Last week I was fortunate enough to attend and speak at the first-ever API City conference in Bremerton, near Seattle. Organized by Tessa Mero, Developer Evangelist/Advocate at Cisco, API City has grown from a local APIs and IPAs meetup to become Seattle’s starling API conference. I was very excited to attend and watch this first iteration unfold.
Held in the quaint Bremerton, just a beautiful ferry ride away from downtown Seattle, API City featured quality presentations on REST design, API policies, machine learning APIs, GraphQL, documentation best practices, and much more in 3 tracks held over two days. With a strong emphasis on diversity, women in tech, and accessibility, it was an inspiration to see an event series in our space highlight inclusivity with such vigor.
Keynote Amanda Whaley opened the conference up by following the life of Marie Curie. Madam Curie’s scientific achievements in Radium occurred under tumultuous circumstances, in an age where her gender as a woman denied her admittance into the Academy of Sciences. Amanda explored stark parallels to today’s tech climate, as well as considering the strategy behind open-sourcing vs. privatizing technical achievements.
Following the historical theme, in the 1900s, Vannevar Bush’s Memex was a prototype pre-hypertext machine meant to catalog and store a person’s personal memory. In his API City talk, Andrew Lewis described his lifelong efforts to build a virtual modern Memex. Using a mashup of open APIs and public maps data, he’s built a beautiful interactive, searchable UI that documents his life – eerily close to Bush’s initial goal. It’s no surprise that he’s run into issues aggregating his social data, dealing with various API styles, and updating integrations when API endpoints change or deprecate entirely.
How do you navigate a developer relations crisis? Well, Mary Thengvall likens developer advocates and evangelists to the UN. She described differing crises along the API lifecycle, such as breaking change, and how to communicate these things to customers. Even something like your competitor ending their service, though seeming like a blessing, can be a stressful situation in disguise. Teamwork, communication, and documentation can help turn a crisis into a positive situation.
Phil Sturgeon, author of APIs You Won’t Hate, detailed the importance of API specifications; they help design-first methodologies by allowing us to mock services first. He cited various tools, such as Postman, Swagger Inspector, and API Transformer that can aid in code generation processes. Open GUIs like Stoplight.io or API design or Rapido can also be helpful for prototyping the initial API to make edits later.
Aligned with the humanitarian focus underpinning API City, Joel Lord discussed the importance of improving mental health. In his talk on how to avoid burnout in the tech community, he stressed to counteract negative cultural conditions. Takeaways: take advantage of sick days, learn how to say “no,” and don’t volunteer for ALL opportunities. Doing less can be more to help save a more holistic sanity; in Joel’s words, “there is only so many “f***s you can give.” Employers, on the other hand, should enable remote work, offer personal time off, and promote programs like MentalHealthFirstAid.org. Joel also volunteers at Open Sourcing Mental IIlness (OSMI), an initiative that API City supported through raffle donations.
Joyce Lin of Postman featured example documentation from APIs and developer centers throughout the industry, considering methods to catalog issues, increase visibility and onboarding, and more, with an end goal to increase the documentation and developer experience for an API. She notes that Partner APIs are increasing in popularity, and sees the future as an increased number of interactive demos and sandboxes.
Paige Bailey reminded us that fantastic programmers don’t necessarily make quality API designers. She notes that “APIs are just well-structured communication between a user and a system,” highlighting the importance of simplicity and usability. In her talk Democratizing AI with APIs, she described how APIs are a path to truly open up AI on a global scale. With tools like Tensor Flow and Keras, AI is being democratized for all to learn.
“Keras has completely revolutioned the way deep learning is done with Tensor Flow”
In her session APIs or it Didn’t Happen, Tanya Vlahovic detailed the eBay API journey, from standards, governance policies, to versioning, and using experimental APIs. Using internal standards like Correlation IDs and OpenAPI is critical for eBay. Standardization is vital, as she notes “APIs should do one thing and do it well without offering surprises.”
“We chose Open API because it’s a standardized, community driven, and machine and human readable way to describe the contract” – Tanya Vlahovic
Kin Lane, The API Evangelist, discussed the importance of bringing ethical leadership to our discussion around APIs. Now at the hearts of social communication, APIs also have a dark side. They can be used to subvert users and social institutions like the government, who are considering varying ways of opening access. We’ll see what the future holds and if there is still hope for public-facing programs that honor a commitment to developers. Kin encourages the community to share more API stories, an idea we wholeheartedly support!
Darrel Miller, Program Manager at Microsoft’s Developer Graph, discussed client libraries for HTTP APIs, or SDKs. He acknowledges an unfortunate truth; people either love or hate SDKs. Most SDKs are designed with a primary purpose in mind: decreasing Time To First Call. How quickly can we get users on board? is a viral question among most API product owners. Though we’re critical about long onboarding times, he notes that in order to make a kit flexible to support a breadth of scenarios, you must embrace complexity; such SDKs must be resilient and robust, with a breadth of user choices.
Getting internal teammates to onboard into a new environment is hard. With a lack of documentation, things get worse exponentially. Rose Williams, technical director from Godaddy, focused on sharing insights around how to improve onboarding documentation. Why? Well, she estimates that:
“10s of thousands to millions of potential revnue is being lost due to a lack of proper onboarding documentation… “My code is self-documenting” is one of the biggest myths in the software industry.
Rose focuses on the internal stresses of onboarding new employees. Veteran employees don’t want to answer a thousand of the same questions (product knowledge is a curse), and on the other hand, newcomers don’t want to be a pest. She reiterates that code comments and documentation are separate, and emphasis must be placed on self-service to retain your team’s morale!
Alena Hall gave a presentation on Kubernetes. She first covered how immensely impactful APIs are to the world now. Enabling complicated logic and complexity, APIs are the best-in-class method for progressing SaaS technology:
“Building great APIs empowers others to use our systems to build great things”
Orchestration layer Kubernetes has altered how developers approach microservices design, for the better. But what about the Kubernetes API? Alena noted some impressive options that microservice developers have for extending the Kubernetes ability.
Slides from my talk “Always Mind Your [Developer] Surroundings” are here. I gave a batty montage of developer relations insights:
Bringing Diversity and Accessibility to the API Space
I admire API City’s commitment to creating an accessible, inclusive, and respectable conference environment. It was held on a first-floor conference center, and captioner Maggie Rumfelt (@CryptoCaptioner) transcribed words for the hard of hearing. Organizer Tessa Mero also emphasized the “Pacman rule,” meaning that groups allow room for others to intermingle.
API City has a Code of Conduct, forkable on Github. They emphasized women in tech; nearly every segment featured a female in at least one track, and the conference even had a luncheon for women and non-gender binaries as well as allies.
“API City Conference is a non-profit community event that brings together a diverse set of developers and business people to network and learn about APIs and the business value they can bring to you and your company. With a focus on diversity and accessibility, our 3 track conference creates an open event where everyone is welcome.”
With excellent catered meals with healthy options, non-stop coffee, and a DJ party with LED lights, API City had it going. Also enjoyed the open floor segment for lightning talks, a tradition carried from the Seattle API meetup.
Looking Forward to API City in 2019
Proud to say the API community is strong in the Seattle area! API City also had a great emphasis on supporting women in tech, an initiative Nordic APIs has similarly supported through our Nordic APIs for Women program.
Hopefully, we’ll see API City expand in attendance and move to a Seattle downtown location for easier commuter accessibility. Emphasizing a diverse set of quality API-related talks, Tessa expects a downtown conference of greater magnitude in the future. We’re excited to see how API City grows.
In the meantime, we look forward to hosting The Platform Summit 2018 this October 22–24, and hope to see some familiar faces from API City crowd involved!
Thanks to Twilio, Stoplight.io, Educative.io, APImetrics, and RingCentral, and other sponsors involved in API City for helping support a great event! Thank you to all speakers, volunteers, and organizers who were involved!