And So It Begins...
Conversations. That’s the most important word in the title of this book, so pardon the lack of subtlety I’m demonstrating by making it the first and last word of this book.
Why is it so important? That’s where the “Seeking” part of Seeking SRE comes in. The people I respect in the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) field all believe that the field itself is still evolving, expanding, changing, and being discovered. We are all in some sense still seeking SRE.
In my experience, fields like ours grow best when the people in that field—the actual practitioners—talk to one another. Bring people together, let them talk, argue, laugh, share their experiences (success and failures) and their unsolved problems. A smart, kind, diverse, inclusive, and respectful community in conversation can catalyze a field like nothing else.
It was at SREcon16 Europe, one of the gatherings of the SRE community, that this book was born. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the cofounders of SREcon.) Brian Anderson, the original O’Reilly editor for this book, was on the hunt. The splendid book by Google called Site Reliability Engineering had recently met with much-deserved commercial success and the publisher was on the lookout for more SRE content to publish. He and I were talking about the possibilities during a break when I realized what didn’t exist for SRE. There was no volume I knew of that could bring people into some of the more interesting conversations that were happening in the field (like those that were happening at SREcon). I was seeing people discuss subjects like these:
New implementations of SRE that didn’t have a book yet. SRE has blossomed in new and exciting ways as it has taken root in different (sometimes brownfield) contexts.
Innovative ways to learn how to practice SRE.
What gets in the way of adopting SRE.
The best practices people had discovered as they adopted, adapted, and lived it.
Where the field was going next, including the subjects that are new now in the field but will be commonplace in short order.
Finally—and maybe most important—what about the humans in the picture? What is SRE doing for them? What is SRE doing to them? Are humans really the problem in operations (that need to be automated away) or is that short sighted? Can SRE improve more than just operations?
And, so, the idea for Seeking SRE was born. Much to my surprise and delight, close to 40 authors from all over the field and all over the world liked the idea and decided to join me on this little project. I can’t thank them enough.
Besides a wee bit of meta matter like what you are reading now, I’ve tried to keep my voice soft in the book so that we could stand together and hear what its amazing contributors have to say. You’ll likely notice that this book doesn’t have a single consistent textual voice (mine or any other editor’s). There’s no attempt made to put the material into a blender and homogenize the chapters into a beige “technical book register.” I intentionally wanted you to hear the different voices from the different contributors just the way they talk. The only instruction they were given on tone was this:
Pretend you are at lunch at a conference like SREcon. You are sitting with a bunch of smart SREs at lunch you don’t know, and one of them says to you, “So, what are you working on? What’s interesting to you these days?”
You begin to answer the question…
Now write that down.
Even further in this direction is the crowdsourced chapter on the relationship between DevOps and SRE (Chapter 12). When I realized that there are likely many answers to this question and that no one I knew had the only right answer, I put the question out to my social networks (and people were kind enough to broadcast it even further). I’m very grateful for everyone who answered the call. And just for fun, there are also little “You Know You’re an SRE” tidbits scattered throughout the book from anonymous contributors (I promised anonymity when I asked the internet for them, but thanks to everyone who provided one or several!)
In addition to a variety of voices, there’s also a variety of opinions and viewpoints. Are you going to agree with everything you read in this volume? Gosh, I hope not. I don’t agree with everything, so I don’t see why you should. That would make for a really boring set of conversations, no? I strongly recommend that you remember that there are one or more humans behind every chapter who were brave enough to put their opinions out there, so we all could have a good confab. The SRE community’s capacity to engage with respect is something I’ve come to appreciate over the years, and I know you’ll follow in that tradition.
As the editor/curator of this book, which I’m very proud of, I do want to mention one regret up front. Our field has a real problem with diversity and inclusion of underrepresented minorities. We can’t have all of the important conversations if not everyone is in the room. Despite my attempts to address this lack of representation, this book doesn’t go far enough to work against this situation. I take full responsibility for that failure.
Forward in All Directions!1
Are these the only interesting conversations to be had in SRE? Not by a long shot. These are just the ones that could be assembled into a book in finite time. By the time you are done reading, I am sure you will have your own list of omissions (don’t hesitate to send them to me). There are definitely subjects that didn’t make it into the book for a whole host of reasons (time, author availability, no one thought of it in time, etc.). I’m keenly interested in hearing what you think should be in a book like this that isn’t already. If this book is a hit and there are future editions/volumes, your suggestions will be a great start for future conversations.
And finally, if this book is just a good passive read for you, dear reader, it is either a partial success or a partial failure depending on your disposition. At the very best, it hasn’t met its Service-Level Objective. If you take it as the invitation it is meant to be and join the conversation—and by doing so you help us push the field forward—it will have met its objective.
Drop a stone into a pond and you get these lovely ripples undulating out and back into the center. Drop a book idea into the world and the same thing happens.
This means there are these concentric circles of people I need to thank. In the middle are all of the contributors who were willing to bring their time, energy and brilliance to the project. Thank you authors, one and all.
The authors created fabulous content, and then the tech reviewers told us all how to make it even better. Thank you to Patrick Cable, Susan J. Fowler, Thomas A. Limoncelli, James Meickle, Niall Richard Murphy, Amy Nguyen, Grace Petegorsky, and Yonatan Zunger.
The next ring are the O’Reilly editors, past and present who were willing to take this book in, tolerate the chaotic deadline-defying maelstrom inherent in a contributed volume of brilliant people, and refine its contents into the splendid shape you see now. Thank you Brian Anderson, Virginia Wilson, Kristen Brown, Melanie Yarbrough, Nick Adams, and Nikki McDonald. Thanks to the proofreaders Bob Russell and Rachel Monaghan. Also, thank you to Karen Montgomery and the O’Reilly design department for providing the cuddly animal for the cover. Now the sea otter on my bookshelf has a friend.
And finally, thank you to Cindy and Elijah, my family, and all my friends who were willing to tolerate yet another book project with good cheer. They are the people that provided the support I needed to drop the stone into the pond in the first place.
1 Apologies to 3 Mustaphas 3.