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- February 24, 2016

nordic-apisOn Nordic APIs blog, Bill Doerrfeld interviewed several API evangelists to discuss the role of API evangelists, the different activities they do, how to develop a community, and more.

Please be sure to read a Day in the life of an API evangelist.

I was very happy to take part in this interview, and Bill extracted the most interesting bits for the article. I thought it would be a good idea to post here the original questionnaire that Bill sent me, and my full answers.

In your opinion, how do you form a developer community?

To state the obvious: first of all, you have to have a developer oriented product (an API is one, as it’s consumed by developers), and secondly, you have to bring value to those developers (so they wish to use / integrate your API).

Now that the basic ingredients are there, how do you address developers, how do you actually form a community around them and your API.

There are tons of different developers, using different languages, different tech stacks, focusing on different devices (web frontends, mobile devices, or even IoT devices). You should think about which ones to target first (some API with geolocation or mobile notifications are more interesting for mobile developers). You can then tweet on the topic of your API and the demographics you target, create blog posts, screencasts, webinars, propose talks at dedicated conferences, etc. But be sure to know who your users are.

A community could emerge out of the blue, by simple virtue of having a useful and popular API, with developers posting their own blog posts, tweeting about it, etc. But more often, you’ll have to encourage developers to use your API, by providing on-boarding resources, easy demos, developer portals with top-notch documentation, a forum, a super reactive support team, etc. You don’t necessarily have to do it all, but you’ll have to play on several fronts to get a community to form, especially perhaps on the communication channels you’ll open up with that community.

How do you be a successful community evangelist for an API program?

To reiterate some of the points above, I think to be successful, besides having an easy-to-use and useful API, you’ll have to spend a lot of time on all the on-boarding process, how developers get started, with great API documentation. But not just “reference” documentation, but thinking hard about concrete use cases, in terms of scenarios: developer X wants to do Y, here is how to do it with the API.

Good communication channels is important: following questions on stack overflow for example, but also offering forums for developers to help themselves, share their findings, as well as rapid and effective support representatives (even if it’s just an email address).

Then, to address different communities of developers, don’t hesitate to provide interesting resources to those communities, that solve a problem by using your API. Tutorials and accompanying code demos illustrating how to use your API from different languages and technologies are important to get started (for instance, how to call my API from an Angular.JS app, etc)

If you are a full-time API program evangelist, what percent of time do you devote to certain activities each day? (forum management, travel, attending events, tweeting, customer relations, dev center maintenance, any others… etc)

I’m not a full-time evangelist, but I split my time on evangelism, as well as product management, so I have a foot in both camps at the same time, which is also an interesting posture, as you can better help drive the roadmap towards the direction you’ve felt the community needs, and at the same time, driving that roadmap also puts you in a great position to advocate all the great features you’ve designed for your users or consumers.

Now as to how much time I devote to each activity, I’ve never really timed those activities.

I’m lucky to have a team to help me on some of those activities, so for example, I spend quite some time on authoring blog content, from which we derive things like screencasts or webinars, and for those activities, it’s the marketing team and documentation team which help me greatly with those audio/video aspects.

With my usual weekly collection of API news, I also spend quite a bit of time on looking at what’s happening in the API ecosystem, to follow the trends, to see what my potential users & customers are interested in, or how I could derive new features, new content, for them.

What lends to the best interaction with customers? How do you help developer users the most? How do you retain users?

Be kind, be friendly, be helpful, try to provide the best level of support, and on-boarding experience.

Then when your API evolves, be sure to keep users updated, try to avoid breaking compatibility if it can be avoided, try to improve the API (improve usability, response time, provide more features).

In your opinion, is dev evangelism support, sales, marketing, or a new breed of employees?

It’s difficult to categorize dev evangelism. It’s really at the crossroad of all those activities.

That makes the job even more challenging and interesting because you can tackle different classic areas: a developer-oriented evangelist might be more keen on crafting a demo for supporting a customer, another one with a creative personality might love authoring great articles and documentation resources, etc.

It’s also the kind of job that you can tailor yourself, depending on your own aspirations, as well as according to the needs of your company (for example, finding ways to increase sales, or if there’s a lot of questions on support that you need to help with, etc.)

Again, please have a look at a Day in the life of an API evangelist on Nordic APIs blog, and read what other API evangelists answered to those questions too!