Speaker Interview: Karen White of BigCommerce

We interview Karen White, Developer Advocate at BigCommerce, about her upcoming session at the Austin API Summit 2019

Karen White is a Developer Advocate at BigCommerce, and she’s passionate about all things developer. Originally with an academic background in technical writing, Karen quickly realized that she loves being able to liaise between developers, product managers, and business folk, informing company-wide strategy on an organizational level.

“As a Developer Advocate, I kind of have a foot in several worlds. I’m out talking to our developer community and relating to them on that level, as a developer, and then there’s the work that I do with our internal teams: product, documentation, support, and marketing, helping us as a company provide a better developer experience.”

“I studied to be a technical writer, but the more I learned about programming and all of the other disciplines that are wrapped up into developer relations, the more I realized that I love being in a role where I’m able to connect the dots and put together a narrative that helps inform our strategy on an organizational level.”

Previously, Karen had helped launch the BigCommerce Developer Community. In doing so, Karen’s goal was to build a supportive and inspiring environment which would allow developers to get the most out of their BigCommerce journeys. Naturally, this constructive mentality eventually propelled Karen into the role of Developer Advocate.

“When the opportunity arose to move into the Developer Advocate role and work even more closely with developers, providing resources and representing their interests to our internal teams, I was immediately on board.”

And it’s not just the developers Karen cares for…

“Our API strategy is really core to where we want to go as a business, and that makes the work that I’m doing, funneling feedback to our team and building awareness about our APIs – very rewarding.”

2019 Austin API Summit

If you’re at all interested in building great developer relationships, you’ll be glad to know that Karen will be sharing her expertise with us at the 2019 Nordic APIs Austin API Summit. When we asked what she’d be speaking about, Karen pointed towards the many unsupported use cases of public APIs, and how they reveal the true needs of developers.

“As a platform, our goal is to design APIs that allow developers to build what they need to build, but the truth is that there will always be gaps between what we designed and the way developers actually use our APIs in the wild.”

“I’m often out talking to developers and I learn about really interesting, creative workarounds that developers have devised to unlock a feature we don’t natively support, or build for a use case that we didn’t anticipate.”

In her session at the Austin API Summit, Karen will share her thoughts on the matter, drawing from what she’s seen at BigCommerce:

“During the talk, I’ll go over some of the things we’ve learned at BigCommerce; how to be proactive about gathering feedback about workarounds and how you can incorporate that feedback into your API design process.”


APIs in 2019

Speaking of API design, we wanted to know what API design trends Karen is looking out for in 2019. It seems that GraphQL is an exciting prospect for many!

“I’m probably part of the majority here, but I’m really excited to see greater adoption of GraphQL. Query language-based APIs are going to continue to really expand what’s possible on the front end, without having to make performance tradeoffs.”

In terms of the place of APIs in modern day enterprise architecture, Karen’s seen how APIs can help an organization scale and cater to a variety of needs:

“BigCommerce, an API-first strategy has helped to propel our business into a solution that can grow along with along with the clients we serve. That’s caused an interesting shift in the way we think about our product, going from a kind of all-in-one SaaS platform to a commerce engine that can power a wide range of needs and architectures.”

Karen adds that the flexibility and scalability of API-driven architectures unlock new possibilities:

“That’s the exciting thing about APIs–once you open your product, you lay the foundation for innovation in so many different areas. By making your data accessible, you unlock a lot of different possibilities for innovators to branch out to different hardware and platforms, and pull out insights using AI.”

Interestingly, Karen also notes how APIs are helping build standards across and within different industries.

“We see this with eCommerce, as systems that integrate with one another, like an ERP and BigCommerce, agree upon shared patterns in the interest of moving data back and forth. In general, trends tend to flow downward from disruptive, enterprise solutions down toward something that becomes more commoditized and widespread across the API economy as a whole.”

Last off for API trends, Karen comments on the growing number of “headless” architectures, which split front and back-end solutions. In fact, BigCommerce has already started work on their preemptive headless eCommerce solution.

“BigCommerce recently released a plugin for WordPress as our first directional move toward this kind of headless implementation. For us, the plugin has been a catalyst to expose new APIs that make it possible to create a complete checkout experience from end to end on an external platform. I think this reflects the direction that the larger API economy as a whole is moving in 2019.”

Developer Experience

It’s time to give you readers a sneak peek at Karen’s extensive knowledge on all things developer, so we asked for a few of her key pointers on that topic. Here’s what she had to say:


“Consistency in your APIs is really key when it comes to developer happiness, but that can be difficult sometimes if different APIs are built by different teams within your organization. I think it’s worth it to invest the time to come to some agreement on styles across different teams to make sure that there’s alignment.”


“It’s also hard to overstate the importance of good documentation. Speaking from experience, we recently went through a major replatforming and restructuring of our developer documentation, and while we’ve come a long way, we’re never finished iterating. Part of it is keeping docs up-to-date with technology that changes, but part of it is constantly asking yourself how the documentation could provide a better experience for the user.”

API Security

Slowly bringing things to a close, we wanted to get a fresh take on API security, from the eyes of a Developer Advocate. Karen’s wise insight includes selectively limiting access to your APIs resources, thereby reducing the breadth of your security protocols:

“One way to mitigate the risk is to limit access to only the resources that are needed by a particular user to complete the task at hand. For example, by providing granular scopes for your API tokens to make sure that an application can only access certain resources. But as an organization you should also ask yourself whether there is a simple process, a human check, or a conversation that should be part of your workflow. It might decrease convenience, but it adds to overall security.”

Wrapping up

To wrap things up, we asked Karen about her favorite “useless” API!

“I love this question! I’m a fan of Randall Munroe’s comic xkcd, and if you are too, you might be glad to know that there’s a JSON API for retrieving xkcd comics.”

She hasn’t tried it yet, but I think we can all agree it would be a lot of fun! As for the Austin API Summit itself, we asked Karen what she thinks of our destination and the event as a whole:

I live in Austin, so of course I’m very excited to represent my hometown at the Austin event! But seriously, it’s such an honor to be on stage alongside the other speakers in the lineup and meet all of the folks who will be in attendance. I’m looking forward to the exchange of ideas and bringing back some fresh perspectives from others in the API community!