“Breaking Changes” with Vijay Challa: Did You Know the Boy Scouts Are API-First?

In a recent episode of Breaking Changes, I got to chat with Vijay Challa, the former CTO and CIO of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). When I sat down with Vijay, I expected an interesting story about how APIs are powering the scouting mobile applications, but I was blown away to learn that they are API-first. Vijay dove right into the very sophisticated approach the Boy Scouts of America took to delivering the APIs for their organization’s digital transformation, including the expected investment in quality, security, and governance.

Mapping out the domain landscape

The API-first foundation at the Boy Scouts of America is built on a domain-driven design approach to organizing the many digital resources the nonprofit offers to its members and partners. Vijay acknowledged that their hard work to define the scouts and other users, the badges, certifications, events, and other resources into business domains helped them articulate the importance of APIs to groups outside of IT. By properly mapping out the domain landscape across the very distributed Boy Scouts of America, they gave the BSA IT team the foundation they needed to build their consistent API lifecycle and realize the quality, security, and governance they would need to operate.

Managing access control across domains

With a domain and contract-driven approach to doing APIs, it has become much easier for the BSA to test and secure their APIs across domains. Quality is important, but security and privacy are a top priority for the organization, and APIs give them a single control point to manage identity and fine-grained access control over all of their digital resources. The goal of the BSA team is to strike a balance between access and control. They do this by employing Know Your Developer (KYD), which ensures that the BSA knows who is accessing what across their platform. Being API-first has allowed the nonprofit to do more with fewer resources and smaller teams—all while still making sure they continue prioritizing quality, security, and governance.

Fostering API innovation in the mainstream

Vijay walked me through all of the elements of API operations you’d find at a well-funded tech startup and clearly articulated how being API-first was central to the nonprofit organization’s digital transformation. Having conversations like the one I had with Vijay is the reason I do Breaking Changes. These discussions open up new doors for me and push me out of my comfortable West Coast, Bay Area, technology echo chamber.

Vijay’s story shows just how mainstream APIs are becoming and how critical they are to helping enterprise organizations be more efficient while innovating to meet the needs of their end users. I am really looking forward to the day when there is a scouting API badge, because that is when I know that our youth will be prepared for the API-first future that is ahead of us.

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