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5 min read

Why self-service is key to your developer experience

Matt Saunders
26 January 24 DevOps
DevOps team being productive

What is developer self-service?

Self-service has become more commonplace in our daily lives, whether checking out at the supermarket or ordering food at a restaurant using a QR code. We can all benefit from cutting out the middleman to speed up processes, drive efficiency, and reduce bottlenecks—and the tech industry is no different.

Developer self-service is all about allowing developers to focus on what they do best—designing and building software—by giving them the tools to take care of tasks, like setting up and maintaining infrastructure, version control, and configuration management, efficiently and accurately so that they don’t have to do this themselves. A self-service platform incorporating an internal developer portal (IDP) supports developers in creating applications and services by creating repositories, testing pipelines, deployment and release infrastructure delivered to the cloud with minimal input from operations teams.

Research shows that high-performing teams use a high degree of developer self-service. Successful self-service reduces the brain work required on tasks considered non-core to developers with the help of golden paths—curated tooling, optimised processes, and best-practice approaches. Don't be mistaken though; this is not about shifting the cognitive load onto developers. The most successful self-service approaches abstract well-formed and routine tasks away from developers, allowing them the flexibility to innovate where needed.

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How does developer self-service support DevOps practices?

When it’s done right, developer self-service provides tools that quickly remove distractions from developers that impede flow— allowing them to get rapidly into an iterative meaningful work cycle generating fast feedback—a key goal of contemporary DevOps. This can accelerate your DevOps efforts to a new level by increasing productivity and autonomy, strengthening security, and speeding up deployment while freeing ops to work more strategically.

Here are a few ways developer self-service has a significant role to play in your DevOps initiative:

  • Automation—self-service tools automate routine tasks so your developers can focus on innovation.
  • Friction-free deployment—self-service enables developers to access tools and platforms without waiting for operational teams, allowing them to get started and innovate faster.
  • Collaboration—with greater openness, knowledge sharing, and trust between dev and ops around communicating what devs actually need, self-service helps build a more collaborative culture.
  • Continuous improvement—it's much easier to monitor, give feedback on, iterate, and optimise standardised self-service processes to support a culture of continuous improvement.
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How can you measure if developer self-service is working?

It's not enough to implement developer self-service tools if you don't keep tabs on how they work and your ROI. Luckily, some clear KPIs will give you a strong indication of how things are progressing and where improvements can be made.

First, measure how your developers can get started—for example, how long between starting work on a project can they have code from a fresh repository committed, built and deployed to a test environment? Track the number of support requests your developers make for what should be routine tasks. This should give you a clear idea of their reliance on IT teams and whether self-service substantially reduces support requests.

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What are the security considerations?

You’re right to be cautious about increasing developer autonomy over your software infrastructure. But, done sensibly, by exploiting automation to put the right guardrails in place, your software should be even more secure.

Having reliable and mature self-service allows security concerns to be codified and automated. Once developers have a capable self-service mechanism, they no longer need to request ad-hoc tools and systems access, which is how security can be overlooked in the first place. Building appropriate anticipatory security becomes much easier when automated early in the development lifecycle.

Despite this, don’t forget that even the most secure platforms could be vulnerable, so you’ll still need regular audits and compliance checks. Having guardrails and standard self-service processes does not relieve developers of their responsibilities for secure coding. So you’ll want to train all your developers to make sure they’re aware of best practices and how the risks that arise could affect their code. You should also watch over your self-service environment and have a clear plan to resolve (and learn from) any incidents if they do occur.

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What are the main benefits of a developer self-service strategy?

Two of the biggest wins you stand to gain from implementing developer self-service are speeding up innovation and reducing bottlenecks. Let's take a look at both in more detail.

A more innovative organisation

Without waiting for IT support, developers can start new projects immediately, avoiding unnecessary hoop-jumping to access the necessary resources and tools. They are also free to experiment, create prototypes, and iterate new, novel ideas easily, testing and incorporating feedback to improve them as they go. They can work without the friction and waiting associated with traditional hand-crafted approaches to bootstrapping projects.

With a greater emphasis on teamwork, everyone is encouraged to share knowledge to help make good work more quickly and stay updated with industry developments and audience demands. And because your people won't be waiting for IT support, ideas can get out to your users more quickly, driving even more innovation.

Be gone, bottlenecks!

Keeping bottlenecks at bay offers many other organisational wins you won't want to miss. With so many routine tasks automated and IT teams dealing with fewer support requests, dependencies will drop, and ops will be freed up to focus more on strategic initiatives and preventative measures.

Self-service enables IT teams to allocate resources more effectively, supporting developers to resolve their problems quickly. They can use valuable data from self-service platforms to make informed decisions on where to focus and prioritise tasks more effectively.

A few other plus points

Beyond fuelling efficiency and eliminating bottlenecks, developer self-service benefits your organisation in a few other ways:

  • Saving money—automation and resource optimisation generally lead to lower operational expenses.
  • Greater agility—reducing dependencies and improving processes ensure you can adapt quickly to new business ideas and market demands.
  • Happier developers—with more autonomy and less painstaking work, your developers will enjoy greater job satisfaction, increasing retention rates.
  • Safer software—standardised processes and clear best practices help you keep your software safe.
  • Scalability—as your organisation grows, it's easy and efficient to scale your self-service offering.
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How do we implement a developer self-service strategy?

Here are a few questions to ask if you’re looking to boost your developer experience, drive innovation, improve collaboration, and speed up your software development processes.

What are your goals?

It's essential that you lay out clear objectives for implementing your self-service strategy, including the metrics you'll take to validate if it's been a success. 

What tools will you use?

You'll need user-friendly tools designed to support self-service. These should be easy for developers to get up and running on quickly, so you don't have to spend too long training or face adoption barriers.

Do you have the knowledge in-house to get started?

If you choose to create an internal developer platform yourself, you'll need knowledgeable people who can prepare the tools and set up the underlying infrastructure for your developers. You can use a SaaS solution that provides all the self-service capabilities your devs need, or build this in-house if that suits your needs.

What information will you share?

Your developers will need detailed and extensive documentation, including guides, tutorials, and FAQs, to easily use your self-service offering. Consider what information your teams need and the most accessible way to deliver this. 

How will you measure success?

You'll need to nail down which metrics make the most sense for your organisation, ensure access to all the data you need, gather feedback, and then be prepared to use that data to improve your strategy moving forward.

How collaborative is your culture?

You'll need a collaborative culture for self-service to succeed. That means encouraging open communication and knowledge sharing between developers and IT teams, providing resources for continuous learning and iteration, celebrating and rewarding developers who champion self-service, and listening to your people so you can make meaningful improvements and focus on the right things. 

And remember, lead by example. Ensure senior leaders encourage and support self-service, highlighting the benefits for developers and the whole organisation.

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What's the future looking like for developer self-service?

As more organisations recognise the benefits of developer self-service, new tools and technology to support this way of working are emerging. Whether it's leveraging AI and ML to support code quality and maybe also automate more complex tasks, prioritising security to help developers build more robust software or multi-cloud strategies that afford developers more flexibility when resource provisioning, the future's looking bright.

Simplifying resource management and automating infrastructure tasks frees developers up to focus on coding, while the emergence of low and no-code platforms will present opportunities for creating secure and consistent software solutions with even lower effort.

One thing's for sure, wherever developer self-service is headed, you don't want to miss the boat. Start thinking today about how to implement or firm up your self-service strategy, and your teams will thank you tomorrow.

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About the authors

Matt Saunders

DevOps Lead in the Office of the CTO at The Adaptavist Group

Matt Saunders is the DevOps Lead in the Office of the CTO at The Adaptavist Group. After being trusted with a root password as a Sysadmin long ago, he now helps teams make the best use of people, processes, and technology to deliver software efficiently and safely.