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Getting Help – Lesson 1

Getting help when you’re stuck

Even the most skilled developers occasionally run into problems that they’re unable to solve on their own. When that happens, knowing where to turn for help is key. In this post, we’ll explore some options for getting help when you’re stuck.

  • Contacting Support
  • Using GitHub
  • Exploring Developer (community) forums
  • Using Stack Overflow

Contacting Support

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Everything’s going well with your API integration, when suddenly you hit a snag: one of your API calls is failing, and you have no idea why. Determined to figure things out, you pursue the 3 strategies for troubleshooting API issues:

  • You delve into the API docs.
  • You search out code samples.
  • You step away from the code and try to create a working request in Postman.

Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

Sometimes even top-notch API docs and code samples won’t be enough to solve your problem. If you’ve discovered a bug with the API or you’ve confirmed that the API isn’t working the way that the docs say it should, you should contact the Support team for the product or service you’re integrating with.

Some products will have a dedicated web page for Developer support (like DocuSign does), while others will funnel all support requests through one web page (like Smartsheet does) — where you’ll specify in your outreach that your question relates to APIs/Developer support.

Tip: To find a product’s developer support channel, try searching Google for “[product_name] developer support” — where “[product_name]” is the name of the product or service you’re integrating with. For example: “DocuSign developer support“.

Using GitHub

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If you’re using an SDK (client library) these days, chances are it’s an open-source project that’s published to GitHub. In this scenario, the SDK’s GitHub repository (repo) can often be a great place to get help when you’re stuck.

Finding your SDK’s GitHub repo

If the SDK you’re using is published to GitHub, the Dev Center for the product or service you’re integrating with should specify the link to the GitHub repo. For example, the following screenshot shows the Python SDK page in the DocuSign Developer Center, which contains the link to the SDK’s open source repo on GitHub.

The README page

Once you’ve found the SDK’s GitHub repo, start by reviewing its README page (i.e., its main landing page on GitHub). The README typically provides instructions for installing and using the SDK, and also commonly contains info about other developer resources like support channels, code examples, and more.

GitHub issues

If you’ve encountered a problem with the SDK, you can use GitHub issues to:

  • See if there’s any information about the problem you’re having.
  • Report the problem (if it hasn’t yet been reported).

Go to the GitHub repo’s Issues page and do the following:

  1. Search the list of existing Issues in repo to see if someone’s already reported the issue you’re having. If you find that your issue has already been reported:
    • Read through the Issue’s description and comment thread for information about potential work-arounds, comments from the product team indicating the timeline for a fix, or other helpful info. Indicate your interest in / support for the issue by giving it a “thumbs up” and optionally add a comment indicating that you, too, are also experiencing the issue.
  2. If the issue you’re having hasn’t yet been reported, create a new issue. Be sure to give it a descriptive title and a description that’s detailed enough (e.g., including sample code) that someone can use that info to reproduce the issue.

Although a quick resolution isn’t always possible, you’ve at least informed the product team about your problem, by commenting on an existing issue or creating a new one. While you await a response, you may want to explore developer (community) forums and/or consult Stack Overflow to see if there may be a work-around. (See below for more info on these options.)

The following screenshot shows the Issues page of the Smartsheet Python SDK on GitHub, where the current search criteria specifies all open issues.

Unit Test code

During the process of building and maintaining an open-source SDK, the product team writes code to test the SDK’s functionality. This unit test code can be an outstanding way for you to see, firsthand, exactly how to perform any API operation that the SDK supports.

Unit test code usually resides in a folder named test (or tests) at the root-level of an SDK’s GitHub repo. If you don’t see it there, explore the top-level folders until you find it — I guarantee it’s there somewhere! Once you’ve located the folder that contains unit test code, explore the files there to find code for the operation you’re interested in.

Exploring Developer (community) forums

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Often times, the product or service you’re integrating with will provide an online Q&A forum specifically for developers. These types of forums can be a tremendous resource — not only can you search the repository of previously asked (and answered!) questions, you can also post your own questions. They can also be a great place to connect with subject matter experts (SMEs), since members of the product team are usually active participants.

Need help figuring out how to achieve something with an API? Can’t quite get your API call to work? Head on over to the product’s developer Q&A forum to search the repository of previously asked questions. Can’t find any information about your topic of interest? No problem — just post your question to the forum and await a response. If a company has made the effort to create and maintain a developer forum for their product, it’s worth checking out!

Tip: To find a product’s developer forum, try searching Google for “[product_name] developer community forum” — where “[product_name]” is the name of the product or service you’re integrating with. For example: “DocuSign developer community forum“.

A few examples of developer community forums:

  • Smartsheet’s API & Developers forum provides a place for developers to connect and collaborate about using the Smartsheet API.
  • Development-related community groups within the AWS re:Post forum provide a place where you can get expert technical guidance from community-driven Q&A.
  • Development-related categories within the Auth0 community forum are home to discussions about APIs, SDKs, and more.

Using Stack Overflow

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Unlike product-specific developer forums, Stack Overflow is a developer community forum that contains Q&A info for all types of technologies, languages, and products. Every question is tagged to indicate related technologies, languages, and/or products. For example, the following Stack Overflow question pertains to Python and the Smartsheet API:

With millions of registered users, Stack Overflow is far and away the most popular developer Q&A forum in the world these days. So popular, in fact, that many companies direct all API & development-related questions to Stack Overflow, instead of hosting their own separate developer Q&A forum.

So, when should you use Stack Overflow?

  • When developer support info for the product or service you’re integrating with specifically directs you to post questions on Stack Overflow.
  • When you’re unable to find a developer Q&A forum that’s hosted by the product or service you’re integrating with (e.g., Smartsheet’s API & Developers forum).
  • When you find a Q&A forum that’s hosted by the product or service you’re integrating with, but are unable to get your questioned answered there.
  • When your question relates as much or more to a programming language (e.g., how to issue an API request with Python?) than it does to any specific technology or product.

Never used Stack Overflow before, or haven’t had much luck getting your questions answered there in the past? Set yourself up for success by reading the next post: Stack Overflow 101.

So there you have it…

…some options for getting help when you’re stuck:

  • Contacting Support
  • Using GitHub
  • Exploring Developer (community) forums
  • Using Stack Overflow

Next, we’ll learn all the ins and out of using Stack Overflow in Stack Overflow 101. But first — a quick knowledge check:

3 strategies for troubleshooting API issues

Stack Overflow 101

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Further reading: This site provides the level of technical detail required to understand and use REST APIs in most situations. If you'd like to geek out on these topics further, the internet is full of more in-depth resources!