Understanding Platforms: What They Are, Why They Work, When to Use Them, How to Build Them

Technical concepts are something that are thought of, approached, and understood differently across engineers, managers, and executives. Bridging the gaps and providing understanding to a complex and nuanced topic across all three groups can sometimes feel impossible. In this talk, we'll do just that.

Together, we're going to go over not just platforms and platform engineering, but the very fabric of doing, what it means to learn, and how collective thought scales across a team, an organization and an industry. Utilizing that, we'll go over platform engineering from the perspectives of an engineer, a manager, and an executive. All at the same time.

Not only will we go over a consistent framework for how each group can think about and understand platform engineering, we'll spend time going over how each group can communicate with other and understand each other in a way that's effective, actionable, and transformative.

What's the focus of your work these days?

The focus of my work, when distilled into a single question, is the everlasting pursuit of understanding the question: "What does fast, effective flow look like at the scale of humanity, and what does it mean to build a sociotechnical system that enables people to reach their fullest potential?"

This question has vastly different considerations to me when asked at the level of the IC, the team, the vertical, the organization, and the industry; consequently, much of my challenges revolve around trying to find that multiplicative set of actions that align the various scopes of influence, direction, interest, and motivation. Additionally, it's my opinion that we, as a social species, are still extremely immature when it comes to understanding how we truly learn, how we share ideas with each other, and how we grow in healthy and sustainable ways. "What does fast, effective flow" look like at the scale of an entire humanity is not something we are prepared to even visualize, but it is an idea that consumes me.

What's the motivation for your talk at QCon San Francisco 2023?

I find myself pondering what a platform is quite often. What does it mean for something to be a platform, what does it mean for a platform to be high leverage, and what makes them that way? I want to present what I think are some, hopefully, compelling answers to these questions and open up a dialogue into what it really means to be a platform engineering team, and how we define self-excellence when much of the goal is centered around multiplying the value of others.

How would you describe your main persona and target audience for this session?

The persona of this audience will be a tri-headed beast, because that is how I could currently best be described. I have spent the last while simultaneously operating at the Director level, the Engineering Manager level, and the Individual Contributor level. Balancing all three perspectives is... Difficult. That difficulty will be present here.

This talk is for someone who views executive alignment as one of their biggest drivers of value. It is also for someone who is seeking to understand how they might lead without authority and influence the growth of a nascent platform. It is also for someone who wants to know how they might go about building a platform, get that buy-in, and have a roadmap to pursuing this even when being an IC.

Is there anything specific that you'd like people to walk away with after watching your session?

For those who pursue executive alignment: This talk will drive home how necessary it is to get the correct type of alignment and to avoid dragging the leadership team into decision paralysis or split-brain messaging.

For those who seek to lead without authority: This talk will hopefully give you the understanding of what conversations to initiate when pushing messaging up, as well as how to effectively get buy-in up and down the management ladder simultaneously.

For those who are an IC seeking to build a platform: This talk will provide a blueprint and set of mental models for thinking about, planning, and executing on platforms.


Hazel Weakly

Head of Infrastructure & Developer Experience; Director, Haskell Foundation; Infrastructure Witch of Hachyderm

Hazel spends her days working on building out teams of humans as well as the infrastructure, systems, automation, and tooling to make life better for others. She’s worked at a variety of companies, across a wide range of tech, and knows that the hardest problems to solve are the social ones. Hazel currently serves as a Director on the board of the Haskell Foundation and is fondly known as the Infrastructure Witch of Hachyderm (a popular Mastodon instance). She also created the official Haskell “setup” Github Action and helps maintain it. She enjoys traveling to speak at conferences and sharing what she’s learned with others.

One of her favorite things is watching someone light up when they understand something for the first time, and a life goal of hers is to help as many people as possible experience that joy. She also loves swing dancing, both as a leader and a follower.

Read more
Find Hazel Weakly at:


Tuesday Oct 3 / 11:45AM PDT ( 50 minutes )


Ballroom A


Platform Engineering Architecture Engineering Culture


From the same track

Session Platform Engineering

Building Better Platforms with Empathy: Case Studies and Counter-Examples

Tuesday Oct 3 / 02:45PM PDT

Break out of traditional IT roles with your internal platform. Build a product based on customer empathy and real needs to achieve broad adoption.

Speaker image - David Stenglein
David Stenglein

Solo Consultant @Missing Mass, LLC with Over 28 Years in Systems, Software, and Consulting

Session Platform Engineering

Effective Performance Engineering at Twitter-Scale

Tuesday Oct 3 / 03:55PM PDT

Is performance engineering more craft than machinery? How do you scale something that seems to require both domain-specific context and comprehensive knowledge across multiple levels of the software and hardware stack?

Speaker image - Yao Yue
Yao Yue

Platform Engineer, Distributed System Aficionado, Cache Expert, and the Founder of IOP Systems

Session Platform Engineering

How to Get Tech-Debt on the Roadmap

Tuesday Oct 3 / 05:05PM PDT

Only doing product-led work can lead to an unmaintainable system with lots of downtime. Unfortunately, getting time to work on the things that would prevent that can be challenging.

Speaker image - Ben Hartshorne
Ben Hartshorne

Principal Engineer @Honeycomb, Building Operable Systems with Resilience and Business Value

Session Platform Engineering

Building a Successful Platform: Acceleration, Autonomy & Accountability

Tuesday Oct 3 / 10:35AM PDT

Do we build a greenfield platform or do we incrementally centralize common foundations? Do we abstract away all complexity or provide upfront knobs and handles for composability?

Speaker image - Smruti Patel
Smruti Patel

VP of Engineering @Apollo Graph


Unconference: Platform Engineering Done Well

Tuesday Oct 3 / 01:35PM PDT

What is an unconference? An unconference is a participant-driven meeting. Attendees come together, bringing their challenges and relying on the experience and know-how of their peers for solutions.