What is an API Developer?

For the last two years I've been working in the role of an API developer at Shutterstock. This was, initially, a career move that seemed to be both simple and stable. After all, working on an API is just making sure some lightweight application spit out JSON to match an interface, right? Wrong. The primary responsibility of an API developer is to facilitate communication of data and logic between two unrelated systems.

It's easy to think of an API as just an application that outputs JSON (or XML or whatever), but what it really does is fulfill a contract. A consumer expects data in a certain interface and a producer must match that expectation. Technical systems are not forgiving when contracts break, so it is imperative that the consumer knows what to expect and the producer maintains. When you think of it in this way, as more than just an application, then it's easy to see all the different roles that spin off to support an API.

A healthy, well-established platform needs developers to define and build new features, quality processes in place to ensure adherence, individuals to work with implementing partners, advocates for community outreach, and a program to get internal involvement. It is not simply an application, it is the platform that the business is based on, and exposes it publicly means that it needs to be implemented correctly. For the last few years I've been working on defining and building features for the Shutterstock API, and now it's time to grow the platform and move onto a new role.

The easiest way to explain my new role is a Partner or Solutions Engineer, though it's so much more than that. Already I've been involved in everything from sales calls to debugging issues, from building open-source tools to advocating during hack-a-thons, and working with partners on implementation to writing documentation. Without a formal position like this our API would be merely be a lonely set of endpoints drifting out on the internet - now, between this new team and sales folk, we will give it a purpose.

This is something that I've always been interested in, going all the way back to my days at DealerFire in Oshkosh, WI. Technology is only useful when it's applied. Whether you are talking about a car website that is spun up without thought of the customers or a marketing strategy, or a platform that has no developer engagement or strategy, a tool is only good if it is wielded effectively. And I'm really looking forward to helping the Shutterstock API move forward with purpose.