September 5, 2018

Taking a peek “Under the Hood” with Smartcar

Sydney Palumbo

Software Engineer

In mid-August, our team headed up to San Francisco to give engineers in the Bay Area an opportunity to peek under the hood of the Smartcar developer experience. We wanted to give everyone in attendance a clear look into what we’ve been building recently and how they might start using the Smartcar API themselves.

Not your usual event, we promise

One of the challenges we face working on Smartcar day-to-day is understanding how developers who are completely new to our platform interact with Smartcar: how do they expect the process to work, what do they think is missing, where do they get stuck along the way? In other words, how can we make it easier to get off the ground with Smartcar?

Of course, we think about these things at Smartcar every day, but what might we learn if we were able to fully take a step back and remove ourselves from the product we’ve created? What elements of the developer experience might we be making assumptions about just because we see them so often internally?

So, back to the event. After Sahas and Sanketh Katta — our CEO and CTO — explained the Smartcar mission and gave a live demo showing how we connect to vehicles, we shifted gears to what may seem like a not-so-common tech meetup activity.

Putting it into practice

Breaking into small focus groups, we asked the audience to go through the process of getting started with Smartcar step by step: visiting our homepage, making an account, and running our demo application. The attendees put themselves in the driver’s seat, getting into the mindset of developers who want to build applications with our API. The Smartcar crew took a back seat, trying to influence the audience as little as possible during a small-group brainstorming session.

We kept some critical questions at the center of the discussion. We wanted to be able to guide the conversation, but we didn’t want to direct our audience’s attention away from what it would naturally migrate towards. Here are a few examples of questions we came up with:

  • “What do you expect to see when you log into the dashboard?”
  • “When you land on our homepage, what do you think is missing?”
  • “As a vehicle owner going through the auth flow, what is unclear about this process?”

With a fresh set of eyes in the room, we quickly dove into an in-depth conversation about the ideal developer experience of an API-driven product.

The results are in!

In no time, post-it notes were flying through the room and onto the walls. They were filled with potential features that could exponentially improve a developer’s experience, roadblocks that might come up along the way, and essentially everything in between. When we took a step back and looked at what had been uncovered, we couldn’t have been more excited to get back to work, putting the pedal to the metal towards prioritizing and developing the features we had discussed.

If there’s anything we learned from our Under the Hood event — and trust us, we learned a lot — it’s to know (and listen to!) our audience. And we can’t say it enough: we loved getting to better know our audience of engineers, better understand how they work with APIs, and better iterate on our product so that they have the best possible experience moving forward.

Finally, a huge thanks to NEA for having us and to everyone who attended!

PS: Interested in giving us your feedback or participating in a future workshop? Give us a shout at!

Smartcar is the connected car API that allows mobile and web apps to communicate with connected vehicles across brands (think “check odometer” or “unlock doors.”)

Want to take our API for a spin? Check out our docs and get started with our demo app!

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