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Developer interviews

Interview with Sagar Batchu

CEO, Speakeasy - Developer experience for APIs.

What is Speakeasy? Why did you build it?

Today, APIs are exploding in popularity. There are so many API-first businesses across different verticals, or businesses where the API is an important product surface - the more your API gets used the higher chance that your company is leading the market. But for most APIs today, the status quo of integration and usage is still a big bottleneck to growth. Companies continue to support a lot of API users with just static documentation. There’s a lot of hand holding and an immense support load on builders of APIs. And on the flip side, the devex required to use APIs could be a lot easier than it is today. It hasn’t really progressed despite how crazy popular they are.

That was the really basic thesis around why we started Speakeasy. We just wanted to make it really simple for developers to both produce and consume APIs.

In terms of products, we do two things today. The first is a developer portal that finally lets companies move beyond docs, to make self-service API integrations possible. What does that mean? We create embeds that are powered by an SDK that you put into your API. The SDK captures data directly from your API and powers experiences like usage dashboards and request viewers that enable the end user to unblock themselves when using your API without getting on a call with your dev team or sharing logs over a ticket. Interestingly, the embeds can either be integrated into your existing dev portal – or we can create a brandable Developer Experience Portal on your behalf if all you really have is docs today for example. Either way, these components provide a best-in-class devex for your end users, and reduces work for your API team.

The second product is Client SDKs as a Service that make integrating with your API as simple and ergonomic as possible. We built a new set of generators from the ground up with a focus on reliability and idiomatic language choices. They’re available for Typescript, Go, Python, Java and Rust. We auto-generate these client SDKs from your OpenAPI 3.0 spec – so really minimal dev work is required – compare this with the current status quo where SDKs either have to be hand-rolled from scratch, or you take an open-source generator’s SDK that is full of bugs and code that looks like a machine wrote. With these auto-generated SDKs, users of your API can guarantee type safety, and through extensions we can enable even more value-added features such as auth, pagination, retries, and integrating with our Developer Experience Portal for analytics and so on.

Overall, you can think of Speakeasy as the API platform team at your company that builds internal tooling that helps externalize information to your users in the form of dashboards, client-SDKs, tooling, and documentation.

Our vision is that developers get to focus 100% of their time on the API code itself. And at some point we get to this place where you git commit and you have a fantastic devex spun up for your API much in the way that we have seamless infrastructure hosting. That’s come out of companies like Heroku, where you just push your app, you have it hosted. There’s a similar, analogous story for APIs that’s evolving.

We want to wrap that all up into a product that can be used instantaneously with your existing APIs. Companies use Speakeasy as a way to provide an interactive and powerful developer portal experience as well as client SDKs for the users to actually consume those APIs. So it really just comes down to spending less of your dev time on support. The success of companies like Twilio and Stripe has set the expectations of what a good API is.

What does a “day in the life” look like for you?

The days are long, but the weeks are short! Each day is a fun mix of customer calls, standups, and technical deep dives with the team. Then collaborating in person with my co-founder Simon, who I’m very lucky to have in this journey to make this happen. I’m a developer myself - it’s what I’ve been doing for a number of years. I think in my past, I’ve been a very regimented person with my schedule. So this has put a lot of stress on me to figure out how to maintain that while having an inherently ambiguous job. I do try to maintain a little bit of structure, try to get up pretty early around 6am and get a 30 minutes of quiet time before the day starts, do the rituals of yoga and coffee and start planning up the day.

I have a schedule here written down, but just looking at it, I don’t know how closely I follow that actually. We have a distributed team that’s on the West Coast PST in the U.S., and then in London, in the UK. And so we’re split, which means our standup starts pretty early for me - 8:00 AM - and then we have collaboration time when we’re pretty live online on Slack and Zoom. After that, the other sides of the day for both time zones of more quiet kind of deep focus, quiet time.

That’s how the day goes. I try to make sure I do get some amount of reading every night. That’s not necessarily Speakeasy-related, although APIs are everywhere.

What is the team structure around Speakeasy?

We’re a seven person team right now - five of us doing development (Alexa, Anuraag, Thomas, Tristan, and myself), Nolan, who’s heading up developer relations, content and marketing, and then Simon, my co-founder is doing all sorts of things - from sales and how we go to market, to leading customer interviews, collaborating with me on high-level product roadmap and vision, finance, and all the other stuff required to run a company. It is a very flat company, there’s no hierarchy at the moment. Autonomy and ownership are our core values. Everyone is trusted to go from user interviews, to design all the way to shipping to a customer. Every engineer is also a product manager and everyone is owning the complete life cycle of the product.

One of the awesome things about being a developer focused company is that all developers are able to be involved in the full scope of the business all the way from sales calls to marketing, to writing blog posts. It’s very much a dev first company.

How did you first get into software development?

I studied physics in undergrad, focused a lot on experimental physics and spending a lot of time in the lab. I realized that the thing that I enjoyed the most was not the time in the lab, but the exercise, after taking that data, of building simple software around it to actually make the analysis work and actually make a project. In my last year of undergrad I started freaking out that I didn’t want to do a PhD, and I didn’t want to spend more time in the lab. So I started to cram in as many CS courses as I could.

When I came out of school, I worked for a couple places, a little bit closer to hardware, doing software and firmware and working at an IoT company. That’s how I got into software, with more and more work with software teams working on big data APIs, building enterprise software. Most recently I lived in London for a number of years, working to help start and grow an engineering team for LiveRamp, a U.S. based company out there. Then I moved back to the Bay Area. I am really lucky to have an awesome network here. London is amazing but the Bay Area has this intensity around startups and entrepreneurship.

I spent a number of years coding in Java, I had a little stint with Kotlin too which I found super fun to play with. At Speakeasy, we’ve built the core platform in Go, but being a product that plugs into APIs, we have to support a variety of languages. These days we’re all polyglots, doing everything like JVM, Python, Go, TypeScript, even Rust. So at this point, I hardly think about what languages we’re using.

What is the most interesting development challenge you’ve faced working on Speakeasy?

With a developer product, you have to get a lot of feedback, a lot of time invested in thinking about the surface area of the product because dev products are very much things you touch and feel every day. There’s an ergonomics question that takes a long time to figure out, and that can dictate the direction of the product as well. 

Early in Speakeasy’s history, we were kind of working with different techniques like static code analysis and annotations. And as we did that, we realized that the ergonomics were not nearly as good as having a code-first SDK. Going through that debate, working with customers to understand what made sense, was one of the more interesting parts of our journey so far. We ended up going with the SDK approach, which helped us scale and support multiple languages more quickly.

Then more recently we’ve had to think about how to be an enterprise friendly product which has meant building a product that’s fully self-hosted.

What is the most interesting tech tool you are playing around with at the moment?

I recently shifted over to using Warp as my terminal and it’s really amazing to see a terminal getting closer to a web browser. Between Warp and the new GitHub CLI, you have to leave your terminal less and less. Warp has embedded AI command search, which is fantastic. Natural language search for arcane commands you’ve forgotten is great. I’m looking forward to building more plugins into Warp and taking advantage of the kind of collaborative feature set between devs and teams. I know that you can build workflows with this, so building a Speakeasy workflow would be pretty cool. Merging the browser and the terminal seems like a very interesting idea. I also want to give a shout out to Linear for making dev standups so much easier :) 

Describe your computer hardware setup

I am a Mac user, but I have not moved to M1 yet. Until recently, I was the only one in our team who could do infrastructure work because there were modules that you had to compile yourself if you’re on M1! 

Describe your computer software setup

OS: macOS.

Browser: Chrome.

Email: Gmail.

Chat: Slack.

IDE: IntelliJ with GitHub Copilot.

Source control: Git & GitHub.

Describe your desk setup

I used to have a lot of fancy stuff, but with the more fragmented day and lifestyle I’m kind of moving around a lot now. So I just use this laptop. 

The desk of Sagar Batchu, Speakeasy

When coding

Daytime or nighttime? Daytime.

Tea or coffee? Coffee.

Silence or music? Silence.

What non-tech activities do you like to do?

I could say a lot of typical Bay Area things like hiking, but honestly, the thing that I’ve been doing a lot of recently is playing pickleball. It has taken over the U.S. So if you haven’t played pickleball, try it out. It’s a great sport somewhere halfway between tennis and table tennis.

Find out more

Speakeasy is a developer experience portal for APIs. It was featured as an “interesting tool” in the Console newsletter on 3 Nov 2022. This interview was conducted on 22 Sep 2022.