Whether you are a hiring manager or an SRE job candidate, there are certain questions you should be prepared to ask or respond to. Find out what they are here.
What are some sample SRE interview questions?
SRE interview questions should evaluate not only the candidate’s technical skills but also their ability to foster SRE culture and principles. Some example questions include:
- What is an SLO, and why does it matter?
- How is SRE different from DevOps and how do you implement SRE practices into a DevOps environment?
- How would you use the four golden signals to build an understanding of system health?
- What aspects of SRE culture do you find most important?
However, depending on business needs and future plans, the SRE interview can go further than that. So before discussing more sample SRE interview questions, it’s crucial to understand the roles and responsibilities that SREs are usually tasked with and design interview questions accordingly.
What do I need to know about the SRE role?
SRE is a relatively new practice in the software industry, and its approach is rooted in improving the reliability of systems through working holistically with the whole development process. Because of the nature of the work and the blend between software and operations, SREs need to have distinct skill sets to thrive in the role. You’ll also need to evaluate them on their thought process during their day-to-day work, including the ability to spot weaknesses, blind spots, and how they prioritize different incidents.
What is a typical SRE job description?
Before looking at SRE interview questions, take a step back to look at the job description itself to ensure you’re capturing what the role entails. SREs are typically expected to communicate with different departments, including engineers and product owners, to create targets and measures based on business context. Service level objectives (SLOs) and Service level agreements (SLAs) are part of this job function, as that’s how measures are translated into customer happiness. In addition, SREs need to work with teams to establish target levels of reliability and realistic measures for availability.
SREs will also need to structure error budgets that take into account risk, availability, and feature development to create more structure (and room) for teams to develop. Another core part of the role is to eliminate repetitive manual tasks and automate and standardize processes where possible to reduce manual work as part of their bid for efficiency. And, of course, throughout all of this, SREs need to feel comfortable writing and deploying code to improve system resiliency and infrastructure.
Not all SREs may have all of these skills. Having an SRE team where each member specializes in different functions is also a valid way to achieve reliability excellence.
What skills do SRE candidates need to be successful in the role?
Finding the right SRE candidate for the role is about evaluating several aspects to find the right fit. For example, SREs need to be proactive. So much of the role is about quickly adapting when things are going wrong (as they inevitably do), and proactiveness is a key quality. Being able to address incidents before they impact customers is essential, as is the willingness to put out fires when needed.
Another core skill for SREs to have is problem-solving. Finding the right solutions to issues quickly is a significant part of the role in balancing best practices with immediate needs. That’s why it’s imperative to ensure that SRE interview questions include some questions that help you understand the SRE candidate’s thought process and problem-solving abilities. For example, what kind of questions do they ask to pinpoint the issue? Are they working through the problem reasonably, are they willing to listen, and where do they struggle? How do they collaborate with others, seek out people who can help, and escalate when necessary?
Lastly, they need to be a good fit for the team. How they work with others is crucial since they’re a bridge between development and operations. They need to be able to communicate effectively to multiple stakeholders and establish a good rapport with the rest of the team.
More sample SRE interview questions
Now that we’ve established some of the role's core responsibilities and skill sets, let’s look at more potential interview questions you could ask. However, it’s just as crucial to balance out these different skill sets and ensure you’re getting the full picture of who the person is. Try to balance the interview out with a mixture of questions that address various interpersonal skills, cultural knowledge, and technical abilities.
Potential SRE questions could include:
Could you walk me through a typical day in your role and how you prioritize different issues coming in?
- When faced with a significant incident, how do you decide what to do and how to prioritize? How do you help out your team members?
- What is your process for incident documentation? What are the strengths and weaknesses of what you’re describing?
- Which metrics are most important to you in your role, and which are least important? Why is that?
- How much time is your role spent in proactive versus reactive mode? How does the team dynamic fit into that?
- How do you handle disagreements when dealing with multiple stakeholders? How do you decide to approach the issues they are raising? Can you tell me about a time when that has happened and how you responded?
- How do you structure error budgets for your team, and what do you consider?
- What are some of your favorite resources for keeping up with site reliability engineering updates?
- What is your approach to toil reduction?
- What is your experience with automation in your previous roles? Where has it benefited most?
- How do you define success in your role?
- What tools have you used in the past in your role?
Bear in mind that these questions should serve as a foundation to ask more specific questions based on how the interview progresses. You’ll need to consider specific business contexts and needs and craft situational questions that help you understand how they would work in your team dynamic.
For example, if you have a smaller team, you could craft a situational question around how the team usually works during a significant incident and where they fit in. Or you can work through scenarios based on past incidents and get their perspective on how they would have approached troubleshooting the situation. Tech stack questions and hands-on scenarios can also be incorporated into the process to ensure you’re covering the full scope of the role. However, you should be mindful of candidate time before designing any tasks or exercises to test their technical abilities.
Preparing for an interview as an SRE
If you’re preparing for an interview to become an SRE, studying these commonly-asked questions is a great starting point. Remember that you will likely be assessed on both technical skills and knowledge of culture and best practices.
On the technical side, look into the tech stack of the company you’re applying to, and make sure you understand how technical solutions would be implemented with their setup. Emphasize not only the solution itself, but the holistic details of how the solution would be implemented – how you would make it maintainable, observable, and reliable.
When talking about cultural ideals or reliability best practices, try to come up with specific examples of how they could be implemented and the benefits they would bring. Anyone can say “we should have blameless retrospectives”, so stand out by explaining how you would build them into a practice and why they’d help teams.
Blameless can help you get new SREs up to speed with templated solutions for retrospectives, communication, insights, and more! When interviewing prospective SREs, it can help to introduce some of your policies and tools to see how they’d adapt them and evolve them. Check out how Blameless can help grow your SRE team by signing up for a demo!