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DevOps / Platform Engineering

The Hype Train Is Over. Platform Engineering Is Here to Stay

A new report looks at how much platform engineers get paid, who’s following best practices and why it’s time to think about AI in platform engineering.
Dec 4th, 2023 10:07am by
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It’s official. The hype is over, platform engineering is the new normal. How do we know this?

Well, it’s been a while since the Humanitec State of Platform Engineering Report, Volume 1 came out. A whole year in fact. Which can mean only one thing…

Together with the platform engineering community, we’re stoked to welcome the arrival of the new State of Platform Engineering Report, Volume 2. Excited? You should be. Not only does the paper reveal the latest community insights like how much platform engineers get paid, it tackles pertinent topics like to what extent organizations are following platform engineering best practices and why you need a reference architecture.

The report also dives into key questions and bigger-picture thinking, such as why now is the time to start thinking about the future of AI in platform engineering. All of this supports the notion that platform engineering is well and truly here to stay.

Ready to find out how? Let’s get into it.

The Scoop Since Vol. 1

In the last 12 months, platform engineering has seen phenomenal growth. A year from the first PlatformCon 2022, which hosted more than 6,000 attendees, PlatformCon 2023 welcomed more than 22,000 attendees, was backed by 27 sponsors and hosted 169 talks across five new talk tracks. Today the Platform Engineering YouTube channel has nearly 16,000 subscribers with similar numbers on the Slack channel.

This unprecedented growth is accompanied by ever-increasing industry recognition. In August, platform engineering entered the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” on the new Gartner Software Engineering Hype Cycle. This means it’s seen as an innovation that shows an increase in product usage, but there’s still more hype than proof that it can deliver value.

From a tooling perspective, Thoughtworks Technology Radar, Volume 29 recently recognized platform orchestration as a technique and a new generation of tools that surpass the traditional Platform as a Service (PaaS) model. According to Thoughtworks, tools like the Humanitec Platform Orchestrator enforce organizational standards while granting developers self-service access to variations through configuration.

This is just the start when it comes to platform engineering growth. There’s also been an increase in platform engineering community-driven workshops, meetups and events. And we’re delighted to see more internal developer platforms (IDPs) being used to help businesses speed up innovation cycles and smash key business metrics like time to market.

A Look into the Platform Engineering World

The first version of the Platform Maturity Model Syntasso drafted in April 2023 inspired the platform engineering community to further understand how much organizations follow platform engineering best practices. So the Platform Engineering 2023 survey was created by and for the community, gathering responses from 296 people. The results showed that many organizations still struggle to use platform engineering best practices.

For example, the majority (64%) of respondents have no change management processes in place. Only 38.1% have a funded platform team with a clear responsibility delineation between themselves and development organizations. And just under a third (32.3%) of respondents follow a Platform as a Product approach.

 

While it’s important to show where and how engineering organizations need to improve, as platform engineering grows, it’s just as important that we understand what the actual platform engineer role looks like. To find out, the platform engineering community again turned to the community.

The Platform Engineering 2023 survey was rolled out, primarily in the United States and Europe to gather the largest amount of data possible. The report gave us valuable insights into how much platform engineers earn, what their working lives look like and who actually is a platform engineer.

The Platform Engineer and DevOps Salary Gap

One key finding from the survey is that platform engineers in the United States make on average 42.5% ($65,439) more than DevOps engineers. In Europe, the wage gap is smaller but still prevalent, with platform engineers paid on average 18.64% ($15,871) more than their DevOps colleagues. This difference may reflect the wider or more specialized skill set that’s needed to be a platform engineer.

Note: Data aggregated is based on the description of what respondents “work on.” Platform engineering was an aggregate of platform engineering and developer experience. DevOps was aggregated from infrastructure, DevOps setup and Ops.

Reference Architectures: Bringing You Closer to Your IDP

As well as revealing what the role of a platform engineer looks like, the report tackles one of the biggest most time-consuming challenges facing teams today. When designing an IDP, how do you choose from the multitude of tools available? And how do you glue them together in a meaningful way that ensures they’re tailored to fit your organization’s needs?

While IDP implementations vary, common patterns do exist. Inspired by McKinsey’s PlatformCon 2023 talk, my team at Humanitec created IDP reference architectures for AWS, Azure and GCP-based setups, which condensed patterns drawn from hundreds of real-world setups. Most recently the implementation codes for the reference architectures (Amazon Web Services (AWS) and GCP setups) have been open sourced, enabling teams to fast-track the IDP design process and easily build a minimum viable product (MVP) within less than an hour rather than in months. In addition, new learning paths have been developed to help organizations master their IDP:

Why the Need to Consider AI Now?

So, what lies ahead for platform engineering? According to the report, we should be looking at how large language models (LLMs) are enabling platform teams to build more effective IDPs. The LLM use cases are already evident, showing how organizations can automate repetitive tasks in a standardized way. That’s why now is the time to start thinking about what AI and LLMs mean to you. How useful would this technology be to you? How would it affect your role? Although the technology still has some way to go, is there a chance that at some point an LLM could take over your job completely? Maybe there’ll always be a need for the human touch. Either way, it’s something that needs your attention.

To get a head start, the report includes the table below, which illustrates some potential LLM platform engineering use cases. Which ones apply to you? Which would be easy to implement, and which difficult?

Some of these use cases are low-hanging fruit that can be easily deployed either independently or with a third party. At least 95% of the time they’re reliable within a matter of weeks. Other use cases are harder to implement, need specialist LLM skills and take longer to become reliable.

LLMs are set to change technology as we know it, with AI already appearing in every quadrant of every Gartner hype cycle diagram. The potential platform engineering impact is the topic of dozens of articles. But is it actively being used yet? Not according to the latest Platform Engineering 2023 survey, which reveals the AI hype has yet to be fully realized by platform engineers in their day-to-day work.

The Future Is Bright Future for Platform Engineering

It’s safe to say that platform engineering is past the hype-train stage. As a discipline, it looks set to stay, and exists to design and deliver effective enterprise-grade IDPs. The discipline promises to solve some of the biggest challenges today’s software engineering organizations face such as the complex cloud native landscape that blocks developer productivity and increases cognitive load. By ensuring standardization by design, enabling true developer self-service and killing ticket Ops, IDPs can transform software delivery. And through reports like the State of Platform Engineering, we can continue to offer guidance and valuable insights on key platform engineering topics. Find out more by downloading the full report here.

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