Nicolas Buquet is SVP of Platform Engineering at Scaleway. His team builds services for Scaleway, in turn enabling our product teams to build new products for you. The layer users never see what allows us to build great things. He will join us on stage to take part in a panel, focused on Platform, at the CTO Forum, which takes place at VivaTech on June 17th. Over to you, Nicolas!

Platform teams: where are they from, and what do they do

The platform team manages the infrastructure of an organization. This infrastructure includes internal resources like Virtual Machines, Orchestration, Managed service staging and testing environments, production resources and more. At Scaleway, our Platform team provides the needed infrastructure to ease the development of products for the product team - those building the products you use and love.

In general, platform teams are created by engineers coming from Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) or infrastructure teams. This makes sense, because a Platform team is an SRE team that has ‘service’ in its DNA. Then, depending on the company's maturity, it evolves into a more or less complete and independent team.

At Scaleway, Platform was created on the foundations of a previously-existing Operations team, also known as the SRE & Monitoring team. As we scaled, we decided to scale the Platform team too. We split engineering skills into verticals, with each vertical being an absolute expert of the engineering skill it manages. Teams are very specialized, to respond to specific engineering skills. The lower on the stack our projects are, the more specialized the skill needs to be.

A Platform to unlock the productivity of Product development

A common mistake when building a platform team is to build it as a response to technical emergencies, with a constant “run” and no clear vision. For me, it’s the opposite: Platform teams need to be in a 'service' mindset, especially if the company wants to scale. We are here to serve clients, even if they are from the same company. Our clients are the Engineering Manager building our final products. This service mindset means specific methodologies are needed.

In most DevOps organizations, the cursor between “build & run” is hard to set accurately, but understanding the product and anticipating their needs is crucial to be impactful. So we ensure we only implement and deploy services that will be used, and that will fix blockers on those elements that definitively slow down the product development.

That’s why we also integrated a Product Manager into our team, to facilitate synchronization with all Engineering Managers, and find innovative solutions to their needs. This enables engineers working on products to focus on products and create value for our customers, while we manage this infrastructure and the complex Ops tasks.

Our primary focus is to have an impact on the technical product team. So we test and challenge ourselves in intensive iso-production conditions. The services provided by Platform need to be rock-solid, stable, and industrial. If those services fail, every single product may fail, like a domino. We are extremely committed to high-availability, otherwise, we’ll endanger the entire Scaleway ecosystem.

In order to industrialize our product and build a “small cloud in the cloud”, we needed to reinforce our talents, both on the managerial side and in the pure technical skill aspect. Now, each vertical is its own ecosystem with dedicated skills.

How to build your first platform team

If you are thinking about building your own platform team within your company, I would suggest asking yourself a few questions:

  • Do the individuals who compose your team have a “service-oriented” mindset? Never forget you are here to help the product team
  • Did you spend time properly understanding which challenges the product teams to face from an Ops perspective? What are their day-to-day problems?
  • Did you keep in mind that being “rock-solid” is one of your main targets? If the services you deployed are not top quality, you will never create the adhesion of the product team.

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