The API Economy

Startups are shifting focus to building APIs to power businesses to improve their offerings in the African ecosystem. API integration offers a quicker and more efficient way for companies to build products to deliver on their offerings or value propositions. You must have heard or chanced on the term ‘API’ on social media or tech blogs and wondered what it is and how it works.  

To better understand what an API is, how it works, and why non-technical Product Managers must know about APIs, I DMed Favour Amadi (a Product Manager at Traction Apps & Technical Writer) and asked a few questions. This is how the conversation ensued. 

What's an API? 

API is the acronym for Application Programming Interface.

Application here refers to any software designed to carry out a specific task or function. Programming here refers to Computer programming, which I like to define as a way of planning or developing a set of instructions (codes) to enable a computer to receive, process/manipulate, and give out data. An interface is a place where two or more persons, objects, or in this case, systems (computers) communicate.

Having understood what each word means, an API is a set of programming codes that allows data transmission between software products.

How would you describe an API to a non-techie using an analogy? 

 If you understand that an API allows two or more software products to interact with each other then here's a great analogy. Have you booked a flight before?

If you have, you will notice that when it comes time to pay, you are provided with different payment options. You'll see Paystack, Flutter wave, Interswitch, etc. You pick one of them, and then you have to put in your card details, and in some cases, you are redirected to your bank's page for some KYC requirements. API is the reason why this is possible. The Airline's website/app is a software, Paystack is a software, your bank's application is a software, and with an API (line(s) of code), all these software are interacting with each other to help you move your money from your bank account through Paystack to the airline's bank account so that you can pay for your flight.

Must a Product Manager know about APIs? 

Yes, I believe that a Product Manager should know about APIs, especially Software Product Managers and Product managers managing an API as a service product. When I say to know about APIs, I don't mean the intricacies of it but at least know what it is and how it works.

Why are APIs important for product managers?

  • It allows you to better understand your engineers.
  • It allows you to better understand the current working status of your product. For example, I was doing a routine end-to-end app testing which I do at least three times a day to know that things are working well, and I noticed an HTTP 400 error; with my knowledge of APIs, I could tell exactly what the issue was and who to contact.
  • If you work with a startup and wear so many hats, there will come a time when you will be made to document APIs for your engineers... or not, lol.

“It is important to know the basics of an API as a Product Management” - she concluded.