Cultivating the Next Generation of API Design Skills
08 Sep 2015
There was a pretty interesting conversation around API design going on in one of my API slack channels over the last couple days, about what is API design, and what is needed to get developers, and even non-developers more aware of the best practices that exist. It is a private group, so I won't broadcast it as part of this post, but I did want to extract a narrative from it, and help me set a bar for other API design discussions I am having.
The Restafarian, hypermedia, and linked data folk have long been frustrated by the adoption of sensible API design practices across the sector, and the lack of basic HTTP literacy among developers, and non-developers is at dangerously high levels. The good news, is some of this is beginning to change, but we still have so much work to do, something that won't be easy, and unfortunately it won't always have the clean outcomes leaders in the space are looking for.
APIs returning JSON is just the next step in the evolution of the web, and when you consider how much work it took to get everyone on-board with HTML, and building web pages, then web apps, and recently mobile apps, you can begin to understand the work that still lies ahead. We have to help the next generation of developers be more HTTP literate (something the previous generations of developers aren't), and possess a baseline knowledge of common API design best practices. This needs to be done in a world where many of these developers really aren't going to care about the specifics of good API design, like us API architects and early pioneers have.
The average API designer in the future will not always be willing to argue about the nuance of how to craft URLs, whether to use a header or parameter, caching, and how to version. They just want to get the outcome they seek, accomplish their project, and get paid for their work. Consider the solar industry as a quick comparison. The first wave of installers were domain experts, while the following waves of installers who will be focused on scaling and maintaining the industry, will only need to be trained on only what is required to get the job done in a stable, profitable way.
Ok. So how do we do this right? I feel like we are already on the good path. We just need you to publish your own API design guide somewhere that we can all learn from, like other leading API providers already present in my API design research. As we build a critical mass of these, we need to also work to aggregate the best practices across them, so that instructors and textbook publishers can incorporate into their curriculum. If you have an API platform, and have ever wished that there were more highly skilled API designers out there, make sure you have your API design practices documented, and shared with the world.
This will get healthy API design practices out of the trenches of startups, SMBs, enterprise, and government agencies, and get it into the educational institutions around the world. Then we can start equipping the next generation of programmers with the knowledge they will need to be successful in delivering the resources need for the next generation of Internet powered apps, networks, and devices.
I want to add on emore thing. API service companies who are looking to provide tooling that API providers can use to do deploy APIs, will have share in the load here. This is core to my criticism of the AWS API Gateway, in that I applaud their use HAL, but please make sure you also provide a healthy dose of hypermedia literacy along the way, don't just hide it behind the curtain. I really do not want to see the another FrontPage for APIs, so if you are building an API editor, let me know so I can provide you with some ideas. (1) (2).
We all have a lot of work to do, in preparing the next generation of developers, and business users when it comes to a baseline of HTTP literacy, as well as a healthy dose of API awareness. We are going to need an army of API designers to help us deliver on the API economy we are all seeing in our heads--so let's get to work. If you do not have a formal API design strategy get to work on one (let me know if you need help). If you have one, please share it, so I can add it to my API design research, for others reference.