top of page

What do Pigs in Lipstick have to do with Platform Engineering?

Would you like to learn:

  • How you can make the most out of attending KubeCon?

  • Why interfaces are such an important part of any #platform?

  • What exactly pigs in lipstick has to do with platform engineering?

With KubeCon a little over a week away, I spoke with Abby Bangser, Principal Engineer at Syntasso and Whitney Lee, Developer Advocate at VMware Tanzu to talk about their Platform Engineering day talk "Sometimes, Lipstick is Exactly What a Pig Needs!" to get the answers.

A lipstick wearing pig with a hammer and hard hat in front of a gameshow wheel

This year we are in Paris for KubeCon + CloudNativeCon! You are both KubeCon veterans - what can people do to get the most of their time at the conference?

WL: The talks are, of course, amazing, but they're recorded. So if you have the opportunity to connect with someone, and have a conversation in person, I would prioritize that over going to a talk because you'll be able to catch the talk later.

AB: Definitely leverage the hallway track! There are so many amazing talks, and obviously you should watch ours, but the real power is bringing ideas and learnings from the talk rooms to the hallway chats and helping those grow into shared learning and new long-term collaborations with people you meet.

WL: In that vein, prioritize the socials, after-parties and coffee breakfasts. Kubernetes has a ton of official SIGs (special interest groups). Usually these are K8S-related: SIG Networking, SIG Contributor Experience, SIG Docs, SIG CLI, et cetera. But during KubeCon there'll be social-focused SIGs like SIG late night, SIG bouldering, and SIG bike. Definitely look into SIG Boba, a SIG that connects non-drinkers. There is a #sig-boba channel in the CNCF Slack Workspace.

This is the first year that Platform Engineering has been featured as one of the co-lo events. Why do you think Platform Engineering has taken off so much over the last few years?

AB: On the face of it, platform engineering is all about removing complexity which has always been a driving force in engineering. But complexity doesn’t just melt away and Platform Engineering can’t change that. Instead I think the real power of this movement is the deepening realisation that internal services should provide the same level of testability, scalability, and even usability as external systems. And platform engineering can help you do that!

WL: Platform engineering really focuses on how to maximize the benefit that the cloud brings. For example, one of the problems that's happening with a shift left mentality is that application owners are responsible for a lot of their supporting services, but then they're duplicating toil across teams. Every team has to figure out how to manage identity, every team has to figure out how to define and provision databases. What platform engineering brings, and why everyone's so excited about it, is that it consolidates these things, not only to reduce duplicated effort but to add organisational opinions so that everything, all the services that support all the applications across a business, have governance and consistency.

I think your talk has my favourite name of any at KubeCon this year - what came first, the title or the talk? Why bring a talk about livestock to Platform Engineering Day?

WL: Abby and I are friends and we knew we wanted to collaborate for a talk, but we didn't know what we wanted to talk about. I came up with a few ideas, and this talk was one of them. This talk is about interfaces. For me, one overwhelming aspect of getting started with platform engineering is the fact that there are so many possible interfaces and so many possible capabilities. It's hard to navigate when it's a many-to-many relationship. I'd wanted to call the talk "Inter-face off", which is a pretty good name too, I think.

You could get some good Nicholas Cage references in there, couldn't you?

WL: Exactly! But Abby came up with the lipstick on a pig title, and I like that one, too. And as you'll see from the talk itself, I really leaned into some of that fun imagery when I drew the slides.

AB: Between me and you? Like Whitney says, the title came first 😅 But really we wanted to speak on interfaces and my obnoxious overuse of analogies and expressions to try and describe technical concepts then took over for this title!

So why did you want to talk about interfaces?

WL: Platform Engineering is about offering capabilities to internal users. How do you begin to navigate what interface you want to put on a capability? Abby and I wanted to think that through and come up with a framework to answer it. If you get the interface part wrong, it drastically affects a user's daily experience when they're consuming that capability, and therefore it affects the success or failure of your platform. If your interface is cumbersome, no one will use the capabilities that you're offering. Interfaces can be overlooked because the capability itself can be more exciting to talk about. However interfaces are wildly important.

In your abstract, you mention many types of interfaces. Why do you think there is such a variety in how to interact with platforms?

AB: Because both the humans using the platforms and the jobs they are trying to achieve are all so varied. There are definitely more popular options than others, but sometimes context changes the best way to interface with the platform.

Right. So what do you think should come first? The interface or the platform capability that sits behind it?

WL: I don't see how you would define an interface without a capability. You would have to have the capability first, wouldn't you?

Interestingly, in a lot of my recent conversations I've heard people get really excited about portals, and want to start their journey there. They're all about the portal design, what it will look like and don't think about what lives behind it until later. What impact do you think that would have on someone building a platform?

WL: You need to think first about what you want your outcome to be, before you think about how you can provide that outcome. To start thinking about an interface first, you're unnecessarily constraining your options. What's the saying? If you're holding a hammer, everything becomes a nail?

So assuming you've sorted the capability part, what impact does the type of interface have on that capability?

AB: Interfaces can impact the level of friction a user feels. This can in turn impact how the user returns to the platform the next time. Do they architect their software to avoid certain tasks? Do they go outside of norms? Do they get so frustrated they leave the company? All of these may seem extreme, but there are good examples of this in research and paper-cut challenges do add up!

And how would you go about choosing the right interface for that job?

WL: First you have your capability, then you have your users who you want to use that capability. So step one would be to get to know your users really well, what their pain points are and what problems they want to solve. And I thought, maybe naively at first, that you just ask them, "What sounds good to you?" But I think there's a lot of biases that can happen there, for example a user might blindly desire the latest hot tech, or they may have recency bias, or perhaps they’re so used to their problem they don't even see it as a problem anymore. So I think getting to know the users can be better done by looking at data about what they're doing and/or shadowing their experience.

Have you got any spoilers that you can give us to tease anyone who might want to watch?

WL: Our talk has a lot of important, valuable information that will make you a better platform engineer. It also contains game show wheels and rainbows and heart sunglasses and pigs.

Amazing! That sounds like a must see talk. To close off this mini interview, what is the top thing you want people to take away from your talk, other than game show wheels and rainbows?

WL: We're going to address a lot of assumptions that people make about interfaces. And then we’ll have a framework for how to think critically about how to pair interfaces and capabilities. The idea is for viewers to be able to take that framework to their particular users and organisation and experience success, even though platform design is highly contextual and can vary drastically from business to business.

AB: If platform engineering is all about developer experience, then platform engineers need to invest more in what interfaces will provide the right experience for both the users and the use case.

A big thank you to Abby and Whitney for talking to me, and sharing a little bit more about their talk. If you want to learn more about how to pair your interfaces and platform capabilities, and join in with the fun of game show wheels, heart sunglasses and pigs, join us at #PlatEng Day on Tuesday 19th March. Abby and Whitney take the stage at 09:15 for their amazing keynote talk - "Sometimes, Lipstick is Exactly What a Pig Needs!"

111 views0 comments


bottom of page