Developer Experience Is the New User Experience—Here’s Why

Do you remember shopping online during the early days of ecommerce? At that point, engaging with a brand meant dozens of fields to fill out, long latency, and losing your entire order if you hit the back button—it was a bad experience all around. Now, all too often, developer experience is in the same place that user and customer experiences were 20 years ago.

There are hundreds of platforms and tools to help developers build apps, but they’re not always simple to use and easy to understand. Why? In part, it’s because the companies that build them seem to assume that because developers are technical professionals, they should be able to figure out how things work without a seamless process to support them.

This is a big problem. While it’s true that developers are familiar with complex workflows and interfaces, any friction that they experience during their work can have cascading implications to customers and the business as a whole. That’s why developer experience (DX) needs to be the new user experience (UX)—because when things are easier for developers, they’re ultimately easier for everyone.

Okta’s tools help organizations seamlessly incorporate identity and access management into their login flows, applications, and more; which is why a developer-first mindset has been critical for us since the beginning. Let’s look at some of the ways we make sure our systems and operations are developer-friendly, and why that matters to our customers.

1. Developer experience is embedded into product management

Think about how there used to be different product managers for mobile and desktop applications. As the prevalence of mobile devices made this distinction obsolete, product managers evolved their skill sets to include different types of applications. The same thing needs to happen with the APIs and SDKs developers work with; understanding what they are and how they work is table stakes for modern product management. Here at Okta, a key piece in our process is ensuring developer experience is part of the company culture.

Comprehensive product roadmaps and extensive persona journey mapping enable teams to make sure they anticipate the challenges developers may face when working with the Okta platform, and proactively eliminate friction. One of the key aspects of this process is to set clear entrance and exit criteria for each stage of the customer journey, so teams can make informed decisions about how to improve tools based on user behavior.

2. No-code or low-code approaches are much more accessible

Providing low-code and no-code tools for customers to work with is another trend that organizations are adopting worldwide. The reasoning is simple: code-heavy apps are time-consuming to program, expensive to maintain, and a major source of security risk. Here, doubling down on developer experience not only helps the people programming the apps, but enables cost savings for organizations as a whole.

But there’s another key benefit to ensuring access to low-code and no-code building blocks. It empowers non-developers to program and automate basic use cases so that the actual programmers can devote their energy towards high-value projects. As app development becomes more accessible, we also see a more diverse pool of individuals bringing a greater variety of backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives to the profession.

3. Empathy and communication are at the center of everything

We’ve said it before: in-depth journey mapping ensures a positive developer experience by predicting and preventing their pain points. And this is part of the larger theme of empathy—looking at the entire process through the eyes of a developer, and seeing what kinds of tools, solutions, and platform products would make their lives easier. But at Okta, we take empathy a step further; to us, a developer-first culture is one of compassion, because while empathy enables us to think from another’s perspective, compassion motivates us to take action.

Not only does this inspire how we make our developer-facing tools, but it informs how we connect with our customers and community. There are numerous channels for soliciting feedback, from our developer forum to a continuous presence on sites such as Stack Overflow. With Pendo, we’ve also included tooling within our products allowing us to seek input from users. And since all Okta SDKs are open source, developers can submit pull requests through our Github repositories if they’d like to propose their own changes.

Communication is also critical. Unlike consumer-facing software products, where users typically don’t have to worry about factors such as deprecation, updates, and versioning, developers need to be kept in the loop. It’s essential to make sure that there are effective channels to notify them of upcoming changes, and teams need to set and manage expectations—such as how often updates will be implemented, and how developers will be able to stay informed.

To us, customer-first and developer-friendly are the same

Today, everything needs to be interoperable. Having the proper protocols in place and APIs that talk to each other is not only necessary for compliance within regulated industries, but for an excellent end user experience. It’s up to us to provide the tools and building blocks that developers need to easily and efficiently execute on this, because their success translates directly to the success of their business. And at the end of the day, they’re all our customers.

We discussed best practices for developer experiences at length in a recent episode of Moesif’s podcast network. To hear firsthand about the developer experience and how it’s a core focus area here at Okta, you can find the full recording here.