#24 – Growing as an SRE (Part 1)

Episode 24 [SREpath Podcast]

My dear SRE friend,

You – like many other SREs – want to progress into more senior roles in the future.

This is known as career progression.

Successful career progression in Site Reliability Engineering means constantly growing your ability to handle a wider scope of responsibility.

But there are 3 lesser-known truths about SRE career progression because people in this space rarely talk about them openly.

If you are not already where you want to be in your career because growth hasn’t just “happened”, keep reading.

I’ve broken down my analysis of these truths into a 3-part series that I will cover. You will get the first truth in this email 🥳

We’ll start with a quick overview of what is career progression.

Then I will demystify 1 of the 3 unspoken (and lesser-known) truths.

In later parts, I will also:

➡️ give you advice on how to plan your SRE career progression — hint: you should do this.

➡️ share links to progression frameworks from 2 well-known tech companies: Dropbox and Gitlab.

➡️ give you a ridiculously simple 8-step process you can use to plan and drive your career advancement.

Let’s begin…

What is career progression?

The idea behind career progression is that your current job is only the starting point.

You will be working toward higher levels of pay and complexity for your role.

You will need to manifest this through better technical abilities and non-technical abilities.

But here’s a funny thing: progression can happen without advancing in either.

You’ve probably seen people pull it off through office politics.

This kind of work requires skill in the dark arts of brownnosing, throwing colleagues “under the bus”, and winning at favoritism.

Related article:  #5 Where does SRE fit into your organization’s structure? [Audio]

If that kind of work is not your forte, you better continue reading this guide.

Moving onward and forward…

The tech industry has broken career progression down into 2 distinct tracks:

  1. technical leadership and
  2. people leadership

Most SREs I know are interested in the former, aiming to one day become Principal SRE.

So that’s where I will try to focus as I write the rest of this guide.

Technical leadership implies that you become increasingly more responsible for broader and more strategic technical work.

It requires not only acquiring technical skills but also being able to see a system more broadly.

You have to see it as a marriage of people, processes, and technology.

I will highlight this kind of technical leadership later as I differentiate junior SREs from more senior SREs.

By the way, people leadership is a beast of its own with many thought leaders working on developing engineering managers.

That’s not in the scope of this guide.

Let’s address 3 Unspoken truths about career progression

You need to know a few truths about career progression in Site Reliability Engineering (SRE).

Truth #1 — You don’t get promotions with tenure

There was a time when people used to get promotions based on their length of service to a company.

I know absolutely no organization that gives more senior roles to SREs based on tenure rather than merit or competence or good old brownnosing.

The Peter Principle applies in this situation.

The Peter Principle suggests that individuals are often promoted to positions of higher responsibility until they reach a level where they are no longer competent or effective in their roles.

Promotions based on tenure alone can overlook one absolutely critical factor.

Related article:  #29 – Reacting to Google’s SRE Book 2016 (Chapter 1 Part 2)

And that is whether an SRE has actually acquired the skills and qualities to excel in a more advanced position.

More importantly, have they even tried?

Getting promoted this way can make you feel overwhelmed, develop imposter syndrome, and eventually burn out to continue the charade of “competence”.

So you and I can agree that you are not a sociopath, right?

You want to keep a good relationship with your coworkers, be fair to them, and let your work show your merit, right?

In that case, working on your skills and abilities is the most effective way to attain career progression.

Career progression that you can handle. None of this Peter Principle business for you!


Stay tuned for the next part of this series on Growing as an SRE.

And if you are a friend who cares, share it with your SRE friends 😉