What a Site Reliability Engineer Really Does…in DevOps

We really, really build ourselves into a corner with the internet and mobile and cloud and Agile “at scale”. Good news is, we’re engineers that can invent ourselves out of anything, or at least that’s what’s made all this money so far.

What Is a Site Reliability Engineer?

Srsly. Wikipedia. Too lazy? Fine, from Wikipedia (please donate):

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is a discipline that incorporates aspects of software engineering and applies that to IT operations problems. The main goals are to create ultra-scalable and highly reliable software systems. According to Ben Treynor, founder of Google’s Site Reliability Team, SRE is “what happens when a software engineer is tasked with what used to be called operations.”[1]

What kind of this ninja trickery is this? Using common sense to make learn how to hire the best people in technology? Why would Google spill the beans on this hiring secret? Maybe they’re sick of dealing with our broken shit.

Our digital systems are ALL distributed and complex now. How can we still expect that having some ignorant code-jockey in a cubicle who never uses what they make control the entire business with the stroke of a keyboard? Because: we are cost-accounting brainwashed and forget that the job to do needs the right experience and skill to do it well. Meanwhile, we keep under-hiring operations and over-hire developers such that there’s a 1-to-who-knows ratio between the people that press one button and the people that press another.

If You’re Offended By What I’ve Described, Congratulations!

I am too. Things that are so complex no one person can understand them, those things are dangerous. Banking apps that aren’t secure, mapping apps that get us lost and late, social media apps that show our kids their first porn, CGM devices that cost more in maintenance fees than their worth…it offends me when these things don’t work. Technology that works is how I make sure I have money for a family, sponsored, biological, or otherwise.

Our tech industry should be hiring people that can comprehend the things they deliver. People pay for things that work. If you don’t care about others, at least you’ll care about making money, and “right” software in a customer-obsessed market makes the most money.

It’s particularly offensive when the hybrid phoenix of a job title that ‘Site Reliability Engineer’ embodies goes largely unnoticed in high tech corporate mindsets. “What the hell is that, your latest professional title advancement scheme? Just because you mashed these words together doesn’t mean you deserve a raise!!!” If you know the following things, you deserve a salary that rivals an enterprise VP of marketing:

  • What your software should do
  • How your software does what it does
  • How to communicate the value of the things you’re working on
  • Don’t mind being woken up when it’s broken for someone
  • Ignore those around you that don’t think the above is relevant to do their jobs

Go forth and make your first salary million in a few years, y’all who can. Do this well and grow.

Why Do We See Site Reliability Engineering on the Rise?

The tech industry is now at the point where we completely forgot that the persons who build software should know how to operate that software when it other people depend on it. Big money, consumer insatiability, customer centricity, and digital transformation has skyrocketed the imperative to make the modern enterprise business engine their engineering teams. We build shiny, complicated, and highly profitable things. What did we expect?

We, the nerds, lured jocks in with our shiny things such as the Altair, BBS, and the entire mobile revolution…and they brought their friends. CFOs, ‘professional CEOs’, and other people that look at a hoodie like its pajamas that violate the corporate dress code. We allowed things to get this way #waterfall #agile #WomenInTech by being egotistical, lazy, impatient, and unkind. These are our chickens coming home to roost.

And now we have to reinvent a way out of the ‘shallow engineering’ tech culture that looks skeptically at #DevOps as a management problem. I don’t mean that everyone on your engineering team has to code, but the people who do code should understand the impact of what they do. This is ethical and this is practical. This is how you make your next billions.

This is the new horizon for impactful, profitable, and scalable tech culture:

On #InternationalWomensDay, I guess that is all for now.


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Beyond the Boston Women’s March for America

My brave, introverted wife marched yesterday in Boston while I took the kids to the park and cleaned up the house. It’s the least we both could do.

After a political turnover that can only be compared to falling down a rabbit hole and ending up back in the 50s in a communist Russia run by a crotchety, ignorant oompa loopa, this is what America has come to. Some of our most intelligent, kind, and confident people having to protest for freedom, upholding basic human rights, and against bigotry.

America: So Bad, Even Introverts Rally

I am my wife’s husband. We are very different. The way she recharges is to stay in doors and knit something. I like to stay out late and meet new people. But that’s what she did yesterday. She went with an extroverted friend and surrounded herself with 110,000 other people because involvement matters. She hugged a college student and they both started crying together in public.

That’s why she’s brave in my book, because in her book these kinds of extroverted things don’t happen, but they do when it matters.

Since I wasn’t there, I didn’t get to see city residents supporting the cause from their windows stories above the march. All my worst fears after the Boston marathon bombing were unnecessary because there was not a single reported negative incident. Service vehicles that blocked off the streets from traffic honked their horns in solidarity as people proudly walked by…that’s what my wife came back with, a story of hope and meaning.

After over a year of thinking about what lead up to this, I would like to offer a few thoughts, and one big suggestion.

Leaders who actually lead deserve our attention

Most of our current representative government is awful. They’re just awful. Both sides, but what I really mean by ‘most sides’ is most of the majority side.

What other options to we have? Let’s recap.

Elisabeth Warren takes to task any politician who practices corruption, champions education and equality, or supports the subjugation of others. Why the fuck isn’t she our president already? The short answer is that for all her rights, America is still so sexist (even women) and she’s so left that it would be hard to expect a majority of voters not to mention our current political complex to accept her…

…but oh wait, Washington just elected the Actual Antichrist (if you believe in that sort of hoo haw), so I guess it’s entirely possible to get a left-wing presidential candidate who is overqualified and underrepresented elected in 2020. Let’s focus our party efforts to do just that.

Or how about Bernie Sanders, the candidate that we the people never got the chance to vote for. During protests across the world yesterday against This Desolation Presidency, our Bern spoke out for human rights in his home state.

Are you kidding me? I actually feel a little mentally disabled when I think about how this guy lost in a race against Fat-Fingers McGrabspussy. Are we blind, deaf, dumb, stupid, or all of the above for not giving him an oval room to run the free world?

If a majority of white America can’t yet accept that a women should truly be leading us as a global power at this point, then Sanders was the most obvious and amenable solution to our current State of Bias.

Accept and move beyond our mistakes

We can’t ignore our mistakes without being doomed to make them again.

The Democratic party gambled on a risky political figurehead and lost BIG. There was enough time and examples of Russian-colluding rhetoric before the primaries to expect that the presidential race would be fought dirty, and picking a candidate carrying so many possible vectors of attack was a poor choice no matter how progressive or technically qualified they were.

DNC leadership failed not only its constituents, but all of America by driving the Republican party to put up such poor choice traditional candidates such as Ted Cruz and Ben Carson that conservative voters would rather side with a small-minded (and small-handed) demagogue than ever consider voting for the other side.

We have to fix that now, there is no good 2020 outcome without a reboot.

Fight propaganda with informational literacy

Disinformation also needs to be a solved problem by next time around. I’m not talking about simply plugging our security gaps, I’m talking about educating people on how to filter opinion from fact. The battle is fought one person (not article) at a time.

Informational literacy enables people to form their own ability to think rationally and critically about what’s being presented to them. Everyone is biased, and everyone deserves to work their own flaws out; but being able to agree upon basic facts starts by teaching people (especially those still in formative stages) how to distinguish and agree upon facts.

Listening is also a mandate next time around. Confusion and intolerance about a bad idea is fine, but let that go to far and it blinds you to what may actually be going on. Free speech applies to idiots, villains, thieves, and zealots too, sadly. Clearly, I’m okay with name-calling and sometimes irrational arguments. but keep in mind that shutting people out of communicating their bad ideas doesn’t kill the bad idea; it just incubates it.

A Solution for Next Time Around: Inclusion Beyond Under-representation

So let’s do this. Let’s adjust the strategy to include, not exclude, both our hopes and our reality. Let’s continue to fight for human rights, stand up for others who don’t have the same level of privilege as us, and remember that even people with bad ideas are people who vote.

We can and will hijack enough mindshare in the next four years to vote based on better ideas, but it will take patience, tolerance, and perseverance. Who knows, maybe we’ll learn something about how to change people instead of just saying that we can. That’s a party I’ll belong to.

More Reading:

7 Practical Tips for Inclusion

This chick I know, I interviewed her last week for my upcoming podcast debut. She’s phenomenal in a way that makes me so proud, grateful and humbled all at the same time. Sufficed to say, I found a place to put one of the ideas I had been holding on to ever since I started going to the Women In Tech group at my work:

“Practical Tips to Help White Dudes Help Out”

Trust me, I’m a subject matter expert on this. I’m so white, I made the vanilla ice cream we had for dessert tonight say “daaaaammn!” (then I ate it up). And though I’m not into sports and don’t have lots of chest hair, I am definitely dude.

I’m the kind of dude that wants to help. I have a son and daughter and I want the world to be a less sexist, less broken place by the time they are out in it. It’s that attitude I look for in others, not the other things that differ between us.

Yet it still remains, there are huge imbalances in society no matter what angle you look at things from. Good intention matters a little, but action in the face of injustice matters a whole lot more. It’s what you do that defines you to others most because only a few people in life will ever spend the time to see past that.

What Can We Do to Help?

The difficulty with things like gender inequality, under-representation, privilege, and inclusion is that they’re too nebulous/vague/ethereal for the side of the crowd that can/should/doesn’t do something about it, namely white dudes, to take action on a daily basis. It’s not that we’re white or that we’re dudes, but for whatever reason, many dudes just need practical instructions, marching orders, or technical requirements to move from well-meaning to noticeably effective.

So I wrote some specific tips down. Their implementation might differ from person to person, so I wrote them in their most generic form:


Since they aren’t exactly marching orders, more fortune cookie mnemonics, I’ll put down some examples. They apply to all people, not just dudes to women, white people to everyone else, they apply to people who want to help other people. For the sake of this article, I’ll write it as instructions to my fellow white dudes:

1. Step up by being willing to step aside

Instead of offering your own idea, ask a co-worker for her opinion first. This works best if you do it once or twice casually on a personal basis before doing it in a group or meeting.

Doing so privately before hand can establish trust and help you understand if it’s appropriate to do so in a group setting like a meeting, so that you don’t accidentally put them on the spot.

If you do successfully help to elevate someone else in a group, congratulations you’re using your white dude privilege properly, that’s why you feel good.

2. Invert the situation in your head

When people address a group as “guys, guys”, think about what it would be like if you were in a group and someone addressed you as “ladies, ladies”. It’s a trite example, I know, figure of speech, but ask yourself: why is there even a gender associated with that figure of speech? #culture

When was the last time you heard the words “aw, it’s so great to see a man programmer, really brings some diversity of thought into the group”? or “really? you like beer? are you sure you don’t want some wine or a fruity drink?”

Gender/racial/sexual bias is baked in to _every_ aspect of American life, so there should be plenty of opportunities to invert the situation and see how subjugating it would feel to be on the other side of things.

3. Learn where the gaps are around you

Be willing to ask your human resources department to provide you statistics of gender, race, and ethnicity in your organization. Look around at how many black dudes or women are in your group? How about people from outside your background? If they say no, ask why? You can’t be fired for asking about this stuff. If you are, then be glad! You’re no longer working at the wrong place to work.

4. Don’t chalk things up to a stereotype

Please, white dudes, please do not in your head justify the actions that a woman is taking with the fact that she is a woman. Do not think that he’s thinking that way because he was raised in the ghetto (a.k.a. where all ignorant white dudes think black people come from). And for the love of whatever, please do not justify your homophobia by saying “so long as he doesn’t try to hit on me, I’m cool with it”.

Stereotypes limit people to presumptions you have about them regardless of their actions, which are the one thing we all control about ourselves. Reduce how someone chooses to put themselves out into the world, and you reduce your capacity to see clearly, to respect, to love, and to be loved.

5. Listen; be more interested than interesting

I will never reach a point where I can’t get better at listening. I’m terrible at it today, I hope to suck at it less tomorrow.

The more you listen (awareness), the more you maximize your opportunities. It’s that simple. Action without listening is ignorance.

The practical way to do this is to write “STFU” on your hand, on your notepad or tablet before a meeting, or picture everyone in the room having it tattooed to their foreheads.

When you actively listen to someone, you express interest in them. People like to feel interesting, just like you, and giving that feeling to them as a gift is not a complicated or expensive affair. Both parties win in the end.

6. Find a liaison, socialize, and invite

It’s intimidating to visit someone else’s group or circle. The easiest way to smooth that social gravel is to have someone native invite you and liaise between you and the group.

This puts a responsibility on you to be inviting and socialize people not in your group. It also puts a responsibility on all of these groups to be inviting and look for opportunities to become a liaison too. Yes, I’m calling everyone out here.

Women in tech, take the time to bring a white dude to group. Black people, there is so much I don’t deserve, but the privilege I have you’re welcome to it so long as you’re my friend. We share friendship, we share privilege. That’s one way to get things flowing in both directions.

7. Don’t let failure stop you from trying again

All of these things will feel awkward, not just for white dudes, but for everyone involved. Creating something new doesn’t come easy. Easy is comfortable. If you’re going to be uncomfortable, let it be because of something worthwhile.

Other people are worth it. Try again. Don’t push it…if you’re doing #5 well, you’ll know when to back off. But don’t let failure stop you from doing the right thing. If there are others doing the same, the effect of trying will multiply itself in time.