What Does The Next Chapter Of Storytelling Look Like For API Evangelist?

I find myself refactoring API Evangelist again this holiday season. Over the last eight years of doing API Evangelist I’ve had to regularly adjust what I do to keep it alive and moving forward. As I close up 2018, I’m finding the landscape shifting underneath me once again, pushing me to begin considering what the next chapter of API Evangelist will look like. Pushing me to adjust my presence to better reflect my own vision of the world, but hopefully also find balance with where things are headed out there in the real world.

I started API Evangelist in July of 2010 to study the business of APIs. As I was researching things in 2010 and 2011 I first developed what I consider to be the voice of the API Evangelist, which continues to be the voice I use in my storytelling here in 2018. Of course, it is something that has evolved and matured over the years, but I feel I have managed to remain fairly consistent in how I speak about APIs throughout the journey. It is a voice I find very natural to speak, and is something that just flows on some days whether I want it to or not, but then also something I can’t seem to find at all on other days. Maintaining my voice over the last eight years has required me to constantly adjust and fine tune, perpetually finding the frequency required to keep things moving forward.

First and foremost, API Evangelist is about my research. It is about me learning. It is about me crafting stories that help me distill down what I’m learning, in an attempt to articulate to some imaginary audience, which has become a real audience over the years. I don’t research stuff because I’m being paid (not always true), and I don’t tell stories about things I don’t actually find interesting (mostly true). API Evangelist is always about me pushing my skills forward as a web architect, secondarily about me making a living, and third about sharing my work publicly and building an audience–in short, I do API Evangelist to 1) learn and grow, 2) pay the bills, and 3) cultivate an audience to make connections.

As we approach 2019, I would say my motivations remain the same, but there is a lot that has changed in the API space, making it more challenging for me to maintain the same course while satisfying all these areas in a meaningful way. Of course, I want to keep learning and growing, but I’d say a shift in the API landscape toward the enterprise is making it more challenging to make a living. There just aren’t enough API startups out there to help me pay the bills anymore, and I’m having to speak and sell to the enterprise more. To do this effectively, a different type of storytelling strategy is required to keep the paychecks coming in. Something I don’t think is unique to my situation, and is something that all API focused efforts are facing right now, as the web matures, and the wild west days of the API come to a close. It was fun while it lasted–yee haw!!

In 2019, the API pioneers like SalesForce, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Twilio, SendGrid, Slack, and others are still relevant, but it feels like API storytelling is continuing it’s migration towards the enterprise. Stories of building an agile, scrappy startup using APIs isn’t as compelling as they used to be. They are being replaced by stories of existng enterprise groups become more innovative, agile, and competitive in a fast changing digital business landscape. The technology of APIs, the business of APIs, and the stories that matter around APIs have all been caught up in the tractor beam of the enterprise. In 2010, you did APIs if you were on the edge doing a startup, but by 2013 the enterprise began tuning into what is going on, by 2016 the enterprise responded with acquisitions, and by 2018 we are all selling and talking to the enterprise about APIs.

Despite what many people might believe, I’m not anti-enterprise. I’m also not pro-startup. I’m for the use of web infrastructure to deliver on ethical and sensible private sector business objectives, strengthen expectations of what is possible in the public sector, while holding both sectors accountable to each other. I understand the enterprise, and have worked there before. I also understand how it is evolving over the last eight years through API discussions I have been having had with enterprise folks, workshops I’ve conducted within various public and private sector groups, and studying this latest shift in technology adoption across large organizations. Ultimately, I am very skeptical that large business enterprises can adapt, decouple, evolve, and embrace API and microservice principles in a way that will mean success, but I’m interested in helping educate enterprise teams, and assist them in crafting their enterprise-wide API strategy, and contribute what I can to incentivize change within these large organizations.

A significant portion of my audience over the last eight years is from the enterprise. However, I feel like these are the people within the enterprise who have picked up their heads, and consciously looked for new ways of doing things. My audience has always been fringe enterprise folks operating at all levels, but API Evangelist does not enjoy mainstream enterprise adoption and awareness. A significant portion of my storytelling speaks to the enterprise, but I recognize there is a portion of it that scares them off, and doesn’t speak to them at all. One of the questions I am faced with is around what type of tone do I strike as the API Evangelist in this next chapter? Will it be a heavy emphasis on the politics of APIs, or will it be more about the technology and business of APIs? To continue learning and growing in regards to what is happening on the ground with APIs, I’m going to need enterprise access. To continue making a living doing APIs, I’m going to need more enterprise access. The question for me is always around how far I put my left foot in the enterprise or government door, and how far I keep my right found outside in the real world–where there is no perfect answer, and is something that requires constant adjustment.

Another major consideration for me is always around authenticity. An area I posses a natural barometer in, and while I have a pretty high tolerance for API blah blah blah, and writing API industry white papers, when I start getting into areas of technology, business, or politics where I feel like I’m not being authentic, I automatically begin shutting down. I’ve developed a bulshit-o-meter over the years that helps me walk this line successfully. I’m confident I can maintain and not sell out here. My challenge is more about continuing to do something that matters to someone who will continue investing in my work, and having relevance to the audience I want to reach, and less about keeping things in areas that I’m interested in. I will gladly decline conversations, relationships, and engagements in unethical areas, shady government or business practices, avoid classified projects, and pay for play concepts along the way. Perpetually pushing me to always strike a balance between something that interests me, that pushes my skills, bring value to the table, has a meaningful impact, enjoys a wide reach, while also paying the bills. Which reflects what I’m thinking through as I write this blog post, demonstrating how I approach my own professional development.

So, what does the next chapter of storytelling look like for API Evangelist? I do not know. I know it will have more of a shift towards the enterprise. Which means a heavy emphasis on the technology and business of APIs. However, I’m also thinking deeply about how I present the political side of the API equation, and how I voice my opinions and concerns when it comes to privacy, security, transparency, observability, regulation, surveillance, and ethics that swirls around APIs. I’m guessing they can still live side by side in some way, I just need to be smarter about the politics of it, and less rantier and emotional. Maybe separate things into a new testament for the enterprise that is softer, wile also maintaining a separate old testament for the more hellfire and brimstone. IDK. It is something I’ll continue mulling over, and make decisions around as I continue to shift things up here at API Evangelist. As you can tell my storytelling levels are lower than normal, but my traffic is still constant, reflecting other shifts in my storytelling that have occurred in the past. I’ll be refactoring and retooling over the holidays, and no doubt have more posts about the changes. If you have any opinions on what value you get from API Evangelist, and what you’d like to see present in the next chapter, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, on Twitter, or personally via email.