Our Kubernetes Platform Journey at Veterans United Home Loans

Posted by Alan Barr on Sun 23 August 2020

How software development and infrastructure engineering became one team in the pursuit of a platform-as-a-service

When I joined technology at Veterans United Home Loans I saw a fast-growing company and technology department. I missed the startup to midsize business growing pains but the feeling and culture still felt like a startup. These days with the significant growth we are on the road to an enterprise. In 2016, the technology department was small enough to fit everyone under one roof, in a building called Oscar. In short order, we grew and grew as a department. The rapid growth led to the physical division between the infrastructure and software services departments. Over time because of our growth and as humans tend to do we formed tribes around our specialty of the business.

Early on between 2016 and 2017, we dreamt of a platform that would ease the development process and reduce handoffs. I pushed for unification between software services and infrastructure forging this path but it was not the right time. While we were growing fast it was not fast enough to need the burden of this new platform. Looking back, it was for the best.

In 2019, I took the plunge and crossed over to infrastructure as a technology product owner. My mission, to be the product owner of the platform engineering and developer experience teams, unify the departments, and serve the needs of our future platform. During this time my boss worked with technology leadership to whittle the 100 different technology goals to 3 goals.

In 2020, we reached shared alignment on technology goals and acted at an opportune time. 2019 was a big year for the business and 2020 looked to be another repeat for a moment that wavered then spiked with a shock. On August 6th, 2020 the platform taskforce delivered our proposal to technology leadership based on our research. We chose to build a platform to ease the speed of development on top of Rancher’s distribution of Kubernetes.

While we overcome that initial mountain we are now starting the next part of our journey, the hardest part. Technology has never been a barrier for the individuals I work with. The largest challenges we will run into are the cultural and behavioral changes. Besides, many of us want something different out of this next platform offering. We want to bake the governance opinions for security and software architecture into the platform. We want software developers to travel the golden path of success for their new projects. Stability and ease of use are also top of mind. The architects envision a focus on design at the start of a project while increasing the speed of iterative development. In summary, we want "Faster, Safer, Flow".

This journey is only beginning there will be many challenges as part of this 18 to 24-month project. We are searching for the answers to mitigate the risks and challenges we are expecting to encounter. In a recent conversation with one consultant, I asked, “What do you predict will be the largest challenge in our partnership?”. This unlocked an outpouring of their experiences with other customers. They declared that we needed to start small and focus on finding the value first. One client invested more than a year of effort and before asking when they could expect to see the value returned. Do not fall into the trap of pursuing technology for technology’s sake. Use product management principles and seek value first.

While this journey will not be easy and there will be new and ever-present challenges we have the right people in the right places. Our only limit on this project is our desire to learn, grow, transform, and the hunger to provide value to others.

If you want to help us on this journey, know about Kubernetes, and the development of platforms on top of it please consider joining us.