Sysadmin vs SRE: What's the difference?

In the IT world, there has always been a pull between generalist and specialist. The stereotypical sysadmin falls in the generalist category 99 times out of 100. The site reliability engineer (SRE) role is specialized, however, and grew out of the needs of one of the first companies to know real scale: Google. Ultimately, these two roles have the same goal for the applications whose infrastructure they operate: providing a good experience for the applications’ consumers. Yet, these roles have drastically different starting points.

Career of IT Administrator

Sysadmins: Neutral good incarnate

Sysadmins typically grow into their position by starting as entry-level desktop and network support, and then over time acquiring the broad set of skills most sysadmins have in common. By that point, these sysadmins know all of the systems and applications they are responsible for. They know the app on server one needs to be restarted every other Tuesday, or the service on server nine will crash on Wednesday with no errors. They have fine-tuned their monitoring so it ignores what doesn’t matter, even that error that happens on the third Sunday of the month, despite the fact that it’s marked as fatal.

More notes