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Welcome to digital product engineering
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Author
Sachin Hebbar
Sachin Hebbar
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What is a developer platform?

A developer platform provides a single access point to tools, frameworks, documents, and software assets. It enables internal, external, and third-party developers to collaborate effectively, fostering acceleration and innovation.

The goal is to facilitate organic growth for an IT developer’s organization by solidifying the vision with a platform mindset and a strategic experience focused on interoperability and re-usability. This helps in reducing both the operating cost as well as the development cost. That said, it requires working with an engineering stakeholder (such as product, design, development, testing & implementation) along with the engineering leads (like product owners, managers, agile coach, analysts, automation engineers) to devise a reliable yet affordable strategy and aligned roadmap which gives us the best chance for an efficient implementation. An engineering platform drives thoughtful adoption and improved satisfaction from users so that more and more platform and infra teams begin wanting to contribute in a self-defined and autonomous model of development.

Common challenges in a software development organization

Fig. 1: Common challenges in a software development organization

 

How can all this be made possible? This is where a developer platform comes to the rescue by providing a streamlined, integrated environment that minimizes dependencies and fosters operational agility and a reactive-but-responsive development process by means of offering varied capability.

However, such a conceptual understanding requires a pragmatic change within the mindset of the developer community. It may take several months or years to adopt such ways of working to bring the cultural shift within and outside the organization.

Centralized portal synergizing development activities

Fig. 2:  Centralized portal synergizing development activities

 

Let's take a perspective about how a business personas come into this ecosystem by providing a centralized platform where various tools and services used in software development, deployment, and management converge enable people across organizations to become more efficient. Every requirements at an early stage of design and development requires an analysis of available services, softwares, re-usability of code or APIs along with ease of early accessibility of all of it including the developer assets such as toolkit, softwares. This collaborative integrated environment  allows for more convenient workflows, better resource management, and a smoother transition from development to production. Such practice not only just bridges the gaps between coding, testing, deployment, and infrastructure management but also brings innovative mindset to evolve with better ideas that inturn a business can benefit out of a value add generated.  Developer platform elevates the traditional stack, making it a more cohesive, agile, and developer-friendly environment under the self-defined ecosystem.

Transformation of business personas into technical deliveries

Fig. 3 : Transformation of business personas into technical deliveries

 

Imagine this: organizational changes, operational shifts, and the chaos of non-governance—all handled smoothly. For example there can come in a hand-over or a knowledge transition of a specific product as a consequence of  change in ownership where a developer platform is self-sufficient to facilitate all necessary details. Think about a productization or a bundling of APIs where such platforms are fully capable of facilitating it as per the needs of product owners or a consumer group. In brief, a unified platform tackles cognitive load, operational efficiency, and more. Keeping in view of the buzzword “Cognitive Load” and thinking from the best practices perspective, what it means is - cognitive load is about how much a developer needs to think in order to complete a task. Meaning it is about Familiarity vs Simplicity, Inclusiveness vs Interruptions. Example a developer may not always like to have an unwanted interruptions for change in process, best practices or usage-implementations rather would like to self-assess and awareness up to the required implication. It’s like having a Swiss Army knife for all your development needs! Otherwise, goals like measuring success factors and attaining optimal operational efficiency are always hindered as such facts get hidden behind the operations as an entry barrier. Hence, a unified centralized access is badly needed for such users within the organization. 

So, what’s next?

APIs by behavior of its definition and design helps in integrating and connecting people, processes, and products by unleashing their full potential and value within the data that connects these 3P’s (People, Process & Product) to enrich digital experiences while the portal becomes a pivotal point of reference for it. For example, default access to the APIs and best practices, usage of an application there by would make internal or in-house users complaisant at the same time providing a self hosted request for access and grants to access credentials or usage of software component like plugins etc. would make it more convenient yet faster time to deliver. So how can we make them much more closely associated, engaged, and yet operate in an autonomous style of exhibition..? In short, to really categorize and use the portal and hosted content such as APIs and Documentation such as services related to utility, observability, monitoring, operations, infrastructure and more in terms of such APIs setup, consumption and documents accessibility?

Let’s explore how you can transform a portal into a platform with a key definition for any cultural shift:

  • Synergizing self-service: Transform at scale by integrating the Developer Portal and the developer assets in a centralized platform that are used in tandem.
  • Collaboration across the organization: Use the tools and shared resources available in the portal to encourage collaboration among developers, automation engineers, testing and operations teams.
  • Optimized resource management: The portal can provide insights and analytics from the developer platform, helping teams optimize hardware, software and other assets as a resource usage and performance while defining accessibility horizontally.  
  • Increased productivity: Using developer platforms with automated processes such as user onboarding, docs-like-code, integrated finOps etc. are automatically produced, presented as well as accessible through the portal can reduce manual efforts and streamline development workflows.

It’s imperative to establish a central support while working on surfacing the relationships between entities like data pipelines and applications. In such circumstances relationships of applications and their components to business problems through a standardized and semi-automated documentation of domains is very much needed but nobody tries to do it on their own. Having that oversight will enable us to shift-left not only the security and compliance, but also the productivity, reliability, and cost efficiency. This is possible with a synergy between contributors and consumers by providing insights about the current balance of operational health in relationship to business metrics relevant to our high-level Domains or a continuous feedbacks for the improvements or innovation.

How can you bring impact?

  • Deliver value to your software assets and outputs 
  • Collaborate cross-functionally and increase organizational efficiency 
  • Ensure a constant evolution from self-discovery and self-service to self-sustainability 
  • Connect well with governance and operating model while embracing any cultural shift

What’s the motivation behind it?

Imagine the potential behind developer expertise and timely leverage the power of open source! The opensource community such as Spotify-Backstage is ever-growing and provides a lot of interesting, well-maintained plugins, readily available piece of code to connect the gap between producers, consumers for you to make use of feasibility of onboarding various time-consuming tasks within the expected lead time. The framework itself is also constantly evolving and growing its scope, and some fit-for-purpose adopters are already leveraging it. So whether it is feasibility of opensource framework, plugins, softwares, services or APIs all of these implications are well accessible to make the optimal use of it. Otherwise in most of the software development organizations, mobilizing such stakeholders to enhance the usability is really a challenging task beyond their development or setup.

  • To drive adoption and make an impact, IT organizations and their development centers should look for opportunities to personalize content to make it easier to recognize and understand. They should also invest in increasing the interoperability along the journeys your users take to complete tasks between both fully integrated interfaces and features, as well as external tooling with an intent to shut down old tooling which are dormant by nature of its usage and demand!
  • Make it clear with vision to inspire the development with the needs of equally users and contributors (publisher and subscriber) with a constant connectivity will be an important factor for motivating those community who are contributors and for reaching the critical mass of user journeys needed for users to feel the benefit of your platform.

How can we do it?

The Developer Portal that is associated to the API or application gateway to an organization’s IT resources has the user interface where developers access tools, applications, APIs, documentation, and support. Such possible options for easy discoverability beyond its accessibility is really meaningful and pragmatic in the sense of its optimal usage. How about using the portal in an elevated format for inclusive and innovative forum on a day-to-day basis. Think of it as the ‘face’ of your IT infrastructure that is designed for ease of usage and accessibility.

Autonomous developer platform fostering internal and external developer portal

Fig. 4: Autonomous developer platform fostering internal and external developer portal

 

A Developer Portal that is designed in a deeply thought well designed interface which can significantly reduce the learning curve for new tools and technologies is one way to look at it. However, think about the other perspective, which can streamline access to resources, facilitates collaboration, and often includes features like API catalogs, documentation libraries, and support forums with Docs-like-code, Mark downs and make docs, publish docs capability which is invariably reducing the labor-oriented tasks such as diagrams, design patterns and typing to draft the content before publishing. Product teams comprising developers, automation/ops engineers, and product owners are closely associated to influence the product usage experience for consumers. Allowing indigenous capability for producer and consumer group to associate in a closer collaboration also makes it a trend-setting approach.

Centralized developer platform for enhanced developer experience

Fig. 5: Centralized developer platform for enhanced developer experience

 

Many routine developer tasks (such as maintaining an API spec with its subscribers or members) are offloaded along with seamless access to the developer assets and tools. Simultaneously, product owners, infrastructure administrators, custodians, and subscribers can indigenously maneuver the challenges behind the identification of sources and their accessibility. The logical combination of a Developer Platform and a Developer Portal serves distinct purposes. Their combined usage can significantly enhance the self-service experience for developers.

As you can see in the diagram above, some of the major contributors such as internal, external developers, product owners, service and platform owners are independently being able to operate and still collaborate by bringing a centralized governance, accessibility, promotion and maintainability. At the same time consumers like B2B, B2C, Citizen Users and Internal Users are able to self-gain access to the assets and also adhere to the subscription. Think of APIs subscription, document access, tools setup, maintaining applications or formal communications like broadcasting, campaigns and many more such activities are not only possible but also practically doable to make a positive impact.

The Developer Platform acts as the engine, driving automation and integration, while the Portal provides the intuitive interface, making these powerful capabilities readily accessible. For platform engineers, understanding and leveraging the strengths of both these tools is essential for building a more efficient, autonomous, and developer-friendly environment.

The overall setup looks quite pragmatic, but the real magic begins when a Developer Platform and a Developer Portal are used together, in synergy. While the Developer Platform provides robust backend infrastructure and automation capabilities, the Developer Portal offers a user-friendly front-end interface. This synergy enhances the self-service experience for developers in several ways while transforming the entire developer forum into an indigenous operating model at scale. Organizations such as automotives, manufacturing entities and retailers can enable one such platform to publish their offerings such as their connected solutions-oriented applications, APIs, integration assets, varied programming and IDK setup, packages, etc.

Why should we do it?

The primary objective is to ensure that the producer (external & internal developers) and consumer groups (applications, end-users) are well connected through unified access along with their requirements such as privileged access, quick onboarding of development setup, and APIs subscription. Since not all features will be required daily (for example, every single person won't be registering a new application every working day), we let contributors determine what makes sense for their integrations. We also provide a centralized dashboard and support with analytics which makes it easier to understand the usage. In future, we expect to map the adoption of features to more tangible improvements in operational performance. This will bring a significant change and traction in the operating model of an IT entity.

Here’s a quick look at the benefits:

  • Diminishing cognitive load: Brain Lift helps developers understand how their cognitive load affects their learning and productivity on a daily basis.
  • Autonomy: Developer and Product teams can operate or manage assets in a self-sustained format, making it faster and more convenient.
  • Stakeholder mobilization: Product and application teams do not need to march fast or campaign often enough to create awareness when a portal is self-sufficient to operate as platform.
  • Simplified access: The Portal makes it easier for developers to leverage the complex functionalities of the Internal Developer Platform without needing to delve into its intricacies.
  • Enhanced collaboration: Platform offerings (through shared assets such as docs-like-code, tech docs, components, and developer tools) encourage greater collaboration among the developers, quality engineers and operation teams.
  • Single point of access: Utilities such as confluence, bitbucket, JIRA, slack, and many such amenities are either dissolved into docs, catalogues, release notes or they are integrated under a single platform, making it easier and more meaningful in terms of awareness across subscribers.

When do we go for it?

Growing stack of an Enterprise IT assets demands more siloed operation against the standalone decisions taken by different teams without any prior consent or notification. This uncertainty is causing organizations to impede the pace of development, delivery, and maintenance. It is, therefore, highly recommended to bring radical transformation with enhanced transparency. Otherwise, we may be left to realize later that “it is easier said than done.”