The other week, while Darrel was discussing hypermedia over moonshine at RESTFest, John and I headed out to Chicago for the API Strategy & Practice conference. This was the fourth APIStrat since it's inaugural event in New York (Feb 2013), and for many in the API space it’s growing into a crowd favorite. APIStrat is organized by API management company 3Scale and API evangelist, Kin Lane.
There were three tracks at APIStrat: providers, developers and industry verticals. The tracks were jam-packed with experienced speakers and relevant topics (both a blessing and a curse). The conference center at the Hyatt Regency was large enough to be comfortable amongst the 400+ attendees, but small enough so that quickly jumping between tracks was easy. I attended several keynotes and stuck to the providers and developers tracks.
The Hierarchy of Developer Needs
Julia Ferraioli, Senior Developer Advocate at Google, opened up APIStrat with her keynote (video) about developer needs. She spoke not only as a developer advocate for a platform company, but as a hardcore developer. Companies that are trying to build APIs that appeal to developers or improve the DX (developer experience) of their platform could spend years getting it wrong, ignoring the needs of developers. Julia’s shared her thoughtful and pragmatic approach to understanding what developers are really looking for in a platform. (spoiler: the hierarchy is dynamic)
Discovering New APIs: Developer Track and the Speed Hack
Sometimes, the best way to learn how to use an API doesn’t involve reading docs or pounding on your keyboard. Instead, it's best to let a developer evangelist hop on their computer and let them take you for a scenic test drive (a live demo). On the day one developer track, I hopped in the passenger seat, and did just that.
Esri was first on stage and introduced us to the ArcGIS APIs. Their platform goes way beyond the surface of plotting points and map tiles -- in fact, a large amount of their data is about what's underground! Next was Steve Marx, dev advocate at Dropbox who gave us speedy demo of their APIs. Watching API calls (file creation and deletion) trigger client side notifications on his Mac was nifty. Amber Feng, product engineering lead from Stripe, shared the story behind their very well-designed Stripe API. If you haven’t experienced Stripe’s developer portal and docs, I highly recommend it.
The Speed Hack was a mashup of a time-compressed hackathon (just 4 hours) and a puzzle-solving scavenger hunt. A handful of event sponsors crafted code challenges, that should have taken about 15 minutes each to complete. Competing teams raced to solve them and earned points. However, it just wasn't code that earned points — other challenges included composing and reciting an API poem, dressing up in a silly costume, or having the most creative team name. For a mini-event that took place within a conference it drew a large and energetic crowd.
Traffic and Weather
Steve (Dropbox) and John (Runscope) host a semi-regular podcast discussing the latest in APIs called Traffic and Weather. They broadcasted a special live podcast during APIStrat, in a format that paid homage to NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me radio news quiz. Complete with tech news headline fill-in-the-blank, API limericks, and heaps of shenanigans, Traffic and Weather was a huge hit, full with many unsolicited (and solicited) applauses. Winning contestants won either Steve Marx’s voice on their voice mail greeting or a bottle of water. Most opted for the latter. Want to watch it? Click here.
"Test Locally, Monitor Globally"
On day two, John gave a talk in the API Testing track. He discussed the importance of logging, monitoring and measuring API usage, and tactical advice on doing it effectively. Nothing beats a (working) live demo, and he pleased the crowd with some local environment API testing through the Runscope Radar Agent, as well as testing on an internet-based API from multiple locations around the world.
Indeed, “API” is a buzzword du jour, so beware of any event who’s name bears it. However, the API Strategy & Practice conference is an event worthy of putting on your calendar. It attracts a lot of players from the API economy — developers, architects, and product owners from the provider side, as well as developers and integrators from the consumption side. A key benefit of APIs is how they enable businesses and people to more easily connect. APIStrat embodied that spirit well, with great content up on stage and amazing discussions between sessions. We're looking forward to the next APIStrat!