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Site Reliability Engineer Skills And Responsibilities

Updated: Aug 22

What is a Site Reliability Engineer (SRE)?

A Site Reliability Engineer, put simply, is an IT professional who is in charge of making sure that all IT services of a company are running smoothly, reliably, and efficiently.

Site Reliability Engineer Skills And Responsibilities 2023

Now, that’s a very broad description for a good reason. The work of an SRE can span across different platforms, applications, networks, and systems. Basically, SREs have to take care of entire architectures, balancing system reliability with the demand for innovation and new features.

The concept of a Site Reliability Engineer is actually quite new. It began at Google, which was having a lot of difficulties in managing its large-scale systems while being highly reliable.

So, in 2003, Ben Treynor Sloss, a Google executive decided to go ahead and create a new role altogether. The main aim of this professional would be to make sure that Google’s sites would always run smoothly, efficiently, and reliably. And this professional would be called a Site Reliability Engineer.

In fact, since then, Sloss has said quite a few times that “SRE is what happens when you ask a software engineer to solve an operations problem”.

So, with that in mind, how do you become a Site Reliability Engineer? What are some important Site Reliability Engineer skills and what do they actually do? Let’s take a look:

Site Reliability Engineer Skills:

Systems knowledge:

Systems knowledge isn’t simply knowing what system components are. It goes beyond that — you need to fully understand how they interact, their limitations, and their potential.

Specifically, you’ll need to understand network architecture, operating system internals, process lifecycles, memory management, file systems, and inter-process communication.

Additionally, you should have a working knowledge of TCP/IP networking. So, this will include things like network protocols, network analysis, and network-level troubleshooting. The idea is, it’ll help you manage latency, assure efficient network performance, and in general, allow you to diagnose network-related issues accurately.


You should know at least one programming language quite well. Popular choices include Python, Sheel, and Go. It’s not just about knowing how to code, either. It's about applying that knowledge to improve system efficiency, automate tasks, build tools, and solve problems at scale.

Writing scripts for mundane tasks, creating tools to streamline processes, and developing solutions to enhance system reliability — these are all things you’ll have to do.

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Cloud computing:

It's nearly impossible to separate the role of an SRE from cloud computing. Familiarity with major cloud service providers like AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure is very important.

You need to understand these platforms beyond the surface level. You should well and truly understand their architecture, services, pricing models, security measures, and best practices.

From the computing services that these platforms provide, such as EC2 in AWS or Compute Engine in Google Cloud, to storage services like S3 and Cloud Storage, understanding the wide spectrum of services is key

If you want to get ahead of the curve, try and learn networking within the cloud, including VPCs, load balancers, and network access control.

Cloud security is another important aspect. Understanding IAM, service accounts, encryption methods, network security measures, and other aspects of cloud security simply can't be overlooked in this day and age.

Infrastructure as Code (IaC):

As an SRE, you’re expected to manage large-scale, complex systems. Doing this manually isn't just impractical; it's nearly impossible. This is the whole reason why SREs came into existence.

So this is where Infrastructure as Code (IaC) comes in. With IaC, you can manage and provision your infrastructure through machine-readable files, rather than manual processes. Tools like Terraform and Ansible have become the gold standard in this field.

Understanding Terraform isn't just about knowing its syntax. It's about recognizing its place in the ecosystem, understanding its strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when to use it.

This includes a thorough understanding of resource providers, state management, modules, and other core concepts of Terraform.

In contrast, Ansible focuses more on automation and deployment. Your understanding of Ansible should include playbook writing, role creation, inventory management, and effective use of its vast module library.

IaC isn't just about tooling. It's a methodology that requires you to treat your infrastructure like software. This means using version control systems, testing your infrastructure changes, and incorporating CI/CD pipelines for your infrastructure.

Containerization and Orchestration:

Containerization refers to bundling an application along with its related configuration files, libraries, and dependencies into a single object – a container.

Docker is the de facto standard in this field, providing lightweight, portable, and easily scalable containers. You should be able to build efficient Docker images, manage volumes and networks, and understand best practices in a Docker-based environment.

When managing multiple containers across various machines, manual management quickly becomes impossible.

Here's where orchestration tools, like Kubernetes, come into play. Kubernetes automates the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.

You’ll have to know its architecture, its various components (like Pods, Services, Deployments), and how they interact. You’ll also have to be familiar with Kubernetes APIs, and its command-line interface (kubectl), and you have to know how to troubleshoot Kubernetes clusters.

Logging and monitoring:

With the complexity and scale of modern systems, having effective logging and monitoring in place is just non-negotiable.

Logging basically refers to maintaining records of events or processes occurring within a system, while monitoring involves regularly checking the system's performance and functionality.

Logging in an SRE role extends beyond just storing logs.

You need to know structured logging, log aggregation, and setting up efficient log retention and rotation policies.

You should also be proficient in using centralized logging systems like ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana) or Graylog, which enable better searchability, analysis, and visualization of log data.

Monitoring is setting up efficient alerting systems, understanding and tracking relevant metrics, and creating useful dashboards for visualization.

Tools like Prometheus for metric collection, Grafana for visualization, or Nagios for system and network monitoring, are commonly used.

The ultimate goal of logging and monitoring is not just to track system health but to provide actionable insights that help in improving system reliability and performance.

Database Management:

With databases, you need to understand not just how to perform basic CRUD operations, but also have a solid grasp of database architecture, indexing, transactions, and other advanced concepts.

Proficiency in both SQL and NoSQL databases is important given that different applications might require different database systems depending on their needs.

In the context of relational databases like PostgreSQL, MySQL, or Oracle, you should be familiar with schema design, normalization/denormalization techniques, and writing complex SQL queries.

For NoSQL databases like MongoDB or Cassandra, understanding their distributed nature, data modeling differences compared to SQL databases, scaling strategies (like sharding in MongoDB), and managing data consistency are important.

Finally, in both SQL and NoSQL, understanding transactions, ACID properties, and in the case of distributed databases, the CAP theorem, is key.

Incident Response and Management

As a site reliability engineer, dealing with incidents—unplanned disruptions or reductions in quality—is one of the most important things.

Your role is not just to respond to incidents when they occur, but to manage the entire lifecycle of an incident. This includes detection, response, mitigation, analysis, and learning.

At the heart of incident response is effective communication.

You should be proficient in managing communication channels, keeping relevant stakeholders informed, and coordinating response efforts.

This often involves using incident management tools like PagerDuty or OpsGenie. You should know how to leverage these tools to create incident tickets, manage on-call rotations, automate alerting, and more.

Beyond the immediate response, incident management also involves conducting blameless postmortems.

These are structured reflections on the incidents to understand what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to prevent it from happening again. You should be proficient in leading these postmortems, facilitating open discussions, and ensuring that action items are followed up on.

Reliability and Scalability Design:

Designing for reliability means ensuring that your systems can withstand various forms of failures and continue to operate satisfactorily.

As an SRE, you should understand concepts like fault tolerance, high availability, and disaster recovery. You should know how to implement redundancy, build resilient systems, design effective health checks, and more.

Scalability refers to the system's capacity to handle growth in demand. You need to understand horizontal and vertical scaling and when to apply each.

Knowledge of load balancing techniques, understanding of caching strategies, and familiarity with Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) is crucial.

In the end, designing for reliability and scalability isn't just about understanding these concepts. It's about being able to implement them in your environment.


Automation is another crucial skill. As an SRE, automation skills can range from writing scripts for routine tasks to setting up entire CI/CD pipelines.

As mentioned earlier, Python and Bash are prerequisites for scripting. For CI/CD, you need to know tools like Jenkins, GitLab CI/CD, or GitHub Actions.

Another important part of automation is testing, of course. Automated testing helps maintain system reliability by catching potential issues early. Understanding unit testing, integration testing, load testing, etc. are very important.

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Site Reliability Engineer Responsibilities:

Monitoring and troubleshooting:

This is pretty much the bread-and-butter responsibility of an SRE. Failures don’t happen every day (at least, not ideally). A lot of time is spent ensuring that it stays that way.

SREs use a lot of tools for this. Grafna, Prometheus, Splunk — the list goes on.

The goal is to help SREs keep a pulse on the system’s health, detect anomalies, understand trends, and predict potential points of failure. It’s not just a one-time task, of course. It’s an ongoing commitment.

Troubleshooting is more of a tactical task that SREs have to do when things do go wrong. They have to interpret the log files, understand error messages, decipher stack traces, and all the other diagnostic data that they have.

Once that’s done, SREs not only fix the problems but try and put systems in place to prevent something like that from happening again.

Performance tuning:

SREs have to identify bottlenecks in a system. Now, this could be network congestion, inefficient database queries, poorly written application code, or just straight-up incorrect system configurations.

SREs usually use tools like New Relic or Datadog for this. It can help you monitor performance metrics and make data-driven decisions about where adjustments are needed the most.

Tuning is again a pretty broad term and includes quite a few tasks. Optimizing SQL queries, adjusting system parameters, tuning network settings, or even tweaking code.

Capacity planning is a subset of performance tuning. If you know how much resources you need, you can plan better. That’s an SRE’s job, too.

Incident Management:

Failures happen. They’re simply unavoidable, even for the best companies in the world. So, instead of just pretending that something will never go wrong, SREs prepare for it.

When there’s an incident, your response to it and the way you handle it can genuinely make a difference between a minor hiccup and a full-blown outage.

So, the way SREs tackle incident response is to start with incident detection, which in turn comes from good monitoring practices. Once an incident is detected, it needs to be logged, categorized, and prioritized based on its impact on system operation and business functionality.

The next step is incident investigation and diagnosis. Here, SREs have to identify the root cause of the incident. This often involves sifting through logs, examining error messages, and testing potential solutions.

Finally, once the incident is resolved, post-incident analysis or post-mortem procedures kick in.

Basically, you have to document everything. What happened, why it happened, how it was resolved, and what can be done to prevent such an incident from occurring again — all these things have to be documented, in detail.

The aim here is not to point fingers or assign blame but to learn from the incident and improve the system reliability and the incident management process itself.

Infrastructure Management

Infrastructure management is another important responsibility for an SRE. You will have to design, implement, and manage the IT infrastructure that powers your company’s applications and services.

Provisioning, configuring, and maintaining servers is important. So is network management. This is where you configure routers, switches, and firewalls, manage IP addressing, and ensure overall network security and performance.

What’s more new for SREs is Cloud Management. It has simply become essential. So, you’ll be working a lot of AWS, Google Cloud, or Azure.

Designing and Implementing SLOs/SLIs

SLOs (Service Level Objectives) and SLIs (Service Level Indicators)are key metrics used to quantify and measure the reliability of services.

Setting SLOs and SLIs is only half the battle. Implementing them effectively requires establishing processes to monitor these metrics continuously, alerting when the SLOs are in danger of being breached, and taking corrective action when necessary.

This might involve tuning the system for better performance, adjusting the SLOs, or even working with the development team to improve the application code.

Planning and Implementing Scalability and Redundancy

As applications and services grow, so too does the demand placed on the systems supporting them. SREs need to ensure that systems are prepared to handle this increased load without degrading performance or reliability.

Scalability refers to a system's ability to handle an increased workload by proportionally increasing its resource utilization.

As an SRE, you might achieve this by using load balancing, sharding databases, or implementing auto-scaling in cloud environments.

On the other hand, redundancy is about ensuring that a system remains available even in the event of component failures. SREs implement failover mechanisms, deploy applications across multiple servers or data centers, or ensure data is replicated across multiple storage devices.

Redundancy planning requires a thorough understanding of the system architecture and a keen ability to identify potential points of failure.

That being said, scalability and redundancy do not come without costs. Adding more resources to a system increases costs, and implementing redundancy can increase complexity.

So, SREs must balance the need for scalability and redundancy with the need to keep costs and complexity under control.

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The career path of Site Reliability Engineers:


A formal education in computer science or a related field serves as a solid foundation for a career in site reliability engineering.

A bachelor's degree is often the minimum requirement for entry-level positions.

Programs focusing on computer science, information systems, or software engineering provide the technical knowledge necessary for this role, covering areas such as programming, data structures, algorithms, databases, and networking.

However, SRE is not just about technical expertise. An understanding of business processes, project management, and communication skills are also important. So, courses in these areas can be beneficial.

For those looking to specialize or aiming for senior roles, a master's degree or a doctorate can add to your credentials.

Specializations in areas like distributed systems, cloud computing, or machine learning can be especially useful given the direction in which modern tech systems are evolving.

Hands-on Experience

While formal education lays the groundwork, hands-on experience is where you truly learn the intricacies of system reliability.

Entry-level roles such as junior system administrator, software developer, or network engineer are excellent starting points, allowing you to gain practical experience with computer systems, networks, and software development principles.

Mid-career roles could involve more responsibilities, such as a senior system administrator or a DevOps engineer.

These positions let you get more acquainted with production systems, working with cloud platforms, automation tools, and monitoring and logging systems.


Certifications are another crucial part of your career path. While they aren't a substitute for practical experience, they offer validation of your skills, often focusing on practical, industry-specific knowledge that's immediately applicable in the workplace.

Here are some great certifications for aspiring SREs:

  • Google's Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer Certification: This certification assesses your proficiency in using Google Cloud Platform to develop and maintain reliable services.

  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer: This certification verifies your knowledge of managing distributed applications using AWS, focusing on continuous delivery, automation, and managing logs and metrics.

  • Microsoft Certified: Azure DevOps Engineer Expert: This certification validates your skills in designing and implementing DevOps practices using Azure tools and services.

  • Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA): This certification demonstrates your proficiency in administering Kubernetes clusters, a key skill for managing containerized applications.

After SRE:

As an SRE, your growth opportunities are quite varied. You could progress into a senior or lead SRE role, leading a team and making strategic decisions about system architecture, scalability, and reliability.

Alternatively, you may choose to specialize in a specific area, such as database reliability or network reliability engineering.

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The job of a Site Reliability Engineer was a novel concept a few years ago. Google had started it but people didn’t know if other companies would ever have a need.

The demand for Site Reliability Engineers has since exploded. As it turns out, a lot of companies do need SREs. So, it’s a pretty great time to get into.

If you’re looking for SRE or other tech jobs, check out Simple Job Listings. We only post verified, fully remote jobs that pay well. What’s more, a significant number of jobs that we post aren’t listed anywhere else.

Visit Simple Job Listings and find amazing remote tech jobs. Good luck!

Some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Do SREs do coding?

Yes, SREs do have to code. You will have to build tools that help automate tasks, or you may have to refactor existing code to make it more efficient, or you may have to write code to help improve reliability. In essence, you do have to code.

That being said, SREs don’t just code. It’s one of the many things that SREs will have to know. It’s one aspect of the job, not the entire job description.

Can an SRE work from home?

Absolutely. SREs can and do work from home. We’re a remote-only job board and SRE jobs are some of the more popular ones on our website.

Do you need a degree for SRE?

Yes, you do need a degree for SRE. Most people start off their journey with a degree in Computer Science. Now, there’s no rule that it has to be a Computer Science degree. Any related degree will do just fine. But you do need a degree to get started.

Which language is best for SRE?

There’s no “best” language. There are languages that are better suited to certain tasks than they are to others. For SRE roles, it’s easily Python. Python is pretty much the most popular programming language for SRE-related tasks.

Is SRE a stressful job?

Whether or not an SRE role is stressful usually depends on the company that you join. In some companies, there are 30 SREs and the work load is very distributed. In teams like that, it won’t be stressful at all.

But if you’re in a small company and you’re the only SRE for the company, you can be pretty sure that it’s going to be quite stressful, especially after there’s been an incident. Then again, if you thrive under pressure or enjoy shouldering responsibilities, it shouldn’t be that stressful.

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