The essential API developer skills

Want to grow your career and take on new challenges? Then it’s time to expand your API developer skills. From technical requirements to important soft skills, check out our API skill roundup to enhance your employability.

Understanding the role of API developers

What is an API developer? An API developer is someone who designs and develops APIs in order to deliver features for applications across web and mobile platforms.

What does an API developer do?

API development requires a range of API expertise. In addition to designing and developing APIs, you’ll need to test, document, maintain and evolve them, including fixing bugs, integrating with other solutions and much more. It’s varied work, meaning the knowledge and skills required for API developer roles are extensive.

As an API developer, you’ll need to understand the nature of the problem your API solves and deliver the technical solution to that problem. You’ll have to forge connections between systems and apps, crafting tailor-made solutions. Let’s look at the API development skills involved in doing so.

Essential API developer skills

Essential skills for API developers include programming expertise, understanding of web technologies and knowledge of best practices in API design and security. This combination of API developer skills puts you in a strong position to design, implement and maintain APIs that allow for flexible, secure and efficient integration between different software applications.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of some of the API developer skills that will help you excel.

Programming languages

Languages including Python, Java, JavaScript (Node.js), Ruby, PHP, C# and Go are all used to create APIs. As such, proficiency in programming languages relevant to web and API development will stand you in good stead when it comes to working as an API developer.

Also important is a good understanding of the frameworks and libraries that facilitate API development: Express for Node.js, Flask or Django for Python, Spring for Java and so on.

RESTful services

A deep understanding of REST principles and experience in designing RESTful services are crucial to the API developer skill set. This includes knowledge of HTTP methods, status codes and the concept of stateless communication.

If your REST API developer skills are already tiptop, why not learn GraphQL next?

API design best practices

Growing your API development skills means expanding your knowledge of API design standards and best practices. This includes naming conventions, versioning strategies and resource-oriented architecture.
It’s also well worth familiarising yourself with API modelling languages/specifications like OpenAPI/Swagger for documenting APIs in a standard, language-agnostic manner. After all, your approach to API documentation can play a key role in increasing adoption rates of your API products.

Security practices

If you don’t have a strong grasp of API security practices, it’s time to grow your API expertise. API developers need to be confident in their knowledge of authentication and authorisation techniques (OAuth, JWT), data encryption and securing API endpoints against common vulnerabilities (such as SQL injection and XSS).

Data format and interchange

API developer technical skills include understanding data serialisation formats like JSON and XML. You’ll need to get your head around their structures and use cases in API communication if you want to excel as an API developer.

Web services

A thorough knowledge of web service protocols – such as SOAP for designing and integrating more traditional enterprise APIs – is another of the skills required for API developer roles.

API testing

As mentioned above, API testing is a key part of an API developer’s work. Aim for proficiency in API testing tools and methodologies, including unit testing, integration testing and contract testing. Familiarity with tools like Postman, SoapUI and automated testing frameworks will certainly serve you well.

Version control

Do you have experience with version control systems like Git? API development skills include understanding branching, merging and pull requests to collaborate effectively in team environments. If you’re not already au fait with these, it’s time to learn.

Understanding of client-server architecture

Other API developer skills you’ll need to excel include a comprehensive understanding of client-server architecture. Specifically, you’ll need knowledge of how APIs facilitate communication between client applications and backend systems.

Continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD)

Knowledge of CI/CD pipelines and tools to automate the testing and deployment of API code changes is another of the API development skills you’ll need to pick up. Our blog on CI/CD is a great starting point if you’re new to the topic.

Soft skills

There’s more to being an API developer than mastering diverse programming languages, designing APIs for seamless integration and tackling cross-platform development challenges. You’ll also need to bring plenty of soft skills to the table. Some of the most important include:

  • Communication: you’ll need to clearly articulate API functionalities and design choices to both technical and non-technical stakeholders, meaning good communication in API design is essential.
  • Problem-solving: creative problem-solving skills will help you navigate challenges that arise during API development and integration.
  • Collaboration: being a productive API developer means working effectively within a team, understanding the needs of frontend and backend developers and collaborating with other roles such as user interface (UI)/user experience (UX) designers, system architects and project managers.

What tools do API developers need to know?

API developers need to be proficient in a variety of tools that assist in the design, development, testing, documentation and monitoring of APIs. These tools can significantly streamline the API lifecycle, from initial planning to deployment and maintenance. If you’re seeking to grow your API developer skills, learning to use some of the following will help you navigate the different stages of API development.

Design and documentation

To help you design and document your APIs, it’s worth familiarising yourself with Swagger (OpenAPI), Postman, API Blueprint and RAML (the vendor-neutral, YAML-based RESTful API Modelling Language).

Development and testing

As you’re developing and testing APIs, tools such as Insomnia, SoapUI and JMeter are all likely to be of use. Mastering them means you can develop and test more efficiently and effectively.

Security and performance

Obviously, your APIs need to be both secure and performant if they are to be successful. As such, you’ll need to use OAuth 2.0 and JWT tools to implement authentication and authorisation mechanisms, as these are critical for securing APIs. Remember that you can use Tyk’s open source API gateway to enjoy powerful security functionality at your fingertips for free.

For security testing, tools such as OWASP ZAP and Burp Suite are handy for identifying vulnerabilities in web applications and APIs. They help in performing security audits and penetration testing, ensuring your APIs are highly secure.

Version control and CI/CD

For all your version control and CI/CD needs, it’s worth investing some time in understanding Git, using platforms like GitHub, GitLab and Bitbucket for remote repositories and additional tools for collaborative development. For help in maintaining high-quality code through automated testing, Jenkins, CircleCI and Travis CI should also be on your list of tools to learn.

Monitoring and analysis

New Relic, Datadog and Splunk are all handy tools for monitoring applications and APIs in real-time, analysing performance and diagnosing issues. As they can provide insights into API usage patterns, response times and system health, they can all help you be a better API developer.

Collaboration and versioning

Just as soft skills complement your API developer technical skills, several non-API-specific tools are essential for API development teams. Confluence and Slack are two such examples, as they’ll help you efficiently document, collaborate, communicate, share knowledge and more.

Conclusion

Mastering essential API developer skills and tools can set the foundations for career success – as well as API product success. If you’re growing your skills and ready for a new challenge, why not check out our current vacancies?

Budhaditya Bhattacharya
Developer Advocate at Tyk | + posts

Budha Bhattacharya is responsible for product education, community engagement, and open-source ecosystem expansion. He is the lead instructor of the API platform engineering fundamentals programmes, host of the All About APIs podcast, and the API hangout where he engages with developers and business leaders on all things APIs.