Intro to APIs: Where Do You Get Started with APIs?
One of the biggest challenges with onboarding people to the world of APIs is that there are so many different use cases.
There are tons of ways in which someone might need to get started depending on what they are looking to accomplish, and how much they already know about technology. APIs are everywhere, and APIs can do so many things, making them very difficult to introduce to each new user that comes along.
Properly introducing someone an API requires a significant amount of context about their goals. An added dimension of this challenge is that most new users don’t know what they don’t know so when you ask folks what they would like to learn, they usually are at a loss for how to articulate where you can help them. (If you’re looking for the definition of an API, read “What is an API?” to learn more.)
Even with the challenges we face getting new users up to speed on the world of APIS, here at Postman, we are continuously investing time to develop new onboarding methods and still applying trusted onboarding techniques.
To help us reach new users who are curious about API, we will keep crafting entry-level content like this post to help bridge the gap between the very technical content we also produce. Regularly exploring the basics can provide much-needed context for business users and non-technical users and provide them with simple examples that show how they can utilize APIs for their non-technical needs.
Now, I’ll share a couple of the most common ways we help get people started.
Putting Existing APIs To Work
The most common way to learn more about what APIs are all about is to put APIs that already exist to work. To kick off this API exploration journey all you need to do is pick up your mobile phone, pick one of the applications you use most, open up your browser and type the name of that application plus the acronym “API”.
Not all of these applications will be publicly inviting people to play around with their APIs, but it is very likely that they will be ready for you. Some examples applications with public APIs include social applications like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or productivity apps like Gmail, or transportation apps like Uber. The companies behind these applications likely have a landing page and developer portal dedicated to the APIs behind the applications you already use each day.
These developer portals provide documentation and instructions that give you the infomration you need to get started. You can get to know what APIs are all about by using an application you already understand and that is relevant to your world.
So – go pick an app and play around with it a bit – and repeat until you are more familiar with how APIs work.
APIs Within Your Organization
If you are interested in getting started with APIs in your organization, it’s a good idea to start by mapping out the API landscape that already exists. You can do this by finding out where your existing organizational APIs live and explore them via documentation or by talking to the teams behind then.
It’s worth it to take the extra effort to keep notes about how your organization’s APIs are used and the process of API development, as it is likely that information is distributed across many different locations or that the documentation is out-of-date or even incomplete. By taking your own notes, you can make it easier to repeat processes and find information when you need it.
If you are feeling brave, you can download Postman and make calls to some of your organization’s APIs. Most of them will just be just like loading a web page, but be prepared that there may be other obstacles that prevent you from successfully making an API request. The most important part of this API discovery mission will be learning more about the people behind APIs, and building relationships with them to help you in your understanding. Tap into the API knowledge that already exists within your organization, and leverage it to inform your own journey.
Getting Started By Learning
Every successful API professional is both an API consumer, as well as a potential API provider. API discovery isn’t just about finding a single API, it is about finding meaningful and relevant APIs that already exist on the web and are already in use across our own organizations.
We could walk you through some generic demo of an API to show what an API is, but you are more likely to find value in learning about the APIs you already depend on and understand the context of. Studying what already exists is a great place to get started with APIs. You can build relationships with the community and individuals who are already using and developing APIs that currently impact your personal and professional life. Getting started with APIs in this way has a greater potential of creating a lasting understanding.
Once you have learned more about the public APIs behind the mobile applications you use regularly and the APIs that already exist within your organization, you can be more thoughtful about the next steps of your exploration.
Understanding some basics behind those APIs will allow you to make more educated decisions about where you want your API journey to go next. In the world of APIs, you can allow yourself to be influenced by your vendors, listen to the pundits and analysts who study the space, or you can spend time educating yourself about what is happening. We recommend the latter.
Sure, you should be consulting with your trusted vendors and have an ear towards what the analysts are saying, but where and how you should be investing in your API expertise is best decided by you. Getting started with APIs isn’t always easy because there is so much to learn. However, if you begin with a simple exploration of a handful of meaningful public APIs and learn about the API landscape that already exists within your company, you can kick things off on solid ground.