Almost overnight, it seems that Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) has become one of the hottest job titles across the IT industry. So why all the sudden buzz and momentum around the SRE role? In this article we discuss, what skills does every SRE engineer need to have, such as a background in computer science.
It’s easy to talk at a high level about what site reliability engineers do:
They ensure that IT systems achieve availability and performance requirements.
But which skills, exactly, do SREs need to do to perform their jobs? That’s a more complicated question.
To answer, let’s look at the top skills every SRE engineer needs to have. Although SRE skills may vary from one team to the next. It depends on the types of systems managed and the main types of reliability challenges faced. Virtually all SREs need a core set of standard skills. They allow them to understand and manage the type of complex, distributed systems they will have to support.
Site Reliability Engineer (SRE)
SRE specialists should not be confused with DevOps engineers. Although many sources use these two terms interchangeably.
DevOps is a process of automating all the repetitive IT operations. It helps to cut the human effort (and the risk of human error) while running infrastructure. DevOps engineers focus on software development, deployment, and operating production environments.
SRE, on the other hand, is a paradigm of continuous analysis. It analyzes the existing infrastructure from a reliability perspective. It is centered around removing performance bottlenecks. It also helps in optimizing the infrastructure, the toolkit, and the workflows involved. Born at Google, SRE is now the leading approach. It helps to ensure the long-term sustainability and operational resilience of digital assets.
An SRE has responsibility for all these areas:
- General systems uptimes
- Systems performance
- Incident and outage management
- Systems and application monitoring
- Change management
- Capacity planning
We’ve already covered various aspects of what Site Reliability Engineering is. So feel free to dive deeper into this topic by reading our article.
The History Of Site Reliability Engineering
Site reliability engineering was born in 2003 at Google. The technology giant introduced it. It helped Google to make its mass-scale websites more efficient, scalable, and reliable. The effect was so overwhelming. Other top technology companies soon adopted the new practice. Such as Netflix and Amazon,
Eventually, site reliability engineering made a full-fledged entry into the IT domain. Automating solutions such as:
- Capacity and performance planning
- Managing risks
- Disaster response
- On-call monitoring.
SRE Is On The Rise
Many other companies focus on reliability and innovation at scale. They have now followed Google’s lead by introducing their own SRE teams. Initially, these were global tech leaders like:
More recently, all kinds and sizes of businesses are recruiting SREs. They help companies to improve application reliability. It also includes:
- Capital One
- Daimler TSS
As a result, the demand across the industry for professionals with the specific SRE skillset has increased dramatically in recent years. But what are those skills exactly?
Job Description For SRE
From basic-level SREs to people working as senior SREs. Everyone on board focuses on driving high reliability into systems. It is possible by working closely with software development and IT operations teams.
Here are some general roles and responsibilities in an SRE job that SREs need to perform.
1. Software Engineering
SREs incorporate various software engineering aspects. It helps to develop and implement services that improve IT and support teams. Services can range from production code changes to alerting and monitoring adjustments.
The SRE job also includes various tasks. Like building proprietary tools from scratch to mitigate weaknesses in incident management.
2. Troubleshooting Support Escalation
SREs may have to spend a considerable amount of time fixing cases. Especially those related to support escalation. They should fully know critical issues to route support escalation incidents to concerned teams. Critical support escalation cases, however, go down as site reliability engineering operations mature.
3. On-Call Process Optimization
In many organizations, the SRE’s job will involve the implementation of strategies. These strategies increase system reliability and performance through on-call rotation and process optimization.
SREs will also have to add automation for improved collaborative response in real-time. Besides updating documentation, runbook tools, and modules to ready teams for incidents.
4. Documenting Knowledge
As SREs take part in on-call duties. IT operations, software development, and support, they gain substantial historical knowledge.
To ensure a seamless flow of information between teams. a site reliability engineer job may need documenting the knowledge gained.
5. Optimizing SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle)
SREs must ensure that IT professionals and software developers are reviewing incidents. Also, they are documenting the findings to enable informed decision-making.
Based on post-incident reviews. SREs will need to optimize the SDLC to boost service reliability.
How SRE Specialists Work
SRE tasks can be grouped according to three major phases:
An SRE expert should be involved in all stages of any IT-related project of your organization. This includes:
- Discussing the concept of the next project.
- Designing the infrastructure, toolset, and processes needed to deliver it.
- Overseeing their implementation.
- Monitoring the performance of a working system.
- Adjust it if necessary.
It also involves training your staff. It helps them to follow the guidelines and procedures that cut the daily toil for your IT department.
An SRE’s job never really ends. It’s a permanent effort aimed at improving your IT operations. It also involves educating your developers and Ops engineers on SRE best practices. This complex and multi-faceted approach requires having a set of important skills.
Site Reliability Engineering Salary
SRE salaries vary on different factors. It includes academic qualifications, additional skills, certifications, and professional experience.
- In the United States, the site reliability engineer’s salary ranges from $78,901 to $90,101. The national average is $84,001.
- The annual senior site reliability engineer salary in the US is 116,046 dollars.
Top Skills Every SRE Engineer Need To Have
SRE’s responsibilities revolve around monitoring and analyzing the performance of systems in production. SRE specialists use a particular set of tools. These sets of tools differ based on the type of product or service your organization provides. It also depends on the way it is developed, released, and run.
Beyond being a liaison. SREs should have diverse skills and be ready to handle unique challenges. Here are some of the skills that every SRE engineer needs to have:
1. Software-Centric Mindset
An SRE must understand that while they may spend most of their time working alongside the development team. The SRE role is essentially apolitical. The SRE has no exclusive alignment with either Dev or Ops. They must be prepared to support either group – and stand up to them when necessary.
The SRE’s principal focus is on the reliability and performance of applications. It is combined with a wider perspective on the needs of the business and its customers. They appreciate that the solution to these challenges will come from improving performance. Also, the efficiency of the code itself with every new release.
Although they will not function solely as a developer. SREs should be proficient in scripting and coding.
Because of the nature of the SRE role, understanding development and coding can go a long way. Now, which language does it make the most sense to learn? Since day-to-day tasks of an SRE include automating processes and dealing with systems. Knowing the following languages can help you in the long run:
- GoLang (Google Language)
Additionally, it would be helpful if they have experience with languages such as:
SREs who are competent in various languages. They are likely to understand how to improve code to support greater reliability.
3. Networking Expertise
The network plays a pivotal role in connecting modern, distributed environments. As such, it’s often the culprit when something goes wrong. A lesson that Facebook learned. When a networking problem brought down its entire global infrastructure.
Situations like this are why SREs should master networking concepts. Even if their organization also employs networking engineers. SREs need a deep understanding of networking themselves. It helps them to know when the network is the root cause of an incident. Also, as to how to resolve network-caused issues effectively.
To remain competitive, a business must be able to launch or release new application features quickly and easily. At a daily or hourly cadence if required. This imperative should be relished, not feared.
As a bridge between Dev and Ops, SREs are empowered to fix application issues in production. Meaning that minor errors don’t cause a major business problem.
Google’s in-house SRE approach to balancing launches and releases against reliability. It is the so-called ‘error budget’. Application teams (Dev and Ops) accept that 100% availability and reliability are impossible. But agree on a goal of (say) 99.99% – fixed as a written internal SLA. This creates an ‘error budget’ of 0.01%. Within which outages and downtime are considered acceptable.
The Dev team is allowed to launch as often as it likes, provided they stay within the agreed error budget. If they exceed it by releasing unreliable code, launches are frozen until reliability returns within SLA. This approach incentivizes Devs to self-police the reliability of their code before release.
An SRE is always investigating reliability or performance issues. It leverages many tools to automate scanning and monitoring. When errors persist, they need to have a curious mindset to dig deeper into root causes. To do it, you must understand the organization’s software stack, people, and processes. This good detective work leads to a more proactive approach than constantly reacting to issues.
SREs will have a passion for details and an investigative nature. Their interest will go beyond understanding everything about the application. It helps to be curious about the potential of next-gen architectures. Such as container technology, Platform-as-a-Service environments, and so on.
They will understand that processes and people are as important as any technology.
6. Operating System
Working with servers at a large scale can be a bit stressful. Having a thorough knowledge of your organization’s operating system (usually Linux or Windows) is necessary. As an SRE, you’ll be working with these operating systems regularly.
If you come from a Windows background but you want to be an SRE, there’s no getting around it. You will need to learn how to work with Linux and other systems in addition to Windows.
Linux and Unix concepts are deeply embedded within other systems that you have to work with. Even at organizations that don’t rely heavily on Linux servers. Most public cloud management tools follow the conventions of Linux CLI tools, for example. So do systems like Docker and Kubernetes, even if you run them in a Windows environment.
Implementing DevOps practices is what differentiates the SRE role from the DevOps role. But both roles have things in common. Continuous integration/continuous deployment is one of them.
SREs don’t help to develop software. But they nonetheless need a deep understanding of how software is written and deployed. This, at most organizations, today, is a process that happens via a CI/CD pipeline. To be a top-notch SRE, you need to be able to build a CI/CD pipeline from scratch for any application.
It’s hard to engineer reliability if you don’t know how to address reliability problems. Especially that emerge from application source code or deployment processes. Understanding how CI/CD processes work and which tools drive them is key for virtually every SRE today.
8. Business Language
Technical language and business language often sound as though they are from different alphabets. Technical professionals may not always understand the business value. Also, business people are not technical experts.
An SRE can act as a translator. They take business requirements and turn them into technical implementations. They will have a role in serving the company’s business side. Relaying to these parties how technological advances meet their requirements. When looking for an SRE, be sure they can hold their own when it comes to the business side of your company.
The SRE will see automation as an opportunity to overcome scale challenges and will have a flexible approach to technologies. They understand and embrace the fact that:
When it comes to deploying and maintaining applications. Manual processes and human intervention can never be as fast and efficient as software automation.
SREs use automation tools to automate repetitive tasks and releases for efficient workflow. They will also focus on educating Dev and Ops teams on the benefits of automation and what it means for them.
Further, the SRE uses data analytics, algorithms, and runbook automation. It helps to optimize MTTR of Operations problems. It automatically detects and responds to issues faster than any human Ops team can act.
10. Move On
By the nature of what they do and what motivates them. The most successful SREs will eventually look for their next challenge. Often because the application code has become so stable. Hence, smaller teams can manage releases.
The SRE will also be the person wanting to regularly seek fresh opportunities. Especially in a different technology environment or company. They are the embodiment of the mentality that “a rolling stone gathers no moss”.
Thus, Organizations should view their SRE team as a business-wide resource. They must facilitate SRE mobility between projects. And for the SRE, the exploding demand for their unique skillset across the industry means that the next application reliability challenge is always waiting, just ahead…
How You Can Learn The Above-Mentioned Skills
You can join Wolf Careers Inc. to learn the technical and soft skills of an SRE engineer. To assist your training plan in site reliability engineering, we offer the best SRE training. Wolf Careers Inc. also offers many other certifications that you can enroll for.
You can enroll in our SRE training today to gain professional skills. This course is specially designed for beginners. It will help you start learning SRE from scratch up to the expert level. After completion, you will be able to apply for the expert-level SRE roles.
Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is a Google-developed method to carry out and manage services. SRE is a method that we use to achieve and measure reliability through operations and engineering. As a result, the system becomes more reliable. It ensures customer satisfaction and reduces the frequency of system downtime.