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SRE Roles and Responsibilities - What Does an SRE Do?

Myra Nizami
SRE Fundamentals

SRE is a practice that creates a bridge between operations and development. We discuss the roles and responsibilities of a site reliability engineer.

What are SRE roles and responsibilities?

An SRE works with both IT development and operations with the goal of creating scalable and reliable software systems. SRE roles and responsibilities include the following:

  • Automation
  • Monitoring
  • Incident resolution
  • Team collaboration
  • Championing culture

However, there is a lot of history behind the question that needs to be brought in to understand the role itself. “What is SRE” is a straightforward question, but knowing the background behind the role enables teams to carve out a more defined space for SRE roles. 

The term site reliability engineering originated from Google, and the role served as a bridge between operations and development. SRE skills are very much rooted in developing software systems and solutions that improve operations. SRE can be seen as applying the principles of development to the challenge of reliability.

By bringing in new tools and automation, SRE roles are created to focus on ensuring system reliability. The best way to think about what is SRE is to look at it as a set of practices that bring together elements of software engineering with operations. This helps give you a foundation on which you can start to build and scale SRE roles within your team while understanding the core skillsets needed.

SRE vs. DevOps

For many teams, unpicking the differences in SRE vs. DevOps often proves challenging. It might also mean that roles and responsibilities get muddled between the two. While SRE roles and responsibilities are closely linked to DevOps, there’s a bit more to it. 

DevOps is focused on development velocity and continuous delivery. SRE roles and responsibilities, on the other hand, are focused on reliability and putting forward automation solutions to optimize workflows.

Both DevOps and SRE focus on bringing together operations and developments, but SRE is more about implementation of DevOps goals. SRE measures and achieves the reliability of development and operational work to ensure that DevOps principles are successfully being implemented. 

What are the essential site reliability engineer skills?

Now that the distinction between DevOps and SRE has been made let’s look at the SRE roles and responsibilities in more detail. SREs can either have a generalized skill set, or specialize in different areas.

For SREs, their priority is standardization and automation as it relates to reliability. SREs will solve problems and work towards reliable software systems using their skillset, including automation tools. SRE teams are generally made up of software engineers who are responsible for building and implementing software that helps them achieve reliability targets. As individual experiences will inevitably vary, individual SREs will all execute different parts of this function. To successfully do so, SREs will have a background in software engineering and IT operations since the role essentially sits in the middle of the two. 

If site reliability engineer skills are successfully applied, teams can focus more on feature development and innovation rather than putting out constant fires. In addition, from an operations standpoint, teams will see a decrease in workload through automated solutions.

Core site reliability engineer skills include:

  • Knowledge of automation tools
  • Knowledge of coding and common programming languages
  • Experience with cloud service providers
  • Other personality traits could consist of problem-solving abilities and proactiveness

What are some of the key tasks SREs perform?

The primary responsibility in the role is to write and develop code that achieves automation and standardization. This could involve creating infrastructure tools shared by the organization, or making the code base more reliable through standardization. On a day-to-day level, this could include writing and developing code to automate processes relating to system reliability, including testing production environments, incident response, and responding to issues as needed.

Key tasks for SREs will vary based on the organization and its needs, but generally, it’ll involve some mixture of the following:

  1. Building solutions to support operations and development teams: SREs will proactively build and implement software based on identified needs to accelerate development velocity without compromising reliability. This could include code adjustments, automation, monitoring and alerts, and incident management tools.
  2. Working on escalation issues: If support teams raise an escalated issue, SREs will work on fixing problems and ensuring system reliability.
  3. On-call responsibilities: SREs will need to be on-call at specific times, but they will also work more broadly to create on-call rotations and build processes that help teams work better during incidents.
  4. Documenting knowledge: Any historical knowledge gathered across the different teams that SREs work with is documented to ensure that everyone is working with the same information and bring some standardization to workflows. 
  5. Post-incident reviews: After an incident occurs, SREs will bring teams together to do a post-mortem and understand what went wrong, initial fixes versus long-term changes, and learnings for the broader team that can be documented for future use.

How Blameless helps SRE teams

For SRE teams, one of the main ways they accomplish their reliability goals is through the tools they use. 

Some of the standard tools used could include:

  • Monitoring tools
  • Incident management
  • Project management
  • Infrastructure orchestration

However, SREs must have access to the best tools possible to carry out their responsibilities. The right tools enable teams to be more efficient and maximize resources while having clear oversight of processes and collaboration. Tools like Blameless are an asset to SRE teams for crucial parts of their role, such as incident management and process automation. 

Blameless helps SRE teams get the most out of their monitoring systems with dedicated incident management tools and SLOs to monitor progress. Interested in learning more?  Request a demo or sign up for the newsletter below.

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