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Thought Leadership or Wishful Thinking?

By Luke Stokes | October 01, 2013

Rodin's _The Thinker_ is actually quite RESTful.Almost 2 years ago, I set out to learn what a REST API really is. Speaking with Brett Florio, my co-founder, we talked about how few visible REST APIs exist. I said something along the lines of us having an opportunity to potentially be thought leaders in this area, but at the time it was difficult for me to learn REST without a lot of great examples to play with. So, to help others, we imagined a fully public sandbox API for developers to throw stuff at with POSTs, PATCHs, PUTs… We'd support the latest hypermedia aware media types and adopt as many emerging standards as I could wrap my head around.

Days and weeks (and even months) were spent reading blogs, reading and asking questions in the API Craft Google group, watching webinars, and attending events. It was overwhelming, and I was a bit insecure about the whole process. Eventually a blog post emerged of the resources I had been reading. The thinking went, if I made a really dumb technical decision, I could at least point to where I got the idea.

In 2012, I attended RESTfest. It was amazing. I was a little bit starstruck. Here was a room full of industry leaders, the very people in the webinars I had been watching and who wrote the books and defined the specifications I had been reading and using. Years of professional expertise represented in one place.

The idea of becoming a thought leader within this space seemed like a fool's errand and wishful thinking.

But this community is different than others. This community encourages new members and continues to help them grow and understand. This community thrives on ideas. The more questions I asked, the more accepted I felt. Once I had enough information and confidence, I put my head down and really started building. It's no surprise to any tech founder reading this, but other priorities arose and the API became my pet project, often on the back burner to other important features and bug fixes.

Slowly but surely we made progress. As we got closer to a finished product, we decided to eat our own dog food by rebuilding the admin to use the new API. We needed documentation, but again, couldn't find many great examples to learn from which encouraged good client development.

Fast forward to RESTfest 2013 two weeks ago and things got really fun. The heroes I was enamored with last year have become my friends. These are people who have encouraged me on Twitter, IRC, email, and the API Craft Google group. With those relationships in place and more confidence than before, I shared my thoughts on how we could improve the documentation systems for REST APIs. The response was fantastic.

The discussion continued into last week starting as a some tweets with the APIary team and evolving into a great discussion on Github.

@lukestokes I do agree in all points but the very first one – you are very qualified, if not the best, for commenting on this issue!

- zdne of Apiary

Had we just been called thought leaders ?

@lukestokes Thanks for actually implementing a real hypermedia API with public documentation. It's helpful for the whole community and hopefully helpful for FoxyCart, as well.

- kevinswiber of Apigee

Are we actually achieving the goal we set out to accomplish?

I must say, it was incredibly humbling.

The people involved in these discussions are professional API craftsman working at companies focused entirely on building, maintaining, and improving the API ecosystem. We're just an e-commerce company trying to make things more flexible for our users. To be accepted and encouraged by this group is fantastic.

Anyone can claim "thought leadership", but it's the community who defines what that really means. You can't just say "Hey, look at how awesome we are, and you should listen to our ideas!" A much better approach says, "Hey, can we chat? Can I hang out with you? Can you validate my idea?" Humility goes a long way.

Until the people you respect invite you to the table and pat you on the back, don't bother labeling yourself. Thought leadership can only be achieved when you look back and see people are actually listening and following.

We still have a lot to learn and improve, but the response so far has been really great. Thank you to everyone who has been so encouraging to me and to our team. Thank you for helping me believe in myself and the crazy idea we had almost two years ago.

The views expressed in the above post are the author's own, and may not reflect those of FoxyCart.com LLC.

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