Site Reliability Engineers: “We solve cooler problems”

Chris, a recruiter in tech staffing, recently sat down with Ciara, a software engineer in Site Reliability Engineering, to talk about what it’s like to be part of the SRE team, why she enjoys the work, and how to decide if SRE might be right for you.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m part of the Google Cloud Storage team (GCS), working on the backend infrastructure storage service. I’m working on a planner that rebalances, compacts and transcodes files to make them more space efficient. The algorithm decides which actions are the most important for any given situation. For example, at times we need to urgently rebalance, and at other times we need to delete data, so the system has to adjust dynamically to handle the current situation.

How would you describe SRE?

SREs are very focused on efficiency, automation, and reducing costs—taking manual and repetitive tasks and automating them. There is an emphasis on not reinventing the wheel. For example, there is one way to do monitoring. People can just use the monitoring solution and go and do other stuff.

You could have worked as a Software Engineer in one of the development (SWE) teams. Why did you choose SRE?

The way I see it, SWEs are mostly working on implementing new features for products. The problems are generally more defined, smaller in scope, and with firm deadlines. SREs are focused on the whole production stack, making systems that a really wide range of internal and external customers are using. Internal customers include Gmail and Maps, and external customers include Spotify and Evernote. The things we work on in SRE help a lot of people, and we have a lot of freedom to choose what we want to work on. For example, I’m currently planning a machine learning project for myself and an Intern that will make our production infrastructure more efficient. It’s really flexible in SRE. If you really like programming, you can do that. Otherwise, you can spend more time debugging production stuff. You can switch things around when you get tired of doing one thing, and people organically move between these two roles. SRE provides a really good perspective on how stuff works in production.

SREs are focused on the whole production stack, making systems that a really wide range of internal and external customers are using.

What advice do you have for Software Engineers contemplating a role in SWE or SRE?

Think about what types of problems you find interesting and the sort of environment you prefer. If you prefer developing new features in a more structured environment you’re probably better suited to SWE. However if you want the flexibility to choose projects you personally find meaningful, and work on low-level problems relating to scale and efficiency, then SRE is probably a better fit. I’m always telling my friends that we solve cooler and more complex problems.

You discovered SRE during an internship with us. Tell us about that experience.

I decided I wanted to try for a bigger company on my second internship. A recruiter mentioned that site reliability engineering (SRE) could be a good fit for me due to my interest in operating systems. I did my research on SRE, and decided working on very big systems sounded cool.

I’d lived in the US my whole life and wanted to try living in another country. There were internships available in London, Dublin, Warsaw, Paris, and Zurich. While interning in Zurich, I was lucky enough to visit the other Google engineering offices in Europe and also did some sightseeing in Barcelona, Munich, Berlin and Rome.

During my internship, I was asked where I wanted to convert. I looked at all the options in Europe, North America, and Asia Pacific and decided that Sydney looked nice. I grew up in Southern California and love spending time outdoors rock climbing and surfing, so I felt the climate and laid-back culture would be similar. Since my intern project was quite independent, and I was working with people in Zurich and Mountain View, my manager gave me permission to work remotely from Sydney for the last two weeks so that I could find out what it was like down under.

The SREs are very close-knit in both Sydney and Zurich, and the culture is similar. They both have Ops Review, where everyone meets weekly to discuss all the stuff that went wrong in production. The emphasis is on talking through failures, and everyone is really open and honest in both locations. Everyone in Zurich was really nice, and they also love the outdoors, but the weather is a big difference. Everything runs like clockwork in Zurich, whereas it’s more laid-back in Sydney, which I like.

The problems Google engineers are facing are really really interesting. The work is amazingly large scope, super impactful. It’s impossible to find this elsewhere.

How did you decide Google was right for you?

The engineers at Google are really awesome. They remind me of my experience in school at MIT, where people only care about what you have to say and do, rather than how you look or dress. The focus is purely on what you have to offer intellectually. I’m regularly having interesting lunchtime conversations about wide-ranging topics involving algorithms and research. The problems Google engineers are facing are really really interesting. The work is amazingly large scope, super impactful. It’s impossible to find this elsewhere.

Interested in SRE? We advertise the roles in several different ways to reflect the diversity of the team. The two main roles are “Software Engineer, Site Reliability Engineering” and “Systems Engineer, Site Reliability Engineering”. We typically have openings for SREs in multiple offices in North America and Europe, including Mountain View, New York, Dublin, Zurich and London, as well as Sydney in the Asia-Pacific region. A list of current openings can be found here.

Site Reliability Engineers: “We solve cooler problems”

Chris, a recruiter in tech staffing, recently sat down with Ciara, a software engineer in Site Reliability Engineering, to talk about what it’s like to be part of the SRE team, why she enjoys the work, and how to decide if SRE might be right for you.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m part of the Google Cloud Storage team (GCS), working on the backend infrastructure storage service. I’m working on a planner that rebalances, compacts and transcodes files to make them more space efficient. The algorithm decides which actions are the most important for any given situation. For example, at times we need to urgently rebalance, and at other times we need to delete data, so the system has to adjust dynamically to handle the current situation.

How would you describe SRE?

SREs are very focused on efficiency, automation, and reducing costs—taking manual and repetitive tasks and automating them. There is an emphasis on not reinventing the wheel. For example, there is one way to do monitoring. People can just use the monitoring solution and go and do other stuff.

You could have worked as a Software Engineer in one of the development (SWE) teams. Why did you choose SRE?

The way I see it, SWEs are mostly working on implementing new features for products. The problems are generally more defined, smaller in scope, and with firm deadlines. SREs are focused on the whole production stack, making systems that a really wide range of internal and external customers are using. Internal customers include Gmail and Maps, and external customers include Spotify and Evernote. The things we work on in SRE help a lot of people, and we have a lot of freedom to choose what we want to work on. For example, I’m currently planning a machine learning project for myself and an Intern that will make our production infrastructure more efficient. It’s really flexible in SRE. If you really like programming, you can do that. Otherwise, you can spend more time debugging production stuff. You can switch things around when you get tired of doing one thing, and people organically move between these two roles. SRE provides a really good perspective on how stuff works in production.

SREs are focused on the whole production stack, making systems that a really wide range of internal and external customers are using.

What advice do you have for Software Engineers contemplating a role in SWE or SRE?

Think about what types of problems you find interesting and the sort of environment you prefer. If you prefer developing new features in a more structured environment you’re probably better suited to SWE. However if you want the flexibility to choose projects you personally find meaningful, and work on low-level problems relating to scale and efficiency, then SRE is probably a better fit. I’m always telling my friends that we solve cooler and more complex problems.

You discovered SRE during an internship with us. Tell us about that experience.

I decided I wanted to try for a bigger company on my second internship. A recruiter mentioned that site reliability engineering (SRE) could be a good fit for me due to my interest in operating systems. I did my research on SRE, and decided working on very big systems sounded cool.

I’d lived in the US my whole life and wanted to try living in another country. There were internships available in London, Dublin, Warsaw, Paris, and Zurich. While interning in Zurich, I was lucky enough to visit the other Google engineering offices in Europe and also did some sightseeing in Barcelona, Munich, Berlin and Rome.

During my internship, I was asked where I wanted to convert. I looked at all the options in Europe, North America, and Asia Pacific and decided that Sydney looked nice. I grew up in Southern California and love spending time outdoors rock climbing and surfing, so I felt the climate and laid-back culture would be similar. Since my intern project was quite independent, and I was working with people in Zurich and Mountain View, my manager gave me permission to work remotely from Sydney for the last two weeks so that I could find out what it was like down under.

The SREs are very close-knit in both Sydney and Zurich, and the culture is similar. They both have Ops Review, where everyone meets weekly to discuss all the stuff that went wrong in production. The emphasis is on talking through failures, and everyone is really open and honest in both locations. Everyone in Zurich was really nice, and they also love the outdoors, but the weather is a big difference. Everything runs like clockwork in Zurich, whereas it’s more laid-back in Sydney, which I like.

The problems Google engineers are facing are really really interesting. The work is amazingly large scope, super impactful. It’s impossible to find this elsewhere.

How did you decide Google was right for you?

The engineers at Google are really awesome. They remind me of my experience in school at MIT, where people only care about what you have to say and do, rather than how you look or dress. The focus is purely on what you have to offer intellectually. I’m regularly having interesting lunchtime conversations about wide-ranging topics involving algorithms and research. The problems Google engineers are facing are really really interesting. The work is amazingly large scope, super impactful. It’s impossible to find this elsewhere.

Interested in SRE? We advertise the roles in several different ways to reflect the diversity of the team. The two main roles are “Software Engineer, Site Reliability Engineering” and “Systems Engineer, Site Reliability Engineering”. We typically have openings for SREs in multiple offices in North America and Europe, including Mountain View, New York, Dublin, Zurich and London, as well as Sydney in the Asia-Pacific region. A list of current openings can be found here.