Software development is getting complicated. Atlassian's Compass platform is designed to help

Stephanie Condon Profile picture for user Stephanie Condon October 17, 2023
Atlassian introduces Compass, a new platform engineering tool to help development teams keep on top of their cloud-native projects.

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As software development grows more decentralized, it's leaving developers with more tools, services and software to track. It also often leaves them in knowledge silos, which forces developers to spend less time developing code and more time tracking down the information they need.

Atlassian is rolling out a new, generally available platform called Compass that's designed to help with those problems. Compass is billed as a "developer experience" platform that serves as a hub for the "critical context" that facilitates coding — that includes APIs, libraries, languages, frameworks and tools. Initially built to solve Atlassian's own developer productivity challenges, the beta version of Compass is already in use by developers at Dropbox, KFC, Boden and ExpressVPN.

Taylor Pechacek, Atlassian's head of product for Compass, explains the product this way:

As people move to this cloud-first world, there's a lot more that developers need to keep track of. And this context is just getting really crushing. Developers simply need a new type of tool to help manage this complexity, and they need a better way to navigate this information, to ultimately collaborate — across this tool chain, across their tech stack, both on the build side as well as operation.

The platform comprises four core capabilities — a component catalog, a health scorecard for running services, software templates and extensibility. Since using Compass itself, Pechacek says Atlassian has been able to reduce code freezes and in some cases increase deployment frequency by 300%. Pechacek continues:

We were able to spot where problems were and resolve those issues with those teams. So being able to power that collaboration, and invest in that lived experience of engineers, is really what it's been about. We feel like this is the next big [challenge] to solve for development teams ... getting bogged down by this complexity and these information and collaboration gaps.

Core capabilities

The first core element of Compass is the component catalog, which serves as a central location for tracking services and relevant data. It allows a developer to pull information across their tool chain, so they can find the right information at the right time.

Next, the health scorecard allows you to track and evaluate services that are running. Developers can establish metrics, monitor progress and quickly find out when something runs off track.

Meanwhile, the Compass software templates will enable developers to more easily create new services. It gives them best practices, policies, cloud provisioning, and deployment pipelines to quickly spin up new projects.

Lastly, Compass offers extensibility, so developers can share data in Compass and other tools. They can connect observability, CI/CD, testing, collaboration and source code management tools.

The Compass component catalog will be available for free to all Jira Software customers. For the full platform, Atlassian is charging $7 per user.

Compass is designed to be an everyday tool for developers, engineering managers and executives responsible for software development. At the same time, Pechacek says it will be an instrumental tool for platform engineering teams that are tasked with optimizing the developer experience. He notes that, according to Gartner, 80% of software engineering organizations will establish platform teams within the next three years. Pechacek says:

About 75% of those teams are going to use a self-service portal, like Compass. When people talk about developer experience, the problem that we're dealing with right now is the information sprawl that's happening across tools and the context around code that we need to help developers navigate. And ultimately, that's a collaboration problem. How do teammates who don't know anything about each other's services work together?

Helping developers work more effectively can also contribute to a more positive, fulfilling engineering culture, Pechacek says:

If you have good hygiene, if you have good practices, you'd have a really great environment to work in. When things are in a healthy state and they're not constantly breaking, that's just a way more fun environment for developers. And ultimately, they're going to be more productive, and you're going to deliver more value to the business.

My take

Platform engineering has emerged as a discipline in response to the adoption of cloud-native development -- a trend that's not going anywhere any time soon. Furthermore, the sudden pressure to develop AI applications will only make it harder for developers to track the sources of data, tools and services that they need to succeed. That makes a tool like Compass all the more valuable.

While there are AI tools to assist developers in their work, they're largely focused on the work of coding itself. Compass, by comparison, will help developers take care of all the other responsibilities they are tasked with.

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