- A platform engineer is defined as a technical professional that works on building a shared platform, including the tools, services, workflows, and data used by engineers and technical teams across the organization – encompassing the shared platform’s infrastructure, applications, and strategic aspects.
- This article delves into a typical platform engineer’s roles and responsibilities and discusses the skills and salary benchmarks for 2023.
A platform engineer is a technical professional who builds a shared platform aggregating the tools, services, workflows, and data used by engineers and technical teams across the organization – encompassing the platform’s infrastructure, applications, and strategic aspects.
As businesses become more technology-driven, it becomes necessary to simplify the development process and make reusable services and parts easily accessible to development teams. Platform engineering is a DevOps strategy in which businesses create a shared platform with self-service capabilities and automated infrastructure operations to enhance developer experience and organizational efficiency.
Gartner anticipates that 80% of all software engineering companies will establish platform departments as internal suppliers of reusable application delivery services, components, and tools by 2026. Further, platform engineering is no longer limited to software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies or technology service providers alone.
What do platform engineers do?
Platform engineering is an emerging approach aimed at modernizing enterprise software delivery. A specialized product team develops and maintains an engineering platform intended to suit the requirements of software engineers and others by offering standardized, reusable tools and functionalities while also connecting with complex infrastructure. A platform engineer is part of this product team.
DevOps combines automation and visualization to accelerate deployment, administration, and monitoring. Platform engineers productize these technologies, processes, and best practices into reusable tools and services across the organization’s various engineering departments and use cases.
This may sound similar to platform as a service (PaaS), but the concepts differ in many ways.
Unlike PaaS, platform engineering offers a more adaptable approach. It is not a general-purpose, off-the-shelf product from a third-party service provider. Instead, it is entirely an in-house development activity. This often entails shorter feedback loops for incorporating new capabilities and changes into the platform and a closer alignment with the organization’s tech stack, methodologies, and compliance requirements.
As a guiding philosophy, platform engineers adopt a more flexible approach, allowing diverse technical teams to work differently without prescribing a single approach for all. However, they may advocate a certain best practice as the most endorsed option.
The first step in considering a platform as a product is to consider internal engineers as users. Therefore, platform programmers must comprehend the difficulties these users face, the current challenges within the community and corporate environment, and how their platform could assist them. When identifying a recurring issue, they must confirm the requirement across teams and quantify the expected benefits.
6 Key responsibilities of a platform engineer
The specific roles and responsibilities of a platform engineer vary depending on the organization, but in general, the essential duties of platform engineers include the following:
Platform Engineer Responsibilities
1. Designing and implementing infrastructure
The platform engineer has to design and implement scalable and reliable infrastructure in the organization. They need to know the requirements of the applications running on their platform and build a platform that can meet these demands. They should ensure that the platform they build is scalable and can handle massive workloads and traffic without service degradation, which may result in poor quality of service (QoS). They should also implement measures that allow the end-to-end infrastructure to function as expected, even if individual components fail.
2. Monitoring and optimizing the performance
Platform engineers need to monitor and optimize the performance of infrastructure and applications following industry and company best practices.
The key to maintaining infrastructure is continuous monitoring, which can prevent unexpected bugs or service degradation. Platform engineers are responsible for defining metrics, such as response times, CPU usage, and error rates, that they will monitor in their applications to detect issues early. They may use tools and set monitoring alerts to perform this task.
After detecting problems, they must provide immediate troubleshooting solutions and implement changes to improve performance.
3. Automating the application deployment process
Platform engineers are responsible for designing continuous integration and development (CI/CD) pipelines for applications. This allows multiple teams to collaborate on building the application, testing, and releasing new features rapidly.
These engineers can also use other tools, such as containers, to deploy and test applications in an isolated space without compromising the operating system or hardware of the organizations. Additionally, they may automate day-to-day tasks such as provisioning and configuring servers to improve productivity in the workplace.
4. Maintaining and updating infrastructure and applications
After designing the platform, they need to maintain, optimize, and update the applications running on it. This process involves ensuring that applications run on the recommended hardware, the latest security patches are rolled out, and firmware updates are installed on time. Platform engineers may also have to test software updates in containers, although this typically falls within the purview of the quality assurance team.
5. Providing troubleshooting and debugging support
Platform engineers are responsible for identifying and delivering effective solutions to problems that may arise with reusable infrastructure and the applications that use them. These issues vary from simple clearing errors to complex problems that need diagnostics data collection – such as system logs from the whole organization – to conduct root cause analysis.
Problems that result in downtimes or service degradation require urgent attention and innovative solutions from platform engineers. Sometimes, they may be required to work with other software teams to detect, solve, and implement these changes.
6. Staying abreast of industry movements and best practices
Platform engineering is an emerging technology field; therefore, there is more to be discovered and learned. These engineers should keep up with the latest trends and tools in this field to ensure their organizations remain competitive.
Qualifications required to become a platform engineer
In addition to proper skill sets, the following qualifications are required to work as a platform engineer:
- Educational qualifications: Most platform engineer positions require a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences, information systems, computer engineering, or a related subject. Some businesses may favor applicants with a master’s degree in computer sciences or a closely related discipline.
- Experience: Although previous experience is not necessarily required, it is often preferred. After being recruited, many ambitious platform engineers will undertake on-the-job training from their new employer. This training assists them in mastering the company’s systems and processes, as platforms across organizations will vary as per bespoke requirements. Some candidates may also receive training from their current employer in a different role. This is particularly true for DevOps engineers since there is a significant overlap between the two disciplines.
- Certifications: A platform engineer typically pursues qualifications to enhance their marketability as prospective candidates. Since this is a relatively new field, you may want to explore DevOps certifications and courses, which can provide many transferable skills.
See More: DevOps Roadmap: 7-Step Complete Guide
As in most DevOps roles, platform engineers need a judicious combination of hard and soft skills. They should have the following soft skills to succeed in their role:
- Collaboration skills: Can collaborate with stakeholders and software teams in the organization to ensure their objectives are met.
- Creativity and problem-solving skills: Demonstrate the aptitude to work, troubleshoot, and deliver solutions creatively.
- Interpersonal and teamwork skills: Perform outstandingly in a team setup.
- Analytical skills: Excellent analytical skills to evaluate, interpret, draw inferences, and make recommendations on data.
- Communication skills: Excellent written, verbal, and presentation skills to plainly and concisely articulate technical concepts.
- Flexibility mindset: Demonstrate a proven ability to conform to shifting priorities, technologies, techniques, and timelines.
- Research and innovation skills: Demonstrate the ability to conduct extensive research innovatively.
- Project management skills: Possess strong project management skills such as good leadership, planning, organizing, and supervising skills that will enable them to work and manage large projects effectively.
Let’s move on to eight technical skills that are vital for platform engineers, regardless of the organization and industry. These are:
Platform Engineer Skills
1. Expertise in programming and scripting languages
Platform engineers should demonstrate expertise in various coding and scripting languages. In-depth knowledge and experience in multiple programming languages are necessary for all engineering roles. They should be able to read, understand, interpret, write, and maintain code.
2. Understanding of networking concepts
Platform engineers often work with an organization’s network infrastructure. They should have the skills to understand how various networking hardware and software components interact with others in the organization. They should also provide support, troubleshoot and deliver solutions to problems that arise. Moreover, platform engineers should demonstrate an understanding of various communication protocols, such as TCP/IP, and network protocol analyzer tools, such as Wireshark, TCP dump, and CloudShark.
3. Expertise in debugging and troubleshooting
Platform engineers should possess strong debugging and troubleshooting skills. For instance, they may need to identify and resolve errors in the organization’s software or business-critical applications running on shared infrastructure. They should also be ready to provide urgent support when critical errors occur, causing downtimes. Platform engineers should understand the requirements of the organization’s applications and create a platform that can meet those requirements. They should understand how the application interacts with the hardware and troubleshoot problems.
4. Familiarity with CI/CD pipelines
Platform engineers should understand CI/CD pipeline concepts and best practices. In continuous delivery (CD), each software change is automatically built, tested, and deployed to production. However, in continuous integration (CI), each software change is built and checked for integration errors quickly.
Platform engineers should be able to set up and maintain an application’s CI/CD pipeline. This will enable them to rapidly and automatically build, test, and deploy new application features and bug fixes. Some useful CI/CD tools to brush up on include Bitbucket pipelines, AWS CodePipeline, and Azure Pipelines.
5. Cloud computing skills
Platform engineers should demonstrate proficiency and ability to work with various cloud computing platforms. Cloud-based services and solutions allow organizations to scale their infrastructure and shared platforms at an affordable cost flexibly. Most organizations’ digital transformation to cloud computing makes it a must-have skill for platform engineers.
They should be familiar with cloud computing models, such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS), PaaS, and SaaS, to help design and deploy cloud-based solutions.
The most commonly used cloud platforms include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). These platforms offer a variety of tools and services to create, manage, and deploy applications. Moreover, they provide reputable, secure, and reliable services that ensure the safety of the organization’s data.
6. Proficiency in container technology
Containerization refers to the software deployment process that bundles all the components of an application it needs to run in a single container. This allows platform engineers to test and deploy applications in multiple environments without rewriting the program code.
Containers are also agile as they allow platform engineers to test, troubleshoot, and change the platform’s code without compromising the operating system or hardware. Docker is one of the most popular containers that platform engineers should learn how to use. Others include AWS Fargate, Amazon Elastic Container Service, and Linux containers.
7. Monitoring and observability skills
Monitoring is a technical solution that allows platform engineers to watch and interpret the state of their systems. It involves gathering a predefined set of data to make conclusions. On the other hand, observability lets these engineers debug their software actively based on the insights of monitoring and other signals. It involves exploring properties and patterns that are not defined in advance.
Monitoring and observability skills enable them to detect and resolve outages, service degradation, bugs, and unauthorized activities. Platform engineers should be able to create and implement alert systems using these skills. They should show proficiency in monitoring system tools, such as Prometheus and Grafana.
8. Databases and database languages
Platform engineers should have in-depth knowledge and understanding of concepts related to databases. This includes database design, relational database queries and optimization, transactions, and object-relational mapping. They should also know NoSQL and object-oriented, network, and hierarchical databases. Finally, platform engineers should be proficient in structured query language (SQL to design and implement database schemas.
Let us now discuss the salary a platform engineer can expect in 2023.
- According to platformengineering.org, most platform engineer roles in the United States pay between $105,000 and $147,500 annually.
- The national average is around $130,000.
Numerous factors, such as schooling, certifications, supplementary skills, and years spent in a profession, may significantly impact salary estimates.
- The average annual salary of the top 90th percentile of engineers is $167,000.
- 57% of platform engineers in the middle of the pyramid – which comprises mid-level roles and those working for medium-sized companies, earn around $100,000-$125,000, according to Comparably (updated January 5, 23).
Due to high salaries, platform engineers also pay a lot of tax in the U.S., which also impacts your salary.
- For a single filer in this tax tier, the anticipated average federal tax would be 24%.
- Once the federal tax rate of 24% is deducted, a platform engineer with typical industry experience might expect to take home anywhere between $70,000 and $95,000.
Another related role you may want to consider is data platform engineer. These professionals apply the same principles to building data connectors, databases, and data components.
- The average platform engineer remuneration in the U.S. is $144,597 per year or $69.52 per hour (although this is rarely an hourly paid role).
- As per statistics from Talent.com, entry-level occupations begin at $120,000 annually, while most experienced professionals earn up to $187,500 annually (updated January 5, 23).
A platform engineer’s job varies widely from one organization to another. Here are the top roles to explore.
- Platform engineering associate: An entry-level position similar to a software developer who works as part of the product team in charge of the platform.
- Product manager – platform: A mid-level strategic role that involves extracting a reusable workflow from an end-to-end DevOps process and turning it into a product.
- Principal engineer – developer platform systems: A senior technical professional who works as part of an existing and highly mature platform team responsible for the DevOps toolchain.
- Senior platform engineer – infrastructure: A mid-level technical role specializing in the infrastructure aspect of platform development, and not the applications or strategic aspects.
- Product manager – data platform: Also known as the manager of information retrieval platforms, this is similar to the product manager role but with a data operations specialization.
- Data platform engineer: A technical role involved in data enablement technologies used in the platform.
Individuals with experience in DevOps roles should consider platform engineering a viable career path. Since it is a new field, the demand far outpaces the supply, leading to attractive salaries and many job vacancies in some of the world’s best-known technology companies.
For instance, Airbnb, Etsy, and Spring Health are all hiring for platform engineer roles in 2023. To prepare for this career path, you can look at platform engineering courses available on online learning platforms, as well as explore DevOps courses and tutorials.