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SRE Culture: communication, How to win freinds and influence engineers.


Site reliability engineers (SREs) and developers must work together. Good SREs facilitate open engineering cultures by being able to speak everyone’s language – code, systems, and people. To be fair, there are plenty of operations engineers, sysadmins, and developers who communicate well. But it’s not a core part of their required skillset. And although the core work is technical, the SRE must own building a culture that is collaborative, trusting, and open. Otherwise, nobody will get what they want – especially the customers who are demanding new features that are reliable.

To build and advocate for that open engineering culture, communication is one of the critical core skills an SRE can have.  If there is no communication and trust between teams, you can’t trust the other team to do their job properly and dreams of an efficient organization crumbles.

Have you ever worked in an organization where one team second guesses the other during development? Did rework begin as soon as the code was integrated with production? Were there expressions of frustration and friction among the teams and individuals? Did everything run like a top? No. In these situations, people start to either make sure they are not identified as the person to blame, or spend their precious development time finding someone to blame. Not fun ☹.

Communication 101

So how do you, as the SRE, establish communication and trust with the teams you work with? Edmond Lau suggests that the three steps you should start with are:

  •       Invite people to a designed alliance conversation.
  •       Establish positive intent.
  •       Discover and share what is important.

If you are reading this and thinking that maybe you need to improve your communication skills, there are a number of courses out there to help you. Do a search and you’ll find dozens. From the easy and actionable to the academic. You can also read books on sales (which is all about listening and convincing) or even “The 7 habits of highly effective people.” Good communication skills can be learned and practiced; it’s not always included in the default build.

At the end of the day, SREs must obsess over the user experience and build from the back expecting it. To accomplish this, they must built trust and open dialog lines with the dev teams they work with. Everyone must understand the priorities and what must happen to achieve a final goal.

A good SRE understands code and systems, but it is the understanding of people that really sets them apart. After all, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

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