Site Reliability Engineering: The Next Big Career Wave To Ride

The adoption of new technologies, combined with the increased speed in application delivery and pressure for automation, has caused a spike in demand for IT operations professionals with comprehensive and up to date skills and knowledge. As a result, careers that offer improvements to system reliability and efficiency, such as DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE), are experiencing a flood of interest. At Harnham, we are seeing this play out before our eyes – so what is SRE and how can professionals break into this escalating space?

 Where did SRE come from?

Much of the excitement around SRE originated from Google putting it on the map as the next big role to recruit for. Today, Google defines it simply as ‘what happens when you ask a software engineer to solve an operational problem.’Since then, it has gained substantial momentum and in January 2022, LinkedIn listed SRE as the 21st job with the highest global demand throughout the past five years.

SRE is often considered a step up from DevOps engineering or from cloud engineering, building on existing infrastructure to reach system reliability. Whilst DevOps is an overarching concept aimed at ensuring the rapid release of stable, secure software. SRE involves prescriptive ways of achieving reliability and has been developed with a narrow focus in mind: to create a set of practices that allow for improved collaboration and service delivery.

DevOps Engineers are ops-focused engineers who solve development pipeline problems, while Site Reliability Engineers are development-focused engineers who solve operational, scale and reliability problems, while working closely with software development and IT operations teams. Once the system is “reliable enough”, SRE efforts shift to adding new features or creating new products.

What route can those already in the market take to secure SRE roles?

For companies looking to hire into the SRE space, candidates with previous experience in the role will naturally take precedence. But those who are open to hiring outside of the SRE sphere, will likely prioritise applicants from a software or systems engineering background above those with DevOps engineer or a data engineer title.

For Software Engineers looking to transition, a strong starting point would be to improve their skills in troubleshooting, incident management and monitoring, maintaining infrastructure in the cloud environment and experience with the Linux operating system. Systems Engineers will likely already have knowledge on Linux and troubleshooting topics. So boosting their skills in coding and programming languages like C, Java, and Python and ensuring that they're able to write code as well as review it, is highly recommended.

How can candidates give themselves the best chance of securing a SRE role?In previous years software engineers would be working in a team of other engineers and communicating with largely technical stakeholders. But now the role is expected to fulfill tasks that were traditionally reserved for business intelligence professionals, such as collaborating with both technical to non-technical colleagues.

As a result, when choosing between candidates, one of the fundamental deciding factors for hiring managers, outside of technical ability, are the soft skills that complement their expertise. Applicants who can demonstrate experience in, or a tenacity for, cross department collaboration and an ability to interact with colleagues with varying levels of expertise, will hold the competitive edge.

So how should companies and the sector be improving the flow of talent into SRE roles?

SRE is growing exponentially, and we expect it to continue to do so. Findings from the 2022 Upskilling Report found that 40 per cent of respondents felt that a SRE operational framework is a must-have. The most limiting factor to the continuation to this growth will be whether the pipeline of talent is able to sustain the rate of expansion. There is a particular bottleneck when it comes to junior talent. Companies may be eager to employ senior candidates with extensive experience and are willing to pay exceptionally high salaries to secure them, but they often overlook the prospect of hiring into more junior positions or establishing internship programmes to help cultivate and develop theses talent streams. SRE as a career may not have been the radar of many students until relatively recently but as awareness increases, the demand for courses to reflect this is likely to rise.

When we consider the evolution of other emerging roles such as Data Engineering, we can see how they went from being a niche specialism to commanding a whole university master's courses dedicated to the subject. SRE is likely to go the same way. To bypass expensive salary wars, organisations should also consider if there is any scope for reskilling or upskilling existing staff. Larger companies in particular could benefit from selecting a few people from their software teams and upskilling them to be SRE engineers, which will streamline and cut the costs of their processes. Upskilling as a Site Reliability Engineer could be a great alternative avenue for those not considering going down a management path but who still want to pursue career progression. Looking for your next big role in Data & Analytics or need to source exceptional talent? Take a look at our latest SRE jobs or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more.