What’s the difference between a Site Reliability Engineer vs a DevOps Engineer?

DevOps and Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) are two developer software ideas that on paper may seem similar. Yet while both titles work much the same way, there are some key differences worth knowing about.  

As DevOps and SRE aim to streamline and connect an operations team with development, choosing between the two is tricky. Both offer similar outcomes with some glaring overlaps in features and objectives. For many organizations, deciding between DevOps and SRE involves understanding the qualities of both approaches.  

Knowing the differences between the two ideologies is crucial, so let’s take a look. It’s best to start with a brief explainer about what DevOps and SRE are.  

DevOps and Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) 

DevOps 

DevOps is officially described as a software engineering methodology to create a culture and practice of unifying software operations. By leveraging DevOps, organizations can streamline development and accelerate delivery times. System administration becomes more efficient and continuous delivery is one of the major advantages of using the DevOps methodology.  

SRE 

In many ways, SRE is a similar Union of Process, People and Working Product as DevOps, albeit with some important differences. The first notable difference is how the idea was born. SRE grew out of Google wanting its increasingly distant operations and development teams to operate in a more unified way.  

To bridge this gap, Google tapped Ben Treynor, one of its operations leaders. He concluded it was best to combine Ops workers with those with an R&D background, and that resulted in Google creating Site Reliability Engineering (SRE).  

DevOps and SRE: What are the Differences?

While there are several differences between DevOps and SRE, the biggest rests on the overall goal of the two concepts. While DevOps is about finding what changes can be made to connect development and operations teams, SRE looks at how these changes can be made. The core difference between DevOps and SRE is “What” vs. “How”.  

Google has gone to great lengths to show there are differences between the two services. For organizations, this means weighing up those differences to decide which approach suits their needs. According to Google, SRE includes the same “philosophies” of DevOps but places “greater focus on measuring and achieving reliability through engineering and operations work.” 

Let’s check out some of the differences between DevOps and SRE: 

  1. SRE is a fully functioning role for individuals. Software engineers and other professionals are assigned as SREs (SRE role) and will work to build and maintain services constantly available across dev and operations. DevOps is not a role to be assigned, but is instead a cultural concept implemented across a team.  
  2. Engineers who specialize in DevOps will have a complete arsenal of capabilities at their disposal. For example, full understanding of SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) combined with abilities to change tooling and add ongoing support. SREs serve a slightly different function and instead work to ensure ongoing platform-service connections are operational.   

Two Sides of the Same Coin 

Because SRE is a role focused on the “How” and DevOps is more an ethos or methodology looking at the “What”, the similarities between the ideas are striking. Indeed, both set out to fulfil much of the same goals: 

  • Reduce the number of organizational silos, 
  • Provide a culture where failure is accepted and expected, 
  • Gradually and incrementally make changes, 
  • Leverage automation 
  • Monitor success 

Organizations are often left wrestling with which approach to adopt, DevOps or SREs. Sadly, there is no golden ticket answer, but there are some things worth remembering: 

  • SRE is a role; it is possible to have an SRE professional. DevOps is a cultural method that can be applied to a team.  
  • DevOps looks at “What” needs to be done to improve production efficiency. SRE looks at “How” those changes can be rolled out, including application monitoring or management of services post-deployment.  
  • SREs are essentially practicing the ideals of DevOps as they fulfil many of the same goals.  

DevOps vs. SRE: Which is Best? 

As noted, there is no cookie cutter response that will make it easy to decide whether to use DevOps or SRE. There is no “correct” answer, and for most organizations both concepts will help reach service-level objectives. One thing worth noting is any business organization looking to switch to one of these approaches will face a major cultural, organizational and production upheaval. 

Looking to hire SREs/DevOps Engineers?

Visit VanHack.com and find hundreds of DevOps Engineers – and SREs! And if you’re one of these engineers looking for a job, sign up as a candidate – it’s entirely free.

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