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PLATFORM ENGINEERING

The Four P’s of Platform Engineering for Prosperity

Insights with Erik Wilde

Kay James
May 30, 2024 | 7 min read

In our latest Livin’ on the Edge podcast, I chatted with Erik Wilde, well known OpenAPI Initiative ambassador and Principal Consultant at INNOQ, as well as the host of the popular YouTube channel, “Getting APIs to Work.”

After both of us attended APIDays New York a few weeks ago, we realized that platform engineering continues to be the talk of the town in this industry. In our discussion, we zeroed in on the four main P’s for a successful platform engineering approach. Whether it’s the importance of treating platforms like products, identifying pain points, standardizing processes, and managing platforms actively to prevent fragmentation…. here’s Erik’s TL/DR of it all for successfully managing a platform:

1. Product Mindset for Platform Engineering

“I really think the biggest mistake you can make is to not think of your as your platform a product," shares Erik.

Erik emphasized the necessity of approaching platform engineering with a product mindset (known as PaaP for short). This means considering the developers as customers and ensuring the platform meets their needs holistically.

Making this perspective shift ensures that the platform is not just a collection of tools, but a well-thought-out solution that provides real value. By treating the platform as a product, organizations can foster a culture of continuous improvement and user-centric development. This approach also helps in prioritizing features and updates based on actual user feedback, leading to more effective and user-friendly platforms.

2. Pain Point Identifying and Addressing

Understanding and addressing the pain points of teams is a crucial aspect of getting platform engineering right. Before any standardization can happen, before you can innovate and move forward—truly understand the pain points of your internal teams.

"Ask your team, ‘Are there certain things that seem to be holding you up that are not really part of your core business?’ The goal is to eliminate any take that is time consuming and add little business value,” shares Erik​​.

By pinpointing these issues, platform engineers can develop solutions that streamline workflows and eliminate bottlenecks, zeroing in on resolving the greatest issues for the greatest amount of improvement. This proactive approach not only boosts productivity but also enhances job satisfaction among developers by reducing frustration caused by repetitive and mundane tasks.

3. Protocol & Standards are a Must

As the number of components and the complexity of systems increase, establishing clear rules for communication between these components becomes essential, which is why standardization has to be at the center of your platform engineering strategy.

“Standardization not only facilitates interoperability, but also enhances efficiency by reducing the need to repeatedly solve the same problems, it’s the heart of the platform approach,” shares Erik.

Standardization ensures that all teams have a reliable foundation to build on, which simplifies development processes and enhances security. By providing a stable and standardized environment, platform engineering helps teams focus on innovation rather than on resolving compatibility issues or re-implementing common functionalities.

Increased standardization leads to more robust and scalable systems in the long run. It also makes it easier for your technology stack to adapt to new technologies and integration opportunities down the line. And as a bonus–your developers will be happier and onboard quicker when standardization is made a priority.

4. Proactive Management of the Platform

Erik warns that if you think you don’t have a platform that needs managing, you may be in for a rude awakening. Your developers will likely build an application and have a backend for it, and have to build out all the integrations to make the application work.

“I’d argue that anyone who develops software these days has a platform. Accidental platforms in many cases, are more difficult to manage. Try to take an active role in managing your platform to avoid issues later on,” shares Erik.

While they get to building, your developers have to solve certain questions and use cases. If you fail to provide them with the standards and guidance (the platform engineering approach), your developers will simply figure out anyway to get it done. They will select their own technology from team to team and ad hoc a platform together, leaving a fragmented and siloed platform that can slowly balloon into chaos from there.

“Your devs will just Google it. If you don't give them a platform and the standards to guide those things, you’ll end up with one regardless, but it won’t be streamlined,” shared Erik. “Plus, it also won’t be secure, because not everybody is a security specialist. So in the end what you end up with is just a very bad platform.”

For organizations that don’t get a handle on their platform immediately, some will have to discover the platform engineering approach and apply some overhauling to get back on track. Often, someone on a team will realize they’re wasting a lot of manual time doing the same things over and over, or perhaps there’s a security breach or two before enough realize that more discipline and standardization of the platform is required.

Active management of platform development is essential to prevent fragmentation. Without a centralized, managed approach, different teams will create their own versions of platforms, leading to inconsistency and inefficiency. To avoid this, implement and enforce platform standards actively and immediately if there are none in place. Effective governance ensures that the platform evolves cohesively, maintaining compatibility and performance across the board moving forward.

In the end, applying the platform engineering approach can help organizations to create efficient, scalable, and user-friendly platforms that drive business success. Utilizing these four P’s of platform engineering will have you well on your way to a brighter future and happier developers. We appreciate Erik coming on the show, and for more of Erik's thoughts and experiences, you can follow him on YouTube, where he regularly shares his expertise! Or, check out our other podcast episodes or the Ambassador blog!