We Are Just Swiping Credit Cards, Doing Our Accounting Using Multiple Sets of Books, and Do Not Allow Time for Budget Planning in the API Space

I heard a phrase this past week that when it comes to APIs—that we are all just swiping the credit card and then working to do accounting after the fact. So much truth. I would augment that state with the reality that we aren’t ever spending anytime budget planning. It is implied, but I think it is important to bring it front and center and balance out our belief we can accomplish everything we need with accounting after the fact. While I am no planner when it comes to my own APIs or my finances, I do generally have a loose plan for what I am looking to accomplish. Plus, I am just an individual, not a large enterprise with employees, investors, and other stakeholders.  

Our digital world is a transactional reality governed by APIs. Consuming APIs have rate limiting and constraints on usage. Producing APIs have a different set of constraints, where in reality, there should be more. We are all just given credit cards that produce APIs, without ever putting much time into thinking about how and where we should be spending. We are pretty confident that if we just document our spend that will be good enough to account for everything happening. That is until our technical debt accumulates, and taxes and bills come due for everything we’ve spent. I am not a big fan of overplanning, I just know that it isn’t realistic, but I also know that I like guard rails on my spend so that I can end up in a healthier place than if I just spend like there is no tomorrow.  

I encounter a lot of folks who are confident that we can account for everything in real-time as we move forward. I encounter a smaller handful of folks who feel that we should be doing more planning and standardizing how and what we spend on. It feels like to me that the optimal balance in this conversation is somewhere in the middle of these two worlds and may swing back one way or the other depending on what the overall business mood is across markets. It is interesting to watch folks struggle with trying to do more budget planning, something you’d think leadership would want, but often will not leave room for. In the API game it is all about moving fast, swiping the credit card, and hoping we can account for everything that happened and not get in trouble with whoever—leadership, regulators, or any other oversight group.  

I like exploring these analogies. I have another for building a tall building, determining if you are building something that will last or not. Thinking about what my API infrastructure will look like in 1, 2, or more years. Exploring what it looks like if we can’t walk away from our technical debt, and we are saddled with it no matter where we went. There is a monumentally bad idea that business owners would love—if they could offload the technical debt they are accruing on their workers. Imagine if you were responsible for every bit of code you had to write. Well, there is a great Alternate Kin Lane story, something I’ll explore in the land of fiction, not this real world where are stories are all true. I really like the idea of APIs as credit cards, and that we are just swiping them everywhere. This analogy allows me to go place I didn’t imaging with just APIs alone, and the financial tone of the analogy makes it something anyone can relate to.