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April 24, 2024

4 min read

Just hired an SRE? Five onboarding tips

No matter how good a new teammate is, a lot of their success is in your hands.

Jorge Lainfiesta
Written by
Jorge Lainfiesta
Just hired an SRE? Five onboarding tips
Table of contents

Good news! It wasn’t easy, but you finally found the right candidate for your SRE team. Your new hire is excited and ready to bring her all to your organization. As a manager, it's your role to ensure that this enthusiasm is well received and transformed into productive outcomes.

Industry experts weighed in on the subject at an invite-only roundtable earlier this year, but I was lucky enough to be there to bring you these tips.

1. Prepare their environment

This can seem basic but can cause a lot of friction and frustration. What do you do when you can’t log into your laptop on the first day? And then it takes you days to collect all the access you need to even get started. By the time you’re all set up, the enthusiasm is gone.

  • Equipment: make sure the equipment is ready, including laptop, phone, physical keys, or any other required tool.
  • Access: SREs will often need access to a lot of systems beyond the standard tools that IT ships by default. Make sure this is known to you and that there’s a straightforward way to gain the correct access to everything.
  • Toolchain expectations: providing enough autonomy to SREs helps them get started faster, but too much disparity in the team can make collaboration harder. Help new joiners understand which tools are to be used by policy and which ones are available for choice.
  • Understand their context: leverage their personal situation to understand how to set them up for success. For example, if the new hire has children, you'll need to make sure to provide enough flexibility when scheduling on-call shifts for them.


2. Centralize documentation and resources

You already have all the context and know to find certain types of docs in Confluence vs Notion vs Google Docs. For new joiners, finding the right information can be difficult as there’s probably outdated documentation floating around different platforms.

  • Onboarding resources list: things move fast, and may have changed locations or relevance from the last time you onboarded an SRE. Check that links still work and point to the right docs.
  • Golden path documentation: you probably don’t have the time to update all the documentation your new hire will stumble upon. Thus, focus on ensuring they have at least one reliable guide that leads them from nothing to a meaningful task.

3. Provide hands-on training

Reliability is a practice, and although there will probably be a lot to read, making them new knowledge in practice will get your new SRE started much faster.

  • Shadowing: set up rotations in which the new hire shadows a senior SRE and dives deep with them as they resolve an incident. This experience is invaluable because they get to learn about the whole stack working together in a real-world case.
  • Reverse shadowing: after the new hire has some experience, make them drive the incident resolution while having a senior as backup.
  • Simulation practices: preparing high-fidelity scenarios can take time, but it’s a good way to expose new joiners to incident resolution without any scare for stakeholders or customers. You can also run low-fidelity scenarios by playing roles and so on.

4. Set up active mentorship

It’s easy to get lost or feel isolated as a new SRE hire. Make sure you’re proactively giving support and guidance to your new teammate and that they feel empowered to grow and take responsibility.

  • Understand career interests: reliability is a very broad field, with blurry definitions that vary from org to org. Talk about where they want to get to and align with what the team needs.
  • Set up explicit expectations: part of creating a safe working environment is to explain what is expected from your new teammate.
  • Encourage ownership: being able to make quick and informed decisions is an important trait of an SRE. To do that, they need to understand their systems enough and be confident about acting.

5. Align org-wide collaboration

SREs will often have to work with other functions: product, security, engineering. Who’s domain everything falls into? Who should they contact in each case?

  • Walk them through the team topology: every org is different and that significantly impacts how work gets done. Reliability and incident resolution usually require a lot of coordination, so it’s worth it to take the time to review who does what and how with them.
  • Suggest introductions with key roles: the org chart can be difficult to navigate when you join a new team. Make it easier for your new SRE to get acquainted with the people they’ll likely need to work with in different functions.

Conclusion: setting up new SREs for success

The work and responsibilities of a new SRE can be difficult to manage. No matter how good a new teammate is, a lot of their success is in your hands. You’ll need to provide them with the tools and contacts they need and a safe work environment where they can excel.