I’m a full time software developer with interest in Systems Engineering and DevOps.
What would be the best way to join a SRE job profile?
The recruiters who perform the first layer of filtering will usually have a set of buzzwords or technologies that they have been told are associated with candidates worth talking to. This might include things like prometheus, kubernetes, golang, aws, puppet, etc… If you are applying for a specific job, try to figure out what stack they use, and familiarize yourself with it by working through a tutorial, so that you can mention at least a basic level of familiarity with tech that the recruiters will be often filtering for. To the good companies that want SRE’s who are curious enough to dig into unfamiliar territory, being open about your previous unfamiliarity and willingness to dive in anyway can be a strong positive signal. But recruiters don’t always share the same cultural values around this as managers or future teammates, so use your discretion about how open you are about this with the recruiter. Some teams really value curiosity, but the recruiters often don’t get that message, and will hear that you’ve only done a quick tutorial on something and will mash the “reject” button in their candidate pipeline management interface.
When I hire for SRE teams, I care about one thing above all else: ability to drill into unfamiliar systems that are behaving strangely. General curiosity and demonstrations of learning new things are possible indicators of this mindset to me. I actually usually prefer to hire people who are more curious than people who are less curious and more experienced because the curious people will be getting more out of the job on a personal level, and I love teaching. A lot of teams don’t prioritize teaching though, due to mismanagement, incompetence, laziness, or fear-driven mindsets that are afraid a newcomer will outperform them. Avoid these places like the plague. They are the norm, unfortunately, but they will not help you grow at a rapid pace, and if you can afford to keep playing the interview lottery, you should really hold off until you get a place that gives you a strong signal about mentorship.
I test for drilling proficiency by asking questions about tools that are common, and can be assumed to have some basic familiarity around, like linux or the web, and when we get to a part that they are unfamiliar with, I let them know that they can use me as Google to ask questions about how they can drill into specific behaviors. I ask about how things can fail. What are different ways a file can fail to be created, etc… (they can still use me as Google to look into the specific implementation details of things, or we can strace stuff together, etc…). Basically, I try to show them windows they can use to peer into things I’m asking about the system if they are not already familiar, and then I try to get a sense of how creatively they can use these new tools I’m giving them. That’s how the job will look, so that’s how I try to make the interview.
Most people suck at interviewing. They will ask you about minutae about tools that you may not be experienced with yet. It’s important to keep a calm head, let them know about where your current level of experience is with these specific technologies, and then explain to them how, in the real world, you would dive into the problem to understand and solve it. You exist to solve problems, deflect bad interview trivia questions with confidence in your ability to solve problems by drilling into them. If the team sucks at interviewing, that’s on them, and the team is less likely to be made up of experienced people who are also good to work with. People skills are the most important engineering skills.
If you want a laundry list of tech to get familiar with for modern SRE-like jobs:
Different teams will prioritize coding skills differently. The most common thing I see recruiters filtering for is making sure you have one scripting and one compiled language under your belt. Golang is a good bet, as it’s taken over the pop infrastructure world.
Have fun :)
That was really helpful!