APIs' reach expanding beyond developers, survey shows

Survey of 10,000 managers and professionals finds more non-developers working with APIs. Small teams, internal APIs are more the rule.


More non-developers now work with APIs than ever before as the API ecosystem expands.

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Photo: Michael Krigsman

That's the intriguing finding from a recent survey of more than 10,000 respondents by Postman, collaboration platform for API development. In this most recent survey, a majority of those working with APIs, 53%, do not have the title of "developer." Many are involved in other areas of IT, or are even executives and technical writers, for example. In last year's survey, 59% were either front-end or back-end developers. 

What do typical API teams look like? They tend to be small and agile. The Postman survey shows API teams do not exceed 10 members, with nearly three-quarters, 74%, stating that they belong to groups of this size. Thirty-eight percent say they work in API groups of five or less. Large teams are rare; only two percent of those taking the survey reported that 50 people or more belong to their team.

There's less of an emphasis on public APIs. The majority of the APIs (53%) covered in the survey are internal, only used by their teams and organizations, a statistic unchanged from the previous year's survey. There has been, however, a shift from public APIs to partner APIs over the last year, the survey finds. Twenty-eight percent of APIs used are shared only among integration partners, up slightly from 26% in 2018. Meanwhile, the percentage of time spent on public APIs openly available on the web dropped from 22% to 19%.  

About half of respondents, 47%, say their APIs either break or need updating. Breakages and changes tend to occur on a monthly (28%), weekly (16%), or daily (3%) basis.

The most helpful enhancement that API producers can make is to provide better examples in the documentation (64%), followed by standardization (59%) and sample code (58%). API consumers also find real-world use cases, better workflows, additional tools, and SDKs helpful, although to a lesser extent. 

More non-developers may be working to deploy or connect to APIs, but they are still development-intensive activities. More time (26%) is spent on development than the other tasks, followed by debugging and manual testing (22%), automated testing (11%), and designing and mocking APIs (11%).  

Where should API time be ideally spent? API development also is seen as the most important task. However, the survey report's authors note, "there is one large disconnect; respondents spend far more time—70% more—on manual testing and debugging than they feel like they should. Instead of testing or figuring out why an API isn't working, they feel that time should be spent on designing and automating testing."