If your enterprise relies on a rapidly growing tech infrastructure, you’ll understand why a Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) has fast become an indispensable position in the IT industry. As companies increasingly support a bewildering array of services and products, the problem they face is having operations teams able to keep up with the ever-growing complexity of the tech stack while enabling updates and implementing new features.
For example, imagine you’re looking to introduce the latest and best screen-sharing software in your business. That requires planning, implementing, and monitoring to ensure it’s having the desired effect.
Enter SRE expertise.
Site Reliability Engineers have the skills and knowledge to deliver continual improvements in your infrastructure stability and performance. One helpful analogy for thinking about the work SREs do is to imagine them as the experts ready to put out fires when an emergency arises in your business, extinguishing problems at the root before they have a chance to cause disruptions.
This article will walk you through how to hire a qualified Site Reliability Engineer, and Site Reliability Engineer roles and responsibilities.
What Is Site Reliability Engineering (SRE)?
Site Reliability Engineering exists to resolve or reduce the conflict between developers and their focus on software development, and the role of the operations team to ensure this deployment of new or updated products with improved functionality doesn’t result in outages and general performance degradation. As terms, SREs and DevOps engineers are frequently used interchangeably.
While their respective responsibilities are closely aligned, there are notable differences. Much as a power dialer powerfully automates the process of making calls to hundreds of prospects for call center agents, DevOps refers to the overall automation of repetitive IT tasks in your entire infrastructure to minimize human effort and mitigate human error. And DevOps engineers deal with this process focussing on operating production environments.
While SREs are concerned with the perspective of the reliability, resilience, and performance of this infrastructure as a whole, this involves a continuous analysis that seeks to anticipate performance bottlenecks while optimizing the infrastructure and workflows to ensure long-term sustainability.
What Are the Key Site Reliability Engineer Responsibilities?
While the role certainly varies depending on the projects and goals of the enterprise, an SRE usually plans and provides this infrastructure in the form of a platform, tools, and services that enable teams to view their metrics and gain visibility on their service workflows. Further SRE responsibilities can be broken down as follows:
- Gathering project goals and requirements from stakeholders
- Designing high-level representations of the whole infrastructure, including tools and workflows
- Providing businesses with updates about service health by implementing and monitoring metrics and KPIs that measure things like employee productivity across systems and services
- Performing analyses to identify root causes of issues and optimizing countermeasures by designing and building in alerts and on-call processes for contingencies
- Calculating the potential cost of downtimes and establishes strict Service Level Agreement (SLA) standards to improve system performance and balance availability
- Supporting management in analyzing how system performance affects business sales, revenue, and marketing functions
- Preparing input for updates across infrastructure, tools, and processes throughout the company
- Showing DevOps teams how to adhere to guidelines and instructions on required actions and system checks to minimize errors and incidents
- Creating and maintaining documentation that helps with monitoring.
Of course, given the uniqueness and specifics of different businesses, this is not an exhaustive list of an SRE’s responsibilities.
And although SREs may sound like an all-purpose solution to bridging the gap between development and operations teams, considering the cost in terms of salary, it’s worth reflecting on whether to invest in this role.
Why Hire an SRE for Your Team?
Let’s consider some cases that indicate that hiring an SRA is the right solution for your organization.
To Prevent Downtimes That Affect Your Products and Services
Customer expectations have calcified such that today they expect their apps to work all the time. So the costs of downtime are prohibitive across the board, invariably resulting in both customer and revenue loss. SREs will prevent lengthy downtime of product and service availability and reduce potentially huge losses.
To Assess and Mitigate Risk
The ever-evolving threat of cyberattacks means that it’s incumbent on forward-thinking businesses subject to legal compliance to hire an SRE as an expert to prepare countermeasures beforehand. Otherwise, the damage from a cybersecurity breach could be disastrous.
To Accelerate Development Cycles
By improving and implementing the principles of DevOps, SREs automate software delivery and institute best practices across engaged teams such as when you’re looking to roll out new software technology such as RPA solutions, for example. With monitoring metrics in place, businesses with SREs experience lower development overhead and can deliver higher-quality applications and products more quickly and predictively.
To Increase Cost-Efficiency
We’ve already touched on the devastating costs of downtimes when you run a real-time system. SREs address this potentially enormous waste of resources and allow you to meet your customer needs during your most profitable peak times.
If you can relate to the case laid out above and find yourself in the market for an SRE, you’ll next need to consider the skills to look out for and the challenges in recruiting one.
Site Reliability Engineer Job Description
Naturally, SREs will use a different mix of tools depending on your specific systems and the continuously improving products and services your business provides. That said, the skill set of an SRE includes a broad range of skills and competencies across development, DevOps, and system administration. Also, every Site Reliability Engineer should possess a range of essential soft skills.
Fundamental Technical Skills
As a rule, SREs must be well-rounded and versatile as opposed to candidates with narrow specializations in tech. While they should be able to see the big picture, here are some essential SRE tech criteria:
- Knowledge and experience of major languages in software development such as Python, C++, or Java
- In-depth knowledge of continuous integration, delivery, and deployment pipeline and tools like Gitlab
- Expert knowledge in major operating systems such as Linux OS capabilities
- Expertise in CI/CD implementation
- Solid grasp of DevOps concepts and best practices
- Expertise and experience in IT troubleshooting and root cause analysis (RCA)
Having an SRE with the right non-technical skills and personality traits is just as vital in such a high-stakes role and with so many moving parts to consider.
Performing Under Pressure
The ability to be well-organized and deliver in critical or high-volume production environments is essential.
Just as savvy businesses might choose to adopt a .ae domain to benefit from the rising international profile of the UAE, for example, SRE must embrace such a business-centered approach. One that incorporates cross-functional metrics, thus avoiding a narrow focus on system optimization and gearing teams toward improved outcomes for the business overall.
SREs should be good at identifying problems, working out the causes, and implementing solutions.
In addition to fluency in technical communication, SREs should also be skilled in communicating their ideas to management and securing buy-in from stakeholders for future projects, such as the pressing need for the introduction of the best video conferencing solution.
Site Reliability Engineer Salary Expectations
Here’s a quick glance at SRE salary ranges around the world:
- On average, the SRE salary worldwide is roughly $80k
- In the US, the average SRE gets paid around $120k
- In the EU, the average SRE earns about $90k
It’s fair to say that the market for SREs is an insanely competitive one. Some of the biggest corporations are ready, willing, and able to fork out substantial salaries to avoid losses that run to millions off their bottom line.
One reason for the scarcity and difficulty in recruiting exceptionally talented SRE experts is that most have already been enticed by industry leaders or Managed Services Providers (MSPs). Because skilled SREs are motivated by the challenge of working for massive corporations where SRE is a continual journey of transforming their ever-growing infrastructure.
Or similarly, they find motivation in the challenge of working for MSPs delivering SREs to multiple clients as a managed service. For once the pain points have been resolved, aside from the challenge of establishing and training an SRE team, the role of an in-house SRE consists of ongoing monitoring, and the best SREs tend to seek positions of greater engagement and rewards.
Pros and Cons of Outsourcing SREs Versus Hiring In-house
The most telling consideration that will determine your hiring decision will be the complexity of your project. Crucially, you must cover the expertise you require without any knowledge gaps whatsoever.
With a large-scale project, you may opt to build an SRE team in-house. However, this approach can be costly and vulnerable if your specialists lack knowledge in specific fields, resulting in performance degradation. Nonetheless, you benefit from increased loyalty, safety, and control.
On the other hand, with a smaller project, MSPs will allow you to pay for services when you need them, draw on a broader pool of expertise, and save on the administrative burden of hiring specialists. However, the chief drawback with hiring SRE as a service is choosing a reliable vendor since your security is in their hands.
Your business need not be an Amazon-level behemoth to gain value from hiring an SRE.
Indeed, SREs are becoming integral to the long-term sustainability of many organizations. Since the role of SREs is demanding and the expertise a rare hybrid, follow these recruitment tips to safeguard the success of your new recruits.