Platform engineering is all about giving devs the tools they need to work independently. Work-from-home policies give people flexibility in where and how they work. It should be a match made in heaven, right? Well... it’s more complicated than that.

Research, feedback, and evangelizing are critical to building an internal developer platform (IDP). But WFH can make that communication tough. And that's before you’ve even considered compliance and security (ugh, the 2FA). A human-focused IT strategy was crucial in supporting a shift to remote work during the pandemic, and it's going to be equally as important as we shift to a platform paradigm.

In this roundtable discussion, Ben leads a roundtable discussion of how return-to-office plans can impact platform engineering, joined by Margaret Lee and David Sandilands, authors of Puppet's 2024 State of DevOps Report: Platform Engineering Edition.


  • Ben Ford, Community Lead at Puppet by Perforce
  • Margaret Lee, Manager of Product Management at Puppet by Perforce
  • David Sandilands, Senior Solutions Architect at Puppet by Perforce



  • The remote/in-office flexibility your platform needs to consider
  • Hardening measures essential to a secure IDP in the hybrid era
  • What we learned about accommodating a workforce during the pandemic
  • Evangelizing a platform without the in-person connection



Ben Ford [0:00] Hello everybody, and welcome to today's episode of Pulling the Strings podcast, as always, powered by Puppet. My name is Ben Ford. I'm our developer relations director here at Puppet, and I'm pretty active in the community, as BenFord2K. We may have talked in the past. Today, we're talking with a couple of good friends who were recently involved in writing our annual SODOR report, David and Margaret. Let's start with David Sandilands. You recently also wrote a book, and I'm curious to know, what would you say is the worst part of that whole experience? 


David Sandilands [0:51] The worst part was probably being silly enough to do it while my son had only been born two months, and finding that it was far more time-consuming than I ever expected, as was having a second child. That was probably the worst part. 


Ben Ford [1:11] Well, going on from that theme, Margaret, now that you've been involved with authoring a fairly large report that's a pretty time-consuming as well, would you ever consider writing a book yourself? 


Margaret Lee [1:22] At this point in my life, absolutely not. I also have a baby at home, and I don't understand where David found the time. Two months postpartum, my brain didn't properly function to write a book, and I just literally don't know how you did. I didn't realize you did it when your baby was two months old. I was on the couch, I wasn't writing anything, so no, and I think David's a little nuts. I love you, but you're nuts. 


Ben Ford [1:54] Well, I can tell how this podcast is going to go, not that I disagree with you. Today, we're going to be talking about the return to office idea, and how that might impact what you do with your internal developer platforms, and how you might account for some of the return to office changes. Maybe we'll kick it off with maybe a round table. David, what do you think about considerations that IT leaders ought to have when building out a return to office plan? 


David Sandilands [2:26] I think it's a huge challenge, because the way we went, and I obviously have a bias, because I am a fully remote worker, and Perforce's only employee in Scotland, so I've hugely benefited from that change, but it happened very rapidly. I don't think anyone really had enough time to think about that big change. As we can come back to office, there's a number of people who are used to where they are, and struggling to want to do it. At the same time, there's many people who are wanting that contact in the office. We found it with conferences. We thought that all online would be wonderful, but in fact, we found it very hard to do certain things, where just getting around a whiteboard, or in a conference room feels a lot more comfortable. I think it's trying to balance those two sides, and not mandate things, and enforce things, but allow both sides to try and find something that works, and is comfortable for everyone. 


Ben Ford [3:29] As somebody who's returning to conference attending and speaking, I can see a lot of that, not only in myself but in the people that I engage with at conferences. What do you think, Margaret? Are there maybe pitfalls, are there conflicts between employees, management, different teams, et cetera, as they're going back into the office? 


Margaret Lee [3:50] I think if we think about it definitely from IDPs, but also just from humans, I think people all operate differently. People are going to have different productivity levels in the office than they are at home, and people are going to have preferences. Myself personally, if I go into an office, I'm going to talk to a lot more people, which is a good thing, but also there's a con, because then I can't get as much done. I think there's a preference there, and I think there's productivity levels to be considered. If we think about that from IDPs, I think flexibility there is really key. We did swing hard right when COVID hit, and everyone started working from home, and I think we should be careful from swinging the pendulum too far back the other way, with forcing people to do something that maybe they don't want to do. I think if people want to go into the office they will, and if they don't, they don't. I think we're in a day and age where you can do so much from a computer, and yes, there is something to human interaction, but there's a pro and a con. There's also travel, there's time away from family. I think everyone needs to make the decision that's best for them, and I agree with not mandating anything. If we think about IDPs, how that plays into it, I think actually, COVID probably helped in the flexibility there. You could take learnings from both how to support remote workers and how to support hybrid models, but you could probably get the best of both worlds there, of taking the learnings from when things were more in office and then from when they were more remote, and figure out what the right options there are, because you learned so much so fast. You're going to have some good learnings to take forward. 


Ben Ford [5:27] Honestly, I'm not sure that we could ever even go completely back. Every team that I know, even the ones who are very tightly co-located in a single office in a single place, it feels like at least one or two, or half of the team has moved out, moved away from where that office was located, and now they no longer have the option to return. We have to account for that, too. 


Margaret Lee [5:50] I’m myself in that boat. I lived in the Portland area before, and I did go into the office almost five days a week before. I moved to southern California, and there isn't an office close to me, so I'm exactly in that scenario. 


Ben Ford [6:03] Even the people who stayed relatively local, we've got somebody who moved about 40 miles away, and every now and then she comes in for office events, but that's definitely far out of commute distance. 


Margaret Lee [6:14] Right. I think now, if we think about it too, there's only so much time in a day, and people have different hobbies, different interests. If we can enable people to do their best work in whatever setting that may be, remote, in office, hybrid, then I think people are going to show up better to work. You're going to get a better experience, and better productivity, and morale is going to be higher. I think that's such an important aspect of working. 


Ben Ford [6:41] David, it sounds like you have some thoughts on this too. What do you think are some of the changes that we're going to see in platforms as a result of this? Maybe different tools, or different availability or whatnot. 


David Sandilands [6:55] I guess what I'm hoping to see, and what I'm seeing suggestions of, I think the initial phase, where a lot of particularly big companies went for these mandates, saying people had to be in the office two days a week, or three days a week, to be blunt, people just didn't do them, or it got silly, and people weren't necessarily coming in at the same point. I think what we'll see is people trying to have more focused events. If you're looking at your platforms, and you're wanting to evangelize things, whether it's sessions to actually meet with people and talk through what their needs are, or just get around a whiteboard, those genuine meetups which are so valuable in person, just being able to organize those on a semi-regular basis. I look at myself in terms of, I try to go to Belfast quarterly, to meet my engineering teams. I think that's what we're going to see a lot more of, that approach, so that people can keep in touch with their platform stakeholders. 


Margaret Lee [7:56] I also think, using obviously Zoom, but I think there's a lot of tooling out there so you can whiteboard on your computer. I fully understand that it is not exactly the same, but you are going to have people in today's world now that can't come into an office, or it just doesn't work out for them. I think that's awesome that you can go quarterly. Personally for me right now, it is just not an option, with the baby, but I think there's a lot of good tooling out there that does then come into, what is your platform approach? What tooling do you make available so maybe you can capture metrics that help people understand why these things are important, and what the influence there is. I think we'll continue to see a lot of those other tooling, the ones that you can whiteboard on a computer. Tooling like that, collaboration tooling, I think will just continue to get better as more and more people are just dispersed across the world. 


Ben Ford [8:53] You both brought up different tangents of something I've been thinking about a little bit. I've been working with some of our UX team quite a bit recently, trying to figure out how we can better support things like observing... what is that called, when we observe somebody using the tool, to see sticking points, see things that people get confused at, and whatnot? Those are so much easier to do when you're sitting in a room and you can watch what they're doing, rather than having to do it over Zoom. That's something that we're going to have to learn how to do. We're going to have to be able to figure out what things our clients need, even if we can't sit there and watch them do it. 


David Sandilands [9:34] I completely agree. I think, where you can get people onto site, that's great, but I think the benefits of remote working, as both myself and Margaret have highlighted, in terms of family, and even just in terms of opportunity. When you were in that old world, and you chose your office site, and that's where you had to expect everyone to live and work, you really limited down the view and choice of people who could work for you. Ultimately, for me in central Scotland, that meant I would work for a bank, an insurer, maybe a media company, and that was it. I would never have worked for a company like Puppet, or anyone else. 


Ben Ford [10:18] Three options. 


David Sandilands [10:18] It opens up the options, and the variety of people you can have in your developer platform. I think that's the thing, you will be able to get more angles if you can work it out properly. Otherwise, you can just get locked down to a clique of people in one regional location, or a couple, depending on how it works out. 


Ben Ford [10:39] It changes how you think about some of these platforms, too. I remember when I was on the education team here at Puppet, and we were building basically something similar to a developer platform that was a classroom platform, and we had instructors all over the world that would engage with these classrooms that we built out. I didn't understand just how bad the latency was for some of our Australian instructors until I went there and I watched somebody do it. I was like, "Oh yes, we need to put a lot of effort into fixing this latency issue here." Understanding what that remote experience is like, suddenly it's more important than ever. What thoughts do we have about security requirements these days? Do those change now that people are coming back to the office, or are they going to stay the same as they were with everybody in remote? 


David Sandilands [11:30] It was funny, the first time I was coming back to offices, people realized that actually, all their passes had expired, for example. 


Ben Ford [11:40] My badge didn't work. I was like, "Oh shoot, do I still work here?” 


David Sandilands [11:43] Yeah, it's that thing of, if you didn't use them within a month, they all expired. Not just us at Puppet, but I heard lots of organizations saying they had to refresh every security badge. I think the reality was, when people were working remote, they actually ended up having a lot more security things enabled. It's a sign of the times anyway, in terms of compliance and security, that more and more things have to be done in terms of two factor authentication, and other physically secure methods. I think in a way, those all just stay, and you come back in. The interesting part can be if you're returning to an office, and some organizations are no longer havinga big, traditional headquarters, they have more of a shared space. That becomes an interesting thing as to, what are your security requirements when you're potentially sharing a building, or sharing facilities? 


Ben Ford [12:43] We’ll be moving even more so towards a zero trust model instead of just relying on physical location. 


Margaret Lee [12:49] I was going to say the same thing, very similar as to what David said. I think security postures probably got better as more people were remote, because you're dealing with home networks, you're dealing with people even maybe going to coffee shops, there are a lot more public networks that you're dealing with. I do think the remote hybrid, as people are starting to share offices, that's happening more and more, and I do think that that adds some additional complexity. I think if anything, it probably helps security postures, just because you had to expand beyond what you're doing. I think that'll probably stay, because hybrid is here to stay. I do think security will never stay the same. It's going to be ever-changing, because new threats, new tooling, new everything is coming out. It's ever-changing, but I don't think it'll really go back. 


David Sandilands [13:44] I think these boundaries change all the time. I remember being told a story by a security colleague, there used to be these desktop computers in the branches he ran that were not encrypted, and he was furiously arguing they needed to be encrypted. The argument was, what's the point? They're in the branch, the branches are secure. Following some rioting where he was able to free screen a television shot of a desktop being thrown out a window, but fortunately, nobody taking it, they were then duly encrypted afterwards. These things move on. There's assumptions that are made of, "We're all in secure offices, therefore, these mechanisms aren't needed." As things progress, things just become cheaper as well. We don't have to use fobs anymore, in terms of two factor authentication. It's typically on phone apps and things like that, so I think it's all just evolved, and gotten cheaper. 


Ben Ford [14:40] I had a very good friend whose work was done on a desktop, like what you were saying, and they relied on that physical security of, they're in the building, they're on the building network, et cetera, the internal network. When COVID happened, they had no alternative but to pick up those desktops and take them home. All of a sudden, they were utterly unprotected, and they had to scramble real hard to get something in place. 


Margaret Lee [15:08] Nothing like forcing function, but that sounds scary. I get it, it's hard to keep up with things changing. You want to think the best of people, but things happen. Also, being in-house doesn't stop something from getting on your computer, which we all know that. 


Ben Ford [15:28] Especially if you have events, where you invite somebody into your facility. One of the big challenges, and I touched on it a second there ago, is how quickly we had to adjust to pandemic. We went from one model to an entirely different model practically overnight. Everybody did a whole ton of work to ensure that remote access kept working, and to ensure that the security was preserved and whatnot. Was any of that wasted work, do you think? What did we end up losing by making these changes so quickly? 


Margaret Lee [16:03] I don't think it was wasted work. What I could see is that... anytime you do something quick in any sort of something, decisions are made, and maybe you do have to go back and rethink some policies, rethink some tooling, and make some changes. I think that's still part of business in general. I don't think it was wasted work. I think if anything, it was quick, but it forced everybody to be a bit more inclusive to remote workers that have been a thing for a very long time. I do remember our remote workers telling us, "It'd be nice if we even had notes after meetings, or those hallway conversations. What happens in those, and how can those be shared?" I think if anything, it just made companies more inclusive to what they were already offering. With anything, there's better ways to be doing things, and so you sometimes have to iterate on it, but I don't think it was necessarily wasted work. 


David Sandilands [17:00] For me, probably the only degree of waste is going to be, as Margaret was saying, when you do something that quickly, it would've cost more than if you'd been able to do it over more time. There was probably a lot of overtime, and a scrabble for a lot of the same skills in that remote access technologies. As we all remember, Zoom's share price certainly shot up at that point, when everyone was on Zoom at the same point. Actually, since it was during COVID, I don't know if you remember, Facebook had released its home telecommunication technology, where it was a camera you could put on top of your telly, and it made it easier to make video calls to family, and things like that. Those were sold out for a very long time, and now it's all sorted itself out. I think it's a huge crush as everyone tries to do things at the same time. When I joined Puppet, I struggled to buy a webcam, because they were furiously sold out, because everyone was working from home. Now it's all settled down. As Margaret says, we've got time to reflect, and decide if we did the right things, or the only thing we felt we could do at the time. 


Ben Ford [18:15] I do remember when we would have meetings where 80% of the meeting would be in the one room, but then there would be that giant television on the wall, and somebody was left out. They were this weird presence that was looking down at us, and they rarely could get a word in edgewise. I don't miss those days at all. 


David Sandilands [18:35] I certainly found a weird challenge slightly before COVID, where they were having this thing where they wanted people to physically come to the meeting rooms, and people couldn't be bothered. They would just basically go onto the call instead at their desk, because that way they could keep working at their desk. I think that raises the challenge of, do people really need to be in those meetings? If they don't feel like they want to come down, I think it suggests something else. 


Ben Ford [19:05] I do feel like I'm in more meetings now, and I don't know if there's cause or effect there, because I'm doing an entirely different job than what I was before. It's definitely more meetings, and it's definitely harder going back to back to back meetings, because people forget about the time it takes to walk down the hallway. 


Margaret Lee [19:22] I do think back-to-back meetings in the past, when I'd go into the office, you would expect the thing to start five to 10 minutes late, because bio breaks, coffee breaks, walking breaks. I know people have tried to end meetings, you have them scheduled 10 to 10:50, to get that. I think also, that's maybe a cultural thing, or it just depends on where you are. People are like, "You have an extra 10 minutes, I'll just go over," so you're constantly running between meetings. I do find that is hard as well on the back to backs, on a Zoom meeting. Luckily, you can just slack someone, "I'll be right there." There is a different shift there. You used to be able to go get coffee, or say hi, and there was that grace period. Now, everything is so on the dot, because you're just trying to go. 


David Sandilands [20:17] Coming back to platforms again, I think that can be the interesting thing. You're obviously wanting to create those meaningful relationships with your stakeholders and so on, and sometimes that was a lot. When I think about being back in an office, I knew where the areas were, and I would just wear down my shoes going around to different teams, shaking hands and things like that, and trying to arrange those things in meetings which don't feel like a pain to the people you're arranging them with. In the same way you could just drop by, if they're busy on their phone, you just walk away and come back later, I think that's what I find hard to translate. When I think back to when I was first building up the IAAS platform at NatWest, a lot of it was just walking around the office building, finding all the relevant people, and shaking hands and buying a coffee, and things like that. I don't know if I've got that as slick, or as good virtually as I'd like, or necessarily how to do it in the same way. I think that's what I feel like we still need to work on. 


Ben Ford [21:28] That’s something that I was trying to figure out how to put into words. When we would sit and point at a screen, and talk together, and share ideas, and drink a cup of coffee together, we had this mutual understanding of what we were building, what we needed to build, what our requirements were. Now, we have to get more precise in our language. We have to describe out requirements in a more precise way. That's a good thing, to be clear, that's a very good thing. 


Margaret Lee [21:59] I think that's a good thing, but yes. 


Ben Ford [22:02] I do feel like we're still missing a lot of the heart of understanding. Like you were saying, we're not to that point yet, where we fully understand what our customers are needing from the platforms. 


David Sandilands [22:15] Don’t get me wrong, I don't want to mandate people go into offices, sitting there for hours, just because they'll get that 10 minute spark of innovation. We've seen some tech leaders talk about that, people have to come back to the offices for those sparks innovation, I'm just like, "That's just because it's not your time you're wasting, it's everybody else’s." 


Margaret Lee [22:23] Right. 


Ben Ford [22:34] That works for some people, and it doesn't work for others. 


Margaret Lee [22:38] I agree with that. I think people process information differently. People take creativity differently. I think that works for some, and it doesn't work for others. I think approaching that, if you're sparking 10 minutes of innovation, maybe that works for one or two, but that could also really decrease productivity, or not give people time. Maybe they do better sitting, and putting that creativity and thought in how they can approach different problems, and write it out themselves. There's all different ways to approach that, and I think that, to your point, is just doing one way, not necessarily catering to what everybody else needs. 


David Sandilands [23:19] I was wondering, having read in a bio written for me that I've been working for decades, which felt very depressing, whether for particularly younger people... when I started out, I was assigned to the UNIX team, and I was sitting around various people and just shadowing, observing, and just breathing it in, really, and following people about until I had my own task to do. I'll be interested to hear if people felt like starting out, they were getting enough in the remote fashion, or if they actually could have done with more time. 


Margaret Lee [23:55] I think people are so used to Googling things now, and slacking things now. If you think about it, people don't even talk on the phone as much anymore, and I'm guilty of that. I'd way rather send a text than get on the phone. I think there's a digital age, and that's where a lot of people are at. Maybe there is some to be done in person, but probably the same as everything, it's going to work for some, it's not going to work for some. Some people are going to prefer that remote, and they're able to just do what they need to do, and still have Google on the side, or whatever they're using to search, and some are going to do better with in person. I think that's where we go back to that hybrid flexibility of letting people decide what's best for them. 


Ben Ford [24:36] The tools are getting better all the time too, where you can just do, "Hey, let's hop on Slack for five minutes, let me point at the screen, and show you what I'm trying to do.” 


David Sandilands [24:43] I was wondering that as well. Is it, because I experienced it like that, I assume that other people need to have it like that? Obviously, the times have changed, and the way I worked, sadly near 20 years ago is vastly different from what people are going to do today. The tools and technology allow you for that remote effort, and allow you for that searching and knowledge much better. 


Margaret Lee [25:08] Yeah, definitely. I think it's really variety. Give people variety, and I think that's true even if we think about platforms, too. You're going to have standardizations you need to hit, and there's some standardization there on how we approach things. If you still give a bit of the flexibility for people to approach things how they want, you have a platform that gives them some tooling, and then they can integrate into that, I think you're still giving people to work the way they want to work, and I think that's when you're going to get the best work, and be able to hit whatever goals you have as a company. If you're meeting people where they are, they're most likely going to be happier, and happier people produce better work. 


Ben Ford [25:45] When we talk about product oriented platforms, that's exactly what we're trying to get people to do, is to meet their customers where they're at. Instead of mandating, "Here is a set of tools, this is how you will use them," meet your customers where they need you to be, and build the platforms that are going to best support those needs. 


Margaret Lee [26:03] Absolutely. 


Ben Ford [26:03] Maybe that was the whole wrap up to the entire conversation that we're having today. As we moved out of the office, and we moved to a fully remote environment, we learned a lot along the way, and we learned a lot very quickly, and how to support a fully remote workplace. Now that that's shifting again, we're not going back. We're using all those lessons that we learned, but now we have more opportunities to give people variety, make sure that we can support them in the ways that benefits them, and make sure that we actually understand what the users of our platforms are actually needing. 


David Sandilands [26:40] I completely agree. I think we've learned a lot, and it's not going back, but actually going forward. 


Ben Ford [26:46] That sounds like a really good tagline for our conversation today. If people have feedback, or if they want to talk to you about some of these ideas, do you have ways you'd prefer that they get in touch with you? 


Margaret Lee [26:57] You can email me, probably best for me, 


Ben Ford [27:03] We’ll put links in the show notes, too. David, I know that you're pretty active in the community Slack, maybe that's the best opportunity for engaging with you. 


David Sandilands [27:12] Yeah, absolutely. I'm pretty much on everything just as David Sandilands. I'm on Slack as David Sandilands, X, or formerly Twitter. Everyone laughs when I say that. I'm on Mastodon, if you're on Mastodon, again, David Sandilands. The only place I'm not David Sandilands is actually on Twitter, where I'm DN Sandilands, because the driving instructor in Glasgow beat me to it. 


Ben Ford [27:42] Well, that's a wrap for today. Once again, thanks everybody for being here on Pulling the Strings, powered by Puppet. 

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