Amit Jotwani

Amit Jotwani

Craft Quick Start Guides That Developers Will Love

Essay Developer Experience
Craft Quick Start Guides That Developers Will Love

Quick Start guides are your first handshake with developers. These guides are essential for getting developers onboard with your API or SDK. They’re the welcoming mat that either invites developers in or shuns them away. While most companies understand the importance of these guides, it’s surprising how many miss the mark. They overload them with information, create code snippets that are tricky to follow or use, and essentially put up roadblocks for the very audience they’re trying to engage.

From my days advocating for developers at Amazon to now advising startups, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the downright confusing when it comes to Quick Start guides.

So, what does it take to create a guide that not only welcomes developers but also gets them up and running in under 10 minutes? I look for these six things:

  1. Clear Objective & Scope
  2. One Guide, One Objective:
  3. Inspire with Contextual Use Cases
  4. Clarify Code Placement and File Structure
  5. Include All Necessary Assets
  6. Empathy for the Developer

That’s what we’ll explore in this post Let’s dive in.

1. Clear Objective & Scope

How many times have you stumbled upon a Quick Start guide that jumps right into the “Step 1: Download this, Step 2: Install that,” without so much as a “Hello, this is why you’re here”?

Before diving into the how-to, it’s crucial to set the stage with the ‘what’ and ‘why.’ Skipping this part is like starting a movie from the middle—you might figure out what’s going on, but it’s not an enjoyable experience. Setting the objective and scope upfront not only sets the right expectations but also keeps developers focused and engaged.

Not so good: “Follow the steps below to get started.”

Better: “By following this guide, you’ll set up a secure connection between your app and our API, enabling real-time data synchronization. You’ll touch upon the Authentication API and Data Sync Modules. Let’s get your app syncing in no time!”

Not so good: “This guide covers the SuperAPI.”

Better: “By the end of this guide, you’ll set up and make your first call using SuperAPI.”

Not so good: “Welcome to our Quick Start!”

Better: “In the next 10 minutes, you’ll deploy your first SuperApp with SuperAPI.”

2. One Guide, One Objective

Just like a well-crafted function in code should do one thing and do it well, a Quick Start guide should have a single clear objective. Including too many objectives or steps not only muddles the main point but also risks sidetracking developers from grasping and implementing that one essential thing the guide is meant to achieve.

Not so good: With ShopEasyAPI, you can create an e-commerce page that showcases images, descriptions, integrates chatbots, includes recommendation engines, and even dynamic pricing. In this guide, we’ll touch upon all these aspects.

Better: In this guide, we’ll walk you through creating a straightforward product page using ShopEasyAPI. We’ll cover just the images and descriptions. If you’re looking to dive into more advanced features like chatbots or recommendation engines, we have separate guides for those.

3. Inspire with Contextual Use Cases

While the technical details in a Quick Start guide are essential, they are only part of the equation. A truly effective guide not only instructs but also inspires. It doesn’t just show developers how to use an API; it shows what can actually be achieved with it, sparking creativity for new projects. The secret sauce? Real-world examples and use cases.

Not so good: “SuperAPI allows you to integrate voice commands into your application.”

Better: “Imagine building a smart home app where users can adjust their room temperature just by saying, “Set the room temperature to 72 degrees.” With SuperAPI, you can seamlessly integrate such voice commands, enhancing user experience.”

Not so good: “SuperAPI can transcribe audio.”

Better: “Imagine automatically converting your podcast episodes into searchable blog posts with our transcription SuperAPI.”

Not so good: “Use our platform for data analysis.”

Better: “Ever thought about predicting stock market trends using our SuperData analysis platform?”

Not so good: “Our SDK helps with image processing.”

Better: “Want to build an app that auto-tags vacation photos? Dive into our image processing SDK!”

These practical examples not only make your product relatable but also spark the imagination and creativity of developers, prompting them to think of a myriad of ways to employ your API.

4. Clarify Code Placement and File Structure

A common pitfall in many Quick Start guides is the assumption that developers know where each code snippet belongs. This can be confusing for those new to the environment, or when the code has to be inserted at a specific point within a file.

A well-crafted Quick Start guide should never leave developers guessing where to place code snippets. Each snippet should clearly indicate its corresponding file and location within that file.

Eliminate the guesswork and make the copy/paste process straightforward. The goal is to make it as easy as “Add this to app.js” or “Insert this in config.yml,” so developers can focus on building, not figuring out file structures.

Not so good: “Add this code to your python project.”

Better: “Place this code in your right after your import statements.”

Not so good: “Insert the function into the application.”

Better: “This function should ideally go in your utilities.js under the helper functions section.”

Not so good: “Make sure to include the configurations.”

Better: “Add these configurations to your config.yaml ensuring they’re under the database heading.”

5. No Missing Pieces: Include All Necessary Assets

If your guide references sample data, images, config files, or any other assets, make them easy to find. The last thing a developer, especially one new to your platform, needs is to go on a digital treasure hunt across multiple web pages. Embed them in the guide or provide clear, direct download links.

You could also include a small section titled “What you’ll need” at the start, listing out all the necessary assets with download or access links.

Not so good: A guide references various files or assets, but offers no direct way to access them: “Test using an audio clip.”

Better: Direct download links are provided for every asset referenced in the guide: “To make things simpler, here’s a sample audio clip you can use for your initial tests. [Download Link]”

Not so good: “You might need sample data for this guide.”

Better: “We’ve provided a curated set of sample data to get you started. Download here.”

Not so good: “Ensure you have the required images.”

Better: “For a hassle-free experience, grab our set of demo images tailored for this tutorial.”

By placing all necessary assets within easy reach, you’re not just speeding up the setup process, you’re also showing a level of thoughtfulness and consideration that can turn a first-time user into a long-term customer.

6. Empathy for the Developer

The best Quick Start guides are built with the developer’s experience in mind. They don’t just provide a list of steps; they anticipate the questions and challenges that a developer might face and offer solutions proactively.

Remove Hurdles

The aim here is simple: don’t make your readers jump through hoops. Put yourself in the developer’s shoes. Think about their journey and how you can make it smoother, from start to finish.

Not so good: “Before using our API, make sure you have an API key. For instructions on how to get one, please refer to our separate API documentation.”

Better: “We know you’re eager to start building. So, we’ve generated a temporary API key for you. It’s valid for 24 hours and will let you breeze through this guide. Want to keep building? Follow these easy steps to get your permanent API key.”

Not so good: “To integrate, first, ensure you’ve read through our entire documentation.”

Better: “For a quick integration, here’s a summary. Need details? Our comprehensive documentation is just a click away.”

Not so good: Pointing to another page for instructions instead of including them in the guide: “For database setup instructions, see our Database Configuration Guide.”

Better: Providing all necessary steps and information within the guide itself to minimize disruptions in the developer’s workflow: “Let’s set up your database right here, right now. Just follow these simple steps…”

Understand and Anticipate Needs

The best Quick Start guides also anticipate the challenges a developer might face and offer solutions proactively.

Not so good: Assuming the developer knows everything, including the jargon and intricate setup processes: Example: “Simply instantiate the ABC module and utilize the XYZ method.”

Better: Acknowledging potential challenges. Example: “If you’re new to our platform, the ABC module is what allows you to manage your data streams. It might sound technical, but don’t worry! We’ll guide you through it.”

Not so good: Offering no troubleshooting guidance: “If you encounter errors, consult the documentation.”

Better: Providing a troubleshooting section or links to common issues: Example: “Facing errors? We’ve all been there. Check out this troubleshooting guide to help you out.”

Not so good: Ignoring the setup hurdles: Example: “Installation is straightforward, just follow the steps.”

Better: Acknowledging the pain points in installation and offering guidance: Example: “We’ve streamlined the installation for you. If you hit any snags, our support team is here to help.”

By approaching your guide with empathy, you ensure it’s not just a list of instructions, but a tool that acknowledges, supports, and guides the developer through potential challenges. It becomes a helping hand, not just a manual.

Make It So Easy, They Can’t Not Try It

While this isn’t an exhaustive checklist, hopefully it serves as a guiding light to keep in mind while crafting Quick Start guides that not only help developers but also inspire them.

The ultimate goal of a Quick Start guide should be to make the experience so simple and rewarding that it becomes irresistible not to give it a try.

The elements we’ve discussed—clear objectives, relevant links, easily accessible assets, and code placement, are all geared toward that one principle—make it so easy, they can’t not try it.

About Me

Hi, I’m Amit. I’m a DX consultant, startup advisor, and self-proclaimed Lego nerd.

With years spent at Amazon, Intel, Mashery, and Retool, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes developers tick—and how to get them up and running with your product—quick and easy. By night, I run Curious Mints, where I share Quick Start guides for devs.

If you’re ever in NYC, you might find me trying out some stand-up comedy - my wife’s idea. She’s unsure if it was a good one.

Let’s connect on Twitter or LinkedIn.