Home Tech Updates How a single mandate changed software development forever

How a single mandate changed software development forever

by Helen J. Wolf
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There is speculation about when it was issued and by whom, but a mandate drawn up twenty years ago continues to shape today’s software development process.

Dubbed the “API Mandate,” it was issued by someone within Amazon to guide the company’s large team of developers. It stated that with immediate effect, all development teams must expose their data and functionality to others through service interfaces, now known as APIs.

The mandate continued. It stated that development teams should only communicate with each other via these interfaces and that there should be no direct linking, no direct readouts from different data stores, and certainly no back doors.

How a single mandate changed software development forever

A shift from the monolith to microservices

The rationale for issuing the mandate has been an increasing challenge at the heart of Amazon. As the company grew, so did the complexity of the software supporting its operations.

Amazon’s IT team realized it had to move away from a strategy of monolithic software development. They had to break things down into smaller components that could then communicate with each other as needed.

The team focused on service-oriented architecture (SOA) design, then took it further by enabling small, agile teams to build microservices. By following this strategy, individual components of an application can be made, and their common functionality can be shared with other microservices. In this way, building blocks were linked together to meet the computing requirements of certain business use cases.

APIs were an important part of this shift, as they were an efficient way for services to communicate with each other. Each API was also fully documented so it could be found and used by different teams across the company. This was intended to avoid layoffs and duplication of work.

A new business opportunity

Amazon’s embrace of APIs not only changed the way software was developed in-house, but it also created the opportunity to create an entirely new business venture: Amazon S3.

S3, or Simple Storage Service, became an offering that allows any customer in any industry to store and protect any amount of data. As its popularity grew, it became an important new source of income for Amazon.

In addition to enabling S3, Amazon’s microservices and API strategy enabled the company to build its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service. It was, in fact, the beginning of the on-demand, cloud-based computing era.

APIs may have existed since the 1960s, but Amazon revealed its potential to revolutionize data centers and software development. By building arguably the largest distributed cloud in the world, Amazon has led the way and offers an example of what can be achieved with APIs.

Follow the rules

Other organizations looking to harness the power of APIs and place them at the heart of their IT infrastructures must follow a set of rules.

Two of the most important are that APIs are forever, and their backward compatibility should never be broken. Developers also need to work backward from customer use cases and create APIs that describe themselves and have a clear and specific purpose. APIs should also be made with explicit and well-documented failure modes.

Even though they are already widely used, the future potential of APIs remains huge. According to Kong’s 2022 API & Microservices Connectivity Report, nearly 70% of tech leaders say API budgets will continue to rise in 2022.

An era of ‘API first.’

Adopting an API-first development strategy can yield significant benefits. It can support innovation, make companies more responsive, and enable them to seize new opportunities as they arise.

Rather than working with bloated, cumbersome applications, development teams can be flexible and better positioned to deliver what a growing organization needs. The mandate maybe 20 years old, but it makes just as much sense today.

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