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One of the most important parts of an organization’s API ecosystem is the community of developers who build applications that consume its APIs. The success of an API strategy often depends on understanding the target audience of developers for your APIs, identifying their different sub-groups, and then consciously growing the community. 

Caroline Lewko is the CEO and Founder of WIP, a company that helps organizations launch successful developer programs. She has been helping build developer communities since the dawn of the API economy. I spoke to Caroline about the current state of developer programs and where the industry is headed.

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Hi Caroline, thanks for speaking with us today! You’ve been helping companies launch developer programs for a number of years now. What are the similarities and the differences in a successful developer strategy between now and when you started?

Caroline Lewko: We’ve been at this for 13 years now, which is interesting considering most developers have 9 years or less of experience, and those in developer programs between 2-4 years of experience. There aren’t any major differences in the keys to success, but thankfully developer relations is a craft that is being recognized, developer programs are gaining prominence, and the numbers all around are growing.

I know you’ve always been a proponent of developer segmentation when it comes to developer relations. What are the keys to segmenting developers in a DevRel strategy and how does it help?

CL: Segmenting developers is key to driving a developer relations strategy. Gone are the days of just targeting ‘developers’ or going after the ‘long tail’. I like to look at four factors to pinpoint the type of developers that will make a product successful including technical, individual, business, and market imperatives. Then build out the personas and messaging to go with that. And review at least twice a year – segmentation isn’t a one-time exercise! 

What are some of the big myths about developers that can lead companies in the wrong direction with their API programs?

CL: Well besides thinking that all developers are the same, there is a huge myth that believes that all developers are super creative. Most aren’t, and many – given their age – lack real-world experience to put context into what they create. It’s up to the developer program to provide guidance through documentation, code samples, gettings starting guides; as well as context like use case studies to help developers understand where the industry pain points are, customer needs, and overall company goals. The other huge myth is that developers have no influence. Research suggests developers have 80% influence on the purchase decision of new tools, and, of course, think of the Twilio Ads to “Ask Your Developer“! 

Yes, and developer influence is everywhere in the industry. Along those lines, software ethics have become a hot topic due to AI, but there have also been ethical issues related to API usage. In 2015, 23andme shut down one of its API consumers due to a discriminatory application he built and recently shut down their open API altogether. Do you think it is an API provider’s responsibility to govern its developer community in this way? How would you approach that?

CL: It’s a two-sided responsibility coin. Those offering the APIs need to put guidelines and Code of Conducts in place as well as monitor their API usage (it’s amazing how many providers have no idea how their APIs are used!). Developers need to step up and be thoughtful about what they build and be bold enough to say no to something that looks unethical. That’s the only way they can be proud when they say “I built that.”

I agree. With influence comes responsibility. I think we’ll see a lot more discussion on ethics in all areas of digital business. So, what’s on your plate in the near term? Are there any events coming up you would like to let people know about?

CL: It’s nice to see the growth in webinars, podcasts, and other great content to keep up to date and keep travel down. Our industry has changed a lot over the last 10 years, where events are less important. Regular face-to-face exchanges are still valuable, however. At this point, my next event is Zebra’s AppForum in Las Vegas early October which is always an interesting deep dive into what is going on in the enterprise.

Thanks very much for your insights into developer programs and developer considerations for API providers. Hope all goes well in Vegas!

You can learn more about developer programs best practices through the “APIs as products” workshop, one of MuleSoft’s API program workshops.

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