Don’t underestimate the power of the humble API

In the future, every successful company will be a software company and every successful software company will be an API provider.

There’s a great deal of art and culture out there that could be described as “cultish”. It seems like it’s often the lesser-known, least commercially ambitious movies, music and books that inspire the greatest fervor in their admirers. And the tech world is really no different—Linux users easily match cult movie buffs or indie music fans for sheer proselytizing enthusiasm.

I’m guilty of tech-cultishness myself, regularly leading colleagues to roll their eyes as I begin to explain, for the millionth time, what a huge game changer the humble API is. And the API really is quite humble—it’s not particularly new, but most people outside the tech world still don’t know what it is. And yet, to true believers, it’s at the very center of digital innovation today.

APIs are eating the world

It was with a thought for all the eye-rolling I’d encountered that my previous blog post studiously avoided mention APIs as it discussed the worldview of Marc “Software is Eating the World” Andreessen. Ironically, a few weeks later, InformationWeek published an article titled APIs are eating the world.

The article, by Thomas Claburn, points out that software has been around for quite a while now and asks why it has only just started “eating the world”. The answer, according to Claburn, is that humble old API because: “APIs make it possible for a few people with a great idea to offer a credible service worldwide with minimal effort and investment.”

As previously mentioned, the API itself is hardly a brand new innovation—APIs as such have existed since Roy Fielding defined the REST architectural style and Salesforce launched, back in 2000. What changed in the 10 years between those landmarks and Andreesen’s famous Wall Street Journal op-ed piece is the context.

Claburn’s article points to a few key contextual factors, including: the rise of cloud computing, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the increased popularity of open source software. It’s worth adding that these trends seem guaranteed to keep developing along similar lines with the emergence of wearable devices, the Internet of Things and Microservices.

The cult of APIs

It’s certainly nice to know that I’m not alone in the cult of the API. Indeed, this cult has some members who put my own level of enthusiasm and (especially) expertise to shame. In a recent interview with InfoWorld, Kin Lane—the API Evangelist himself—described the personal hardship he endured to bring the good word about APIs to the world.

Then there are the big brains at the API Academy—Mike Amundsen, Ronnie Mitra, Irakli Nadareishvili and Matt McLarty. These guys are constantly on the road, speaking at industry events or consulting with CA customers about API strategy and design best practices, still finding time to fire off the occasional blog post.

APIs for everyone

Previously, I explained why, in the near future, every successful company will have to be (at least partly) a software company. Hopefully, by now, it should also be clear that the efforts of people like Kin Lane and Mike Amundsen are helping companies succeed in a world in which business is defined by software and software is defined by APIs.

In other words, every successful company will be an API company. Maybe not every company will be as “API-first” as Twilio (the example that is so central to Thomas Claburn’s article), but the principles of openness, agility and software-based innovation that APIs enable will be vital to business success in the coming years.

In this context, the particulars of how a company handles API strategy, architecture and management won’t be mere technical details; they will be key business decisions.

Sam Macklin is a Marketing Communications Analyst at CA Technologies and the API Academy, specializing…


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