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Building and Maintaining a Strong SRE Team in Your Company: 7 Key Tips

This blog post offers guidance on building and maintaining an SRE team. It emphasizes the importance of SRE in today's world and outlines seven key tips to achieve success. Here's a summary of those tips:

Start small and focus internally: Begin by assigning staff from existing departments to focus on maintaining service reliability.

Recruit the right people: Look for SRE professionals with problem-solving skills, automation expertise, and a commitment to continuous learning. They should also be excellent team players with a broad perspective. Consider using SRE tooling to improve team efficiency.

Define your SLOs: Establish clear and achievable performance indicators for your systems.

Establish a holistic incident management system: Implement a system for tracking on-call duties and streamlining the incident resolution process. SRE tooling can be helpful here.

Accept failure as inevitable: Recognize that failures are part of the development process. Focus on creating a minimum viable product and improving over time.

Conduct incident postmortems to learn from mistakes: Analyze incidents to identify root causes and develop solutions to prevent future occurrences.

Maintain a user-friendly incident management system: Choose an incident management system that is easy to use, fosters communication, and integrates with other relevant tools.

By following these steps and leveraging SRE tooling, you can establish a strong SRE team that keeps your systems reliable and your customers satisfied.

In today’s constantly connected world, reliability is a critical business KPI. By following these 7 simple tips, you can establish a culture of reliability and build a solid SRE team within your organization.
Many of today’s most in-demand jobs are relatively new. Social media managers, data scientists and growth hackers were practically unheard of at the turn of the millennium. Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) is another relatively new and sought-after role. The profession is young, with an estimated 64% of SRE teams being less than three years old. Despite its newness, SREs bring significant value to organizations.

SRE vs DevOps

Site Reliability Engineering essentially combines development and operations into a single function. While some people confuse SRE and DevOps, DevOps is more of a principle, while SRE is the practice.

If your company is considering implementing Site Reliability Engineering, these seven tips can help you build and maintain a successful SRE team.

  1. Start Small and Focus Internally
    Your company likely needs an SRE team, but you probably don’t need a whole department right away. Site reliability management ensures online service reliability through alert creation, incident investigation, root cause remediation, and incident postmortem analysis.

In most tech companies, occasional bugs are par for the course. Traditionally, operations and development teams would collaborate to fix these software or service issues. An SRE approach merges these responsibilities.

When you’re first building your SRE team, you can start by assigning some staff from your operations and development departments with the sole responsibility of maintaining service reliability.

  1. Recruit the Right People
    As your SRE team grows, you’ll likely need to hire additional staff. SRE professionals are in high demand, with over 1,300 job openings advertised on Indeed.

The key to finding the right people for your SRE team is to clearly define what you’re looking for. Here are some essential qualifications for a site reliability engineer:

  • Problem-solving and troubleshooting skills: A significant portion of an SRE’s job involves resolving incidents and issues in software, often in systems or applications they didn’t develop themselves. The ability to debug quickly, even without in-depth knowledge of a specific system, is crucial.
  • Automation expertise: Repetitive tasks can become a major burden in many tech-based services. The ideal SRE will look for ways to automate these tasks, minimizing manual work and freeing up staff to focus on higher-priority issues.
  • Continuous learning: As systems evolve, so do problems. Effective SREs will actively seek to expand their knowledge of systems, code, and processes as they change over time.
  • Teamwork: Addressing incidents is rarely a one-person job, so SREs need to be excellent team players. Collaboration and communication are essential skills.
  • Big-picture perspective: When troubleshooting bugs, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. Excellent SREs can zoom out and see the bigger picture to develop solutions within a broader context. A successful SRE will identify the root cause and create a comprehensive solution.

Consider an SRE tooling solution to automate tasks, streamline workflows, and improve overall team efficiency.

  1. Define Your SLOs
    An SRE team is most likely to succeed when Service Level Objectives (SLOs) are in place. SLOs are the key performance indicators (KPIs) for a site. Specific SLOs will vary depending on the type of service your business offers. Typically, any user-facing service will have SLOs for availability, latency, and throughput. Storage-based systems will often prioritize latency, availability, and durability.

Setting SLOs also involves defining the values your company aims to maintain for each indicator. Don’t base your SLOs on current performance, as this can lead to setting unrealistic targets. Keep your objectives clear and achievable, and avoid absolutes. The fewer SLOs you have, the better; focus on measuring the indicators that matter most to your business.

  1. Establish a Holistic Incident Management System
    Incident management is a critical aspect of site reliability engineering. A Catchpoint survey revealed that 49% of respondents had dealt with an incident within the last week. When handling incidents, a system needs to be implemented to ensure a smooth debugging and maintenance process.

A crucial aspect of an incident management system is tracking on-call responsibilities. SRE team workloads can become overwhelming without an effective way to manage on-call incidents. Utilizing an SRE tooling solution like Squadcast can help resolve incidents with more clarity and structure.

  1. Accept Failure as Inevitable
    Most people dislike failure, but for a healthy and productive SRE team, accepting failure as part of the job is essential. Perfection is rarely achievable in any system, especially during the early stages of development.

Many SRE teams make the mistake of setting the bar too high from the outset by setting unrealistic SLOs and targets. Best practices recommend starting with a minimum viable product (MVP) and gradually increasing the parameters as the team and company gain experience and confidence.

  1. Conduct Incident Postmortems to Learn from Mistakes
    There’s an old adage: “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” This applies to system incidents as well. There’s valuable knowledge to be gained from incidents, even after the problems have been resolved. That’s why performing incident postmortems is a valuable practice for SRE teams to learn from their mistakes. A proper SRE approach should incorporate best practices for postmortems.

When conducting post-incident analysis, SRE teams should analyze several key parameters. First, they should investigate the cause and triggers of the failure. What caused the system to malfunction? Secondly, the team should pinpoint as many of the effects of the failure as possible. What was impacted by the system failure? For instance, a payment gateway error could result in discrepancies in payments or collections, leading to significant problems if left unaddressed. Finally, a successful postmortem will identify potential solutions and recommendations to prevent similar errors from occurring in the future.

  1. Maintain a User-Friendly Incident Management Software
    An SRE team structure alone is not sufficient for a productive team. A project and incident management system is also essential. There are numerous services and different IT alerting software use cases available for SRE teams today. Some of the factors team leaders need to consider include ease of use, communication barriers, available integrations, and collaboration capabilities.

Setting Your SRE Team Up for Success
An SRE team can be likened to an aircraft maintenance crew fixing a plane mid-flight. Setting your SRE team up for success is crucial because they ensure your company’s service remains available to your customers. While errors and bugs are inevitable in any software as a service (SaaS), they can be minimized, making outages and errors rare occurrences. But to achieve this, you’ll need a strong SRE team in place, proactively working to prevent errors and prepared to take action when necessary.

By following these tips and leveraging effective SRE tooling, you can build a successful SRE team that keeps your systems running smoothly and your customers happy.


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Squadcast Inc

@squadcast
Squadcast is a cloud-based software designed around Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) practices with best-of-breed Incident Management & On-call Scheduling capabilities.
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