The Evolution of DevOps: Developer Productivity and Platforms
This article is part two in a series of three on the rise of platform engineering and its role in improving the developer experience. Read part one here.
Developer experience is business-critical in organizations of all sizes and across all industries. In the first article of this series, I make the case that the cloud-native developer experience will be shaped and eased not only by platform engineering but also by the vital support of DevOps and/or PlatformOps teams. This flies in the face of the recent and somewhat controversial assertion that DevOps is facing extinction. In fact, it’s possible that DevOps is more important than ever, even if the role of DevOps has changed in the era of cloud-native development, supported by centralized developer platforms.
Business stakeholders who depend on reliable, stable, scalable and secure software shipping fast and consistently understand the business case for an integrated DevOps team, and most developers and their teams understand the challenges of coding, shipping and running cloud-native software without the guideposts offered by a platform (and the DevOps team). The complexities of Kubernetes and microservices (and their contingencies) make getting to productivity difficult, which is why developer platforms are touted as the magic-bullet solution. But these platforms don’t build and maintain themselves, and the concept hasn’t quite reached the level of maturity at which developer platforms are available as commercial, out-of-the-box offerings.
DevOps is not dead and claiming that it is ignores the need for the surrounding, supporting roles that pave the developer path. DevOps is evolving, in some cases into PlatformOps, and keeps workflows flowing and manages operations that support developers’ ability to ship their work into the world.
Who paves the developer path? It’s actually a cooperative process between developers and DevOps/site reliability engineering (SRE) teams. In discussions with DevOps and SRE leaders about cloud-native development, one trend was a throughline: DevOps and SREs continue to play an instructive role in helping guide developers to realize the possibilities of self-service through supporting platforms.
The level of full-service ownership this amounts to for developers varies depending on the organization and its goals. But the role of DevOps is still clear. For developers, there is a significant learning curve, and DevOps can help clear the way to the centralized developer platform. This platform, assuming all goes as planned, will not only improve the developer experience but also relieve DevOps teams of the firefighting that has been typical of their job until now. Paving the path provides an opportunity for DevOps/SREs to both develop better operational support mechanisms for developers as well as engage in more long-term and strategic operational work.
Helping unlock developer productivity is one aspect of powering a positive developer experience. And the shift to a developer-first platform model reinforces the business commitment to the developer experience. It becomes defined by its optimized tools and workflows, which make up developer platforms. The platform approach also supports wider adoption of cloud-native development across larger organizations and broader industries beyond the more niche applications we’ve seen, thanks to clearer guideposts and abstractions.
But becoming dev-first doesn’t kill off ops, which has been one recent point of contention. In fact, the three ways of DevOps continue to be critical:
● The First Way: Flow/Systems Thinking ● The Second Way: Amplify Feedback Loops ● The Third Way: Culture of Continual Experimentation and Learning
Quoting industry luminary Gene Kim, “The First Way emphasizes the performance of the entire system, as opposed to the performance of a specific silo of work or department—this as can be as large a division (e.g., Development or IT Operations) or as small as an individual contributor (e.g., a developer, system administrator).” Essentially, it doesn’t matter who constructs the platform as long as they are thinking about the entire value stream, starting with customer requirements which, for an internal platform, are driven by developers.
The Second Way is focused on creating right-to-left feedback loops. To quote Kim again, “The outcomes of the Second Way include understanding and responding to all customers, internal and external, shortening and amplifying all feedback loops, and embedding knowledge where we need it.” For platforms, this hints at embedding both developers in platform teams and ops in development teams.
The Third Way is focused on creating a culture that fosters two things: Continuous experimentation, taking risks and learning from failure and understanding that repetition and practice is the prerequisite to mastery. The platform you build today won’t be the platform you need tomorrow. This is why the ‘big bang’ approach to building platforms doesn’t work. Think big, start small and iterate fast. This is something DevOps is designed to do.
In supporting the cloud-native paradigm, DevOps is far from dead. It’s a shifting discipline that involves a focus on centralizing workflows and infrastructure to improve the developer experience and reduce their cognitive toil. This toil stems from developer guesswork, and DevOps is best positioned to remove that obstacle. If we concede that developer experience is central to business success, and devex depends on being able to code, ship and run quickly and safely, DevOps is the fixer who enables crucial self-service access for developers and, as we will explore in the third and final part of the series, “platforms” the developer experience.