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Key Elements of a Good Developer Experience

Data Science and Technology

By George Wang  |  February 23, 2021

With the (somewhat) recent push for “open and flexible” technology being bolstered by the proliferation of APIs, it’s no surprise that Developer Experience (DX) is becoming more and more important. Firms are starting to go all-in on digital transformation and modernizing their technology stack, making the need for easy-to-use APIs more relevant than ever.

The more APIs that become available, the greater the need there is for a strong user experience geared toward people looking at documentation and using the APIs, or in other words, DX. This is not a new concept as the concept of developer experience has existed for many years now; a quick internet search will show results that date back at least five years. However, as with most trends, the financial services industry is still a few years behind. Firms are now playing catch-up and trying to find ways to improve efficiency across the board. Many factors can lead to an optimal (or sub-optimal) DX, but I would like to focus on three must-have features of a good one: discovery, learning, and trial and error.

Discovery

The faster a developer can get into the API they need to work with, the better the experience they will have.

Let’s start with discovery. No one likes to spend more time than necessary to complete a task, thus having a developer portal website that is easy to navigate with APIs that are quickly discoverable is key. There should be comprehensive searching capabilities across the site and a logical tagging system that allows users to filter for the APIs they care about, perhaps in a thematic fashion. The categories should include generic terms (remember these are engineers who aren’t necessarily well versed in financial lingo) so that it’s obvious to users what they should be looking for. Preferably the website will have very little marketing content with minimal sizzle videos to reduce clutter and load time. The last thing a developer wants to do is waste time wading through stuff they don’t care about. The faster they can get into the API they need to work with, the better the experience they will have.

Learning

Next, let’s move on to learning. An important element to writing a smart program is understanding what data and functionality is available for you to tap into. This means comprehensive and easy-to-read documentation is a must-have for good DX. There should be references for all available endpoints and clearly defined specifications for request input parameters, as well as response output attributes. Having code snippets and/or software development kits (SDKs) available in different languages will also be extremely valuable since it can save developers precious time in getting started.

The goal is to remove as many roadblocks as possible so someone can start using your APIs as quickly as possible.

In fact, “time to hello world,” or rather minimizing that time, can be an important metric in determining the usability of both your developer portal and your APIs. The time goal will vary based on the complexity of your APIs and the audience using the APIs; the goal is really to remove as many roadblocks as possible so someone can start using your APIs as quickly as possible. For example, functionality such as the ability to self-service and manage API keys or having a sandbox environment to make sample calls on the fly can make the difference between clients being up and running in minutes vs. hours (or even days).

Trial and Error

Ideally, assets [code snippets and SDKs] are available in an open-source environment, readily available for developers to download so they can start coding.

Lastly, I want to talk about trial and error. It’s human nature to 1) learn by example and 2) rely on trial and error. You don’t need a research paper to confirm that notion because we live it every day, either at work or home with your kids. It’s in that spirit that a good developer portal will offer the ability for someone to try out the APIs directly from the website. Remember the code snippets and SDKs I mentioned earlier? Ideally, those assets are accessible in an open-source environment, readily available for developers to download into their Integrated Development Environment (IDE) of choice so they can start coding. If your APIs come with connectors to commonly-used tools like Tableau or Power BI, it is important to ensure that all of those assets are available at the users’ fingertips. Your company may offer a variety of APIs that can be used in different ways to solve specific workflows. In this case, you might want to highlight some of the use cases with step-by-step instructions in a tutorial video, so users can watch and try to replicate those steps.

Conclusion

The three elements outlined above are by no means the only important factors that contribute to a good developer experience. First and foremost, your APIs have to be performant and easy to use. However, if you put effort into optimizing the elements of discovery, learning, and trial and error, you will be on your way to providing an environment that developers will want to use, come back to, and tell their friends about.

factset-apis

George Wang

Senior Vice President, Product Development, APIs

Mr. George Wang is Senior Vice President, Senior Director of API Strategy at FactSet. In this role, he is currently responsible for the overall growth and promotion of various FactSet APIs available to clients. Prior to this role, he was in charge of professional services for FactSet Digital Solutions North America and responsible for both pre-sales consulting and post-sales implementation. He joined FactSet through an acquisition from InterContinental Exchange (as part of Interactive Data) where he held a similar role.

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