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SRE or SWE? Making the Right Career Choice for You


Your first years following graduation are critical to finding the most lucrative and fulfilling career path. Here, we explore SRE (Site Reliability Engineer) vs SWE (Software Engineering) opportunities to help focus your career goals.

Understanding SWE (Software Engineering) Responsibilities

Software engineering focuses on the creation of software solutions using the right programming language, platforms, and architectures to create solutions to meet the company’s end goals. Although this role can vary greatly from employer to employer, some of the most common SWE responsibilities might include:

  • System design providing the coding framework for software developers
  • Writing documentation to help users and developers understand software functionality for support and usage purposes that improve user experience
  • Maintaining the functionality of existing software, such as updates, overcoming problems, and determining improvements to remain relevant to industry needs and brand standards  
  • Troubleshooting unexpected issues to provide quick resolutions to ensure the software is usable and provides the best possible user experience
  • Tracking industry and brand compliance and best practices

There are also nonstandard duties you might be expected to perform ranging from client interaction for something like SaaS companies, overseeing development projects, or hiring developers to carry out production.

Understanding SRE (Site Reliability Engineer) Roles

SRE meaning is an acronym for site reliability engineering. It was first recognized as a necessary role by Google to bridge the gap between developers and IT operations. It provides a proactive form of quality assurance (QA), improving the reliability of systems during production based on “the four golden signals of monitoring”:

1. Latency

2. Traffic

3. Errors

4. Saturation

Responsibilities you can expect to perform as an SRE include:

  • Building software to help DevOps, ITOps and support teams
  • Fixing support escalation cases and identifying the best person to resolve the issue
  • On-call responsibilities
  • Optimizing on-call processes
  • Updating runbooks, tools, and documentation
  • Documenting tribal knowledge to improve information sharing and record case resolution history  
  • Conducting post-incident reviews to address actionable learning and improvement opportunities
  • Following up on action items or delegating them to the appropriate party(s)

Other duties might include finding ways to improve IT and developer communication, shortening delays between different expert contributions, and generally helping to create improved user experience and more reliable software.

Key Differences Between SWE and SRE

Both SWEs and SREs play a critical role in providing superior software function and user experience. While SWEs focus on development tasks, SREs enhance system reliability. Other key differences include:


The goals are clearly defined, with SWEs focused on creating features that improve usability and SREs, ensuring system stability and reliability. While one is concerned about meeting the needs of the user with effective features that deliver results, the other wants to ensure reliability when the product is in use.

Problem-solving approach

Both rely heavily on problem-solving, addressing the needs of the user, and ensuring the final products meet those needs. SWEs look at different priorities when problem solving such as deployment costs, timing to write the feature or function and whether it will be easy to achieve and maintain the solution. On the other hand, the SRE is always focused on the four golden signals of monitoring.

Problem-solving tools also differ. SREs use tools that automate tasks to manage complex processes or chaos engineering. Their problems need to be resolved quickly, which calls for incident response automation platforms. SWEs, on the other hand, need tools more focused on facilitating development and quick, bug-free deployment, like CI servers, source code managers, or release automation software.

Factors to Consider in Choosing Between SRE and SWE

When trying to choose between SRE and SWE, you should consider the following factors:

Career Goals

If you have high aspirations to become a Chief Technical Officer (CTI) heading up an organization’s technological strategy, the SWE position is more likely to take you on this course. However, if you are more interested in modeling strategies that improve the reliability aspects of the company and operations on a Director level, the SRE path is best.

Work Preferences

What would you find more fulfilling, a job in SWE that allows you to contribute the inspiration and ideas behind software development in the early stages or in SRE working to constantly improve that tool once it is functional?

Analyzing Career Trajectories

Both careers offer opportunities for growth, taking on more involved and higher-level responsibilities that develop from hands-on tasks in the trenches to more strategic leadership roles. Here are examples of expected career trajectories for each role:


A life in site reliability engineering will typically see a progression that looks something like this:

  • Junior Site Reliability Engineer
  • Site Reliability Engineer
  • Senior Site Reliability Engineer
  • Site Reliability Engineering Manager
  • Director of Site Reliability Engineering


When following a career path in software engineering, your career might progress as follows:

  • Junior Software Engineer
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Tech Lead
  • Team Manager
  • Technical Architect
  • Chief Technology Officer

Where does DevOps come in?

DevOps plays a significant role for both software engineers and SRE teams. For software engineers, DevOps is a way of ensuring the code they write is able to be maintained effectively by the operations teams. DevOps brings together development and operations teams, using tools like automation to improve and build upon code that software engineers are writing. While coding plays a role in DevOps, but about infrastructure management as well.

SRE teams bring that operational element into a more concrete fashion to ensure DevOps implementation. As part of their role, SRE teams will establish an error budget of how much a system can fail; this normalizes failures and gives developers room to innovate and try, even if it doesn’t quite work. As long as the errors don’t exceed the error budget, they can be confident that customers won’t be upset. After failures occur, SRE teams will use tools such as blameless retrospectives to drive systemic changes that prevent it from happening again. Teams create a culture focused on improving, innovating, and learning.

Blameless Advice for Choosing the Right Path

There are three major considerations that will help narrow down your career focus:

1. Skill Set Evaluation:

You need to be realistic about your skills and strengths to decide where you’ll be the most effective. For example, an SRE blends technical expertise with problem-solving to make decisions to resolve issues and improve reliability while an SWE uses creativity and an in-depth understanding of programming language to create and upgrade software solutions.  

2. Industry Trends:

Chances are you’ll find both SRE and SWE will continue to grow in demand. However, you might consider current industry trends and demands for each and the types of jobs and work environments they offer.

3. Seeking Guidance:

Seeking advice from mentors or professionals in the field can help you understand what life in either role entails. It can also introduce you to career opportunities through networking.

Regardless of what path you choose, you are bound to face incident management that requires effective, strategic resolutions. With Blameless, incident management becomes standardized, including automated runbooks and retrospectives using real-time incident data, enabling each incident to become learning for SRE and the engineering teams. To learn more about how 

Blameless helps streamline incident management and accelerate development velocity, request a free demo today!

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