Dude, SDKs are critical

Published on 24 March 2014

In the early days of the Smartsheet Platform team, we were on a fact-finding mission talking to Box, DocuSign, Salesforce and others about their experience building their developer communities. My counterpart from Box, a grizzled, battle-scarred 24-year-old API veteran said to me "Dude, SDKs are critical. Once developers get their hands on them, that's all they use."


That theme was repeated in nearly every other conversation we had: "SDKs are a no brainer" and "SDKs? Wish we had them earlier." Today, SDKs are quickly becoming table stakes - and no surprise there. As a vendor, you want to make your platform onboarding as easy for developers as possible, because everyone now has an API and the competition for precious developer attention is fierce.

John Musser, the founder of Programmable Web and the Gandalf of the API community, put it even more succinctly in his seminal What Makes a Great Open API, a must-read for every API developer: TTFHW.   Time To First Hello World - do everything you can to improve developer experience, including providing SDKs.

Java and C# are available now, plus more to come

Smartsheet is a Java shop, so building a Java SDK was a natural first step. But simply putting a thin wrapper around our API wasn't good enough–we wanted to optimize the experience for Java developers, and come up with a clean, thoughtful architecture that would serve as a reference design for all future SDKs we build. Brett, who joined the Platform team barely over 2 months ago, took this challenge head on and cranked out the Java SDK in no time. As of this morning, we also have a brand new C# SDK. And we are only getting started.

With Java and C# under our belt, we now have decent coverage of the developer community, especially in the enterprise space.  The other languages are not to be neglected - our goal is to ship PHP, Python, Ruby and JS SDKs in the near future.  With quality and open collaboration being our key tenets, the SDKs are thoroughly tested and published as open source. By general estimation, they shorten the time to develop a Smartsheet app by a factor of 3 or more.

Focusing on customer and partner experience

We are also keen to adopt other growing developer community trends that facilitate collaboration with partners and customers, enable us to provide better and faster support, and improve developer experience.  Following in the footsteps of Stripe and others, we have made available exhaustive, easy to navigate and search API documentation, complete with examples; sample code in multiple programming languages; and a tag on StackOverflow which is the go-to developer Q&A community where many cloud vendors are creating a presence.  And we are maniacal about developer support - our average turnaround on inbound API inquiries is 30 minutes.

Developer tools are only one of several investment areas aimed at creating a rich partner infrastructure and delivering a high quality integration experience. Helping partners promote their integrations and helping customers discover them is the next big focus for us. The Platform team is working hard on building a partner app gallery and a robust tech partner program, both of which are coming soon.

Before we hung up, my Box colleague quipped "I would have paid a lot of money for a conversation like this when we were starting out." We are really grateful to everyone who has been willing to share their experience with us, and we realize that we are standing on the shoulders of giants who blazed the API trail first. With this and other blog posts, we now want to give back to the community and especially those who are just starting out.

- Alex