On platform engineering

This is my summary of The Future of Ops Jobs is Platform Engineering.

DevOps has succeeded in unifying developer and operations roles, but the problem remains: how can developers operate their code? Skills for operating an increasingly complex cloud infrastructure remain valuable, and the difficult infrastructure parts have been factored out as their own services (e.g. EKS versus bootstrapping your own Kubernetes cluster).

Platform engineering as vendor engineering

Vendor engineering refers to having the necessary experience with another vendor’s API. I encountered this term in The Future of Ops Jobs, which was one of the first attempts at describing this new role.

While most infrastructure tools are now companies of their own, teams are selecting these tools as part of their own platform’s toolchain. This involves making sense of multiple vendor APIs, and providing a path for the team to use daily. All this work is to focus the team’s attention on the product.

I noticed that realizing that this type of work is needed happens while building out a SaaS product. This type of work is necessary and, if not properly done, could distract the team from its mission.

Towards a self-service tier

All this tooling gives rise to the self-service tier, and the article describes what a self-service platform should have (e.g., deploy a service, instrument deployments, etc.). The goal would be for an engineer to quickly bring up a new service using the toolchain provided by the platform engineer. The toolchain serves as the “blessed stack” on what the team should use and is supported by the organization.

What happens to operations roles now?

This begs the question: are platform engineers just developers who happen to be assigned to build tools? Failure of platform engineering happens when the developer(s) assigned to do the work for this job have little experience in operating cloud software and, worse, have little empathy to make their teammates’ experience with the platform better.

The article compares a platform engineer’s job to a typical operations job. What caught my attention was the focus on running less software.

Job titles are lagging indicators

Similar to observability, I think we’ll see “platform engineer” job posts within a year or two.

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