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How Platform Engineering Works ~

How Platform Engineering Works ~

2023-06-24 23:50:20

In April 2023, I gave my first ever public convention discuss at DevOps Days in
Birmingham, Alabama
. I shared the teachings I’ve discovered in my first
12 months at Sotheby’s about methods to make Platform Engineering work. It was an honor
to be chosen as one of many few audio system on the occasion. What follows is the
content material I used for the discuss, together with the slides I used to current.

Here is a recording of the discuss, due to the DevOps Days Birmingham organizers!

Hello! I am Chad. I work at Sotheby’s as a Employees Infrastructure Engineer on our
Platform Engineering group, recognized internally because the ThunderCats.

Sotheby’s is primarily an Public sale home for luxurious items like artwork, jewellery,
attire, and vehicles. We’ve got about 2,000 staff worldwide and did about 8
billion in gross sales in 2022. We’ve got about 70 engineers inside workstreams
supporting our cell app, public sale experiences, monetary providers, and inside
enterprise instruments. There are 4 of us in Platform Engineering.

I have been at Sotheby’s for a few 12 months and a half now, and I would prefer to share
with you what I’ve discovered about how Platform Engineering works.

Title slide

As a former Product Engineer, being a Platform Engineer at Sotheby’s this previous
12 months has been an enormous alternative for me to study and stretch my expertise. The
insights I’ve gained are forming the muse upon which we’re constructing our
platform and our engineering group as an entire. I am excited to share with
you what I’ve discovered… about what defines the core of Platform Engineering and
how I’ve discovered to use these ideas in my day-to-day work.

Slide depicting me talking to my boss

Upon turning into a Platform Engineer, I requested my boss “What does Platform
Engineering imply to you?” He succinctly responded “Velocity and Stability”. This
made sense to me. “Certain, I get it” I believed. However as I went about my work, I
revisited this description time and again, and located there to be loads of depth
to those phrases.

So now a 12 months later, as I take into consideration what Platform Engineering means to me,
that is what I consider.

Platform Engineering is the appliance of a Product Mindset to supporting
your engineering group’s software program supply velocity and system

Not as catchy, however I feel bringing a Product Mindset into the definition is a
crucial facet to doing our jobs properly. So let’s dive in and discuss some about
these three fundamental qualities: velocity, stability, and a product

Velocity and Stability describe the core outcomes a Platform Engineering group is
driving at.

Slide summarizing velocity and stability

Velocity represents how briskly we will present an answer to satisfy a buyer’s
wants, from thought to supply.

Many elements of the Software program Improvement Lifecycle will be modified to enhance
supply velocity, reminiscent of venture administration or agile practices, the native
improvement surroundings, know-how decisions, overview processes, the deployment
pipeline, and extra. Many sub-disciplines of Platform Engineering exist that take
bettering supply velocity as their main objective, reminiscent of “Construct Engineering”,
“DevOps”, “Developer Expertise”, and “Developer Productiveness” groups.

System stability, alternatively, represents the work required to supply a
constant expertise to your organization’s clients.

Whereas principally affected by operational practices, stability can be affected by
cultural norms reminiscent of incident response processes and studying from incidents
by means of autopsy retrospectives. A standard sub-discipline of Platform
Engineering that focuses on Stability is “Infrastructure Engineering”.
Safety practices generally discovered as parts of “DevSecOps” additionally assist
System Stability beneath the Platform Engineering banner, and SRE, whereas not
essentially a sub-discipline, is strongly aligned.

It’s possible you’ll acknowledge the metrics referred to right here because the DORA “4 key

The DORA State of DevOps Report has confirmed 12 months after 12 months that sustaining each
velocity and stability is vital to sustaining a high-performing software program supply
group. That is WHY it’s so necessary to have a Platform Engineering
self-discipline in your group. Consideration to sustaining these traits
can slip as groups concentrate on delivering the corporate’s core worth. Having a
Platform Engineering group helps our group’s skill to concentrate on
delivering its worth, whereas enabling a constantly bettering supply velocity
and system stability for all groups.

However Platform Engineers have many challenges to beat to achieve success. They
are doing primarily internal-facing work, have fewer engineers to work with, and
usually lack a lot of the administration assist different group archetypes obtain reminiscent of
product and venture administration. Platform Engineering can be sometimes an
“engineering-led” self-discipline, and engineers are infamous for overbuilding,
under-designing, “chasing the brand new and glossy tech”, and falling into different
pitfalls ensuing from an absence of buyer focus.

To ensure that engineers to guide Platform Engineering efforts efficiently, we
must study to put on many hats. However above all, we should be hyper-focused on our
clients, pragmatic about what we will obtain, strategy our enhancements
iteratively, and set our objectives on outcomes, not outputs. Briefly, we should undertake
a Product Mindset.

Adopting a Product Mindset is how Platform Engineering works.

Founder engineers know this all too properly – constructing a product as an engineer
requires not solely having an excellent technical thought and the ability to ship it, however
additionally Product-Market match, which requires buyer suggestions, advertising and marketing and
assist. Founder engineers hardly ever have the posh of with the ability to depend on
others to do these items for them, and Platform Engineers usually discover themselves
on this identical boat.

A lot of the thrill round Platform Engineering suggests we consider “Platform as a
Product”, as if we’re constructing what quantities to an inside SaaS product like
Heroku. Whereas this can be what some organizations’ platforms seem like, the
deeper that means right here is that we take into consideration our Platform by means of the lens of a
Product Supervisor. This implies we have to decelerate and assume holistically
about methods to ship worth to our clients – the software program engineers inside the
group, however extra broadly, all our colleagues and the purchasers our firm
is striving to serve. This ends in higher outcomes as a result of it retains the main focus
on fixing the issues your group is experiencing proper now.

My group has been dwelling with this constitution of bettering velocity and stability
together with the understanding that we should undertake a product mindset to be
profitable, and I need to share how now we have been making use of these ideas to
our work. My hope is that our classes discovered can add some colour to the idea
and supply a peek backstage of what Platform Engineering seems to be like

Lesson 1 Title Slide

A very powerful lesson I’ve discovered this previous 12 months is the significance of
setting objectives on outcomes, not outputs.

Outcomes over output” is a typical saying we have discovered from the lean
product administration world that helps us set significant objectives. We positively want
outputs to realize our outcomes, however that is meant to remind us to keep away from setting
objectives in opposition to actions; in any other case, we might find yourself in a form of “productiveness
theater”, the place there may be loads of work getting executed with out significant outcomes.
We have to be sure that no matter outputs we’re creating are attaining our
desired outcomes, and if not, be keen to reassess and experiment with
solely completely different approaches.

At Sotheby’s, our Platform Engineering group integrates this outcome-based objective
setting into our yearly OKR course of, our quarterly planning, and our story
kickoff conferences.

Yearly OKRs Slide

For our OKR course of, we get collectively in individual, sometimes in Iceland, the place two
of our group members are based mostly. Throughout this week, we spend time revisiting our
group constitution, reflecting on our final 12 months’s work, and constructing a imaginative and prescient for what
outcomes we need to accomplish as a group and the way we need to see the engineering
group progress.

As a result of our objectives are outcome-oriented, it provides us the liberty to be inventive
in how we obtain them. Constructing them as a group attracts concepts from everybody and
aligns us round our chosen path ahead. This engagement ends in happier
engineers which in flip drives higher outcomes.

Quarterly Planning Slide

Our quarterly planning follows an analogous course of, however with extra granularity. A
quarter retrospective results in collaborative brainstorming classes, which leads
to a last prioritization train so as to add tasks to our roadmap. Throughout our
collaboration classes, we study suggestions we have obtained all through the
quarter, talk about patterns we have been seeing, and dig into promising concepts. These
classes end in deliberate initiatives for the approaching quarter.

Story Kickoff Slide

Lastly, our story kickoff is a gathering now we have originally of every main
venture. We make clear what end result we’re hoping to realize by finishing the work,
what’s in scope and out of scope, and who’s taking part within the venture.
Lastly, we nominate a frontrunner for the story that acts as a “supply lead”,
conserving everybody on monitor and transferring in the direction of the objective. With this assembly on the
starting of every venture, we ensure that everybody engaged on the venture is
aligned across the work and the end result we’re driving in the direction of earlier than digging

These 3 core iterative processes assist us to self-organize round our objectives. They
maintain our work centered on our desired outcomes whereas constantly inspecting and
adapting all year long to make sure we’re making progress and our objectives are
nonetheless related.

This outcome-based objective setting drives the significance of the following lesson I need
to share with you, which is really figuring out your buyer.

Lesson 2 Title Slide

Despite the fact that we’re engineers with engineers as our clients, this doesn’t suggest
we will assume we all know what issues matter most to them. As Platform Engineers,
we’re sometimes not doing the identical class of labor as different engineers, so it is
very seemingly their challenges look completely different from ours. To remain linked to
their actual wants, we have to acknowledge this hole and work to bridge it.

At Sotheby’s we’re utilizing three fundamental methods for conserving a finger on their
pulse – offering engineers direct assist, collaborating intently with them
by means of short-term consulting engagements, and working a biannual survey.

Slack Support Slide

Platform Engineers are sometimes a number of the extra senior engineers within the
group, particularly at smaller locations like ours. This implies our assistance is
usually sought out, significantly in our areas of experience like infrastructure,
cloud, databases, and for tooling we assist reminiscent of GitHub Actions, Terraform,
and Kubernetes. To assist these wants, we host a shared Slack channel. For every
request, we assure a response inside 1 enterprise day however sometimes reply
a lot sooner. This direct, low friction, and SLA-based strategy to assist provides
our engineers the assistance they want in a well timed method to maintain them from being
blocked. Being a public channel, engineers can even assist one another in the event that they see
somebody ask a query they know the reply to.

This is a vital approach we study in regards to the sources of friction of their every day
work, which feeds again into our prioritization and planning. However offering
asynchronous assist like this solely will get us up to now.

Consulting Collaboration Slide

Generally a white-glove strategy is a greater match for supporting engineers in
attaining our organizational objectives.

For instance, we just lately “embedded” 4 engineers on 2 completely different groups for a month
to assist them in constructing out Service Degree Aims. By energetic pair-
and mob-programming classes, we had been capable of discover implementation methods
collectively, which shared our psychological mannequin of SLOs. We additionally straight helped them to
implement SLIs, datadog dashboards, and even new Platform providers to assist
ingesting SLI telemetry from our frontend functions. This collaborative approach
of working strengthened relationships between our groups, constructing belief and
mutual understanding.

It additionally gave the Platform group a better have a look at life as a product engineer and
respect for the challenges they’re going through. We found they had been having
points debugging their functions and leaping to implementations of framework
code of their IDEs, which was hampering their day-to-day productiveness. We additionally
discovered testing out gRPC endpoints was irritating to them. These discoveries have
since fed again into our deliberate work, the place now we have enabled gRPC reflection on
all providers, and might be spending time writing IDE setup guides to make clear
configuration of a productive construct/debug/take a look at movement.

With each low-touch and high-touch supporting actions, it provides us an
alternative to see first-hand what sorts of options are wanted to enhance the
velocity of our engineering groups. However there may be nonetheless a niche in our understanding
of their wants – what in regards to the individuals that aren’t actively asking for assist,
however nonetheless have suggestions or unmet wants?

Survey Slide

That is the place it may be actually useful to run an engineering-wide survey.

We ran our first engineering survey this spring to get an unbiased understanding
of the state of assorted high-level elements of our engineering tradition. We
determined to make use of Qualtrics for this as a light-weight option to get beginning with
surveying. Google or Microsoft Types can even work. The laborious half about working
surveys is primarily figuring out what inquiries to ask, however a mix of the
SPACE framework, the DORA capabilities model, and a learn by means of the
books Accelerate by Nicole Forsgren et al. and Drive by Dan Pink
can go an extended option to informing what a high-performing engineering tradition seems to be
like. It may well nonetheless be actually useful to get assist from a UX researcher for
this, even when solely to make sure your strategy to surveying is statistically sound.
If you’re in search of a turnkey resolution to surveying and have some price range for
it, I discovered by means of my analysis that DX @ is a strong selection.

Previous to this survey, we felt we might have been over-prioritizing points from a
vocal minority, whereas different extra urgent points had been silently hampering
productiveness. Our first set of survey outcomes helped us to really feel assured that
our roadmap is aligned with essentially the most urgent points. We’ve got since prioritized
decreasing the quantity of toil round managing infrastructure, which was a high
difficulty highlighted by the survey.

So by means of surveying, white-glove consulting, and collaborating with engineers
day-to-day in Slack, we will piece collectively a comparatively complete image of
the place we ought to be making use of our effort. However issues do not all the time come paired
with options. The issues that almost all want fixing are sometimes those with out
an apparent resolution. That is why, along with understanding what issues we
ought to resolve, one other necessary element of Platform Engineering is inventing
on behalf of our engineering group.

Lesson 3 Title Slide

By inventing, I do not imply inventing one thing globally new, however one thing new
to the group. As a result of we will dedicate time, vitality and assets to
fixing these cross-cutting considerations, we will convey nice options that serve
and delight our engineers. You might name this the enjoyable a part of Platform
Engineering! Certainly, that is the place you will apply your creativity and technical
chops to create actual worth in your group. Some methods we will do that are
by introducing known-good practices from the broader tech neighborhood, bringing new
concepts to current options for higher outcomes, and experimenting with
promising next-generation know-how.

Introducing Known-Good Practices Slide

See Also

When introducing known-good practices into your group, it helps to have a
broad understanding of the sorts of issues organizations face in addition to a
strong understanding of the answer area to sample match in opposition to. Nothing is a
substitute for expertise with good practices, however some nice option to convey extra
onto your radar is to learn books, hearken to podcasts, and discover the options
provided by your cloud vendor of selection. I’ve written in depth about methods
for staying in touch with the tech community if you happen to’re thinking about
studying extra.

At Sotheby’s, we acknowledged a lack of understanding sharing between senior engineers
throughout groups, and a powerful curiosity for it. We determined to introduce a
discretionary “Request for Feedback (RFC)” course of. My group started sharing our
massive concepts as RFCs to each socialize them and solicit suggestions. We additionally created
an RFC template and a few light-weight documentation that engineers may lean on
in the event that they wished some assist onboarding into the method. Lastly, we created a
Slack channel to socialize and talk about the proposals. We did not invent the
idea of RFCs nor did we even invent the particular RFC template we determined to
use, however as an alternative used one which had labored for me previously at a earlier
group. This in flip was drawn from the wonderful work of Phil Calcado and
his expertise working at Meetup that he shared on his blog. Good concepts
can, and may, unfold.

Bear in mind although that it doesn’t matter what thought it’s you need to introduce from
exterior your org as an innovation, you will need to tread evenly – watch out
about introducing an excessive amount of without delay and ensure you are addressing issues
that exist at this time – in any other case, your modifications could also be seen as cargo-culting and should
not be taken severely or adopted. In my case, I made a decision to introduce the RFC
course of as opt-in, to check the concept out and see if it caught on naturally. If
as an alternative I had tried to mandate it indirectly, the initiative might have failed
from the beginning or broken my goodwill with engineers. As an alternative, it’s slowly
gaining traction as engineers start see they’re making higher choices with
the assistance of this instrument.

In order you are fixing the issues of your engineers, search for gaps in course of or
tooling that you’re conscious of an current, recognized good resolution for, and
introduce them! However the majority of your time might be spent iterating on
current options.

Iterating on Existing Solutions Slide

Iterating is on the coronary heart of a Product Mindset as a result of it strikes us away from the
“one and executed” venture mindset of the previous. As they are saying:

Software program is rarely executed, solely deserted

My group has iterated on a number of of our choices over the previous 12 months – some much less
thrilling work reminiscent of conserving Third-party software program up-to-date, however one venture, in
specific, stands out: our migration from Jenkins to GitHub Actions. In early
2022, we added Service Degree Aims to our CI/CD system. One in all these was an
goal to have fewer than 50 fundamental department construct failures every month, which we
discovered we had been lacking greater than we preferred. In response to this, we determined to
migrate away from Jenkins and the Kubernetes plugin we had been utilizing for our
builds, and begin utilizing GitHub Actions as an alternative. This not solely addressed our
flaky builds but in addition removes the burden of managing Jenkins, supplies a greater
UX for engineers for debugging their builds, and makes the construct course of simpler
to grasp and customise. Our first iteration of this migration was to open
up GitHub Actions use for what we name “Standalone” builds, that are builds
exterior our fundamental Bazel construct system. This smaller, “vertical slice” of GitHub
Actions assist gave us expertise integrating with it and in addition allow us to take a look at out
how our engineers would reply to it. The suggestions we obtained has been
overwhelmingly optimistic, so this coming fall we plan to complete our migration by
transferring our Bazel builds over and turning down our Jenkins setup.

In fact, we can’t all the time have prior expertise to tug from, nor an current
resolution to iterate on. Or possibly you’re feeling such as you’re hitting a neighborhood most in
your current resolution, and have to make a leap to a completely new resolution to
the identical drawback. On this case we have to experiment.

Experiment Slide

It’s wholesome to think about any new change as an experiment. The riskier the
change, the extra experimentation eases tensions and encourages motion. At
Sotheby’s, this 12 months we plan to experiment with a brand new methodology of provisioning
infrastructure that I’ve been calling “Manifest Infrastructure”. This includes
utilizing Kubernetes Operators such because the open-source AWS Controllers for
Kubernetes (ACK) or Crossplane to outline the Infrastructure as Kubernetes
manifests and have the infrastructure itself be managed by the operator. We’re
enthusiastic about this resolution as a result of it should present the chance to construct
higher-level abstractions for engineers to work together with, leaving the plumbing
an implementation element. Whitney and Mauricio’s keynote from KubeCon Detroit
illustrates this properly. We plan to do that on a subset of our
functions, then deploy it extra broadly if issues go properly.

Experimentation is a key instrument in your toolbelt as a Platform Engineer, each for
your personal work and to empower your engineers. Think about how one can allow issues
like blue/inexperienced or canary rollouts, function flagging, “two-way door” choices,
and incremental supply. Your group and your engineers will thanks for the
psychological security, studying, supply velocity, and system reliability that

So by making use of these core ideas we’re ensuring we’re driving our work
in the direction of particular outcomes, we’re informing our work with the voice of our
engineers, and we’re bringing new concepts to bear to unravel for our group’s
wants. The ultimate key element to being an efficient Platform Engineer is to
be certain that we proceed to have bandwidth by scaling our impression.

Lesson 4 Title Slide

The facility of software program engineering is the power to “automate away” our
issues. Conventional IT Operators weren’t skilled in software program engineering, however
Platform Engineers are, so there may be an expectation that this new self-discipline will
scale sub-linearly with the scale of the engineering group. However we
should not be “constructing all of the issues” simply because we will. For this mannequin to
work, Platform Engineers must internalize that we ought to be biased in the direction of
“doing issues that scale”.

We are able to once more apply our product mindset to this by being pragmatic about what we
construct vs. purchase and guarding our time, so we will concentrate on what issues.

Build vs Buy Slide

Whereas working to unravel issues inside our constitution, we need to attempt to construct as
little software program as potential, leaning on established merchandise and open-source
options when obtainable and possible. Constructing and sustaining software program is
labor-intensive, so we need to reserve this for less than these issues the place the
profit will far outstrip the fee and the place no various exists. It may well really feel
painful to just accept an answer that is solely ~80% of our imaginative and prescient of how we might want
to unravel an issue, however doing so can usually be “adequate” for now and free us
as much as resolve different issues. One significantly related instance of this was our
option to undertake OpsLevel over a extra customized instrument reminiscent of Backstage. Our enterprise
objectives for adopting such a instrument had been to construct out a service catalog to supply a
broader understanding of the techniques in our group and the way they match
collectively. Whereas not almost as customizable as constructing a developer portal utilizing
the Backstage framework, adopting this instrument solved for our main enterprise
wants. And OpsLevel is consistently working to enhance it and add options – work
that our Platform Engineering group does not must do. Our group has
taken this identical strategy elsewhere by adopting a mixture of SaaS Merchandise (reminiscent of
Datadog, Algolia, and Auth0) and open-source instruments (reminiscent of Linkerd, Jaeger, and
Spinnaker) to supply sturdy options to widespread wants. We nonetheless construct software program,
however it’s sometimes for stitching providers collectively for an built-in, polished
really feel, reminiscent of Slack bots, CI/CD customizations, and abstractions to create a
nice developer expertise.

Understanding when it is sensible to construct vs. purchase is difficult to me, particularly
making the enterprise case for getting an answer when it makes essentially the most sense. The
greater the platform group or group, the extra bandwidth there might be for customized
improvement work, however it will all the time be a crucial ability for a Platform
Engineer to develop.

Avoid Interrupt Overload Slide

One other necessary approach we scale our impression is by defending our time, so we will
get deliberate work executed. We forestall our shared assist channel from distracting us
an excessive amount of by having solely a subset of our group responding to questions every week.
There might be days once we are “hearth preventing”, however now we have to be aware when
this occurs and prioritize addressing any recurring points. We additionally continually
work to make clear and talk our group constitution so individuals know which
conversations to convey us into – in any other case, our time will get drained by conferences
and “aspect quests” that we contribute little to, leaving us little room to
ship on our broader initiatives.

Making sensible construct vs. purchase choices and defending our time are solely two of many
potential methods you’ll be able to make sure you scale your impression. If you end up down in
the weeds on some super-gnarly drawback, it could be completely okay! Your work might
unlock large worth for the enterprise and be completely well worth the effort. However do not
overlook to come back up for air typically to sanity examine what’s taking place together with your
group, so you’ll be able to resolve how greatest to proceed, collectively.

Summary Slide

I really feel assured you should have a strong basis upon which to construct an
efficient Platform Engineering group if you happen to observe these 4 ideas:

  1. Set objectives on outcomes, not outputs
  2. Actually know your buyer
  3. Invent on behalf of your buyer
  4. Scale your impression

Utilizing these, Platform Engineering actually works. We’re capable of assist our
engineers in delivering their software program quick and stably, and achieve this at a
sustainable charge with a cheerful, engaged platform engineering group.

In any case this discuss in regards to the significance of a product mindset, I would not fault
you for pondering I am a product supervisor in engineer’s clothes ????. However actually, I
simply need to be certain that what I am engaged on is impactful. The outcomes are value
the trouble.

I hope my discuss has helped to form your perspective on how Platform Engineering
works and, if you happen to’re a Platform Engineer, I hope it should assist you extra
successfully assist your personal engineering group.

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