The API Coaches At Capital One
API evangelism and even advocacy at many organizations has always been a challenge to introduce, because many groups aren’t really well versed in the discipline, and often times it tends to take on a more marketing or even sales like approach, which can hurt its impact. I’ve worked with groups to rebrand, and change how they evangelize APIs internally, with partners, and the public, trying to ensure the efforts are more effective. While I still bundle all of this under my API evangelism research, I am always looking for new approaches that push the boundaries, and evolve what we know as API evangelism, advocacy, outreach, and other variations.
I was introduced to a new variation of the internal API evangelism concept a few weeks back while at Capital One talking with my friend Matthew Reinbold(@libel_vox) about their approach to API governance. His team at the Capital One API Center of Excellence has the concept of the API coach, and I think Matt’s description from his recent API governance blueprint story sums it up well:
At minimum, the standards must be a journey, not a destination. A key component to “selective standardization” is knowing what to select. It is one thing for us in our ivory tower to throw darts at market forces and team needs. It is entirely another to repeatedly engage with those doing the work.
Our coaching effort identifies those passionate practitioners throughout our lines of business who have raised their hands and said, “getting this right is important to my teams and me”. Coaches not only receive additional training that they then apply to their teams. They also earn access to evolving our standards.
In this way, standards aren’t something that are dictated to teams. Teams drive the standards. These aren’t alien requirements from another planet. They see their own needs and concerns reflected back at them. That is an incredibly powerful motivator toward acceptance and buy-in.
A significant difference here between internal API evangelism and API coaching is you aren’t just pushing the concept of APIs (evangelizing), you are going the extra mile to focus on healthy practices, standards, and API governance. Evangelism is often seen as an API provider to API consumer effort, which doesn’t always translate to API governance internally across organizations who are developing, deploying, and managing APIs. API coaches aren’t just developing API awareness across organizations, they are cultivating a standardized, bottom up, as well as top down awareness around providing and consuming APIs. Providing a much more advanced look at what is needed across larger organizations, when it comes to outreach and communication.
Another interesting aspect of Capital One’s approach to API coaching, is that this isn’t just about top down governance, it has a bottom up, team-centered, and very organic approach to API governance. It is about standardizing, and evolving culture across many organizations, but in a way that allows team to have a voice, and not just be mandated what the rules are, and required to comply. The absence of this type of mindset is the biggest contributor to a lack of API governance we see across the API community today. The is what I consider the politics of APIs, something that often trumps the technology of all of this.
API coaching augments my API evangelism research in a new and interesting way. It also dovetails with my API design research, as well as begins rounding off a new area I’ve wanted to add for some time, but just have not see enough activity in to warrant doing so–API governance. I’m not a big fan of the top down governance that was given to us by our SOA grandfathers, and the API space has largely been doing alright without the presence of API governance, but I feel like it is approaching the phase where a lack of governance will begin to do more harm than good. It’s a drum I will start beating, with the help of Matt and his teams work at Capital One. I’m going to reach out to some of the other folks I’ve talked with about API governance in the past, and see if I can produce enough research to get the ball rolling.