Developer Platforms: Why You Shouldn't Build One

Lukas Gentele
Samadrita Ghosh
9 min read

If you’ve worked with consistently growing development teams, there is a high chance that you have come across the complexities of managing dozens of tools and technologies such as containers, microservices, cloud resources, codebases and much more to reduce the DevOps overhead.

To eliminate administrative tasks involved with maintaining the end-to-end development process, the need for Developer Platforms emerged, aiming to accelerate the production speed as well as the quality of the internal communication links and data exchange routes. Primarily, Developer Platforms bridge the gap between the operations and development teams through services such as APIs and open-source drivers that can enable the DevOps teams to leverage the abstracted tech infrastructure. To enable developers to self-serve the required technology stack defined by the Ops team, the platform effectively furnishes a self-service user interface (UI) and command line interface (CLI). To learn more about Developer Platforms in general, click here.

This article, however, is for those who are working with or managing high-growth development teams and need a platform to act as the bridge to exponentially scale the team. By the end of this article, you will be able to decide whether you need a developer platform, analyze what features can benefit you specifically, and understand the pros and cons of building your own platform vs purchasing an external solution.

#Benefits of Developer Platforms

A Developer Platform is the key to growing teams and processes. It’s a necessary integration for teams aiming for scale. The fork in the road primarily appears where the team must decide whether to build the platform in-house or source one from external experts.

Here are some of the high-level benefits of Developer Platforms, which are often adjusted to low-level customizations as per the user’s needs.

  • Faster engineering - Engineering products are not a linear process. The development pipeline is filled with feedback and response loops. The Developer Platform aims to shorten the time between such loops so that the developer is instantly aware of the recommendations or any bottlenecks. All the necessary tools needed for deploying the changes have high visibility on the Developer Platform, making the response rate much quicker.
  • High-velocity teams - The process is not the only asset that benefits from speed-inducing developer platforms. Teams and individual contributors can also improve in their own development methods. Through the use of Developer Platforms teams can increase performance, such as adding to the number of features developed by each FTE or increasing the number of tests per unit of time. Such progress is feasible since Developer Platforms offer a paved path for achieving tasks based on expertise and requirements gathered from a host of clients.
  • Self-service - The objective of Developer Platforms is to abstract the complexities of the process and enable developers to operate through self-service environments. Any action from the developer’s end is integrated with the CI/CD pipeline and the DevOps cycle, with all complex elements removed.
  • Automation - Development teams are dynamic, with new processes, innovation, and technologies integrated every other week or month. Further change is brought about by team members who migrate roles within teams or even move across organizations. With a Developer Platform, change management is automated, making project handovers and innovation less exhausting. Developer Platforms also support automation during the product creation pipeline. Developers can write their code and enable automated testing, deployment, and monitoring.
  • Better developer experience - Developer Platforms are created by rethinking the user as a customer. The platform should not only be functional but also easy for the developers to use. This calls for a great UI/UX which is one of the key areas of emphasis for organizations building Developer Platform solutions.
  • Higher job satisfaction - With benefits like fast-paced projects, fewer errors, compelling UI, and abstracted complexities, more often than not developers will be looking forward to a workday where they can focus their skill on creating innovative capabilities rather than engaging in passive administrative and organizing processes.
  • Standardized workflow - All tools and technologies are visible under the umbrella of the Developer Platform and the integrations and internal connections are easily traceable. This capability allows developers to create a standardized workflow that they can view, modify, and even automate at any given time.
  • Better visibility and access for developers - Managers or supervising developers can easily customize views and edit access to the project assets. This is a taxing task in general, yet can be swiftly managed through the UI on Developer Platforms. The access controls act as one of the most reliable security features to guard projects against both internal or external mishaps.
  • Bringing dev and ops closer together - There is often a significant communication gap between the development and operations teams across organizations. The Developer Platform bridges this gap by abstracting complex details and allowing the operations team to work on the functionalities. This reduces the burden on the operations team so they can offer feedback sooner, and also benefits the development teams who do not have to communicate the significance of each process.

#Why Shouldn’t You Build a Developer Platform Yourself?

The truth is, every organization can build a Developer Platform internally. But the question of whether they should do so needs to be addressed. When determining whether to build a Developer Platform internally or to buy an external solution, there are a few things to consider.

First, it is important to understand that Developer Platforms are most helpful for organizations and teams that are neither too small, about ten to twenty team members, nor too large, such as Google or GitHub’s development teams. In the first case, you probably do not need a Developer Platform since the number of tools and developers are limited, making the production pipeline manageable even without an assisting platform. In the latter case, you almost certainly need to build an internal platform, since the teams have already achieved scale and are more likely to need a built-in and highly customizable system to coordinate their large-scale and high-volume projects.

Teams who decide to go the route of building an internal Developer Platform face a variety of challenges. Resources, time, and effort must be carefully balanced. Consider the following factors:

  • Dev experience - Building a Developer Platform in-house requires dedicated engineers who can work on the product for the long term. Creating a proper Developer Platform can take up to six months, which can make the developers question their contributions to the organization’s customer-facing products, gradually leading to poor job satisfaction.
  • Security - Developer Platforms have a managerial view of end-to-end projects. If the platform is not of state-of-the-art quality, it can pose a threat to sensitive assets. Therefore, employing highly skilled developers who have expertise in the development of DevOps platforms is critical to building a reliable product.
  • Cost management - An in-house IT project often ends up consuming more time and resources than the initial plan anticipated. To create a Developer Platform that can serve your teams for the long term, several experts must continue to be involved in building, upgrading, and maintaining the platform for as long as it is in use. The existing developers in the internal team are typically not the ideal candidates to create such platforms, since their core expertise is in developing the organization’s products.
  • UI/CLI design - While building a Developer Platform, it is important to remember that many developers will be using it over a long period of time. Therefore, it is necessary to create user-friendly interfaces and command line interfaces that the developers can understand without the need for guided instructions. This again requires high-end UI developers who might not be part of the organization’s existing internal teams.
  • Infrastructure provisioning - Several hardware resources such as storage, power, RAM, and workspaces are necessary in large quantities to keep a complex project running. Developer Platforms require significant development and testing grounds and can eat away the team’s allotted infrastructure provisions.
  • Documentation and maintenance- Even though documentation and maintenance appear to be less taxing tasks, they take up a significant amount of a developer’s time. If you’ve worked on a development project before, you are aware that documentation is more easily said than done since it requires constant maintenance and upgrades. In fact, maintaining upgrades to keep up with market trends requires several resources at the instant disposal of the team.

#Loft: The Developer Platform Solution to Scale Your Teams

As you can see, Developer Platforms require a great deal of effort, resources, and time. It is, therefore, recommended that you instead choose an already existing platform that can be built upon and customized to your needs. Compared to building an entire Developer Platform from scratch, this strategy will save you valuable time and resources.

Loft is one such platform that can incorporate your needs to the point that it looks like it is an extension of your own internal team. Here are a few features of Loft that can be leveraged to launch your very own, best-in-class Developer Platform for Kubernetes:

  • Highly customizable - Loft can easily integrate with your existing system and offers features that are adaptable to your specific needs. Whereas some teams may decide to build their own platforms from scratch so that they can customize to a very high degree, Loft solves this by providing 100% control over all the features of the Developer Platform.
  • Everything is a CRD - Loft enables developers to build and add their custom objects to the Kubernetes cluster so that they can be used as any other object. Each object on Loft is a CRD, which means complete customization and control.
  • Everything can be managed with kubectl or GitOps - Since Loft is 100% Kubernetes, the developer can operate each element through kubectl or GitOps. This also adds the advantage of easy integration with existing cloud-native tools.
  • Automated cost optimization - Loft aims to plan and optimize costs by deleting unused instances, switching to sleep mode when resources are not in use, and by monitoring cluster costs and enforcing limits accordingly.

#Final Note

Even though it is technically doable, building a Developer Platform from scratch isn’t the best way to go for teams that are aiming for fast-tracked growth. However, the idea of leveraging an external Developer Platform can be unappealing to some developers since it typically lacks customization and control. Loft’s unique combination of complete control and an expertly-built platform foundation is a solution worth exploring to engage in exponentially scaling your self-serviced teams.

Photo by Danist Soh on Unsplash

Sign up for our newsletter

Be the first to know about new features, announcements and industry insights.