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API Academy and "New Beginnings" - Net API Notes for 2019/01/31
This week's milestone has me in a bit of a contemplative mood, so let's get to something a bit different.
Wednesday, on their blog, the CA API Academy announced a "new beginning". While the current lineup (newsletter regulars Matt McLarty, Ronnie Mitra, Mike Amundsen, Erik Wilde, and Mehdi Medjaoui, along with Amy Vujanich) are pursuing other opportunities, the web content will remain accessible.
I was introduced to several of these folks when they still were at a company called Layer 7. It was 2011/2012 and I was working in a small-ish web design company. I was tasked with creating the single API to power hundreds of white labeled smart phone apps. While I had used, and even updated, APIs in the past (including XML/SOAP and RPC style) this was the first time I had the authority to create something whole cloth. I wanted it to be right.
As I would learn later, "right" can be a relative term. But the thought provoking content they freely shared was profoundly impactful. Layer 7, along with Apigee and Mashery, helped guide me to design that was evolvable, sustainable, and (dare I say?) elegant. Together, they might have been locked in a pitched SEO battle for API developer eyeballs. But the result was amazing insight that grew an industry.
Mashery was purchased by Intel, then punted over to Tibco. Apigee was acquired by Google. Layer 7 became part of CA in 2013. Rather than disappear within one of the largest software behemoths in the world, however, the education and evangelism was made explicit. The CA API Academy, under the leadership of Bill Oakes, was formed.
I've had the good fortune of engaging with a number of these folks online and in person. (Full disclosure: Irakli Nadareishvili, an API Academy Alum, is my day-job boss.) I might nitpick a nuance here or there. However, I supported of their unique editorial independence as worldwide API design ambassadors 100%. There were no thinly veiled sales pitches and no naked buzzword coining for attention (at least that I saw). Conference after conference, preso after preso, site after site and tweet after tweet there was only thoughtful, passionate storytelling about this collective and transformational emergence we call "API".
This announcement comes a week after Kin Lane stepped away from the API Evangelist role (see the milestone section last week). On one hand, you could dismiss it as coincidental. On the other, I think the net API landscape has been changing for the past several years. I 2018, I spent a chunk of time studying Pace Layering theory. One of the things that resonated with me is that discomfort any technology goes through when it moves from one layer to another (I'm using 'technology' liberally here to encompass a vast array of things, but bear with me). This is something that Pace Layering theory calls a 'slip zone'.
A technology, in its most nascent phase, inspires gatherings of innovators, discontents, and the rebels. The stories they tell themselves are ones of encouragement. They validate each other's perception that, yes, this is the way the world should be. It's zealous. It is riotous. There is a world to change, and this is how we change it! Needless to say, any fad smolders with excitement.
New products, sometimes even brand new businesses, are quick to follow. This is the first slip layer - whether communities of practice accept (even embrace) this commodification of the original fevered dream. A flame is lit, something to light the way in the darkness. The stories are still exciting, but begin to border on hyperbole: silver bullets! All in! Burn the boats!
Surviving production, or becoming part of infrastructure, is the next step. How these technologies are acquired, provisioned, managed, and automated are all questions that cause discomfort during this slip layer. Some solutions are unworkable at scale and fade away. Sometimes the value proposition isn't large enough to displace incumbent offerings. The storytelling, here, suddenly become diverse. There still may be the true believers, emphasizing theoretical superlatives. Then there are the actual case studies; the hard won, first-hand accounts of what it actually takes to deliver on the promise.
And sometimes... just sometimes... those technologies slip even deeper into the pace layering. They're everywhere. They're ubiquitous. Even the C-suite, abstractly, understands the technologies' importance to deliver on a business strategy. They also understand the need for stories on the state of their ecosystem (or 'landscape', to use Erik Wilde's term). The technology is no longer just an implementation detail: it's a business decision. You start seeing a lot more suit coats at conferences at this level. There's fewer of those initial discontents, the rebels.
And now net APIs are going through yet another slip zone, an absolutely massive one for any technology: becoming part of a company's culture. I'm still figuring out what the storytelling needs to be and where we go from here. And it's going to be different. And probably uncomfortable. There will be some that pine for the exuberance of the "good old" days, when the possibilities were infinite and the radicals were running the show.
I won't deny that those days weren't fun. But we're on the cusp of something profoundly deeper than any fad, or ill-advised company excess, or random implementation detail ever was. We're here, standing at the precipice of something equal parts thrilling as it is uncertain. And we wouldn't gotten to this point without guides like the API Academy.
Hopefully, if you are like me, you can't wait to see what happens next. It is, as they say, "a new beginning".
To the Academy: thank you. Each of you knows how to get a hold of me. If you need anything, please reach out and let me know how I can help.
Till next time, Matthew