Choosing an API to Get a Coding Job

By Nikhil Abraham

You will probably want to be familiar with APIs to get a coding job. An API, or application programming interface, allows one program to access select data and functions of another separate external program. APIs are useful because they help you quickly incorporate popular content such as Google maps, YouTube songs, Facebook posts, and Twitter tweets, into your projects. An API can be created for any one or multiple languages, including Ruby, Python, and JavaScript.

APIs receive requests for data in a standardized, predictable, documented format, and respond to those requests in a standardized, predictable, documented format. For example, Yahoo! Weather provides weather forecasts for cities around the world. Yahoo! is interested in providing weather forecast data also to external websites that display the weather but does not want to provide these external websites with access to its full weather program. The Yahoo! Weather API allows external websites to send a request with a city name and responds with a weather forecast for a specific location and time.

Yahoo! also publishes documentation that details the format of the request, and all possible fields and range of values returned in the response. Here is an example of a Yahoo! Weather API response to a request for the weather in New York City:

“location”: {
   “city”: “New York”,
   “region”: “NY”
  },
  “units”: {
   “temperature”: “F”
  },
“forecast”: {
    “date”: “27 May 2015”,
    “day”: “Wed”,
    “high”: “82”,
    “low”: “68”,
    “text”: “Scattered Thunderstorms”
   }

After you receive this data, you can format it and display it as you see fit on your own website. APIs have terms and conditions that may require including a logo or an attribution when using the API.

See the full Yahoo! Weather API response, along with the Yahoo! Weather API documentation by visiting developer.yahoo.com/weather.

Before you incorporate an API into your project, consider the following:

  • Data availability: Does the API provide you with all the data you need to solve your problem? Sometimes an API may provide some but not all the data you need, so inspect the documentation for what data is provided.

  • Company reputation: Data is only good if the company providing it has a good reputation for reliability and uptime. If an API you rely on is constantly going down, your users will become frustrated and blame you.

  • Cost: Usually access to an API is free below a certain threshold; after a certain amount of usage, you have to pay. Make sure you understand the cost of exceeding the thresholds set for free access.

  • Support: While using an API, something is bound to go wrong. Try calling or emailing support to get a sense of response times and customer support.

  • Documentation: The API documentation will answer many of your questions and will be critical when setting up an API. Make sure you read some of the documentation before you start building, so you can make sure the documentation is complete and detailed.