What is an API and why should you care?

You might be sitting here thinking, “I don’t need to know about APIs. I’m not a software engineer or computer programmer, I’m not a tech person,” but to exist in today’s world of technology, it helps to at least have a basic understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes of all those software apps and tools we love so much.

 Photo by  Chris Liverani  on  Unsplash

Why APIs should matter to you

Understanding APIs will help you understand WHY when you’re talking to one software company about trying to connect it to some other software, that neither company seems to be able to help you troubleshoot it.

They both point fingers at the other and you end up left holding the bag on a connection that doesn’t work. Ever had that happen? (Heck, we do this for a living and it still happens to us all the time).

So, what’s actually happening? Well, to understand that, we need to talk about what an API is.

What is an API?

An API is what software companies use to let other companies get access to the data that’s in their system. That’s pretty much it. Mulesoft has a really great quick explainer video that goes a bit more in-depth if you want more detail.

For our purposes, you just need to know that it’s the bit of software that makes systems talk to each other. When APIs move your data from one system to another, it's essentially a conversation where Joe (Software 1) tells Sarah (Software 2) how to make his favorite cake. She makes a record of the recipe so that she can make the cake too. Then, everyone has cake.

Why your systems don't always play nice

The problem is that each company builds their own. And they’re all different, even if they’re built in the same programming language.

So, when you’re talking to PandaDoc about trying to connect it to Pipedrive, each company only knows their API. They can’t troubleshoot the other end of the conversation.

So, they can tell you if it’s a problem with their side, but if it’s something that’s happening somewhere else in the system (say you picked the wrong piece of data to connect on in your Zapier zap), they can’t help you fix or troubleshoot that.

How to troubleshoot your integrations

What happens when your internet goes out?

The connection between your internet service and your computer is a conversation, just like an API.  When the internet stops working on your computer, what do you do?

You have to walk through the “conversation.”

So, talking to the cable company to make sure your service is up and running = talking to the software companies running the apps you’re using. 

Once they’ve established that their service is up and running, they’re out of the conversation, and you’re left trying to figure out how to troubleshoot what else could be causing the problem.

But Cox (or the software providers) isn’t going to help you with that. They’ve ensured their service is up and running and that's all they're responsible for doing.

So, now you have to figure out what ELSE could be causing the problem. 

So you need to restart your computer to see if it was some setting on your computer that went wonky, or if you accidentally hit that piece on your laptop that turns off the wifi signal. Or is it your router? Do you need to restart that? Did it go bad?

In the world of online software, there’s no one responsible for that middle part of the conversation (the integration between the two systems), except the person trying to set up the connection. In this scenario, that's you.

When bootstrapping might not be the best strategy

If you’re trying to bootstrap your own integration, you end up as the one responsible for getting those two systems to talk to each other. 

The software companies are responsible for making sure that the access is available, and up and running. What you do with that connection is your responsibility.

If you're not comfortable learning the quirks of each system, or you don't have the time to walk through the whole conversation, bootstrapping might not be your best strategy and it might be time to call for help.

Need some help troubleshooting the middle?

We look at the whole system end-to-end and we’re familiar with EVERYONE’s data connections and ins-and-outs, so in our example of the conversation that we just talked about, ScaleSpark is the middle.