Recently I had a conversation with a good friend that asked, “isn’t this what you do?” and mentioned the term “site reliability engineer.” She said it sounded like a really cool title for what seems to be exactly what I do for some of my customers as well as my own needs.
After Googling it a bit, it seems like that title is somewhat still being defined. In short, a site reliability engineer or SRE is a person who takes practices and principles and applies them to infrastructure and operations problems. That’s very similar to DevOps which is a person that takes a set of practices that com- bine software development and IT operations.
Whew, I know that’s a lot of technical talk so let me break that down a bit and explain how that can be useful for you in determining what type of person you need on your team or have access to when the need arises with your website.
There are Two Sides to This
There are two categories an SRE looks at: proactive and reactive. Proactive is looking at systems and software and looking how to improve how the software is used and how it functions. That could be looking at an interface in software and figuring out where an end user would get confused or lost in the software and making suggestions or implementing changes to remedy complications. In the long run this makes the user experience better but also reduces support requests.
This brings us to the reactive side of things where you look at requests and resolve the issues as they happen. Many times, it’s reviewing the reactive side of things to know where users are struggling that makes the proactive part a lot easier.
Let’s Look at this From Different Perspective
I look at usability and see how the process could flow better. Sometimes it’s something as little as moving a button or changing the text on the button or even changing the color of the button to let the end user know that it does something different than the other buttons.
Other times it could be much deeper than that. It might be evaluating the back-end systems and hardware. If the software isn’t as responsive as it needs to be, that may keep a person from utilizing the software. Knowing what is causing bottlenecks and adjusting is critical.
In some cases, the software gets so big from adding more and more features that you have to add more physical resources such as more hardware space, computing power such as computer memory, etc. And this is all done while keeping the software in use for the end user.
You can’t just say “hey can you hold on for a day or so while we move everything over to a new server?” They like what you have and don’t want to do without, not to mention, they are likely paying to use it. What’s even trickier if you don’t keep up with things and they start breaking or the system becomes unreliable, that paying customer will move on to something else. So, you always have to be aware of where things stand with usability of your product and website.
That being said, it is very difficult to know it all because there are so many variables when it comes to software and hardware. It seems no two computers or servers are exactly the same. It’s okay to research to find answers. Google can be our friend but not always; many times, the answer is so new you have to use the trial and error method.
Helping the Website Owner
Think about this, every piece you add to the puzzle complicates things. For instance, your website may have a few pages, and everything is going smoothly, but then you add a few more pages. You increase from 5 web pages to 8 or 10. What can a few more pages hurt? Right?
Let me step through this and explain how this can easily cause insanity to start for you; these are things most don’t even think about. When you have just 5 pages, your menu bar that allows people to get to those pages is pretty simplistic. They all fit nice and neat—header, footer, sidebar or all of the above.
You then put in the new pages and want to add those to the navigation. Oh wait, that causes them to smash into the logo, or wrap to a second line. What do you do? Add submenus? Drop down options? Is the drop down a menu item? If it causes you to be perplexed, and you know what’s going on, what is going on in the mind of your website visitors? Let’s add a bit more confusion to this one simple step. How does that menu look and or work on a laptop, tablet, AND phone?
You have all of that to think about with just a few added pages. Think about the plugins you might have to display a gallery on your website or another cool feature. Each item you add causes another level of possibility for conflict and problems. Each plugin, theme, etc. is developed by somebody whose programming is different adding additional code to your website.
Each of those resources have different requirements or needs from the server, each making their own requests to the database and using their own number of resources such as storage space for the files and database content. In some cases, I’ve been hired to look at why the software quit working, and it was as simple as recognizing the website was out of storage space. Increasing limits and the site was back up and running in a matter of minute..
Site Reliability Engineer vs. Someone Else
So, do I need a site reliability engineer or something else? That’s a very good question, and I’m glad you asked!
I’ve answered a similar question before. You might remember an article I wrote where someone had asked if they needed a webmaster or a web designer (or even a web developer). While many think they’re one in the same, they are usually not. It is good to talk with the person to find out what their skill level is and to ask the right questions to see if they meet the needs you are looking for.
As you probably have discovered, the web is an ever-evolving information platform. That growth has caused some separation in expertise and job functions. As a solo entrepreneur or a serial entrepreneur, we try to handle as much of it as we can. But when it comes to allowing someone else into our online business, we get a bit cautious of who we let touch the goods. And rightly so!
It’s similar in the medical world. Do you need a general practitioner or will a registered nurse work at that moment? Is it more serious where you might need a specialist or even a surgeon? Obviously, you wouldn’t hire a brain surgeon to remove an in-grown toenail.
Let Me Summarize the Differences
A webmaster is generally the technical person that sets up and implements the website that has been designed and, in many cases, can fix things on the website that are needed but may not have design skills. A web designer can make the site look like you want it to but may not be able to fully implement it without the help of a webmaster or web developer. A web developer is pretty much focused on the code of things.
Another aspect of your website or online business can be a graphic artist. Many times I’ve run into the case where the above positions know what they want it to look like, they just don’t have the tools to get the graphic elements they need.
The SRE works with all the above to make things happen, keeps them happening, and looks at better ways for them to happen in the future. Hiring the right person can save you time, money and headaches and knowing what you are looking for can get the right person for the solution.
You might even find some people that are able to fill a few of those spots at once. I’ve been working online for well over 20 years and have just learned every aspect of the web out of necessity. It just so happens that I have a graphic background to go along with it. Graphics is what brought me online in the first place. We didn’t have all of those titles then which is why I branded myself as, “That One Web Guy!” I hope by sharing this information with you, that you are able to find the right person for whatever your online needs are.