Why I Pay Attention to APIs
17 Jan 2022
It is that time again. Time to remind myself, and anyone who reads this, why it is that I pay attention to APIs. There are many people who simply hear my title and make all kinds of assumptions about who I am and what I do, without ever spending the time to get to know me. Most people I grew up with know I do something with technology, but have zero awareness of what I actually do day-to-day. Even beyond what other people think about what I do with APIs, I find myself perpetually slipping into a kind of comfortable numb with my job and wider work, regularly forgetting why I do APIs, requiring regular re-affirmation of why the hell I am here in the first place.
First, I started doing API Evangelist in July of 2010 because I saw the importance of not just the technology of APIs, but also the business of APIs. I understood the technology behind SOA and the emerging RESTful wave of APIs, but I was seeing more business dimensions I needed to understand. How APIs were being used to define entirely new business models like the cloud, but also APIs as a product like Twilio and Stripe. As I begun to understand more about how APIs were being wielded in service of business, I also begun to better see a third dimension, which I began to call the “politics of APIs” around 2013, after spending more time in Washington DC. I created this diagram almost ten years ago, but it still applies to how APIs are being manipulated to control markets, elections, and so much more of our everyday life.
Despite popular belief, I am not pro API. The cat is out of the bag, and there is no turning back, and I see APIs as the primary tool in our toolbox when it comes to making sense of this digital world that is unfolding. Despite my daily evangelism about APIs, most days I am troubled by what I see being done with APIs. I am primarily in the business of encouraging organizations to do APIs well, sharing knowledge from across the sector. In most cases my advice would honestly be to not do APIs, but I know that isn’t what people want to hear, and few people are going to pay me to just be an API hater. So I spend my days learning everything I can about the good and the bad of APIs, share what I am seeing so that sensible people can make better informed choices, but the not so sensible people will end up embarrassed or angry when I call them out for their bullshit.
I pay attention to APIs to help bring them more out in the open. To inject a little sunlight into what is happening. Being more observable in how you do APIs is just good for business, and I find that people who tend to make claims of operating out of sight to protect intellectual property, privacy, and security are actually just obfuscating shady behavior and incompetence. Companies who confidently operate their APIs out in the open, and are able to do so while protecting privacy, operating securely, and maintain their competitive advantage are always the more honest and competent when it comes to not just the technology, but also the business and politics of their operations. Most organizations do not operate their APIs out in the open because things are such a shit show behind the firewall, with drama, shady business practices, and numerous other illnesses that plague enterprise operations being shown publicly.
APIs are neither good, nor bad, nor neutral. They reflect whoever created and is operating them. I pay attention to APIs because I feel they are the quickest way that we ensure the technological rising tides around us are as visible and auditable as possible, helping work in real-time to keep enterprise organizations accountable, while also enabling them to move fast and remain productive, efficient, and competitive. I believe that API standards, policies, and regulations are how we’ll stabilize Internet technology via APIs, and I do not think that government agencies should be immune from being forced to having APIs to make them more observable and accountable-using APIs to watch the watchers. I will continue working at Postman for as long as they’ll have because there is not other company that represents the frontline of all of this than Postman. None. However, if I do ever leave Postman, it will be to work on standards, policy, and regulation, helping keep both the public and private sector transparent and accountable using APIs.
I like what I do as the Chief Evangelist at Postman, as well as the API Evangelist. I feel like API Evangelist was a PHD in APIs, and Postman is about applying that knowledge at scale in the real world. I enjoy walking the line between being an evangelist for APIs, but also an API critic. It keeps me understanding how enterprise organizations work, what they need, and keeping them tuned into what I am saying. I feel like I push right up against the gears of the machines on a regular basis as I study their rotation and dimensions, but then I use my writing to regularly makes sense of my positioning within the Matrix, and make adjustments on a regular basis to ensure I do not get chewed up by the machine. I know that many folks try to advise me regarding how I see the world of APIs, telling me to go this way, or that way, and that this approach is right, and that is wrong. When in reality, I can count on one hand the people who see the world of APIs in the same way I do, and most folks just do not understand what my end game is.
I am not here to be in service of technology, or the people wielding technology — I am here to be in service of humanity.