"APIs are a really great way to get into tech because they sit at the cradle of innovation. If someone is going to do anything tech-wise, it's going to have an API, or it will be an API and have interconnectivity. So I think, what a better way to help people get into tech than to demystify and take that edge off of getting into that API world?"
-Josh Austin, Director of Technology, InnovateMR.
In our latest podcast episode, we spoke with Josh Austin, Director Of Technology at InnovateMR. In late 2021, Austin completed a Brand30 30 Day Content Challenge, producing a month's worth of API-related content for the world. Austin's goal is to introduce the rest of the world, non-technical folks and business leaders alike, to the greatness of APIs.
He shared with me two of his main takeaways from the content challenge. The first focuses on encouraging those who aren't your average developer to be as jazzed about APIs as the rest of us are and creates a little more clarity around the API space. The second piece centers around advice for API fanatics looking to create an API program of their own.
For Those Who Aren't Familiar with APIs: It's Just Like a Coffee Shop
For those unfamiliar with the API space, Austin likens APIs to that of a waiter at a restaurant or coffee shop. The API is the waiter that delivers, communicates, and acts as your proxy to the kitchen or the barista.
"You're there to eat, and you can have the best food in the world. But, if your meal is cold or you can't communicate it properly to get what you want, it doesn't matter if you have a Michelin chef or the best cup of coffee in town, it's going to be a poor experience," shares Austin.
The coffee shop or better known 'restaurant' metaphor, is a good metaphor for APIs as a product. APIs as a product means understanding that it's not just a developer in their basement coding away and calling something an API; there is a lot more to it. There's a whole experience involved, and that experience needs to be suitable for all parties (developer, end-users, partners, etc.).
"APIs are just another kind of connection," states Austin. It is vital to understand how that relationship between technologies, platforms, or users is equitable because of the connection from the API. And when it's all done correctly, that 'API' creates the best tasting cup of coffee you've ever had.
For Those Looking To Build an API Program: Relationships Matter, Gain Buy-In Early On
Now, there are many of us that are not new to the API space. Austin catered to the seasoned API professionals as well in his content challenge. One of the greatest takeaways for this group was a focus on how to scale an API program.
Austin stresses that to get an API program stood up properly; you need to find people with relational clout within a development organization and find a way to work together. Gaining executive buy-in from the C-level is just as crucial as buy-in from the rest of the development and product team.
To woo the business leaders, focus on the API program's business value, with solid metrics and proof of concept. To woo developers, create a safe space that they feel comfortable voicing their opinions in and a space to test out what will work (with a set of guidelines of course).
"Ideally, I would have a top-down approach, with a focus on bottom-up relational clout, and then a playbook as well for your developers to lean on when building out a foundation API program," shares Austin.
After gaining executive and developer buy-in, that 'playbook' he refers to often takes the form of a Style Guide. Style Guides are a set of guidelines containing rules about how to handle versioning, filtering, error formats, naming conventions, pagination, or any of a million other variable parts of an API, helping take the burden off of teams about making those different decisions.
Whether you’re a seasoned developer or a nontechnical enthusiast looking to learn more about APIs, Austin provides a wide array of content on the world of APIs that you can check out on his LinkedIn. The Stoplight API design blog also caters to many of the topics we discussed in our latest podcast with Austin.
As always, for more insights and tips from industry experts, visit our API Intersection podcast. Cheers to another year of API Intersection takeaways!