and customers and an opportunity for ongoing innovations that go above and beyond a business’s base software.
While collaborative conversation typically forms organically amongst API developers within the workplace, the continuous movement toward remote dev teams and freelance contracts makes it harder for developers to create the connections they need to thrive in their roles.
This places the responsibility for creating thriving developer communities squarely with those who stand to benefit most: the organizations that rely on developer innovations. Read on to discover how to nurture an authentic API developer community in your workplace and beyond, promoting creativity and finding new partnerships and markets along the way.
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What Is an API Developer Community and Why Do You Need One?
The API community covers everyone involved in creating and consuming your organization’s available APIs, from workers within your organization to external users. Many of these users will be developers in themselves who use APIs to bolster their innovations.
This developer community often brings together developers within an organization and those from other organizations, fostering crucial conversations which can lead to future collaboration and partnership. APIs form a basis for these partnerships because they’re built with communication and integration in consideration.
API developer communities exist in real-life and online, with conferences and events supported by ongoing virtual conversation. These often spring up organically around a particular product or problem, and many grow over time to discuss more subjects within a trusted community of experts and enthusiasts.
Because of the wide-ranging involvement in these communities, the benefits of having one range from better-informed developers within your organization to customer loyalty. If you’re still asking, “what is customer retention?” you may find that the answer lies within the authentic conversation between creators and users.
If you want to provide your developers with a shared space to bounce ideas off one another while paving the way for innovations and integrations of tomorrow, collaboration is critical. Below we will outline a few considerations for kick-starting your creative community.
Target Your Community to Your APIs and Vice Versa!
Did you know that as of 2020, 90% of developers use APIs? This makes an active community more critical, offering support to a swathe of the industry while also making connections.
A challenge in creating a forceful API developer community is considering the relationship between your available APIs and the community you hope to build. Think about the industries and developers that stand to benefit from your APIs, then kick-start the conversation around issues that will appeal to those users.
Likewise, you can take cues from your community for your next projects, building APIs that will answer their needs. It creates a trusting relationship and encourages further engagement, as community members will come to understand that your organization hears them and actively addresses their concerns and interests.
You could take this one step further, using your online community as a portal for your available APIs, allowing internal developers and existing users to access the community using their managed user accounts. It will ensure that the community complies with privacy guidelines and follows API security best practices for your industry.
Create Opportunities for Online and Offline Discussion
Consider kick-starting your API developer community with an event, bringing internal and external experts together to speak on a burgeoning tech trend, an ongoing project, or even conduct live-coding workshops.
This could be in person or via webinar. In 2022, 75% of developers participated in online conferences, while 42% participated in in-person workshops.
While in-person events benefit from fostering deeper connections and breakout conversations between attendees, online events have the advantage of a broader reach and greater accessibility. Top computer science conferences often take a hybrid approach, integrating in-person and online discussions.
Either way, ensure your content is developer-centric, collaborating with your internal developers to create a technical program, taking concepts in bold new directions, and creating conversations that will last long beyond the event itself.
Consider creating a regular calendar of events – either small monthly round tables or larger annual conferences with big-name speakers. This way, community members will always have something to be building toward and a reason to stay involved with the larger conversation.
This conversation can happen in a dedicated forum or chat room created via software such as Slack or Discord. It could form a locus for day-to-day discussion and collaborative innovation in response to or preparation for more significant community events.
Support Open-Source Efforts
Open-source software is a force to be reckoned with, with 82% of IT leaders more likely to select vendors or partners who actively contribute to the open-source community. This makes it a powerful catalyst for top-level community interaction.
OSS is dependent on community support, with developers contributing to its design and maintenance on an ongoing and pro bono basis. With 90% of enterprise IT leaders currently using open-source software, this community is now crucial to the IT industry across the board.
By actively and evangelistically supporting open-source projects, your organization can publicly impact the broader developer community, boosting your reputation while giving back to the collaborative force of nature that your developers no doubt infer.
Consider scheduling a time in your developers’ workflow for OSS software development. It will demonstrate to your staff that you believe in collaborative creativity beyond your profit margins while encouraging them to interact with a worldwide community that could benefit your organization in several ways.
You could also show your commitment to OSS by contributing to external GitHub repositories or publishing some of your APIs as open-source software. OSS API economy projects such as AsyncAPI and OpenAPI are ongoingly popular, so investing some of your company’s time or financial resources in these would be a great way to give back and increase awareness.
It’s worth considering that OSS is also a powerful political tool in this digital transformation era. By publicly participating in the discourses surrounding it, you will have an opportunity to make a statement about your organization’s values while acting as a thought leader and helping guide standards moving forward.
Contextualize in the Wider Community
Your developer community may benefit from being quite specific, keeping conversations flowing around your APIs and the applications they support. However, that community can gain more recognition by finding its place in the greater developer community.
Popular developer forums such as Stack Overflow, Apple Developer Forums, and Android Development Community are great places to be seen because your experts can proffer resolutions to common problems for a global audience. You can see this as effective outreach and reputation-building without tapping into your marketing budget!
Working with APIs, you can also benefit from joining third-party user groups for the products and services you integrate with. For example, WordPress and Shopify are two SaaS brands that encourage active participation in their forums. You can build trust and encourage developers to explore your community by offering guidance and support.
Support Your Developers and Developers of the Future
Communities thrive on recognition, and API developer communities are no exception. Get authentically involved with the developers that make up your community by raising top contributors and publicly recognizing outstanding work.
This could be across several platforms, from in-person or online awards ceremonies to email newsletters to podcast interviews. Whichever way you choose, you will encourage innovation while making your members feel valued and fostering their loyalty.
Support goes beyond rewards, however. To create a thriving community, you must be ready to fight for diversity and inclusion in your industry. Work hard to champion developers from a range of backgrounds and to create an even playing field for everyone to have their say.
As of 2022, women make up only 21% of software engineers in the USA. Consider targeting this with a sponsorship program such as the APIdays Women in APIs pledge or a specialist conference series to highlight and promote underrepresented talent in your industry.
Progress will be when the broader developer community is free from bias and supports all skill sets, entry levels, ages, races, and genders. By actively and publicly pushing in this direction, rest assured that a diverse range of talent will be drawn to your community.
You can show support to new and young developers by creating resources that will enrich their experience and understanding. A branded library of expert articles answering questions like “what is the agile manifesto?” will draw new members to your community and ensure that the developers of tomorrow feel authentically supported by your organization.
Of course, when it comes to building an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe to ask and answer questions, moderators become crucial. Your members need to feel safe and welcomed in their community, ready to engage in a respectful discourse where disagreement leads to discoveries rather than personal attacks.
It seems obvious enough, but when it comes to online communities and forums, the mask of anonymity can lead to disrespectful discourse that reflects poorly on the community and organization.
Avoid any issues from the get-go with a code of conduct that denounces all harassment or discrimination. Ensure that each new member of your community agrees with these principles upon signing up and that measures are in place to remove anyone who violates these boundaries.
Your community moderators can serve another role by regularly reporting on the health of your API developer community. They can monitor how many conversation channels are active, which are the most active, and how many new members join each month.
Keeping an eye on these KPIs will allow you to identify popular topics and developer pain points for relevant future events, articles, or discussions.
Be Authentically Involved
Building a community will indeed have direct benefits for your organization. Your developers will have a broader range of ideas and innovations to draw from, your reputation will spread, user retention will increase, and you will be a thought leader in your industry.
However, focusing too much on the transactional nature of a developer community misses the point of creative collaboration. Your community must be organic and authentic rather than a thinly veiled marketing attempt.
Your API developer events and forums should be created by and for developers. Ensure that the team responsible for moderating discussions and planning events consists of keen developers who are community members. They are best placed to keep organic, specific, and technical conversation flowing without alternative motives.
The wider developer community is based on a love for creative problem-solving, collaborative innovation, and giving back to the development world via Open-Source software. To carve out a niche within this community, you must stay true to those principles and trust that business benefits will evolve in their own way.
Pioneer a Thriving Community Today!
In a world where collaboration is vital, a strong and active developer community can be as critical to business communications as business phone system installation. This is particularly true for API developers, who trade in interactivity and integration.
We’ve discussed some starting points and core principles for getting a developer community up and running. Beyond this, it’s down to your community members to dictate how the community evolves and what innovations it leads to. Remember, your community is not a product but an ecosystem in itself.
That’s not to say that maintaining and growing a community doesn’t take work—but if you use authenticity as your guiding principle and involve passionate developers from the beginning, these efforts will be completed to a high standard out of genuine care for the community.
About the Writer
Jessica Day is the Senior Director for Marketing Strategy at Dialpad, the best remote work software platform that takes every kind of conversation to the next level—turning conversations into opportunities. Jessica is an expert in collaborating with multifunctional teams to execute and optimize marketing efforts for both company and client campaigns. Jessica Day also published articles for domains such as Kanbanize and AirDroid. Here is her LinkedIn.