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Culture / Software Development

Platform Engineering Is DevOps Evolved, New Report Shows

Platform engineering is growing, but where is it going? Humanitec’s inaugural "State of Platform Engineering Report" explains.
Sep 26th, 2022 8:31am by
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Platform engineering is growing at light speed, but unlike with some tech trends, you don’t have to feel left in the dark. The Humanitec team recently published the first “State of Platform Engineering” report, and it’s packed full of intriguing findings for career-minded devs.

Where did platform engineering come from, why are devs using it to work more efficiently, and how will the tooling landscape of the future shape up? Stick around for our top findings or skip straight to the end to get the white paper for yourself.

Platform Engineering Is Trending

Remember that time a new student transferred to your school and wowed everyone by outperforming everyone else in the class? Platform engineering is rather like that cool new kid.

We took a deep dive into the history and found that platform engineering’s growth is impossible to dispute. Although most people had never heard of the field a few years ago, the last two years have seen the birth of 19 international meetup groups, some with members numbering in the thousands. Even during a pandemic, PlatformCon, the world’s first platform engineering conference, had more than 6,000 attendees.

Looking back a few years showed that this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon: We saw early glimmerings of the idea around 2017 in Thoughtworks Tech Radar, and the concept got a boost thanks to the 2019 publication of a book called “Team Topologies” by Manuel Pais and Matthew Skelton.

This book’s release introduced many engineers, site reliability engineers and systems administrators to a fundamental concept that would prove revolutionary. It promoted the idea that companies could dramatically enhance software delivery practices and overcome the many limitations of DevOps by forming dedicated platform teams to build their internal developer platforms (IDPs).

Our research and the overwhelming interest in PlatformCon revealed that companies, engineers, and thought leaders are all firmly on board. What’s more, platform engineering goes beyond simple hype: There’s ample proof of its value in action.

Platform Engineering Works

Platform engineering’s growing adoption isn’t just some flight of fancy. From powering Nike and Starbucks projects that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise to serving as the foundation of GitHub’s now-legendary infrastructure growth, IDPs are behind some truly inspiring tales of how to thrive at scale.

Platform engineers from around the world furnished our researchers with plenty of great examples. Here are a few of the things smart platform engineering can accomplish:

Reducing Cognitive Load

One of the biggest pain points of failed DevOps adoption involves the unavoidable mental burdens it imposes: Devs are expected to master everything from Kubernetes and Infrastructure as Code to run services on their own.

Although IT is all about using technology to work smarter, suboptimal software delivery strategies force devs to move mountains just to accomplish simple tasks, like having to make multiple edits across dozens of repos to update configs. This results in cognitive load that can become unbearable — or at least sufficiently distracting to hinder productivity.

One of the most exciting things we discovered about the platform engineering trend is that organizations are using IDPs to free devs from the cognitive load. Instead of editing legions of confusing YAML files to make updates, engineers can use the convenient workflows their platforms provide to experiment, test and promote changes with ease.

Promoting Self-Service to Eradicate Shadow Ops

DevOps workflows often fail to maintain a clear delineation of roles. In their quest to accomplish anything and everything, companies commonly adopt an unproductive attitude of “just let the devs handle it” — regardless of whether “it” includes tasks devs really shouldn’t have to focus on.

These blurred lines mean today’s devs must be ready to do it all. From handling support tickets to needing to eat, breathe and sleep Kubernetes just to tackle daily tasks, they’ve become “shadow” ops team members. We’ve all seen the primary symptom of this unhealthy situation: Experienced backend developers constantly being asked to handle infrastructure work for their less-experienced colleagues — and rarely finding time to code for all their other responsibilities!

Platform engineers told us that good IDPs resolve this by promoting user self-service: They standardize common tasks by providing easiest-path workflows that let stakeholders achieve great things without constantly pestering devs to keep the gears turning. By allowing people and teams to work more autonomously, IDPs enforce highly efficient work practices daily.

Avoiding Reinventing the Wheel

Many organizations build IDPs specifically to keep their developers from having to reinvent the wheel. Because platforms cover the operational necessities of an entire application’s life cycle, devs can concentrate on creating services and apps by building on common cycles, not merely tweaking the systems that deliver them.

We found it’s equally vital for platform engineers not to fall into the trap of reinventing the wheel themselves. Instead of creating their platforms totally from scratch, effective teams use existing open source tools and commercial frameworks, tailoring these generic off-the-shelf solutions until they fit the bill. In other words, you’ll get further by devoting the bulk of your efforts to implementing last-mile solutions for your teams.

Platform Engineering Experts Promote a Product Mindset

Engineers who build successful platforms often think outside the box regarding how they approach their work. Instead of simply creating software to meet a specification, these platform engineers follow best practices from product management and handle their platform as a product, where internal users are the consumers whose needs inform how engineers create software.

This was a recurring theme at PlatformCon and among many of the engineers we polled. Instead of trying to anticipate what users want or jumping on the latest tech hype train, effective platform architects listen to their developers’ stated needs. This seemingly simple change of attitude results in streamlined internal systems that soothe pain points instead of adding friction or operating overhead.

Platform Engineering Powers Career Opportunities

Platform engineering wouldn’t be growing in adoption if it didn’t have something to offer organizations, but there’s also plenty of reason for individual DevOps, Ops, SysAdmin and SRE professionals to invest in exploring the career path.

Although some organizations regard platform teams as little more than the “glue” holding everything else together, this simplified view overlooks one vital fact: Such glue has tangible business value. It unblocks developers, reduces software delivery lead times and improves the developer experience.

Such benefits don’t just apply to individuals and teams: Platform engineering also makes organization-wide problems more solvable, and since it takes expertise to build an IDP, this may translate to more opportunities for senior engineers.

Nothing drives these points home like the compensation platform engineers command. Our team surveyed 134 engineers in North America and Europe, revealing a significant salary gap between people who reported working on internal developer platforms and their DevOps-only counterparts — one that ranged anywhere from 9.4% to 19.4% higher depending on location. In other words, organizations are putting their money where the value is, namely, into building high-expertise platform engineering teams.

Platform Engineering Is Yours to Define

When it comes to tooling, platform engineering is pretty open. Each platform needs to meet unique organizational requirements, making it only natural for them to be highly distinct.

Platform engineering roles are currently in a similar state: Our survey found that almost half of the respondents worked on platforms. Despite this, just under 23% held platform engineering titles — most were SREs, software architects or other kinds of engineers.

In other words, the platform engineering career path is new enough that people still haven’t quite pinned it down. This is a huge plus for those who want to define their own roles, forge new career paths and rethink their relationships with the broader corporate world. For instance, the platform builders we spoke to reported extremely high levels of remote work, suggesting lots of room for flexibility.

Get Better Informed About Platform Engineering

Platform engineering is a unique field: Few career paths offer the chance to revolutionize the day-to-day operations of engineering organizations. Even rarer are those that make your own life easier in the process!

More organizations are shifting to cloud-first business models to satisfy consumer demand and their success depends on their ability to foster productivity and enhance developer experiences. IDPs that let them hone their software delivery practices will prove essential allies in this fight, as will the engineers who build them.

What’s that we hear? Could it be the sound of you clicking your screen furiously in search of more? Not to worry: You can download the full “State of Platform Engineering” report here.

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