What is a Site Reliability Engineer?

coder with multiple screens
coder with multiple screens

In an increasingly digital world, more organizations, businesses, and people depend on the reliability of their technologies. This seismic shift has paved the way for modern-day software engineers, including site reliability engineers. Site reliability engineers do everything from remedying a website crash for an E-commerce site during a Black Friday Sale to ensuring the IRS’s online portal is running smoothly during tax season. These skilled engineers are crucial for ensuring that web pages run smoothly and efficiently across the internet. 

As the demand in this profession burgeons, more professionals are asking, “What is a site reliability engineer?” and searching job sites for site reliability engineer job descriptions. Learn more about the job responsibilities, salary, growth, and education path associated with a career as a site reliability engineer.

Why are Site Reliability Engineers in Such High Demand?

Site reliability engineers (SREs) are in high demand because they play a crucial role in ensuring the reliability, availability, and scalability of complex software systems. Their expertise in both software development and operations allows them to bridge the gap between the two and help organizations avoid costly downtime and outages. In addition, as more and more businesses move their operations online, the need for skilled site reliability engineers continues to rise.

For example, if a company’s website crashes due to a server issue, a site reliability engineer will investigate the matter and work to restore the site's functionality as quickly as possible. Additionally, an SRE also works to prevent future issues by setting up automated monitoring and alerting systems that would notify the team of any potential problems before they become critical. Banks, online stores, schools, government institutions, and numerous other organizations that count on website functionality benefit from SREs.

Another factor hastening the need for SREs is evolving consumer expectations. For example, today’s website users have a short attention span for lagging websites. On average, 19 percent of respondents in a recent survey claim they will abandon a web page that takes longer than 2-3 seconds to load. In response, companies are paying premium salaries to attract and retain experienced site reliability engineers to ensure their websites are fast, dependable, and can measure up to their consumers’ high standards. As a result, SREs are quickly becoming one of the most in-demand careers in the digital era; Business Insider recently ranked site reliability engineer third on its top 10 jobs list for the career’s excellent pay and numerous job openings.

Site Reliability Engineer Job Description: What do Site Reliability Engineers do?

Site reliability engineers are responsible for ensuring that an organization's website or application is always functional, reliable, and efficient. This involves a combination of software engineering and operations skills, as well as the ability to troubleshoot and resolve issues quickly. In their day-to-day job, a typical SRE is responsible for the following:

  • Ensure general systems uptimes are high by conducting regular maintenance and implementing proactive measures to prevent downtime.
  • Monitor systems performance and identify areas for improvement, such as optimizing code or upgrading hardware.
  • Manage latency by monitoring response times and identifying and addressing bottlenecks in the system.
  • Handle incident and outage management by quickly responding to issues and minimizing the impact on users.
  • Implement systems and application monitoring to identify issues before they become critical.
  • Manage change effectively by implementing processes that minimize risk and ensure system stability.
  • Plan for capacity to ensure that systems can handle expected traffic and usage levels.

What Skills do You Need to Become a Site Reliability Engineer?

Site reliability engineers are detail-oriented, analytical, and excellent problem solvers. They must also be effective communicators to explain their findings to internal teams and advise the correct next steps to resolve website issues. In addition to these soft skills, SREs need software engineering skills and experience with commonly used coding languages and cloud systems. Overall, companies hiring SREs look for the following skills:

  • Strong knowledge of operating systems, networking, and databases
  • Proficiency in coding and scripting languages such as Python, Bash, and Ruby
  • Experience with cloud infrastructure such as AWS, GCP, or Azure
  • Understanding of containerization technologies like Docker and Kubernetes
  • Familiarity with monitoring tools like Nagios, Zabbix, or Prometheus
  • Knowledge of incident management and outage response processes
  • Ability to troubleshoot and debug complex systems
  • Understanding of agile methodologies and DevOps practices
  • Strong communication and collaboration skills to work effectively with cross-functional teams.

What is the Average Salary for a Site Reliability Engineer?

In addition to job security, the salary prospects for site reliability engineers are a tempting factor for software engineers when deciding on a career path. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a site reliability engineer in the United States is around $129,183 per year. SREs typically earn between $102,000 and $165,000, though some can make up to $204,000 depending on their experience, seniority, and company. Many professionals in this role may also enjoy additional pay, including cash bonuses, commission, and profit-sharing programs.

What is the Expected Job Growth for Site Reliability Engineers?

The need for computer and IT professionals extends beyond positions for site reliability engineers. Job growth for this position is projected to be strong, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimating a 15% growth rate for all computer and information technology occupations through 2031. The imminent need for IT experts will also result in 418,500 job openings each year, on average.

What is the Best Path to Becoming a Site Reliability Engineer?

To become a site reliability engineer, professionals must have a strong background in computer science, software engineering or a related field, as well as experience with software development and system administration. Additionally, many employers prefer candidates with a Master's degree in a relevant field. While not all job listings require a Master's degree, having one can lead to higher earning potential. Here are a few general steps to becoming a site reliability engineer in the United States:

  1. Obtain a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a related field.
  2. Gain relevant work experience in software development or system administration.
  3. Acquire knowledge of programming languages, operating systems, and cloud infrastructure.
  4. Familiarize yourself with site reliability engineering (SRE) principles and practices.
  5. Consider obtaining a master’s degree in computer science or additional certifications in SRE or related fields.
  6. Apply for SRE positions at companies that align with your career goals.

Keep in mind that specific requirements and qualifications may vary depending on the employer and the industry. Therefore, it's important to stay current with industry developments and continue to build your skills and knowledge throughout your career.

Start Your Journey to an Exciting Career in Software Engineering at Baylor University

If you are interested in pursuing a career as a site reliability engineer, Baylor University's Online Master of Science in Computer Science program offers a Software Engineering track that provides you with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in this field. 

Baylor University's faculty members offer online training to aspiring engineers worldwide. The program doesn't mandate a Computer Science bachelor's degree but considers applicants with STEM-related educational backgrounds. The Online Masters in Computer Science, Software Engineering Track has a comprehensive curriculum, encompassing courses like Advanced Object-Oriented Development, Advanced Software Engineering, Distributed Systems, and Software Verification and Validation.

To learn more about this program, you can access a free brochure by submitting a request for more information at: https://onlinecs.baylor.edu/online-masters-computer-science/software-engineering-track