Postman State of the API: Where are the citizen developers?
POSTED : November 18, 2020
BY : Lou Powell

Postman, a market leader in collaboration platforms for API development, recently released its annual State of the API survey. The report, the largest and most comprehensive survey of the API industry, contains a section this year illustrating who works with APIs. The roles mentioned in that section, however, are only IT roles, which leaves a major category of API specialists out: citizen developers.

Citizen developers are users who create new applications using low-code or no-code development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. They’ve proliferated in recent years due to the emergence of more user-friendly development platforms and cloud computing.

The citizen developer has taken on an important role as digital transformation initiatives often lead to an explosion of work that overburdens many IT teams. The citizen developer steps in to lighten the load. This trend doesn’t look like it will slow down anytime soon.

The Postman 2020 State of the API report overlooks this important information about who uses APIs, and this gives us an incomplete picture about where the industry is heading. If citizen developers are growing as fast as we are led to believe, where are they on this spectrum? Why are they not considered? Do organizations need to get more deliberate about creating API capabilities targeting citizen developer empowerment?

Source: Postman State of the API Report

This is not necessarily a criticism of the Postman report. It’s more of a commentary on the gap of connecting the low-code/no-code (or as I like to refer to it, loco-noco) world to valuable enterprise resources through APIs.

Loco-noco allows organizations to adapt quickly to business changes by building software that can be fully customized with either a “low” (minimal) amount of programming or no programming at all. These solutions save time and costs for organizations that may not have the resources to build software in the traditional sense.

Loco-noco is gaining momentum in the enterprise. The prolific demand and lack of supply of tech resources are fueling that growth. MarketsandMarkets expects low-code, currently a $13.2B industry, to grow to $45B by 2025. But we are not seeing the connection of low-code growth with the demand for APIs. Why is that?

Many of the enterprises’ most valuable datapoints are locked up in mainframes, ERPs and IT-managed COTS systems. These resources are typically not available for self-service. A person wanting access would have to make a request to IT and then set up meetings and discuss budgets, timing and prioritization to gain access to the data. Several organizations solve this problem by creating large centralized operational data stores (ODS). The demand for these resources and the competition for compute time has made this solution unworkable for new data consumers.

This problem is solvable, however, by empowering citizen developers. Here are three recommendations to create the ideal experience for a citizen developer.

  1. Provide democratized data. Democratized data is data available for discovery and exploration in an API Developer Portal, which can be self-service requisitioned in real-time or with short approval cycles. By making data visible and easy to requisition, organizations will empower citizen developers to accelerate B2E value without the need to tap high-demand IT resources.
  2. Evaluate the capabilities that citizen developers need to solve problems. This will allow organizations to understand the needs of the citizen developer. At PK, we like to represent this with an API Domain Blueprint that focuses on a comprehensive representation of the organization’s capabilities as they are experienced from an outside-in perspective (jobs to be done).
  3. Create reference implementations for low-code environments. These will close an unnecessary gap by making it simple for non-coders to consume API data. Simplifying this capability along with a strong catalog of APIs available in an API Developer Portal will empower your citizen developers to move quickly and solve business problems without the IT skills limitation.

The exclusion of citizen developers from the Postman State of the API report may simply be due to a lack of understanding of their roles and needs. In future reports, we’d be well served to dig deeper. How does the citizen developer view, and use, APIs today? What does the adoption trend look like? These are important questions to answer in order to obtain a full picture of who works with APIs. Hopefully, the role of citizen developers will be explored in Postman’s 2021 State of the API report.

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About the Author

A picture of Lou PowellLou Powell brings a steadfast drive for innovation to his role as partner at PK, a Google Apigee agency that was awarded a 2019 Apigee Partner of the Year distinction. At PK, he works closely with businesses to create pioneering experiences and accelerate outcomes, unlocking greater value and market leadership. He worked in advertising and digital marketing before launching his own business, Vanick Digital, which he led for 19 years before acquisition by PK. Lou is a lifelong student of technology pattern adoption and the practices of tech natives, and he brings a design-thinking approach to technology in all of his work.

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