What Does a Site Reliability Engineer Do? Your Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Site reliability engineers ensure that apps and websites run smoothly and reliably. Learn more about this emerging career and what skills you’ll need to get started.

[Featured image] A site reliability engineer (SRE) works on his desktop computer.

A site reliability engineer (SRE) ensures that websites are more reliable, efficient, and scalable. They help create automated solutions to improve operational aspects of the site. As we continue to go online for more and more tasks in our daily lives, it’s increasingly important to keep these technologies up and running. Let’s take a closer look at this emerging career, including the skills you need to get started.

Did you know? SREs began appearing in 2003 when Google formed a team of software engineers for the sole purpose of improving the reliability and scalability of the company’s sites. The approach was so effective that other leading tech companies, including Netflix and Amazon, soon followed suit.


What is a site reliability engineer? 

The SRE role ensures a site has the necessary functions to provide users with the requested services. In today’s automated world, that includes building self-service tools that provide greater availability, performance, and efficiency for users. 

According to Google’s VP of Engineering, Ben Treynor, SRE is “what happens when you ask a software engineer to design an operations function.” Most SREs spend time on operations tasks and development projects (developing new features, automating processes, scaling systems, etc.).

Tasks and duties for site reliability engineering roles might include:

  • Collaborating with software developers, engineers, and operations teams

  • Monitoring sites and software to make sure they’re performing properly (including on-call shifts)

  • Anticipating potential problems before they occur (and coming up with solutions)

  • Conducting post-incident reviews

  • Documenting your work to turn findings into repeatable actions

  • Coding automation within a site infrastructure 

  • Mentoring and coaching junior engineers

SRE vs. DevOps: What's the difference

The disciplines of SRE and DevOps overlap in many ways, but they also have one key difference. DevOps teams define what needs to be done to minimize gaps between software development and operations. SRE teams translate the pillars of DevOps into practices. If DevOps is the “what,” SRE is the “how.”


Site reliability engineer skills

Success in this role often entails being a proactive problem solver with an eye for software engineering and development. These are some of the skills that will serve you well in this job:

  • Understanding of development and operations

  • Familiarity with production monitoring systems

  • Attention to detail

  • Analytical and problem-solving skills

  • Ability to collaborate across multi-functional teams

  • Coding in Java, Python, Perl, or Ruby

  • Technical writing skills

Salary outlook

According to Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for a site reliability engineer in the US is $136,229 per year [2]]. This figure includes an average base salary of $111,384 and $24,845 in additional pay. Additional pay may represent profit-sharing, commissions, or bonuses.

Site reliability engineer career path

Site reliability engineering is typically a mid-level role—a good option for those with a few years of experience as a systems administrator or software developer. Most companies require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. Additional certifications and experience with different operating and programming codes are also advantageous.  

If you’re starting out, a junior-level position on a site reliability engineering team is a good way to learn and grow. In this collaborative environment, you can work with others to solve issues while building your skill sets. As you gain experience and technical knowledge, you can often advance your career into more senior positions. 

Get started with Coursera

Build skills you’ll need as an SRE with Site Reliability Engineering: Measuring and Managing Reliability, offered by Google Cloud on Coursera. Develop a deeper understanding of how service level indicators (SLIs) and service level objectives (SLOs) are used to manage and measure reliability. Upon course completion, you’ll have a certificate to share on your resume.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “Salary: Site Reliability Engineer, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/site-reliability-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,25.htm.” Accessed September 11, 2023.

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