Speaker Interview: James Higginbotham, LaunchAny

We feature James Higginbotham of LaunchAny, a speaker at the upcoming 2019 Austin API Summit.

Meet James Higginbotham, API consultant, strategist, and author. With over 20 years of experience in APIs and distributed computing, James has guided scores of enterprises through the design of business-oriented APIs — a topic he covers in depth in his latest book, A Practical Approach to API Design.

We’re excited to announce that James will return to speak at our Austin API Summit in May this year. When asked what his session would cover, James pointed towards the management of API surface areas:

“Deploying APIs has become much easier in years past. The result is a huge increase in the footprint of APIs available. I want to discuss this increase and how we can manage the surface area of today’s APIs.”

That’s not all, though! James will also discuss how you can get ahead of the game both by evaluating your API’s surface and looking at the technology trends of today.

“We’ll also discuss how to prepare for tomorrow’s business needs by evaluating your API surface area, understanding where it is leading you and if that is where you really want to be. Finally, we’ll look at where today’s technology trends are taking us, so you can be prepared for tomorrow’s needs today.”

API Design

Speaking of trends, we asked James which API design trends he’s most excited for in 2019. Despite being nothing new, it seems that asynchronous APIs — where callbacks are sent as new data is made available — are becoming more and more relevant (and not just for API speed!)

“While they have been around for some time, asynchronous APIs such as those that push events and data streams to consumers will be a much larger part of an organization’s API portfolio in 2019. This moves us from building imperative applications to those that evolve over time by reacting in different ways to emerging events and data.”

For some evergreen advice on building great APIs, James believes that an outside-in approach to API design can make all the difference. In fact, he often centers his API design workshops around this single principle:

“The most important design idea (and the one which I focus my workshops on the most) is to take an outside-in, use-driven approach to API design. We must focus on the outcomes needed and then decompose those outcomes into the steps, or capabilities, that our APIs need to offer to help the outcomes become a reality.”

As something of a justification for this belief, James says that it’s too easy to focus on just moving data around while giving little weight to its actual significance.

“Too often, we focus on pushing data across the wire and nothing more. This results in every web and mobile app re-implementing the same capabilities to achieve those outcomes. This is where inconsistent user experiences result in a mobile app behaving differently than the web. You might have felt this frustration before.”

We also asked for James’ take on API security — how do you secure APIs to prevent the type of breaches we keep reading about? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might have hoped!

“There is no single answer to that question. A comprehensive security plan requires a combination of thoughtful design, security review processes as part of API design, and runtime detection of malicious API usage — with developer involvement throughout. Too often, organizations are allowing their developers to push APIs without involving some or all of these ingredients.”

APIs in 2019

Shifting the discussion away from design itself, James shared his take on the role of APIs in modern-day enterprises. Here, the idea of API surface area proves to be a useful tool: how can you manage your API’s surface area to stay agile and react to a changing tech landscape?

“APIs are the foundation for every enterprise. How much focus they place on the design and management of their API surface area will determine how agile they are moving forward. If APIs are designed to address only specific system-to-system integrations, they will continue to struggle to achieve their desired level of agility. If APIs are considered digital assets that become the foundation for the enterprise, their ability to react to emerging needs will increase.”

James also sheds some light on the APIs-as-a-product movement. His take? Not every API needs to be a standalone product.

“While Twilio, Sendgrid, Stripe, and others have proven that there is a need for API products that specifically meet the needs of developers, this isn’t always the case.”

Standalone or not, James says that APIs can be a strategic value-add for any business:

“Not all APIs are standalone products — yet an API is table-stakes for nearly all organizations. As such, they are applying the lessons learned from the first generation of API products to firm up their market positions and partner relationships by including great developer documentation, tutorials, and support. Offering a great API becomes more strategic for offering better value to customers while reducing customer churn.”

Your Favorite API

To lighten things up a little, we asked for James’ favorite “useless” API. With no signup, a simple interface, and plenty of fun data, what better choice than the Star Wars AP!?I

The Star Wars API is one of my favorites to use for fun. No signup required and it comes with a nice web-based interface for those not comfortable with making HTTP-based requests and responses. It’s great for training non-technical people on the basics of how APIs work.

We’re curious, will you consider the Star Wars API next time you’re introducing someone to the ins and outs of API functionality?

Meet James at the Austin API Summit

As we mentioned earlier, James will be speaking at our 2019 Austin API Summit, where you’ll learn about how enterprises are approaching APIs, and get the chance to meet some of the world’s most talented practitioners.

Also, it seems like we might have picked one of the best spots to talk APIs in the Western hemisphere!

“I always look forward to the diverse attendees and companies that the conference brings each year. Plus, I have lived in Austin, so I know it is a great city to host a tech conference.”