"Could you be an API Evangelist?"

In the summer of 2010 I was looking to reinvent my career. I was looking for a new direction. Somewhere I could apply all my strengths, and stay relevant and at the forefront of a fast changing tech landscape.

As part of this effort, I spent some time considering what areas dominated the past 5 years of my career. Looking at my resume, social media and cloud computing were the two major themes. Then I put some thought into what technology is dominating right now, and will continue growing in the next couple years. The answer was mobile technology.

Looking to apply what I know, but also be relevant and competitive in the future, I wanted to find a common thread. What did all of these areas have in common? It was clearly application programming interfaces, or more specifically, web APIs.

APIs drove the social media revolution from Flickr to Twitter, reinvented IT with cloud computing, and is a driving force behind mobile applications.

I found an area to focus my energy, but do I have the skills needed to work with APIs. What is needed to be successful with an API?

I set off to study all the top APIs out there and answer this question. After much research, success with an API seemed to boil down to equal parts technical, business, and marketing. It sounded like a fit for my skills.

Successful APIs like Amazon, Twilio and Google all had one thing in common. They had developer advocates or technical evangelists. This is what I wanted to do. What skills are required to be an API developer advocate or evangelist?

  • Hacker - You have to have a love of hacking. You have to be able to write code samples, prototypes and be able to know what programmers experience hacking on an API. You should also be able to push the boundaries on what can be done with APIs.
  • Business Development - You need business development experience and an understand of how APIs can evolve businesses and industries. You push to understand how APIs can change how business is conducted, where it can be applied, an how this can be communicated to existing business leaders.
  • Sales and Marketing - You need to be able to plan and maintain an on and offline sales and marketing presence. Attend and speak at events, able to mingle with both developers and business people, and possess a knowledge of traditional marketing as well as online and social media marketing tactics.
The biggest skill you have to posses is the classic self-starter or self-motivator. There is no well laid road-map to follow, you have to be able to plan, strategize, execute and fail or succeed all on your own.

I closely monitor how other players are executing, and apply relevant pieces to my own strategy. But ultimately you have have the knowledge and confidence to define your own road-map, and awareness to adjust as necessary.

This kind of experience I've gained from being the leader on several development teams, and wisdom gained from running my own business, including several failed startups.

I'm writing this blog post this for my own benefit. To establish a clear definition of who I am, and what I'm bringing to the table, and make sure I'm on track with my career.

However, I also want to help others understand this evolving new role of being a developer advocate or API evangelist. There is a growing need in this area, and I get offered an average of 2-3 jobs per week in this area. I'm very happy in my current position, so they all end with me telling them I will refer anyone I know from my network.

Which is kind of bullshit, because I don't know anyone with these skills, that is looking for work. Do you have these skills? Maybe you should consider a career with APIs. Let me know.