APIs for Dummies – An Introduction For Non-Devs

First things first: this article is directed at all non-developers who might have heard or read the abbreviation “API” before (and want to learn more about it) or have read it now for the first time and ask themselves, “What the fire station are they talking about?!” 

Developers and especially Machine Learning Engineers, we don’t want to shoo you away – feel free to enjoy this article and let us know if you think something’s missing that deserves to be explained – but you probably won’t learn something new here. However, we’ll continue adding articles about APIs and Machine Learning on this blog that will be of interest to you, as well! Pinky swear! 

So, now that we’ve settled this, you might’ve heard that we at iTranslate offer our translation API for you to use for your own products and projects. (Hello, self-promotion!) But this leads us to this article here: we think it’s necessary to provide a general introduction to this topic, and we have to start somewhere, right? Ok, now, put on our smart-looking glasses and get ready to learn some stuff you can use to sound oh-so-clever at your next family dinner.

API – Apple Pie Ingredients

“Application Programming Interface” or in short: “API.” (No, sorry, “apple pie ingredients” was for click-bait uses only)

curl --data '{"key": "83fcbf65-1d2c-4051-b37f-5935e8fc7768", "source": {"dialect": "en", "text": "How are you?"}, "target": {"dialect": "de"}}' https://api.itranslate.com/translate/v1

An application programming interface (API) is a set of commands, functions, protocols, and objects that programmers use to create software or interact with an external system. But an API is not a database or server – the provided code (like the one shown above) regulates access points to another external system. This way, developers and programmers don’t have to write a specific code from scratch but use the API’s interface to communicate, exchange data, and transfer commands and selected functions between two systems. 

Some of you might think now: “Ok, cool. I get it. This API-code-thingy lets two applications communicate with each other. But how is this relevant to me? I’m not one of those smart developers from Silicon Valley!”

Believe it or not – APIs are everywhere, and most of us have to deal with them daily without even realizing it. We’ll talk about specific use cases in our next article but for now, just let’s put it that way:

Imagine building a wooden terrace for your garden. Besides all the tools, you probably need, well, wood. To be precise, wooden planks. You’re now confronted with two options:

Option #1:

  • Grab your axe.
  • Head to the next forest.
  • Fell some trees.
  • Take those logs back home.
  • Process them to wooden planks.
  • Use those for your terrace.

Option #2:

  • Go to the hardware store. 
  • Buy the planks you need. 
  • Use those for your terrace.

Each plank can be put together with other planks, thus accelerating the construction project. Essentially, APIs work the same way. They optimize and increase efficiency wherever they are used.

APIs can be extremely valuable not only for bigger companies but also for people who just started a new career path as entrepreneurs or founded small family businesses. Most of the time, those people don’t employ a permanent developer or programmer but need to rely on freelancers. Using already existing APIs gets work done much faster and decreases costs when paying someone else who creates the same thing from scratch. Easy as a pie.