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 websites are more reliable, efficient, and scalable. They help create automated solutions to improve the operational aspects of the site. As we continue to go online for more and more of our daily tasks, 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.).

A site reliability engineer’s tasks and duties 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 their 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

  • Analysis and problem-solving

  • Ability to collaborate across multi-functional teams

  • Coding in Java, Python, Perl, or Ruby

  • Technical writing

Salary outlook

If you’re looking for a role in an emerging, in-demand field, a career as an SRE might be a good fit. The Government of Canada’s Job Bank reports good to very good employment outlooks for most provinces through 2024 [1].  According to Glassdoor, the annual average salary for a site reliability engineer in Canada is $111,658  [2]. Keep in mind your salary may be influenced by factors like geographic location, industry, and years of experience. 

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 may advance into more senior positions. 

Get started with Coursera

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

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