Build Engineering 101: Roles, Tools and Best Practices

Build engineering plays a significant role in the modern software development process. It involves transforming the source code of an application into executable software builds. Then, these builds are deployed into various deployment environments. 

Today, we’re diving into build engineering roles and processes, tool and technologies and best practices build engineers can follow to streamline development.

What is build engineering?

Build engineering encompasses building executable software artifacts from the source code of an application and deploying them into various deployment environments. This specialized area of software engineering is also known as ‘build and release engineering,’ ‘release engineering,’ or ‘build automation’. Build engineering plays a critical role in the software engineering process, from code integration phases to software kit building and deployment. 

Build engineers work closely with the development teams to identify, build, and deploy requirements, including documentation needs and dependencies. Additionally, they provide support for release management tasks. Often, build engineering tasks are automated using various automated build tools and technologies, improving the efficiency and reliability of the processes.

Build engineer responsibilities

Build engineers play a major part in any software development process. Let’s cover just a few of the potential responsibilities they’ll face on a given day: 

Identify, build, and deploy requirements

Build engineers start by identifying, building, and deploying requirements by collaborating with the development teams. Understanding the scope of the build process allows them to align their tasks with the specified requirements of development teams.

Creating, managing, and executing build pipelines

Writing the build scripts for the build jobs, creating the build pipelines, and testing them. It also involves handling build dependencies accurately. 

Automating the build process

Build engineers should leverage the required automated tools and technologies and automate the code integration, kit building, testing, and deployment processes. 

Testing the build quality

Ensuring that the build is error-free allows developers and testers to execute the builds without any delays. 

Automating build verification testing

Quality engineers usually verify the build when a software kit is built. Build engineers provide support in creating automated build verification testing suites. They can also help identify the tests that need to be performed and ensure the accuracy and reliability of those tests.

Deploying the built software into various testing environments 

Depending on the application architecture, kit deployments can have several deployment tasks such as running pipelines, restarting servers, and database-related changes. Build engineers help automate those tasks, including the deployment to production, which makes the latest changes available to end users. 

Debugging build failures

Various build failures can occur due to different issues, such as incorrect or outdated dependencies, bugs in code, and hardware issues. Build engineers are responsible for handling and troubleshooting these issues to avoid any deployment delays. 

(See how bug bounty programs encourage bug-finding!)

Build maintenance

Build engineers should maintain the builds by applying necessary software upgrades. It can be done using build automation tools. Regular build maintenance is critical for maintaining the quality of software builds. Moreover, keeping builds up-to-date allows development teams to prevent errors and ensure the reliability and stability of builds.

Provide documentation and guidelines

Build engineering also involves documenting build steps and other instructions for executing build processes. Additionally, it covers account creation, troubleshooting guides, and other related tasks for developers.

Researching and updating on the latest build automation tools and technologies

Build automation tools and technologies evolve with the latest technological advancements. Thus, build engineers must stay up-to-date and adapt to the changes accordingly.

Benefits of build engineering in the SDLC

Build engineering is a critical part of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). The following is a list of the key benefits it brings to the software development process.

Automates build engineering processes

Build engineering automates the code integration, kit building, testing, and deployment tasks to improve the build and deployment processes. This automation eliminates human errors and speeds up software development and deployment.

Improves  the productivity of developers 

Many organizations have separate build engineers to handle the responsibilities of build engineering. It enables software developers to focus on what matters most to them.

(Learn more about developer productivity engineering.)

Improves the software quality 

The build engineering process facilitates automated testing activities, including build verification and testing during continuous integration and delivery. Software quality maintenance is essential at every stage of the development life cycle.

Reduces complexities

Many enterprise software systems have large code repositories with many dependencies. Build engineering helps simplify these complexities through build automation. Additionally, build engineering leverages modularization and componentization techniques to reduce the complexity of software. It improves the maintainability and extensibility of software.

Simplifies collaboration among developers 

Build engineering enables seamless code integration in a development environment where multiple developers contribute to the source code. It allows for easy collaboration while reducing conflicts.

Tools and technologies used in build engineering

Build engineering leverages several tools and technologies to improve the efficiency of each process. 

  • Continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) tools -  Enable the execution of automated jobs, such as continuous code integration, analytics, testing, triggering release pipelines, and deploying software to production. Examples of CI CD tools include Jenkins, Bamboo, Travis, and Circle CI. 
  • Version control systems  - These platforms are used to maintain code repositories and track the changes made to codebases. Popular version control systems include Gitlab, a web-based Git repository management platform, and other cloud-based services such as Bitbucket and GitHub public repositories.
  • Containerization platforms - Many software development companies leverage containerization to package software in lightweight containers. There, various technologies are used for the build engineering processes. For instance,  platforms like Docker are used for containerization. In the meantime, Kubernetes is used for container orchestration to automate the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.
  • Test automation tools - You can use popular testing frameworks like Selenium, Cucumber, and JUnit and integrate them with build automation tools like Jenkins, Maven, and Travis CI to automate the execution of tests
  • Configuration management tools -  Several tools can automate and simplify tasks such as defining, configuring, and managing software deployments. These tools deploy software onto multiple servers, manage changes to software configurations, and track the status of software deployments. Open-source tools such as Ansible, Chef, and Puppet are a few examples of such tools.
  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools - This configuration management tool allows build engineers to declare infrastructure configurations as code. Terraform and AWS CloudFormation are some popular IaC tools among build engineers. 
  • Cloud computing platforms - Cloud resources are essential for current build engineering processes to manage cloud-hosted applications and systems. Several build automation technologies can be used directly, including AWS CodeDeploy, AWS CloudFormation, CodeCommit, Systems Manager, and OpsWork. 
  • Build monitoring tools - Monitor the build status and take action if there are any issues with the builds. Examples of such tools include AWS CloudWatch and build histories of build automation tools. 
  • Static code analysis tools - Static code analysis tools help teams identify any code issues during the build process. Sonar Cube and Qodana are two popular examples. 

Build engineering best practices

Automate everything

Automate the release process to minimize human intervention as much as possible, helping teams retain high-release deployment velocity. However, you should utilize the right set of automated tools and technologies to achieve it. 

Follow proper branching and naming conventions

Use a feature branch for releasing a new feature to the production environment and development branches for daily development work. You can also use a hotfix branch to release emergency patches to production.

Integrate the required testing phases in CI/CD pipelines

Integrate unit testing, integration testing, functional testing, and security testing phases to improve code quality. 

Properly manage software artifacts

Every build can contain a collection of artifacts such as compiled codes, jar files, Docker images, etc. They should be properly tagged with standard versioning, ids, and names. Moreover, you should securely store and maintain those artifacts.

Choose the right deployment strategy

There are different deployment strategies like blue/green, canary, and rolling updates. However, the best deployment strategy depends on the needs of the business. A blue/green deployment can be a good option if the application is not containerized, while canary or rolling deployments are more suitable for non-critical applications.

Document the build process 

Document everything related to the build engineering processes. Provide instructions and troubleshooting guides that anyone can refer to in case of any issues. Regularly maintain the documentation, removing outdated steps.

Collect feedback and improve the processes

It is important to get feedback from the deployment teams on the build engineering process. It helps organizations identify the processes that need improvement and the necessary changes to align with company goals. 

Summarizing build engineering

Build engineering is an important part of software development. Build engineers form the backbone of the development process, enabling teams to streamline their workflows, manage dependencies, and ensure consistent and successful software builds.

The tools and best practices discussed here not only improve the effectiveness of the build process but also ensure that software development projects meet their goals. 

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Shanika Wickramasinghe is a software engineer by profession and a graduate in Information Technology. Her specialties are Web and Mobile Development. Shanika considers writing the best medium to learn and share her knowledge. She is passionate about everything she does, loves to travel and enjoys nature whenever she takes a break from her busy work schedule. She also writes for her Medium blog sometimes. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.