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Creating an API is not just a matter of writing a bit more code. An API is basically a doorway into an organization's application or service, and it provides the principal means for services to work with external software. In many cases, API use is monetized, directly tying enterprise API management to business success.
APIs require serious planning and design, and these responsibilities fall to the API architect. The role of an API architect is not to write APIs, but rather to foster and articulate a deep understanding of how APIs work.
API architects must be able to design quality APIs in a way that makes their purpose clear to potential users, and they must create consistency across the API portfolio with an offering that is secure and maintainable as the corresponding application portfolio evolves. It's a huge job with lots of specific responsibilities.
Let's take a closer look at API integration architecture and how API architects contribute to overall software development.
An API architecture describes the features that will be available, the way in which the design will secure or authenticate those features, and how a given software system will handle and scale API calls for simultaneous interactions.
Beyond these basics, the API architecture reflects things such as the way the API is built, how architects can share API components with multiple APIs, API exposure, and ongoing maintenance. The API architect needs to prevent inconsistencies between related APIs, control API sprawl and identify off-the-mark designs that fail to meet specific client demands.
An API architect's role and responsibilities
An API architect typically performs a high-level project management role within a software development team or organization. Their responsibilities can be extensive and diverse, and a good API architect must combine advanced technical skills with business knowledge and a focus on communication and collaboration. There are often simultaneous API projects, and the API architect must direct the entire portfolio.
API architects are planners more than coders. They create and maintain technology roadmaps that align with business needs. For example, an API architect should establish a reference architecture for the organization's service offerings, outlining each one and describing how they work.
The architect should define the API's features, as well as its expected security setup, scalability and monetization. The API architect sets best practices, standards and metrics for API use, as well. These guidelines should evolve as mistakes become clear and better options emerge.
The API architect should play a leadership role in enterprise API management. They are responsible for complex, enterprise-wide projects that drive innovation and provide competitive advantages to the company's products or services. They connect the dots between mission-critical web applications, which typically involve some mix of IaaS, PaaS and containers as a service. Prepare to do significant competitive research and evaluation of enterprise technologies and vendor offerings to stay current and effective in this job role.
API architects should collaborate with development and cross-functional teams in Agile or DevOps organizations to stipulate the technical direction and approach for each API design and implementation. The architect must communicate technical and strategic insights into these digital services to business leaders and stakeholders and focus on the expected outcomes. And they must be comfortable in the limelight to deliver presentations to executives.
Skills and experience fit for an API architect role
Sought-after API architects usually bring more than 10 years of software development experience to the role, the majority of which comes from developing and managing extensible API-based applications or architecting web and mobile applications that rely on APIs. Additional skills are helpful, if not essential.
API integration architecture responsibilities could require experience in areas such as Java programming, microservices and container-based application deployment, service-oriented architecture, RESTful techniques, event-driven design, Node.js or other runtime environments, and CI/CD tools.
API architects who have created and deployed applications on AWS, Microsoft Azure or another platform are a good fit for organizations adopting public cloud. Other specializations in technologies such as databases, storage and networking infrastructure can pay off in the right role.
Many API architects have a college degree in computer information systems, management information systems, electrical engineering or a related field. Some employers require a master's degree, such as an MBA, for mid- and senior-level roles, such as API architect. Consider obtaining an application architecture certification, for example, in The Open Group Architecture Framework, also known as TOGAF.
API architect roles and responsibilities are never the same from one company to the next, which means the skills and experience required of an API architect can vary substantially. To excel as an API architect, spend time writing diverse APIs with close attention to quality standards. It's also important to program extensible front ends and mobile applications in order to understand how software relies on APIs.
Finally, foster leadership skills with sound diplomacy and project management.