Have you ever wondered how some of the world's largest and most complex technology platforms deliver user experiences with minimal downtime? Or how organizations strike a balance between innovation and remaining reliable in the face of ever-increasing demands?
Site Reliability Engineers (often called SREs) are often at the center of solving these pressing questions. Due to the highly specialized nature of Site Reliability Engineer roles, they often won’t be the first engineering hire for smaller or midsize companies, who will have more pressing backend or general software engineering matters to handle first.
So, when should you hire a Site Reliability Engineer, and what should you look for when you do?
Below we share six questions and answers you should know about Site Reliability Engineering.
1. Can you hire an entry-level Site Reliability Engineer right out of school?
While it’s possible to become a Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) right out of school, it is not the most common career path. SRE roles typically require a combination of skills and experience that are typically acquired over time.
It’s more common for individuals to start their careers in related roles, such as software engineering, systems administration, or operations, and then transition into an SRE role.
2. What coding languages should a Site Reliability Engineer know?
There are several coding languages that can be beneficial to learn as Site Reliability Engineer, including:
Python: Python is widely used in the SRE domain due to its versatility, readability, and extensive ecosystem of libraries and frameworks. It's commonly used for scripting, automation, data processing, and building tools for system monitoring and management.
Go: Go (Golang) is a language created by Google that emphasizes simplicity, efficiency, and concurrency. Go is commonly used for building scalable and performant applications, including infrastructure tools and micro services.
Java: Java is a widely adopted language known for its platform independence and robustness. Java is used in many enterprise environments and can be valuable for developing larger-scale systems and tools.
Ruby: Ruby is a dynamic, object-oriented scripting language that is highly readable and expressive. It is often used in automation, web development, and configuration management frameworks like Chef and Puppet.
3. What are some interview questions to ask a Site Reliability Engineer candidate?
Here are a few suggested interview questions to ask an SRE candidate:
1. Describe your experience in incident management. How do you approach incident response, and what steps do you take to identify and resolve issues efficiently?
2. Explain your understanding of Service Level Objectives (SLOs) and Error Budgets. How do you define SLOs, and how do you manage error budgets effectively to balance reliability and innovation?
3. Tell me about a time when you implemented an automation solution that significantly improved system reliability or operational efficiency. What tools and technologies did you use, and what was the outcome?
4. Describe your experience with incident postmortems or retrospective analysis. How do you conduct post-incident reviews, and what steps do you take to identify root causes and implement preventive measures?
5. How do you approach collaborating with development teams in an SRE role? How do you ensure that SRE requirements are incorporated into the software development lifecycle and that deployments are reliable and scalable?
6. Describe a challenging situation where you faced a critical incident or major system outage. How did you handle the pressure, communicate with stakeholders, and work towards resolving the issue?
4. What are some ways to measure the success of a SiteReliability Engineer?
Measuring the success of a Site Reliability Engineer(SRE) can be done in a few different ways, but here are some common metrics a Site Reliability Engineer should keep in mind:
Availability and Downtime: One of the primary goals of an SRE is to maximize system availability. Success is measured by minimizing unplanned downtime and maintaining high levels of system uptime within the defined SLOs.
Incident Management and Resolution: Success is measured by effectively responding to and resolving incidents. Key metrics include mean time to detect (MTTD) and meantime to resolve (MTTR) incidents. Reducing these metrics demonstrates efficiency in incident response and recovery and can be an indicator of a proficient SRE.
Automation and Efficiency: Success is measured by the extent of automation achieved.Increasing the level of automation reduces manual toil, minimizes human errors, and enables faster and more reliable deployments and system management. Metrics such as percentage of tasks automated or time saved through automation can be used to gauge success.
Customer/UserSatisfaction: Success as an SRE is ultimately determined by the satisfaction of customers or end-users. Feedback, user surveys, and user adoption metrics can provide insights into the success of the systems you manage and the impact they have on users.
5. What is the difference between SRE and DevOps?
Site Reliability Engineering and DevOps are related disciplines that aim to improve the reliability, scalability, and efficiency of systems and applications. While there are overlapping principles and practices between SRE and DevOps, there are some key differences in their focus and scope.
SREs primarily focus on ensuring the reliability and availability of systems, emphasizing service-level objectives (SLOs) and error budgets. SREs work to reduce the impact of failures, minimize downtime, and improve system performance. DevOps, on the other hand, focuses on streamlining the software delivery process, fostering collaboration between development and operations teams, and promoting automation and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) practices.
SREs typically have a narrower focus on the reliability and performance of systems. They work closely with development teams to ensure that applications and services are designed and operated in a reliable and scalable manner. DevOps, on the other hand, has a broader scope that encompasses the entire software delivery lifecycle, including development, testing, deployment, and operations. DevOps aims to break down barriers between teams and foster a culture of shared responsibility for the end-to-end delivery and maintenance of software.
6. When should I hire a Site Reliability Engineer?
Hiring a Site Reliability Engineer can be beneficial for organizations in various scenarios, such as:
Your company is scaling and growing: When your organization is experiencing significant growth and scaling its infrastructure, bringing in an SRE can help ensure that your systems remain reliable and performant as you handle increased traffic, user demand, and complexity.
You have high availability requirements: If your services or applications have stringent availability requirements, such as those in e-commerce, finance, healthcare, or critical infrastructure, an SRE can help design and implement the necessary systems, processes, and monitoring to maintain high levels of reliability and minimize downtime.
You experience frequent incidents: If your organization frequently experiences critical incidents or struggles with efficient incident response and resolution, an SRE can bring expertise in incident management, post-incident analysis, and implementing preventive measures to minimize the impact and recurrence of incidents.
You need to make certain processes more efficient: If your operations team is burdened with repetitive, manual tasks and lacks efficient automation, an SRE can introduce automation frameworks, implement infrastructure-as-code (IaC) practices, and develop tooling to streamline operations, minimize human errors, and improve efficiency.
It's important to assess your organization's specific needs, goals, and challenges when considering hiring an SRE. Each organization's circumstances will vary, so it's crucial to evaluate the specific situation and determine if hiring an SRE would be beneficial to enhance your system's reliability, scalability, and operational efficiency.
Interested in learning more about Site ReliabilityEngineering? We hire for a variety of Site Reliability Engineering roles and a member of our team would be happy to speak with you to learn more about your hiring needs.