DevOps careers: SRE, engineer, and platform engineer

Lauren Gibbons Paul ·
Apr 25, 2022 · 7 min read · Leave a comment

Even if you’re totally happy in your current position, it pays to keep an eye on your DevOps career path and learn about emerging roles, especially given the way the DevOps space evolves so rapidly.

For example, you might be wondering about the role of site reliability engineer (SRE) as opposed to DevOps engineer (and the totally new position called DevOps platform engineer, more on that later). These are all engineering positions requiring tech expertise and coding chops, but they play distinct roles on the DevOps team. Here’s what you need to know:

SRE: A seasoned role

As the title suggests, at a high level, SREs focus primarily on reliability, solving operational, scale, and uptime problems. In 2003, Google originated the SRE role to safeguard the uptime of its site, but it has evolved considerably since the advent of cloud native applications and platforms. Today, SREs concentrate on minimizing the frequency and impact of failures that can impact the overall reliability of a cloud application.

According to Glassdoor, SREs typically require a Bachelor’s or graduate engineering or computer science degree. Salaries range widely, according to Glassdoor, hitting about $120,000 after 2 to 4 years of experience but can reach up to $300,000 and higher at the senior level.

At least one blogger feels the SRE title carries more prestige and earning potential than DevOps engineers.

Typical SRE responsibilities include everything from designing, developing, installing, and maintaining software solutions to working with engineering teams to refine deployment and release processes. Collaboration and communication are important job skills for the SRE role, as they need to work closely with multiple roles across the organization. At the time of this blog's publication, there were 4,000 SRE jobs on Glassdoor. Indeed had more than 5,000 SRE postings and ZipRecruiter showed nearly 12,000 posts for remote SRE jobs.

Python, Go, and Java were the most sought-after SRE skills listed on Indeed.

According to Indeed, SREs transition to "DevOps engineer" at a high rate.

DevOps engineers bridge the gap

DevOps engineers, on the other hand, concentrate on removing obstacles to production and automation and making development and IT work well together.

Like SREs, DevOps engineers need to be good at working and communicating with others, eliminating barriers to increase speed and quality of code delivery. With typically less need to be on call, the DevOps engineer may have a more favorable work-life balance than an SRE, who can have around-the-clock call.

DevOps engineer work responsibilities include such things as analysis of technology utilized within the company and then developing steps and processes to improve and expand upon them. Project management is another key function, establishing milestones for departmental contributions and establishing processes to facilitate collaboration.

The educational requirements for the two roles are comparable, with a Bachelor’s degree in computer science or engineering or higher as the usual price of admission.

According to Glassdoor, the salary range for DevOps engineers is slightly lower than that of SREs, from a low of about $63,000 up to a high of $234,000 for someone with 2 to 4 years of experience.

DevOps engineer positions are easier to find than SREs. Glassdoor has more than 6,000 DevOps engineer job posts. Indeed has more than 17,000. And ZipRecruiter has more than 81,000 remote DevOps engineer listings.

New to the game

Cloud native development and the desire to have a unified DevOps platform have brought a new role, the DevOps platform engineer, a position that works in parallel with the site reliability engineering function.

Platform engineering teams apply development principles to accelerate software delivery, ensuring app dev teams are productive in all aspects of the lifecycle. Platform engineers focus on the entire software development lifecycle from source to production. From this introspective process, they build a workflow that enables application developers to rapidly code and ship software.

You can find a helpful description of the roles of SRE vs. DevOps engineer vs. platform engineer here.

But it’s hard to find much career data for this emerging role. Glassdoor, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter do not yet separate out this role from the category of “DevOps engineer,” and consolidated salary and career path data is not available at this time. It is reasonable to conclude this new role will have higher pay based on rarer skill sets and job experience. Suffice to say, this is a hot area and bears watching.

Benefits of a DevOps career

The DevOps industry (and technology as a whole) is constantly evolving. And that creates a lot of opportunities. There are lots of job opportunities cropping up based on how technology changes, and this also means that you can have many chances to learn a new skill and score a role where there is an employee shortage.

There is a high demand for fresh new talent who are also eager to keep learning and adapting to an ever-changing environment. And in this evolving world of DevOps, the more change that happens means there are endless learning opportunities that will help build you up professionally. This makes you a competitive hire in the future, as well as becoming part of a technological landscape that will always be needed.

Skills required for a DevOps career

Whether you have goals to become an SRE, a full-fledged DevOps engineer, or start slow and figure out where you want to work in the DevOps space, there are both soft and technical skills that definitely are or may require for you to be successful in whichever role you pursue.

Some soft skills include:

  1. The ability to be flexible. Projects can stop and start and change at any time for lots of reasons. Things break and get buggy on the regular. Being able to go with that flow and maintain good levels of productivity and professionalism will take you far.
  2. Good communication skills. DevOps projects are rarely simple and not only require the ability to communicate your thoughts but the patience to listen to others.
  3. Ability to work collaboratively. There are multiple people involved with any given DevOps project. Be prepared to have discussions about various projects and be part of the development process as a team, not as an individual.

Some of the more technical skills that can help your job pursuits include (but are by no means limited to):

  1. CI/CD. Aspiring engineers should look for ways to add CI/CD concepts to existing personal projects and code. Creating your own personal projects involving CI/CD is a good way to test your deployment skills while also creating a good proof of skills reference for job interviews.
  2. Coding skills. Familiarity with multiple languages, such as Rust, Java, JavaScript, Ruby, Python, PHP, Bash, and many more is important for a DevOps engineer. You need to be able to write and fix issues in multiple programming languages.
  3. Cloud computing. Lots of application infrastructures revolved around cloud technologies, so having a basic knowledge of cloud computing will give you a competitive edge.
  4. Automation knowledge. A lot of working in DevOps is being able to automate time-consuming processes that need to happen all at once. Diving into some automation knowledge will help you more easily integrate with a new DevOps role.

The future of DevOps

According to a newer Forrester report, future success in DevOps will need people and their organizations to be open to a mindset and technology shift. New tools will come around, common practices may shift, and DevOps teams need to be able to adapt to changes while continuing to work together to deliver top-quality work.

A few trends to keep an eye on as time progresses are serverless computerless architecture, the rise of DevSecOps, and low-code/no-code development to deploy applications swiftly with higher agility.

“Should your next DevOps career move be to SRE or DevOps engineer? Or maybe it's time to move to DevOps platform engineer? Here's what you need to know about these roles.” – Lauren Gibbons Paul

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