Today we had a chat with Bob Vandersmissen to get some insights in his professional career as integration developer. He will explain his first footsteps and the encountered challenges in the use and integration of APIs. After talking about the trends in the world of APIs and system integration he explains how he will support the core team of the API Community Belgium.
Can you explain in some words who you are?
“So, my name is Bob Vandersmissen, 28 years old, living in Hasselt. In my spare time I enjoy going on an adventurous trip with my girlfriend, cycling through the Belgian roads or having a drink with friends.
After my studies in Business Economics I started my professional career at Deloitte Belgium as a SAP GTS (which is a specific SAP module for customs, compliance and risk management) Functional Consultant to automate processes in the area of customs and compliance management. Currently I work as a business integration developer at e-llis Logistic Solutions with a focus on data & system integration together with the continuous development of an in-house built and hosted control tower logistics platform.”
How did you get in touch with integration/APIs?
“In my first job I integrated SAP GTS with a feeder ERP system (often SAP), but also connected to third parties like e.g. customs authorities. ERP systems have formed a strong backbone to manage global supply chains and to process large amounts of data but you still need to stick most of the times to a certain software stack. In my current job the integration landscape is much broader, since we make use of integration software to be able to connect with multiple external partners/clients in a flexible way.”
The “Swaggers” of this world are then of great value to support us in standardization.
What were the challenges in your first year as an integration developer?
“Middleware solutions can handle a multitude of document types, software languages, sources, input, output… Since I am coming from a rather limited technical background, besides some ABAP (SAP ERP) from a first working experience, this was the first time that I encountered a broader technical landscape. Each software language has its own rules to communicate and as with learning any new language, in the beginning you make a lot of mistakes. Luckily today the internet helps us a lot, from blogs to chat with other developers through websites with built in tools to debug.
From every corner in the world, people developed many great things which made it possible that tools/applications are working in kind of building blocks where each group of developers can specialize their specific knowledge into applications. Standardization is a concept which of course constantly lives through the development of software and also for APIs it’s the case. While it could be that I am integrating the same process flows for more or less the same product with an external partner, each external partner often has its own way of documenting API’s. The “Swaggers” of this world are then of great value to support us in standardization.”
What kind of APIs are you working with in your current job?
“That mostly depends on the partner we are integrating with. We see that a significant amount of APIs nowadays are built on the REST protocol using industry standards like HTTPS, URL, JSON, XML which is the most flexible. In some cases we also integrate with the SOAP protocol, when REST API’s are not available. To give an example, we recently did a pilot project in the e-commerce market for a global footwear brand where our shipping and tracking platform manages our client’s web shop orders to deliver parcels across the whole Europe at the end consumer’s doorstep. We developed a rule engine to be able to give instructions to multiple warehouses and multiple parcel couriers to perform the shipping process. In this way it is only a matter of hours between an order being placed on a web shop and the actual pick-up by a courier. Furthermore, we can track all these parcels real-time through their shipping journey. APIs then play an important role in making the logistics supply chain more efficient but also in extending the choice of the end consumer as we can integrate a multitude of external parties in a flexible and fast way.”
What kind of integration tooling do you use in your current job?
“We use Lobster_data (https://www.lobster-world.com/en/) software to integrate with IT systems. A very powerful web tool/platform to perform data conversion, data mapping, data manipulation and of course data transport. A user-friendly low/no-code platform where you don’t need to have deep coding skills, but rather affinity with technology and processes in general. Instead of programming and scripting, Lobster built a graphical interface to configure your settings via parameters and drag & drop mapping. When more complex business logic would need to be integrated, there are still “MS Excel-style”-functions to support manipulation. Next to that, all industry standards (EDIFACT, SAP IDOC, XML, JSON, etc.) are available and even recognized when uploading template files.”
The newer the information, the higher the value of the information.
Which upcoming trends do you see linked to APIs and IT integrations
“I strongly believe public awareness of APIs will further grow significantly. The global shift in remote work and online shopping has supported this trend as APIs can be integrated in quite a fast pace, but even more important is that the data they transmit is realtime. The newer the information, the higher the value of the information.
Linked to the online shopping trend is the need for continuous security and governance in APIs. In the last years quite some large organisations came into bad publicity by tracking people or sharing private data. Companies must take their responsibility in the use of data of others and make sure that their APIs are secured keeping hackers outside.
In regard to IT integrations I am convinced that low-code or even no-code platforms will increase in importance. These types of platforms give organisations more flexibility to develop and manage their APIs applying a wider scope of technical skill sets. The trend of process digitization and information sharing in combination with the scarcity of deep technical skills on the resource market can partly be resolved that way.”
How did you come into contact with the Belgian API Community ?
“I had a rather limited knowledge of what APIs were or what they were capable of in the beginning of my career as an integration developer. Nevertheless, I quickly realized that they were powerful, and already used in quite a lot of websites, applications or other tools we daily use. I gained interest in “APIs”, the big black box for me which made it possible to integrate interfaces and applications to smartly communicate with each other without the need of duplicating data in multiple places. My quest started by reading some books and following some introduction courses on online learning platforms. Then the Google Search engine brought me through the API Community Belgium after – I believe – keying in “API” and “Belgium”. After watching some of the recorded sessions I came into contact with Wout to ask him if he could recommend me some online learnings, articles or other interesting tools. As I found the API Community Belgium very valuable and promising, I showed my interest to support the core team in the next steps of their journey and well yeah.. here we are 😉.”
How will you support the core team?
“I will support by giving shape to the content strategy of the website (and managing it) and other online channels. Throughout the year we will do our best to bring variety in the content we bring and to provide a central online place where members will be able to see an overview of all the past and upcoming events.”
What do you value about API Community Belgium?
“Firstly, as stated in the name itself, it’s a community of people from a certain area or field. The exponential growth of members speaks for its own that there is a real need for a place (now online, but hopefully soon physically) where API enthusiasts can come together and share with each other their experiences with this technology.
Secondly, they support you to broaden your knowledge, whether it is coming from software developers sharing new tools or concepts to implementation experts sharing how and why they have built a system architecture in a certain way. It gives my insights to start thinking how I could bring other community members’ wins into my next development challenges.
Lastly their position of being “independent” makes it possible that a wide range of topics can be handled. Together with the growing community, the offering of topics will grow together.”
We thank Bob for this interview and look forward to work together with him on the API Community Belgium!
Are you also interested to join the API Community Belgium Team to build on our knowledge platform? Have a look at below vacancy and see if a role in our team triggers your motivation. Send in your motivation and/or CV to firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn: