As GitLab grows, through the introduction of new features and improvements on existing ones, so does its complexity. This effect is compounded by the care and feeding of a single codebase that supports the wide variety of environments in which it runs, from small self-managed instances to large installations such as GitLab.com. The company itself adds to this complexity from an organizational perspective: hundreds employees worldwide contribute in one way or another to both the product and the company, using GitLab.com on a daily basis to do their job. Teams members in Engineering are directly responsible for the codebase and its operation, for the infrastructure powering GitLab.com, and for the support of customers running self-managed instances. Likewise, team members in the Product organization chart the future of the product.
Our values, coupled with strong know-how and unparalleled dedication, provide critical guidance to manage these complexities. At the same time, we have known for some time we are crossing a threshold in which complexity at scale, both technical and organizational, is playing a significant role. We know we need to fine-tune both our technical discipline (so we can integrate it across the organization) and our organizational amplification (so we can span and leverage the entire organization) to ensure we can continue to deliver on our values. In this context, we have been exploring the adoption of Architecture or Engineering Practice to help us in this regard.
Martin Fowler's Software Architecture Guide provides an excellent discussion on the notion of Architecture, and there is much to be learned from this and other sources. The question before us is, then, how to contextualize those learnings and apply them at GitLab.
Much like the rest of the software world, we have been wary of all the negative baggage that Architecture implies, particularly as some of that baggage would seemingly fly in the face of our values. This is why we have taken the time to carefully consider what Architecture means for us, and how to implement it in alignment with our values and at the scale that both the product and the company demand.
At GitLab, Architecture is not a dedicated role (i.e., no such title exists in the company). We understand Architecture as a component of all technical roles, a set of practices to leverage the vast amount of experience distributed across the company, and a workflow to ensure we can continue to scale efficiently.
At GitLab, Architecture is a collaborative process. It is also:
Such definition implies a solid reliance on collaboration rather than authority to efficiently and transparently drive decisions, engage stakeholders, and promote trust across the organization
We strive for results and concrete outcomes, which in this case entail roadmaps and design documents. Roadmaps are documents that aggregate many Design documents.
Architecture at GitLab is not a dedicated role but it is notably engrained in senior technical leadership roles, where the roles' levels and their sphere of influence determine responsibilities within the practice.
The Architecture Design Workflow is used to create design documents that are being used to align team members across multiple iterations.