API Developer Outreach Research for the Department of Veterans Affairs: Part 8
Let's take a look at part eight of API developer outreach research for the department of veterans affairs. Explore the future plans.
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This is Part 8 (you can find Part 7 here) of a series on a write-up for research I conducted with my partner Skylight Digital. The team conducted a series of interviews with leading public and private sector API platforms regarding how they approached developer outreach, and then I wrote it up as a formal report, which the Skylight Digital team then edited and polished. We are looking to provide as much information as possible regarding how the VA and other federal agencies should consider crafting their API outreach efforts.
In the pages below, you will find a large number of specific suggestions culled from extensive interviews and our collective personal experience. All of these specific techniques are in service to the idea of designing the API program with the programmers who will use the API in mind at all times.
We concluded our provider interviews with a few questions on what they believe the future holds. Their visions for their growth and development can serve as strong examples and recommendations for what other platforms can include in their own plans.
What We Learned
It was interesting to learn about the desires our interviewees possessed when it came to future investment in their platforms. We have generated this short list of areas that API providers can think about when it comes to building out their roadmap.
- Go with what works: Make sure to continue investing in and scaling the parts of the platform that are earning attention for their success.
- Product excellence: Emphasize product excellence over simply responding to new developments.
- Marketing and evangelism: It has never bad to augment marketing efforts to broadcast information about a platform.
- Attend conferences: Increase the platform’s presence at relevant conferences.
- Throw hackathons: Invest in throwing hackathons to encourage developers to do more.
- Conduct conferences: Invest in and produce conferences that support the API community.
- Building community: Do what it takes to keep building and strengthening the community.
- Publish more to GitHub: Publish more code, content, and other resources to the GitHub or other version control platform.
- Make connect more discoverable: Work to make the resource more discoverable so that developers can find what they need.
- Publish to code.gov: Publish code to code.gov, making code open source and available as part of the wider government effort to make resources available.
The common theme we heard from API providers was that allocation for future investment should be spent reinforcing the building blocks already in place that made the API platform successful in the first place. We learned a lot about the motivations and visions of the API providers we interviewed, which helped shape our recommendations for what could be next.
What Our Thoughts Are
With so many possibilities for the path that an API platform’s development can take, it is easy to get caught up in the next step without reflecting on the fact that what is next usually involves reinforcing what is happening now. Our recommendations involve focusing on what matters, and not just what is new, with the following areas of investment:
- Continue investing in what works: To once again echo our interviewees, continue to invest in building what is already working. Further develop the API platform and its associated vision conversation by looking to what already exists rather than looking for new ways to get things done.
- Excellence and mastery: Invest in perfecting the process, refining how things get done, and operating the platform in a way that benefits everyone involved. Doing it well and doing it right will pay off in the long run.
- Involve other teams: Expand involvement with the API to include other teams across an organization. This helps distribute the workload of operating the API platform and allows all subgroups within an organization to have a voice in the future of the API.
To produce this research, we spoke with leading API providers from across the public and private sector while also leveraging eight years of analysis gathered from directly studying the API sector. This research should provide a wealth of options to consider when it comes to helping the VA be more effective in reaching out to developers. However, this is not meant to be a complete list of building blocks to consider, but rather, is meant to present a selection of proven elements that can be implemented with the right teams to execute. While things like API documentation are critical, there is no single element of this research that will make or break API outreach efforts; when the right elements are combined and executed properly, the results can be extremely positive.
This research reflects the experience of platform providers like SalesForce who have been iterating upon their API platforms and engaging with consumers since 2001. It also follows the lead of next-generation providers like Twilio who have been making developers happy for almost a decade, while also managing to take their company public. It looks at how CMS, Census, and FEC are approaching the outreach around their API programs, bringing in the unique perspective of federal agencies who are finding success with their APIs. Finally, the insights gathered across these API providers is organized, augmented, and rounded off with insight gathered by the API Evangelist as part of research on the business of APIs, research that has been ongoing since July of 2010.
We want to end this look at developer outreach by emphasizing once again that this is a journey. While there are many common patterns in play across the API sector, no two API platforms are the same. The types of developers attracted to a platform, as well as the ones that remained engaged, will vary depending on the organization, the types of resources being made available, and the tone set by the teams(s) operating the platform. It is up to the VA to decide what type of platform they will operate and what kind of tone they will set when reaching out to developers. There will not be any single right answer to how the VA should be reaching out to new developers, but with the right amount of planning, communication, support, and observability, the VA will undoubtedly find its footing.
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