Wider teams are resisting adopting an internal developer platform, and platform engineers are pulling their hair trying to understand why, according to the State of DevOps 2023 Report. Is it too complex? Does it not do the job? Is the UI not sleek enough? Possibly all of the above, but the real culprit is under-education and under-communication about the possibilities of an internal developer platform to your wider team.
Developer self-service is an integral part of platform engineering, and one that has the most number of users across an organization. If you can get your team to adopt developer self-service, your platform engineering strategy is in the bag. But for this to happen, it should satisfy the needs of all – both end-users (devs, solution architects, IT teams) and Ops.
So, building a developer self-service, which is more than simply designing a fancy UI (though it is very important and overlooked by many!) – it’s about building a functional tool with a user in mind. It’s not just making it user-friendly - make it user-oriented!
Treating the platform as a product that answers your customers’ (wider teams’) needs is what will help you build a platform that’s going to be easy to adopt.
How can you make developer self-service more user-friendly?
Address the user’s needs
Just like any relationship, it’s all about communication. In an ideal world, end-users communicate their needs, and the platform team responds to them as best they can. The platform team’s role is to put their end-users in the best position to handle tools, processes, and infrastructure, but how exactly that’s done depends on individual members.
Treat your colleagues as if they were your customers, and the platform as a product, then the roadmap becomes so much simpler and clearer.
If your team can’t articulate their wants and needs clearly, take the next best thing - an out-of-the-box industry standard solution. We’ve written loads on the benefits of buying vs building, but the gist is this – why spend hours of your precious time perfecting what’s already been perfected by experts? There’s nothing your team is going to gain from reinventing the wheel, so you’ll be safer with market-tested solutions.
Cycloid’s own self-service portal StackForms prioritizes end-user experience to make configuring new environments as seamless and autonomous as possible. We aim for flexibility, simplicity, and control when it comes to self-service, concealing complex tech behind a user-friendly interface (so hopefully we know what we’re talking about!)
Autonomy and security
The primary goal of a developer self-service portal is to allow end-users to service their infra and cloud needs independently, without the need for expert (usually DevOps) supervision. This is the deciding factor in increasing development and time-to-market speed, as platform engineering promises.
This means that any security guardrails your DevOps needs are going to have to be in the background, to not obstruct or slow down your end-users' process. With permissions and roles set in advance, your end-users can deploy fast, while Ops enjoy peace of mind that nothing will get broken without their knowledge.
Independence goes beyond leaving devs to their own devices. Sharing some of the business responsibility improves their involvement and facilitates the process known as “shift left.” For example, giving end-users estimated cost data on their new deployments will help foster a culture of responsibility.
We know we just said that a developer self-service is not just about snazzy UI and it’s not - it’s about functional and user-friendly smooth user experience. Far too often platform engineers overlook this simple step, but the shocking truth is that bad UX can severely impact efficiency and their experience on a project.
There’s nothing wrong with DIY-ing an engineering platform – open-source tools like Backstage offer great flexibility and moldability. However, at the same time, they require more technical expertise. Developers either need to upskill (and there’s a shockingly low upskilling rate in companies - we wrote a whole ebook about that), or write up more tickets to Ops, which would defeat the entire purpose of a self-service portal.
Not only do end-users, and especially developers appreciate simple and functional interfaces, a good user-oriented developer self-service design will help them be more efficient and independent.
Platform engineering adoption is a big step in the right direction to achieve better DevX and faster time-to-market speed. The biggest challenge is convincing your wider team that it’s worth it. Platform teams should make evangelization and communication around the capabilities of the internal developer platform their number one priority. Anything you can do to help nudge them in the right direction – including creating a user-oriented and user-friendly developer self-service platform, will certainly help your cause.