The Platform Engineer Role Explained: Who Is a Platform Engineer?

Poorly designed infrastructure leaves your applications and networks vulnerable to cyberattacks and data breaches. This puts the company at significant risk: the average cost of a data breach reached a record high $4.35 million in 2022.

This is where companies bring in platform engineers. A platform engineer is a professional who ensures that security protocols and best practices are in place to protect against potential security threats. Their primary responsibility is to build and maintain an internal developer platform (IDP) that supports software delivery systems' seamless running.

Interested in becoming a platform engineer? Need to hire one? Let's dive into this topic and learn what it takes to be a platform engineer.

What is a Platform Engineer?

A platform engineer builds and maintains an internal developer platform (IDP) that helps software delivery systems run seamlessly. They collaborate with the team of developers and senior management to ensure that the infrastructure is reliable, scalable and capable of handling the needs of the applications over time. Gartner defines platform engineering as:

...an emerging technology approach that can accelerate the delivery of applications and the pace at which they produce business value.”

Here’s how platform engineers do all this:

  • Working with the dev team to understand requirements for the application infrastructure. 
  • Developing the infrastructure for the application. 
  • Testing to verify that the infrastructure can handle the expected load and can recover from failures.
  • Configuring servers, databases and other services to run the application.
  • Monitoring the infrastructure for issues and makes updates to keep it running smoothly. 

(Read our introduction to platform engineering or compare it to SRE & DevOps.)

What does a platform engineer do?

The platform engineer builds and maintains a system that supports other engineers. Their work circulates around writing code to handle everything from user authentication to database management, as well as ensuring that the system scales properly when more traffic comes in.

The tasks performed by a platform engineer can vary depending on their company's needs, but they often include:

  • Writing code in languages like Java or Python (or other similar languages).
  • Working with databases like MySQL or MongoDB.
  • Building APIs using frameworks like Spring Boot or Express.

Roles and responsibilities of a platform engineer

Platform engineers manage, design and implement the infrastructure to support the smooth functioning of an application. Let’s look at some of their core responsibilities:

Designing & implementing the infrastructure

Platform engineers design and implement the infrastructure that an application will run on. They select the appropriate hardware and software components, configure the networking and storage resources and create security policies.

They also consider factors like reliability and disaster recovery when designing the infrastructure to ensure that the infrastructure is scalable and can handle the expected load. 

Monitoring the infrastructure performance

Once the infrastructure is in place, the Platform Engineer must monitor its performance to check whether the application is running smoothly. They use various tools and techniques to monitor the infrastructure, such as log analysis, performance metrics, and alerts. If any issues are detected, the Platform Engineer investigates and resolves them as quickly as possible to minimize the impact on the application's performance.

Automating the product development lifecycle

Platform Engineers automate the testing, deployment and configuration management processes to focus on more strategic tasks like infrastructure design and monitoring. This helps to reduce errors and improve efficiency — automation makes tasks faster and more consistent than human operators.

Consider the process of deploying a new software application to a production environment. In a manual deployment process, a platform engineer would need to manually configure servers, install software components, and test the application. 

But, an automated deployment process can perform all tasks automatically, using tools such as configuration management software, continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, and container orchestration platforms. This automation not only saves time and reduces errors, but it also enables platform engineers to deploy new software applications more frequently.

Making appropriate updates in infrastructure and applications

Platform engineers maintain the underlying infrastructure including hardware, software and storage resources to ensure the infrastructure’s reliability, scalability and security. 

As new vulnerabilities are discovered, the engineers keep the infrastructure up-to-date with the latest patches and security updates to mitigate potential risks. They also test the updates before deploying them to ensure that they don’t impact the application's performance negatively. 

You can follow this systematic approach to update the infrastructure:

  1. Evaluate the impact of the updates on the system and assess any associated risks.
  2. Check for compatibility issues with existing applications and services.
  3. Next, conduct extensive testing to ensure that the updates do not cause any unexpected issues.
  4. Finally, deploy the updates to the production environment. 

(Read more about release management.)

Debugging and resolving application issues

Platform engineers maintain the overall health and stability of the applications that run on their organization's platform. When an application is not functioning correctly, it can…

  • Impact on the user experience.
  • Cause downtime.
  • Result in revenue loss. 

So, platform engineers identify the root cause of the issues and then work on implementing the required changes to fix them. Done right, these changes minimize any disruption to the application's users. 

Keeping up with the latest trends in the industry

The tech industry is evolving. Platform engineers must keep up with the emerging technologies to ensure that the infrastructure and applications they manage are up-to-date and efficient. Keeping up with the latest trends also helps identify opportunities to improve the application's performance and reduce costs.

(Check out these cybersecurity trends & internet stats.)

Coordinating with team members to discuss technicalities

Platform engineers work closely with other members of the development team, such as software engineers and QA analysts, to discuss technical issues and find solutions that meet the infrastructure’s needs.

Effective communication and collaboration help them develop and maintain the applications successfully.

Becoming a platform engineer: Skills needed

As a platform engineer, you should have strong technical skills and soft skills to be successful. Here are the six hard skills — plus five soft skills — that you should master to become a proficient platform engineer.

Proficient coding in Python, Java or C++

A platform engineer must have expertise in one or more programming languages, including Python, Java or C++. These languages are used to develop and maintain applications and software systems:

  • Python is widely used for scripting, automation and data analysis tasks.
  • Java is commonly used for building enterprise applications and web services.
  • C++ is preferred for developing operating systems, database systems and gaming applications.

Code debugging & troubleshooting

Platform engineers must have an in-depth understanding of code debugging and troubleshooting skills because they enable platform engineers to diagnose issues in the code structure and architecture of the platform. 

As a platform engineer, you should know how different platform components interact with each other to identify the root cause of an issue by analyzing logs, examining error messages, and tracing the flow of code execution. This helps identify the exact point in the code where the issue originates.

Working knowledge of networking concepts (TCP/IP, DNS, and HTTP)

Platform engineers must have a working knowledge of TCP/IP, DNS and HTTP protocols to understand how data is transmitted and received over a network. They should know how to configure network settings, set up firewalls and ensure that network connections are secure and stable.

Here are a few reasons why knowledge of networking concepts is necessary:

  • A solid understanding of TCP/IP helps in troubleshooting the issues related to network connectivity, packet loss and congestion.
  • Configuring DNS settings lets you ensure that your platform's applications are accessible to users. 
  • Caching and compression also help to improve the speed and efficiency of your platform's web services.

Cloud computing expertise

Since cloud computing is an integral part of platform engineering, employers expect platform engineers to have expertise in cloud platforms like AWS, Azure or Google Cloud Platform. 

To be successful in this role, you should know how to deploy, monitor, and manage applications and services on cloud platforms. This helps in effectively managing and optimizing the platform's infrastructure, ensuring scalability and elasticity, and automating continuous delivery.

Working expertise with scripting languages and frameworks

A platform engineer must have working expertise with scripting languages and frameworks to help streamline the process of deploying and managing infrastructure. This working expertise with scripting languages provides the means to automate, define and manage infrastructure and applications in a consistent, scalable, efficient manner.

CI/CD pipeline concepts

Since platform engineers design and maintain the underlying infrastructure and systems that support software applications, they play a critical role in ensuring the successful implementation of CI/CD pipelines. 

Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines are used to automate the build, test, and deployment process of software applications. As a platform engineer, you should:

  • Have a deep understanding of CI/CD concepts. 
  • Know how to configure and manage the pipelines to ensure that software updates are deployed quickly, safely and efficiently.

Project management

Platform engineers need to be adept at managing projects. This means they should have the ability to define project goals, create timelines and allocate resources. 

When needed, they should identify potential risks and take proactive steps to mitigate security threats. As a platform engineer, you must understand how important it is to communicate project progress to stakeholders and adjust the project plan if necessary.

Detail oriented

Platform engineers need to have strong attention to detail. As one, you should understand complex technical requirements and ensure that every aspect of a project is thoroughly tested and validated. This helps in ensuring that:

  • All project documentation is up to date.
  • Code reviews are conducted regularly, supporting the platform’s reliability and stability.

Coordination and communication

Platform engineers need to be skilled in coordinating and communicating with cross-functional teams. They should work effectively with software developers, infrastructure engineers and other stakeholders to ensure that projects are delivered on time and within budget. 

As a platform engineer, you must communicate technical concepts clearly and concisely to non-technical stakeholders. Effective communication and coordination that aligns and works towards the same goals.

Adaptable to new technologies and trends

Adapting to new technologies and trends let platform engineers stay ahead of the curve and be proactive in identifying potential challenges and opportunities. It allows them to improve performance, enhance the user experience, increase efficiency, and gain a competitive advantage.

For example, integrating new technologies such as artificial intelligence or machine learning can help platforms deliver personalized experiences to users.

Monitoring and problem-solving

Platform engineers should possess monitoring and problem-solving skills to strengthen their footprint in the industry. They monitor the platform's performance, identify potential issues and proactively take steps to address them. 

To further enhance this, they also troubleshoot complex technical problems and work collaboratively with cross-functional teams to resolve them. These skills help them ensure that the platform remains stable, reliable, and meets users' needs.

The salary range of a platform engineer

As per the latest update of April 2023 from Glassdoor, in the United States, a platform engineer makes $145,033 per year, with an average salary of $114,549.  

However, factors such as location and experience can affect this number. Here are some other 2023 salary reports:

(Check out more salaries for IT roles plus IT spending forecasts.)

Platform engineers make work easier

The platform engineer role is a critical one, and it's essential to understand how this role can help your company grow. If you're interested in becoming a platform engineer, here are some tips:

  • Make sure you have the right skills and experience for the job. You should be familiar with both frontend and backend development and systems administration.
  • Get involved with open-source projects or attend meetups to network with other developers who share your interests. This will help build up your knowledge base while also allowing you to get noticed by potential employers.

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This posting does not necessarily represent Splunk's position, strategies or opinion.

Laiba Siddiqui
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Laiba Siddiqui

Laiba Siddiqui is a technical writer who specializes in writing for SaaS companies. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and at contentbylaibams@gmail.com.