What is Platform Engineering? And why developers and companies want it (2023)

During the last decade, software engineers have experienced a clear trend: the need for automation for more efficiency and speed to market while maintaining the output organizations and customers expect. Enter platform engineering.

So, what is platform engineering?

Platform engineering is a discipline that focuses on improving the developer experience and building and maintaining the underlying infrastructure, tools, and services that support software development and deployment. Platform engineering aims to provide a robust, scalable, and efficient platform for software teams to build, test, and deploy software more quickly and reliably.

The responsibilities of a platform engineer may include the following:

  • Designing, building, and maintaining cloud infrastructure and services

  • Automating infrastructural and operational tasks using tools such as infrastructure as code, continuous integration/delivery (CI/CD) pipelines, and container orchestration

  • Monitoring and optimizing platform performance, security, and reliability

  • Collaborating with software development teams to ensure that the platform supports their needs

  • Researching and evaluating new technologies and tools to continually improve the platform

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Platform engineering is on the rise in many organizations, with software engineering organizations oftentimes as the early adopter. This is not a surprise, as when software is the product, platform engineering is essential to improve productivity in all aspects of the software delivery lifecycle, using software engineering to accelerate software delivery.

Why is platform engineering important?

Organizations face many challenges when developing software. Platform engineering provides the foundation for software development and operations within an organization. A well-designed and well-maintained platform help ensure that software applications can be developed and deployed quickly, reliably, and at scale. This, in turn, enables organizations to move faster and respond more effectively to changing business needs. Key values include:

  • Reduced time to market, to be there before the competitors and take market share

  • Increased value to market, to continually move forward on the product features prioritized by the business

  • Business scalability with reliability, cost efficiency, and security

A robust platform engineering practice can help increase velocity, improve security, reduce operational costs, and minimize or eliminate downtime. By automating infrastructure and operations tasks, platform engineers can minimize manual intervention and the risk of human error, leading to greater reliability and stability.

Overall, platform engineering enables organizations to realize their software investments’ full potential and compete more effectively in a rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Many companies have already started to create dedicated teams for platform engineering. According to Gartner, by 2026, 80% of software engineering organizations will establish platform teams as internal providers of reusable services, infrastructure components, and tools for application delivery.

What does a platform engineering team do?

Platform engineering teams are “the enablers.” In an engineering organization, the platform team is typically responsible for designing, building, and maintaining the infrastructure, tools, and services that enable self-serve capabilities for the development team to produce software quickly. This is why platform teams are big fans of self-service infrastructure.

What is self-service infrastructure?

Self-service infrastructures, or self-service platforms, aim to enable developers to easily provision cloud infrastructure using approved resources and security best practices. The experiences should make “the right thing to do, the intuitive thing to do.”

Platform engineering teams often build self-service platforms with automated infrastructure operations, explicit APIs, and abstractions that empower development teams to increase developer productivity and maximize business value in software development. Platform teams enable self-service capabilities through automation with guardrails to give multiple teams organization access to resources effectively.

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What is a platform engineer?

A platform engineer is a software engineer who specializes in building and maintaining internal portals and other tools that provide services to other developers. A platform engineer’s responsibilities may include designing, implementing, testing, and maintaining platform components and collaborating with other teams to integrate these components into the larger software ecosystem. Additionally, a platform engineer may help ensure the platform is secure, scalable, and reliable, and provide technical guidance to development teams on platform-related topics.

Platform engineers generally understand software engineering principles. Platform engineers know how a project delivers a product and the tools and processes used. In addition, they are familiar with DevOps tools.

Platform engineers and software engineers

Platform engineers and software engineers are both software professionals, but have different roles and responsibilities.

A software engineer focuses on developing and maintaining software applications. They are responsible for writing code, testing software, fixing bugs, and collaborating with other developers to deliver high-quality software.

On the other hand, a platform engineer focuses on building and maintaining the infrastructure, tools, and services that support software development and deployment.

The distinction between these two engineering professionals is not always clear-cut, and the two roles often overlap. For example, a software engineer may also be involved in developing platform components, and a platform engineer may also write some software code.

Site reliability engineering (SRE) and platform engineering

Using software engineering principles, software developers can speed up software production by improving system functionality for the user.

Site reliability engineering (SRE) and platform engineering are related because both are concerned with ensuring that software systems are reliable, scalable, and secure. However, there are some differences between the two.

What is site reliability engineering?

SRE is a practice that emphasizes the importance of reliability in the design and operation of large-scale software systems. Site reliability engineering teams ensure that systems are available, performant, and scalable, continuously improving the processes and tools used to operate them. Site reliability engineers minimize and address incidents. They aim to reduce the frequency and impact of failures.

SREs often work closely with development teams to help design systems that are easy to operate and automate as much of the operations work as possible.

How is platform engineering different from site reliability engineering?

A site reliability engineer focuses more on operating, while a platform engineer concentrates more on development. Platform engineering focuses on developing and maintaining the underlying infrastructure, tools, and services that support software development and deployment. It ensures that application development teams work effectively throughout their entire lifecycle. Platform engineers are responsible for ensuring that these components are scalable, secure, and reliable and for providing technical guidance to development teams on how to use them effectively.

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In summary, site reliability engineering and platform engineering are related in that they both play critical roles in ensuring the reliability and scalability of software systems. Still, SRE focuses more on operations, while Platform Engineering focuses more on developing and maintaining the underlying platform components. Frequently companies combine SRE with Platform Engineering into one function.

What are the skills required for platform engineering teams?

Platform engineering roles typically require a combination of technical and soft skills. Here are some of the skills that are commonly required to be a platform engineer:

  • Strong programming skills: Platform engineers should have a solid foundation in at least one programming language and experience with software design patterns.

  • Cloud engineering: Experience with cloud computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or Microsoft Azure is often required, as well as familiarity with Infrastructure As Code.

  • DevOps and automation: Familiarity with DevOps practices and tools for automation, such as containerization, continuous integration/delivery pipelines, and configuration management.

  • System administration: Knowledge of Linux/Unix administration and networking concepts and experience with virtualization technologies such as VMware or KVM.

  • Databases: Understanding of database systems and experience with SQL and NoSQL databases.

  • Security: Knowledge of security best practices, policy as code, and experience with security tools and technologies.

  • Collaboration and communication: The ability to work effectively with development teams, stakeholders, and other technical teams, as well as the ability to communicate technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders.

  • Problem-solving: Strong analytical and problem-solving skills, with the ability to quickly diagnose and resolve complex technical issues.

  • Continuous learning: A willingness to continuously learn and stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and industry trends.

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These are some of the key skills required for platform engineering roles, but the exact requirements may vary depending on the specific role and the organization.

How does platform engineering relate to DevOps?

Platform engineering has close links to DevOps. Several platform developers have a background in Development and Operations domain. Some even say that platform engineering is an implementation of DevOps concepts.

In a DevOps context, platform engineering is vital in enabling organizations to realize the benefits of DevOps practices fully. By providing a self service and scalable platform, platform engineers help reduce complexity, accelerate the development cycle, and align various teams to deploy and operate applications across the organization.

DevOps, GitOps, platform engineering, and the rise of cloud-native engineering

DevOps, GitOps, and Platform Engineering are all related to cloud-native engineering and have emerged as key trends and best practices in software development and operations.

The rise of cloud-native engineering is a response to the increasing demand for scalable, secure, and easy-to-operate cloud-based software systems. Cloud-native engineering involves using cloud-based infrastructure, containers, microservices, and other cloud-native technologies to build and deploy, which also introduces new engineering challenges.

More than buzzwords, DevOps, GitOps, and Platform Engineering aim to solve these challenges.

Ten years ago, engineering teams would ask if they should adopt DevOps. Today, most companies have at least some elements of it. DevOps has influenced the structure of many organizations. DevOps is a set of practices and cultural values that aim to bring together development and operations teams to work more closely and effectively. DevOps practices such as continuous integration, continuous delivery, and infrastructure as code help organizations to develop, test, and deploy software more quickly and reliably.

GitOps is a new approach to DevOps that uses Git as the single source of truth for all changes to a software system. GitOps involves using Git repositories to manage and automate infrastructure and application deployment and enforce compliance and security policies.

Platform engineering is the next big thing in the engineering world. It has been around for years, but companies are now investing in it by creating a dedicated platform team or hiring cloud platform engineers.

The engineering and developer communities play a big role in adopting platform engineering. As performance demands increase, they ask to no longer do operations, and to free up engineering time by providing internal developer portals (IDPs) that allow self-service and reduce the day-to-day load that kills productivity. Many companies are listening and using it to gain a competitive advantage.

Learn More

Pulumi offers a truly modern approach to infrastructure as code. With Pulumi, you can create, deploy, and manage infrastructure on any cloud using the programming languages and tools you already know. Get started today.

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1. What’s Platform Engineering? And How Does It Support DevOps?
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2. The Rise of Platform Engineering – Hans Kristian Flaatten
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3. Going from Software to Platform Engineer - Interview with Daniel Bergamin
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4. Tanzu Talk: What is platform engineering? Platform as a Product, Building a Platform for Kubernetes
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5. What is Platform Engineering in DevOPs?
(Automation Testing with Joe Colantonio)
6. The Platform Engineering team story
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