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Building digital platforms, and platform engineering teams to support them, isn’t new. The platform approach first emerged more than 20 years ago and predates the DevOps movement that began in the mid-2000s. But the recent surge in popularity of platform engineering has caused some to argue that “DevOps is dead” and modern platform engineering has replaced it. Here’s what we found in the 2023 State of DevOps Report to counter that argument.
A platform engineering team is built to handle the platform as a product rather than a project. They provide clear guidance to other teams on how to interact via collaboration or self-service interfaces.
Platform engineering teams might feel new, but they’ve been a presence at some larger, primarily tech companies for years. 19% of respondents to our 2023 State of DevOps survey reported that their platform engineering team was established 5+ years ago.
These companies realized that by standardizing infrastructure, building self-service interfaces for developers, providing increasingly higher-level abstractions, and dedicating a team to maintaining all of this as a platform enabled developer teams to build, ship, and operate applications more quickly and with higher quality.
A platform engineering team often includes Product Managers, Product Owners, Platform Engineers, DevOps Engineers, Platform Developers, and QA.
The exact structure of a platform engineering team will vary according to the needs of the organization. But at its core, a platform engineering team is made up of platform engineers and product managers.
Platform engineers work with developers and other platform users to translate business ideas and needs into software and infrastructure. 48% of platform engineering teams we surveyed said they hired people with DevOps experience for their platform engineering team.
In the 2023 State of Platform Engineering Report, we found that today's platform engineering teams comprise an array of roles and titles: Software engineers (45%), platform engineers (44%), developers (40%), project managers (37%), I&O professionals (35%), site reliability engineers (SREs) (16%), and SecOps (12%).
The modern platform engineering team is trending only in that the concept and practice is expanding beyond companies in the tech space. This growth lends itself to the feeling that platform engineering is a new trend, and platform engineering teams are a trend that goes along with it. 52% of respondents to the survey said that their platform engineering team was established less than 3 years ago:
The practice isn’t a trend, but the expansion of platform engineering certainly is. Let’s dive into how a growing base of platform engineering teams are shaping DevOps.
The time for platform engineering is now: it’s not just for big tech companies who work in software and can see the value of a fully dedicated team. Looking back at the results of the State of DevOps survey, 70% of respondents believe that their timing of platform engineering adoption was “just right,” while nearly a quarter (23%) believe it was too late. Only 6% claim it was too early, underscoring how few teams have regrets about adoption.
The key to this trend lies in the value of having a modern platform engineering approach. A platform can reduce cognitive load on a developer and allows faster software delivery — all of which is accomplished by thinking of the platform as a set of self-service products rather than a single project.
You might think of a platform team today as the structural support for DevOps: built to keep the daily functions of a space strong and operational. As we found while developing our report, this kind of support appeals to dev teams, ops teams, security teams, and senior IT business leaders.
A successful platform engineering team must have development operations, product management, and product marketing skills. And while they also must have IT operations expertise, that doesn’t mean that they operate the applications on the platform itself. Instead, they deliver a reliable and resilient platform that empowers other teams to build, release, and operate their own applications.
This is why we anticipate the rise of platform engineering: it’s a trend that makes sense within the larger picture of DevOps.
Watch: How Platform Automation Solves IT Ops Challenges
It’s no secret that enterprises have struggled with DevOps — from legacy IT to enforcement across a varied internal landscape — and these struggles have only increased based on our report findings.
To evolve and improve, DevOps has always borrowed from the best-of other movements such as Agile, Lean Safety Science, and The Toyota Way. We consider platform engineering one more piece that DevOps can borrow from increase collaboration and automation from within.
Platform engineering can help organizations do DevOps even better at scale in complicated environments. As we mentioned before, it’s not about replacing DevOps. Platform engineering’s prescriptive approach to organizational design can help DevOps deliver self-service capabilities.
There is overlap between platform engineering and DevOps team goals: specifically for automation and self-service capabilities. We identified both as critical parts of the DevOps evolutionary model, which we’ll talk about a little more in the next section. But it’s important to identify that these are not two warring states — DevOps and platform engineering teams will need to collaborate to further DevOps in enterprises both big and small.
When we built the 2018 State of DevOps report, we identified five sequential stages of DevOps growth that would lead to successful adoption and implementation in an enterprise. This standardized evolutionary model eventually leads toward automation — maximizing resources without dedicating time toward unneeded manual tasks.
We believe that platform engineering teams can help with both automating infrastructure delivery and providing self-service capabilities — 94% of all survey respondents who have adopted platform engineering say that it helped their firms better achieve the benefits of DevOps.
Even for other steps within the DevOps Evolutionary Model like development, a platform engineering team can make a difference. 68% of respondents said that they were able to improve overall development speed with platform engineering.
The connection is there: enterprises that embrace platform engineering and have created or advanced their platform engineering teams are also further along the DevOps Evolutionary Model. This also could stand as a sign, or just a gentle hint, to organizations that are slow to embrace platform engineering — if you want to evolve your DevOps practice, it might be time to jump on board.
For more insight into the evolution of platform engineering teams and how platform engineering is impacting DevOps today, don’t miss downloading the full (and free!) report:
Download the 2023 State of DevOps Report
Principal Solutions Architect
David Sandilands is a senior solutions architect.