Platform engineering has been echoing through tech corridors for some time, but what is it?

It’s a discipline at the heart of technology, operations, and people. It's about creating a seamless Developer Experience (DevX) that facilitates productivity, innovation, and growth. It optimizes, makes reliable, and ensures the resilience of software delivery processes as the backbone of technological infrastructures.

But how does a chief technology officer (CTO) navigate the vast complexity of it? I answer this question and more in the first of my seven-part blog series as a DevOps consultant portraying a CTO.

“If I were a CTO, I’d approach platform engineering like this” by Dan Grøndahl Glavind. Read the seven-part blog series:

Part 1: The importance of buy-in from upper management
Part 2: Establishing a platform engineering organization
Part 3: How platform teams can achieve ambitious goals
Part 4: A mantra for platform teams to succeed
Part 5: Navigating the product mindset in platform teams
Part 6: Measuring success beyond numbers in platform teams
Part 7: Communicating achievements and challenges in platform teams


Part 1: The importance of buy-in from upper management

Embracing platform engineering isn’t merely a tech shift but a paradigm one. For a CTO, it’s not just about the "how" but the "why." To drive such a significant transformation, first consider:

  • What are the underlying goals?
  • Are you at a stage where morphing your engineering dynamics into platforms is not just feasible but beneficial?
  • Do you possess the required capabilities, or are there areas you could strengthen?

Addressing these points will allow you to set a course of action that coincides with your targets. Here are some common goals in the industry.

I want better time to value

In software development, "time to value" is often prioritized from the outset, which is essentially looking at the gap between initiating an idea and reaping the tangible benefits. But it's not just about the speedy deployment of software; it's understanding the broader impact new software has on the landscape of the wider business and users.

Imagine launching a software solution that immediately transforms the user experience (UX), steering the business toward growth. It'd be like sowing a seed and watching it sprout immediately.

Feedback is key. Software needs user feedback as a budding plant needs sunlight, water, and care. Gather this as soon as possible to refine your software and make it more effective. It's the continual loop of building, measuring, and learning that generates value, with a robust platform acting as the catalyst.

It takes away the heavy lifting and lets developers focus on what they do best—coding and innovating. By shielding them from the intricate details of infrastructure management, they can hone in on crafting features and functionalities that matter most to users.

Consider a chef working in a state-of-the-art kitchen. With the right tools and environment, the focus can be on creating mouth-watering dishes, not malfunctioning equipment or missing ingredients. In software, the platform is the kitchen, and the developers are the chefs; they make solutions that appease users, which helps the business succeed.

I want to link business to cost

In modern IT landscapes, I noticed that IT leaders tend to focus on cost-cutting measures. This is comparable to unplugging servers to save on electricity bills—it might save money, but it's not practical.

Here's where a unified platform becomes a game-changer. It acts as a catalyst for strategic financial management practices like FinOps, simplifying the integration of metadata—tags, and labels associated with cost centers or business units—into resources. You can easily add these identifiers through standardized deployment processes or "golden paths," making them mandatory without layers of red tape.

By centralizing this function through a platform, you encourage cost transparency and empower teams. With greater visibility, teams can see if expenditures align with the overall business value.

Ultimately, this fosters a culture where IT investments are as much about value generation as they are about cost containment.

I want to invest in Developer Experience (DevX) to attract talent

In the techie world, there’s a tug-of-war over talent, and with AI still growing, top-notch developers are the gold standard. But how do you make your company the place developers dream of?

At the core of a developer's decision-making process is the software they work with. A robust and modern tech stack in a job ad is like a beacon signaling a company's zest for innovation. It assures developers that they can make a difference.

For a developer going from a job that takes days for changes to go to production rather than months, it’s like trading in a horse and carriage for a sports car!

That’s not to say developers chase speed. They're after meaningful work. They are about clean code, collaborative environments, and challenges that stretch their abilities.

So, where does platform engineering fit into the mosaic? Streamlining. Top-tier organizations don’t shorten deployment lead times by sheer luck; they strategically invest in platforms to unify and speed up software delivery. In essence, they lay down clear, safe tracks; developer platforms aren’t just tools, they're game-changers.

I want software compliance without the manual toil

Navigating the world of compliance feels like a nod to the days of casually referring to software as "programs" and updates as “seasonal events.” Fast-forward to today, and it’s a different ballgame.

Quick releases require stringent rules, and let's be honest, as much as we might grumble, compliance measures exist for a good reason. Given how vulnerable the digital landscape is, tighter security and privacy is no longer an option but a necessity.

Enter the Internal Developer Platform (IDP)

It doesn’t just make compliance bearable, it integrates it into the workflow so seamlessly that it feels intuitive. You can think of it as a reliable colleague that’s always got your back.

For example:

  1. Automated audit trails: An IDP can automatically log all changes, so there's a clear record of who did what and when. This not only ensures compliance but provides invaluable insight in case of any unforeseen issues.

  2. Policy as code: Instead of manually reviewing processes, you can set specific policies as code within the IDP. If a developer does something that's not compliant, the platform flags it and guides them to do it the right way. This proactive approach can drastically reduce errors.

  3. Secured Self-Service: Developers often need access to certain resources. Instead of waiting for manual approvals that lead to shadow IT practices, an IDP offers self-service portals where access is granted based on predefined rules for speed and compliance.

  4. Consistent environment configurations: Setting up every environment correctly can be a compliance nightmare. An IDP allows you to template environments, ensuring consistent, compliant, and secure setups by design.

Integrating such guardrails within an IDP transforms compliance from a hurdle to a streamlined part of the development process. With these automated guardrails in place, adhering to regulations is easier than bypassing them. Developers can focus on what they do best, innovating and creating, without the looming shadow of compliance missteps. At the end of the day, ensuring safety without stifling creativity is the ideal.

In platform engineering, the role of a CTO is not only to be a tech leader but a visionary. It's about setting clear goals, understanding the broader landscape, and rallying the entire organization to get behind the vision.

At its core, platform engineering is more than technology; it’s a combination of business aspirations, team dynamics, and technological capabilities.

So, how do we establish a platform engineering organization? Read part two of my blog series to find out.

Published: September 28, 2023

Software developmentDevOps