It's tough to keep a sustained fire burning in the world of technology at the individual, organizational, and community level. I have been doing API Evangelist full-time for six years and it is no secret that I have had several moments where I've experienced a crisis of faith. I do not doubt that there will be many more of these in my future (there is no perfect solution). It takes hard work, creativity, and myriad other considerations to keep going, stay energized, and encourage other folks to do the same.
I have spent a great deal of time this fall thinking about all of the factors that influence me and contribute to the fire burning or act as a flame retardant to me and the API space. When exploring these contributing factors, it is only logical we start with the external forces, right? Because this all sucks because of everything external, AKA all of you! (It couldn't possibly be me?)
What are some of the external forces out there that contribute to the fire burning brightly, or possibly being dampened across API space?
People Aren't Always Nice
For some reason, the Internet has brought the worst out in many of us. I personally feel this is the nature of technology; it isn't human, and the more time we spend with it, the less human we are and the less empathy we will have for other people.
Everyone Takes a Little
Until you've spent a great deal of time in the spotlight writing, speaking, or otherwise, you don't fully grasp this one. Every person you talk to, every hand you shake, takes a little bit from you (making it super critical for people to give back). It all takes a toll, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Few Ever Give Back
The general tone set by startup culture and VC investment is to take, take, take, and rarely give back. The number of people who want to pick your brain, take your open work, and not ever give anything in return is far greater than the people openly giving back or acknowledging that they should pay you for your time.
Use and Subscribe To Open Channels
Follow me on Twitter and Medium. Subscribe to the Atom Feed and email newsletter. Support those people in the space who provide open channels of information by tuning in and engaging.
Fork, Contribute, and Build Upon
When you fork someone's work, plan on how you will contribute back, build upon, and cite their work. Don't just use open source; contribute back to it and augment it with the value you bring to the table.
Events Are Exhausting
Producing, organizing, and pulling of valuable events that focus on ideas over products are fucking hard, and you should support the open tech events you think contribute most to the tech space. Invest time, money, and your energy wherever you can afford it. I know your company demands you get the most out of your sponsorships, but step back and consider how you can give the most as part of your sponsorship as well.
Where We Invest
95% of the investment in the API space is into proprietary products, services, and technology. The other 10% is an equal investment in ideas, open concepts, specifications, definitions, and software. If companies do invest in "open," it is in name only and not a true investment. Everyone suffers from this behavior, making the space pretty f*cking business as usual (which is a fire that nobody wants to tend to for very long).
Unhealthy views on IP lock up ideas. I'm not saying copyright, patents, and licensing shouldn't exist. I am saying that aggressive, greedy views will continue to act as a wet blanket when it comes APIs making a meaningful impact and making the game pretty untenable for individuals.
Next, up, what are some of the internal forces (AKA my responsibility) that can contribute to the fire burning more brightly in the API space?
Going to Burning Man
Yes, burning man will reinvigorate you each year, but we have to find a way to establish a regular alter that we can burn on a regular basis, finding renewal on a regular basis without so much f*cking dust involved.
If we've learned anything over the last six years, it is that man cannot live on pizza alone. Words of caution for you youngsters. Eventually, you will start falling apart, and this sh*t will break if you do not eat well.
Drinking is fun and an important social lubricant, but it can also lead to some very bad behavior in real-time, as well as contribute to a multitude of other issues in life ranging from health to relationships.
We just can't sit on our *ss all the time (as much as we'd like to think we can). Again, this isn't a problem for the youngsters, but as we get on in life, it will catch up with you, and we are better off finding a way to work it in regularly.
Spending time with family is important. Too much travel, screen time, and work all hurt this. Regularly check in on what is important when it comes to family. Even if it is just working on API integrations with your kids (did I tell you I'm doing a project with my daughter?! Woohoo!).
Take time to invest in and move forward creative projects. All work and no play makes us all very fucking boring, and are not conducive to any flame burning. The less I invest in my creative side, the less productive I am in my regular work. As an individual and a business make sure there is the investment in creative projects and space.
Money is not everything, but making some is required. I've had several waves of money-making good in my career. It rarely ever brought me more happiness and always brought me more concern. There is a lot of focus on VC investment and showcasing the successful founders in the space. To keep a sustained fire burning, we have to realize there is a lot more to all of this than just making money.
These are just some of the key external and internal forces contributing to the fire burning within me individually when it comes to APIs, and I also feel contribute the fire burning also across the community that I am part of. Startup and VC investment success do not equal community and individual success. Rarely does a startup winning contribute to any single individual success or the wider community being more vibrant, creative, and rich. You have a rare rock star founder and always the wealth of corporate and brand success, but these do not make a fire burn brighter in the community. It might attract a few moths to the flame along the way but doesn't truly enrich everyone, and provide fuel for a sustained burn. It is about burning bright, fast, and hard, which isn't good for most of us humans.
I keep going as the API Evangelist because I'm interested in what I'm doing. I'm fulfilled by learning, writing, sharing, and building. I will keep going for another 10, 20, hopefully until the end of my life, because a real fire is truly burning, not because I met my sales goals, sold my startup, or reached API economy nirvana (that is API singularity). Most of the time I'm learning and I'm being creative, and I've made more money than was required to pay my rent, my bills, and eat well. More meetings. More projects. More handshakes. More money does not always nurture me, and keep the fire alive personally or within the wider API community.