Existing Processes And Culture Grinding Down New API Efforts

I’m always amazed what large organizations can achieve. They definitely have more resources, more momentum, and do way more than any single individual can achieve. However, as an individual actor I’m always also amazed at how large organization culture seems to always work to defend itself from change, and actively work to grind down API efforts I’m involved in. Even before I walk in the front door there are processes in place that work to ensure any effective API strategy gets ground down so that it won’t be as effective.

NDAs, intellectual property, background checks, schedules, logistics, leadership buy-in, physical security, legacy incidents, software, processes all seem to begin doing their work. Grinding down on anything new. I would ask folks to leave their baggage at home, but in most cases they aren’t even aware of the number, or the size of the suitcases they travel with. This is how things are done! This is the way things are! This is our standard way of operating! Even when we just want to have a conversation. Even when I’m just looking to share some knowledge with you and your team. I haven’t even begun talking about getting paid, I just want to share some wisdom with y’all, and help your team figure all of this out.

The machine isn’t setup for this time of knowledge sharing. This is why API can be so hard to achieve for some. The machine is setup to extract, aggregate, store, and control value–not share it. So when the machine encounters another entity that just wants to share, no string attached, it just doesn’t want it was designed to do. Even though many have made the conscious effort to open up doors and invite people in to share knowledge, innovate, and explore, the vacuum already in place will often consume anyone involved, sucking the oxygen out of the room, and oxidizing anything new, pulling nutrients and value into the central system. It is what the machine was built to do, and it is hard to reverse the course of the machine, no matter how may holes you poke into the exterior.

This is why so many APIs become extraction engines, rather than delivering resources to applications and users as was intended and promised. It is why Facebook is in the situation they are in. It is why so many API efforts will fail, not deliver as expected, or become harmful to developers and end-users. I watch many well meaning folks try to do APIs, completely unaware of the large machine they are in service of. I don’t want to be in the business of telling people not to do APIs, but in some of the conversations I’m having I feel like I should. APIs are not good by default. Nor are they bad. They are simply a reflection of your organizations existing culture and practices. If things are a mess internally, or your organization is primarily in the value extraction business, then APIs probably aren’t the best option. I think you’ll find they just create more problems for you, for developers, and end-users.