|By Don MacVittie||
|April 22, 2013 09:15 AM EDT||
If you’ve ever developed for an enterprise IT department, and had to please the end user, you know very well that they don’t care about what your technical limitations are, they care about getting a tool that helps them do their job better. Oh some will commiserate with you about your challenges, and the best of the business side will compromise to get to a product that helps, even if it’s not perfect, but much like everyday consumers, they want what they want, and you either provide it or not. The thing is, in the enterprise, the pool of users is much smaller than for a commercial application, but the users are more focused on what they need, precisely because there are less of them.
On thing that many vendors fail to comprehend is that this “I need what I need and you provide it or you do not” approach applies just as strongly to enterprise developers. While most business to business (B2B) vendors (both hardware and software) understand the need to provide a useful, generally easy to learn user interface or command line, often that understanding does not extend to APIs.
Don’t make API consumers
into this guy.
There is a mentality of “We’re all developers here…”, which is true, but developers have different priorities. Just as the bulk of end users will not use an application that is poorly documented, non-intuitive, and complex, the same is true for the bulk of enterprise developers. They have a goal in mind, are trying to get their job done, and if your API is slowing them down or making their work harder, they will look for alternate ways to achieve their goals.
Oh, for sure there will be a small percentage that dig in and learn the API no matter how confusing and undocumented it is, for a variety of reasons ranging from earning geek cred to project requirements demanding it. But if given a choice, the vast majority of developers will seek an easier way to do what needs doing. They have timelines and deadlines, and will not let something like poor documentation interfere with those requirements.
Yes, stability and predictability of APIs is essential, without those items the toolset will not get used. But without documentation and an intuitive design with predictable types, requests, responses, etc. many developers won’t even get to the stability part. When the tool cannot be figured out in the time available, stability is entirely irrelevant.
So what do you need? Well, I have years of both writing and using APIs, and here are a few tips from me, no doubt others have a lot to add to the conversation:
- Cohesive design. Most APIs grow over time, but they need to adhere to standards set by the API docs, so that developers don’t waste time going “what is this completely different thing here…?” Variations need to be clearly documented.
- API reference. A quick reference to help developers understand how to make the API calls, what parameters are, what responses will be, standards supported, and requirements to use the API.
- A full blown “how to set this up”. Including clear documentation of the things required to use the API. Developers don’t care if you didn’t write part of the toolset – they expect that – but you’d better give them every bit of information they need to configure it for their development environment, including the parts you didn’t write. It’s your API, document all the steps to make it work.
- Samples. Not “Hello World” level, though that belongs in the API, but real use-case samples that delve in deep, preferably in steps so developers can learn without turning on the firehose.
- Input/output samples. In the world of SOAP/REST APIs, sometimes you just need to see what the final request going out needs to look like, and what to expect in the response document.
- High-level APIs. The more mondo-geeky your dev staff, the more likely that they want to expose each little tiny operation your product is capable of as a separate API. But honestly, enterprise developers don’t want to make 50 calls to do one thing common to their industry. It wastes time coding, it wastes network bandwidth, and it makes the application more laggy. To use my utility roots, if “Read a meter” is the command, THAT is what developers want to tell the API. They don’t (and shouldn’t have to) care how many steps that takes, they want the toolset to “just do it”. That is not to say that users do not want access to the individual steps of a process, only that they require one call to achieve one business function. If you don’t have a business layer, go write one. Now.
- Rockstar support. Seriously, if you want people to use the tool, then you have to give them a way to get solid answers. Places like StackOverflow are great for things a large number of people are using, but for your highly specialized API, not so much. So you have to provide it – in a community, with tech support, whatever way works best, but when stuck, people need their questions answered, not to paw through docs hoping to find some vague reference.
- Cohesive communications and constant feedback. Getting out there via social media, blogging, meetups, whatever, and talking about changes coming to APIs, new uses some customers have found for the APIs, bugs that are in-line to be fixed and workarounds are pretty darned important. Users want to be informed, and silence about the APIs kind of implies a lack of support going forward – whether that implication is accurate or not, it is perceived. And feedback is where the best ideas for improvements come from. The person who just struggled through implementation of the API for the first time has a unique view on what could be better, and needs a communications mechanism to make those recommendations. Meanwhile, the person whose dedicated a couple of years to production use of the API might well understand the real-world implications of the design better than the original analysts who wrote it up. Again, a feedback mechanism is required.
In the end, the point of an API is to get people to use it. Invest in the API, treat it like a product, even if in your business case it is a feature, not a product. It was developed for a reason, give IT the tools to make that reason real.
And save us all a ton of time trying to figure out how to use it, so we can focus on the overall application, not your tiny bit of it.
Any Ops team trying to support a company in today’s cloud-connected world knows that a new way of thinking is required – one just as dramatic than the shift from Ops to DevOps. The diversity of modern operations requires teams to focus their impact on breadth vs. depth. In his session at DevOps Summit, Adam Serediuk, Director of Operations at xMatters, Inc., will discuss the strategic requirements of evolving from Ops to DevOps, and why modern Operations has begun leveraging the “NoOps” approa...
Aug. 30, 2015 06:45 PM EDT Reads: 366
DevOps has traditionally played important roles in development and IT operations, but the practice is quickly becoming core to other business functions such as customer success, business intelligence, and marketing analytics. Modern marketers today are driven by data and rely on many different analytics tools. They need DevOps engineers in general and server log data specifically to do their jobs well. Here’s why: Server log files contain the only data that is completely full and accurate in th...
Aug. 30, 2015 06:30 PM EDT Reads: 362
SYS-CON Events announced today that G2G3 will exhibit at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit Silicon Valley, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Based on a collective appreciation for user experience, design, and technology, G2G3 is uniquely qualified and motivated to redefine how organizations and people engage in an increasingly digital world.
Aug. 30, 2015 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 462
Early in my DevOps Journey, I was introduced to a book of great significance circulating within the Web Operations industry titled The Phoenix Project. (You can read our review of Gene’s book, if interested.) Written as a novel and loosely based on many of the same principles explored in The Goal, this book has been read and referenced by many who have adopted DevOps into their continuous improvement and software delivery processes around the world. As I began planning my travel schedule last...
Aug. 30, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 525
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pythian, a global IT services company specializing in helping companies leverage disruptive technologies to optimize revenue-generating systems, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps companies compete by adopting disruptive technologies such as cloud, Big Data, advance...
Aug. 30, 2015 01:00 PM EDT Reads: 279
In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Ernest Mueller, Product Manager at Idera, will explain the best practices and lessons learned for tracking and optimizing costs while delivering a cloud-hosted service. He will describe a DevOps approach where the applications and systems work together to track usage, model costs in a granular fashion, and make smart decisions at runtime to minimize costs. The trickier parts covered include triggering off the right metrics; balancing resilience and redundancy ...
Aug. 30, 2015 12:30 PM EDT Reads: 222
Introducing Containers & Microservices Bootcamp at @CloudExpo Silicon Valley | #Containers #Microservices
SYS-CON Events announced today the Containers & Microservices Bootcamp, being held November 3-4, 2015, in conjunction with 17th Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, and @DevOpsSummit at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. This is your chance to get started with the latest technology in the industry. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Containers and Microservices Bootcamp, led by Janakiram MSV, a Microsoft Regional Director, will include presentations as well as hands-on...
Aug. 30, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 267
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Aug. 30, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 871
Several years ago, I was a developer in a travel reservation aggregator. Our mission was to pull flight and hotel data from a bunch of cryptic reservation platforms, and provide it to other companies via an API library - for a fee. That was before companies like Expedia standardized such things. We started with simple methods like getFlightLeg() or addPassengerName(), each performing a small, well-understood function. But our customers wanted bigger, more encompassing services that would "do ...
Aug. 30, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 245
The pricing of tools or licenses for log aggregation can have a significant effect on organizational culture and the collaboration between Dev and Ops teams. Modern tools for log aggregation (of which Logentries is one example) can be hugely enabling for DevOps approaches to building and operating business-critical software systems. However, the pricing of an aggregated logging solution can affect the adoption of modern logging techniques, as well as organizational capabilities and cross-team ...
Aug. 30, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 383
Docker containerization is increasingly being used in production environments. How can these environments best be monitored? Monitoring Docker containers as if they are lightweight virtual machines (i.e., monitoring the host from within the container), with all the common metrics that can be captured from an operating system, is an insufficient approach. Docker containers can’t be treated as lightweight virtual machines; they must be treated as what they are: isolated processes running on hosts....
Aug. 30, 2015 08:45 AM EDT Reads: 143
In today's digital world, change is the one constant. Disruptive innovations like cloud, mobility, social media, and the Internet of Things have reshaped the market and set new standards in customer expectations. To remain competitive, businesses must tap the potential of emerging technologies and markets through the rapid release of new products and services. However, the rigid and siloed structures of traditional IT platforms and processes are slowing them down – resulting in lengthy delivery ...
Aug. 30, 2015 08:45 AM EDT Reads: 578
Culture is the most important ingredient of DevOps. The challenge for most organizations is defining and communicating a vision of beneficial DevOps culture for their organizations, and then facilitating the changes needed to achieve that. Often this comes down to an ability to provide true leadership. As a CIO, are your direct reports IT managers or are they IT leaders? The hard truth is that many IT managers have risen through the ranks based on their technical skills, not their leadership ab...
Aug. 30, 2015 08:45 AM EDT Reads: 341
Puppet Labs has announced the next major update to its flagship product: Puppet Enterprise 2015.2. This release includes new features providing DevOps teams with clarity, simplicity and additional management capabilities, including an all-new user interface, an interactive graph for visualizing infrastructure code, a new unified agent and broader infrastructure support.
Aug. 30, 2015 07:15 AM EDT Reads: 498
Skeuomorphism usually means retaining existing design cues in something new that doesn’t actually need them. However, the concept of skeuomorphism can be thought of as relating more broadly to applying existing patterns to new technologies that, in fact, cry out for new approaches. In his session at DevOps Summit, Gordon Haff, Senior Cloud Strategy Marketing and Evangelism Manager at Red Hat, discussed why containers should be paired with new architectural practices such as microservices rathe...
Aug. 30, 2015 06:00 AM EDT Reads: 391
It’s been proven time and time again that in tech, diversity drives greater innovation, better team productivity and greater profits and market share. So what can we do in our DevOps teams to embrace diversity and help transform the culture of development and operations into a true “DevOps” team? In her session at DevOps Summit, Stefana Muller, Director, Product Management – Continuous Delivery at CA Technologies, answered that question citing examples, showing how to create opportunities for ...
Aug. 30, 2015 01:00 AM EDT Reads: 478
Whether you like it or not, DevOps is on track for a remarkable alliance with security. The SEC didn’t approve the merger. And your boss hasn’t heard anything about it. Yet, this unruly triumvirate will soon dominate and deliver DevSecOps faster, cheaper, better, and on an unprecedented scale. In his session at DevOps Summit, Frank Bunger, VP of Customer Success at ScriptRock, will discuss how this cathartic moment will propel the DevOps movement from such stuff as dreams are made on to a prac...
Aug. 30, 2015 01:00 AM EDT Reads: 216
SYS-CON Events announced today that DataClear Inc. will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The DataClear ‘BlackBox’ is the only solution that moves your PC, browsing and data out of the United States and away from prying (and spying) eyes. Its solution automatically builds you a clean, on-demand, virus free, new virtual cloud based PC outside of the United States, and wipes it clean...
Aug. 29, 2015 07:15 PM EDT Reads: 388
What does “big enough” mean? It’s sometimes useful to argue by reductio ad absurdum. Hello, world doesn’t need to be broken down into smaller services. At the other extreme, building a monolithic enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is just asking for trouble: it’s too big, and it needs to be decomposed.
Aug. 29, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 344
The Microservices architectural pattern promises increased DevOps agility and can help enable continuous delivery of software. This session is for developers who are transforming existing applications to cloud-native applications, or creating new microservices style applications. In his session at DevOps Summit, Jim Bugwadia, CEO of Nirmata, will introduce best practices, patterns, challenges, and solutions for the development and operations of microservices style applications. He will discuss ...
Aug. 27, 2015 02:15 PM EDT Reads: 514