By | June 4, 2014

So I’m currently in sunny Colorado Springs, sportig my new beard at the HDS Influencers Summit. Don’t ask me what that means or why I’m here, but last night I joined a shabby crew of tech outlaws to record a Speaking In Tech Podcast.

Anyway, the topic turned out to be really interesting, and nothing to do with HDS. I recommend you listen to the show available on The Register.

Anyway. In the show, Michael Hay (HDS) brought up the fact that according to a meetup he’d recently been to with some other tech companies, APIs don’t really seem to be taking the IT infrastructure world by storm (at least away from cloud things like AWS and the likes).

Anyway, I made the point that APIs are like a foreign language to the majority of today’s IT admins. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Most of the established companies out there have “traditional” IT teams with traditional tools, traditional processes, traditional team structures, and traditional IT admin skill sets. And there is risk, effort, an cost required to change that. And let’s be honest, how many established companies out there are interested in any of that jazz?

The way I see it, to be any good at working with APIs, you need to have some decent Python, Java, or Ruby and the likes in your tool belt…. and today’s crop of IT admins just don’t have that in abundance. And I’m not sure that’s gonna change much – too much effort, risk, and cost for most.

What I do see though, is a new breed of spotty-faced-hoodie-wearing youths coming through the ranks. And these guys have been born and raised on Python, Ruby, Java. And I can see this next generation filling the kind of DevOps/future admin roles, and being entirely comfortable working with APIs. And that the boundary between developer and IT guy will blur massively.

Anyway, it seemed to make sense at the time and I didn’t think much of it. But since recording the show, I’ve thought about how scary that could be. I mean these young developer-type guys know nothing about how to run reliable IT infrastructures. They’re growing up writing code and apps for phones, tablets, watches and the likes. A far cry from corporate IT infrastructure. Oh and they want to be playing with and working the latest cool tools and toys. And that’s just not the mindset of a person that should be running infrastructure – even if that infrastructure is abstracted as a cloud service.

In my experience, IT/infrastructure admins, and software developers are polar opposites. One is all about stability, resiliency, reliability, and performance. The other, well…… is all about playing with new toys, getting things done as quickly as possible, using the coolest tools. Dont get me wrong, both have their place, it’s just the two disciplines are massively different. And it’s probably dangerous to mix the two.

So if APIs are the future for infrastructure management, and to work with APIs you need to be coder, then I worry slightly for the future of infrastructure. And while to a lot of people infrastrucure isn’t sexy and worth spending money on, it’s damn important. Cars are awesome and all, but without raods to drive them on they’re just a pretty ornament.

But hey. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning, I’m massively sleep deprived, my body clock is 7 hours out of sync, and my mind is operating in real-mode on a brain that’s only exposing a 8-bit processor with 32KB of RAM. And half of me is wondering whether the future IT/DevOps guy will even need to care about infrastructure in world that’s made up entirely of cloud services?!?!?! But I need kernel-mode access to my brain, and my root filesystem mounted to be able to think about that, and that’s not happening for me right now.


4 thoughts on “APIs ShmAPIs!

  1. Michael Hay

    Great reflection on what we talked about. I too think we have a generational divide in skill sets required. Great quote from a customer today about this: I’m not retraining my old seasoned staff, we’re hiring recent college grads for new kit and infrastructure.

  2. Steven Ruby

    i think older generation IT admins use API’s they just do it in a different way. Perl, Bash, Powershell etc…it’s not so much about the API’s as it is the interface that is being used to do what these “APIs” provide.

    i script most of the mundane tasks within infrastructure, i know my network guys do the same thing.

  3. Scott Bamford

    Hi Nigel. Enjoying the informative blog posts.

    The proliferation of youth with the mind set you described has also happened in enterprise software development – a field that shares more disciplines with enterprise infrastructure than app/web development – and required big process change to cope with. Now days most enterprise application teams are split by mind set rather than ability into:
    1. those who create the abstractions/APIs
    2. those who consume them as if they were unbreakable
    In the future as long as the APIs act to abstract the infrastructure service rather than expose the service (which sadly too many APIs do at the moment) then I’d see it as a simple de-skilling process of the technology. But high skilled people will always be required to design and create the abstractions to keep those with the new mind sets safe and restricted within the sandbox the API abstractions should allow.

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