IT talent: 6 tips for success in an SRE role

Site reliability engineers are in high demand. Consider these tips for success in this fast-growing area
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A career in Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) can be very promising. LinkedIn named the Site Reliability Engineer one of the 25 fastest-growing job titles over the past five years. As the need for more SRE professionals grows, so does the need for specific skills.

As we look ahead, dedicated time and access to training are essential to equip SREs with the knowledge and abilities they need to be successful. The Global SRE Pulse 2022 examines the state of SRE with survey input from more than 460 SRE leaders and professionals. Looking at the data, we can help SRE professionals and those considering an SRE career determine how to best advance their knowledge and skills.

Here are the top tips for established SREs and those entering the workforce:

1. Prepare to report to IT operations

IT Operations typically owns and leads the operations of applications and services (and its supporting infrastructure) within an organization but varies in responsibility. While automation and developed practices (e.g., ITIL, DevOps, and more) have been adopted, complexity, technical, and skill debt did not get better but increased during the drive towards digital.

With this, the assurance of reliable, available, secure, and resilient applications and services becomes more challenging. If not managed and continuously optimized, customer and employee experience can be impacted, and with it, the revenue of an organization.

[ Also read How SREs can help you stop managing infrastructure. ]

The bottom line: IT Operations has risen in importance within organizations, and the adoption of key SRE activities is making it possible for IT Operations to thrive and deliver for the business. New hires can immediately be part of a critical value stream to ensure happy customers and engaged employees; according to the Global SRE Pulse survey respondents, 30 percent of SRE teams report to IT operations.

2. Drive observability tools across the business

Every new hire will need to learn and leverage some type of automation tool. While ITSM was mentioned as the most-used automation tool within SRE, it is also the most mature within many organizations to manage incidents, service requests, and more.

Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents said they leverage observability tools and techniques everywhere. This topic is relatively new, and while there is good adoption, there is plenty of room for expanding, improving, sharing, and optimizing this automation topic.

Observability is essential in providing insights into the inner working of applications, services, and systems to help SRE teams make smarter decisions that ultimately improve digital business services. While IT might have adopted Application Performance Management (APM), pairing APM with Observability is an evolution towards proactive management.

Day-to-day, an SRE focuses on continuously improving the reliability of systems and helping troubleshoot tactical problems.

3. Tap into Dev and Ops skills

Day-to-day, an SRE focuses on continuously improving the reliability of systems and helping troubleshoot tactical problems.

Many SREs will work on IT infrastructure and operations, including retrospectives and release management. Additionally, SREs often spend time addressing customer issues. They also develop processes and best practices to ensure applications are automated and self-healing.

The job of an SRE covers many aspects of technology and processes and provides the ability to work across many different value streams and functional owners across both IT and the business.

4. Be energized and engaged 

While there is tremendous research describing what leads to an engaged workforce, it is generally true that people would like to have a job that gives them a sense of purpose, and with that, they are more engaged.

The Global SRE Pulse asked respondents to reveal what led them to the SRE role. Forty-four percent strongly agreed that they are more engaged and excited about their job. Research suggests that engaged employees have higher enthusiasm, energy, and motivation levels. This translates into higher levels of job performance, creativity, and productivity and ultimately leads to higher revenues and profits for organizations and higher levels of employee well-being.

SREs are working on development tasks but also are on-call for key periods. This balance of both development and operation work requires individuals which have a high level of emotional intelligence and resiliency.

5. Looking for a boost in pay? Start applying for SRE roles

The SRE Pulse found that overall compensation within SRE tends to be higher. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents said they agree (strongly or somewhat) that their salary has improved. Market data from Robert Half indicates that site reliability engineers earn significantly higher wages than system engineers and system administrators.

The simple fact that there is more demand for people with engineering skills who also understand operations (the high-level skills an SRE needs) drives the salary for SREs above those of system administrators or service desk and support personnel.

[ Related read Sysadmin vs SRE: What's the difference? ]

Additionally, particularly during the pandemic, business teams realized that the team operating and ensuring smooth business transactions is crucial to the company and therefore paid better. If services and applications are not working correctly, it impacts the bottom line. For example, the Facebook outage, which lasted around 6 hours, cost the company $60 million.

6. Build your SRE skillset 

While the SRE role is in high demand, organizations still face challenges with making SRE initiatives work. Eighty-five percent of SRE Pulse Survey respondents noted a lack of staff with the necessary skills as their biggest challenge when implementing SRE. These results were consistent across organizations, no matter their size.

The single most valuable accomplishment for a prospective SRE is to home in on skills. This can be accomplished through certifications, continuing education, and connecting with peers to solve common problems.

The SRE role is on the rise and looks to be a lucrative career for many IT professionals. Like any IT career, one of the biggest keys to success is continuously working on skills to help advance the profession and help businesses see the significant benefit of improving reliability – not only across IT but across the entire organization.

[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Jayne Groll is co-founder and CEO of the DevOps Institute (DOI). Jayne carries many IT credentials including ITIL Expert™, Certified ScrumMaster, Certified Agile Service Manager, DevOps Foundation and is a Certified Process Design Engineer (CPDE)™.