Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) Interview Preparation Guide

How to prepare for an SRE interview? Find all the answers in this guide curated by an expert SRE. Learn about the role, preparation strategy and skills needed.



The origin of SRE

Google is the mother of SRE as a concept and as a role.

Not too long ago (in 2003), an engineer named Benjamin Sloss realised that Google’s reliability needs were larger than usual.

To boost the company’s user experience, they needed minimal downtime and latency.

That’s when Sloss thought - “hey we need a specialised team for this!”💡

This is how the world’s first SRE team was created.

Now every single tech company recruits for this role.

And startups are no exception to this. 

“SRE is what happens when you ask a software engineer to design an operations team.”  

~ Benjamin Treynor Sloss, Vice President, Engineering, Google

Working as an SRE at a hypergrowth startup or a ‘soonicorn’ can be absolutely life-changing and lucrative.

As you might know, startups are full of new technical challenges.

If you are a die-hard problem-solver like me, you’ll be happy that you chose a startup to work at in order to strengthen your skill sets.

What this SRE Interview Prep Guide Covers

In this guide, I am going to take you through an in-depth SRE interview prep roadmap, that will give you valuable insights on:

  • SRE Roles and Responsibilities
    • SRE Interview Process at Top Indian Startups
      • SRE Skills you Need - Topics to study
        • A fool-proof SRE Interview Preparation Strategy
          • Common mistakes to Avoid for SRE Interviews
            • Bisting some Myths around SRE

              By the way, we've built a 1:1 mentor-led interview preparation solution for candidates such as yourself.

              If taking a mentorship-driven interview preparation approach sounds interesting to you, do look us up!

              Click here to book a FREE 1:1 strategy call with an SRE mentor to clear your interview-related doubts!

              What does the role of a Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) entail? 

              In the role of Site Reliability Engineer, the notion of reliability takes precedence.

              An SRE ensures that software, once deployed, is absolutely reliable.

              This person works on improving and automating the operations cycle

              📌 SRE as a team defines operational processes.

              And as rightly stated by Sloss,

              “An SRE team must spend at least 50% of their time doing the actual development work.” 

              So, one would think, isn’t it just a fancier name for IT developers? 🤔

              No, it’s not!

              As an SRE, two things are the most crucial for you:

              📌 Driving system

              📌 Service reliability  

              Here are the top 5 responsibilities of an SRE: 

              Top 5 SRE Responsibilities

              👉 Software engineering:

              Building software to help DevOps and other support teams. 

              👉 Support escalation:

              Fixing support escalation issues and ensuring system reliability so that there are minimal critical incidents in production.

              👉 On-call processes:

              Improving collaboration and incorporating automation into on-call responder teams.

              👉 Knowledge documentation:

              Keeping information flowing among teams and documenting findings gained.

              👉 Reviewing incidents:

              Identifying the problem areas, auditing past incidents, documenting their data, and optimising the software development life cycle.

              So, as you might have guessed by now, an SRE is someone who is in demand in every company that has or is planning to have a fully functional development team. 

              Now let’s get to know how SREs get hired. 

              SRE Interview Process at Top-tier Startups

              Top-tier startups have now adopted an interview process for SRE that is similar to that of FAANGs or any other tier 1 and 2 tech companies.

              The newly budding and soon-to-approach hypergrowth startups, however, still seem to have a less streamlined approach to interview processes. 

              Here’s the step-by-step SRE interview process that is usually followed at top-tier startups such as Flipkart, MobiKwik, Nykaa, Swiggy, etc.: 👇

              1. Resume review round
                1. Initial HR discussion round
                  1. Technical rounds (two or three): Online assessment
                    1. Onsite interview
                      1. Hiring committee/behavioural round

                        Clearing all these rounds might take around 6 to 8 weeks.

                        Some minicorns and soonicorns follow this interview process for SRE roles: 👇

                        1. Resume review round 
                          1. Initial HR/Manager/Team Head discussion round
                            1. Technical rounds (two or three): Online Assessment - sometimes followed by a cultural fitment round
                              1. Final discussion round

                                These interview rounds may wind up sooner than the unicorn startups, approximately within 4 to 6 weeks.

                                No matter what startup you’re applying at, you might want to take prompt follow-ups and feedback with HR or your interviewer through LinkedIn and email (or call if needed).

                                This conveys your genuine interest in a company and the role you’re applying for. 

                                If you are also looking to know how MAANG hires, you can check out this MAANG interview process guide.

                                What Skills Do you Need for SRE - Topics You must Understand to Apply for an SRE role

                                Here are the top 6 topics you should start brushing up on right away if you’re preparing for an SRE interview. 

                                • Networking
                                  • Scripting
                                    • Operating Systems 
                                      • Cloud Providers 
                                        • Containers 
                                          • Tools

                                            I've given a detailed topic chart below for your reference.

                                            Topics to study for SRE interview

                                            Now, to the most important part - the SRE interview preparation strategy. 

                                            SRE Interview Preparation Strategy that Actually Works

                                            At Preplaced, we’ve helped 2,000+ candidates get placed in their dream companies, we follow a similar but personalised strategy for our SRE interview preparation program. 

                                            Let’s see what that winner strategy is. 

                                            Ideally, I would suggest giving your SRE interview preparation a 2-month timeline. 

                                            As the first and foremost step, I recommend that you get your basics right.

                                            Step 1: This is basic 

                                            Study the company, its values and the latest updates.

                                            REALLY read the job description and see if you fit the criteria.

                                            Check what department and team you’ll be working with.

                                            Is it a product development team, operations team or you’d be required to work across different teams? 

                                            Build a robust LinkedIn profile and resume.

                                            Trust me, A LOT depends on this.

                                            This is another obvious statement, but do check your interviewers’ profiles and their career history on LinkedIn.

                                            📌 If the company you’re applying to is an early-stage startup, do reach out to the founder members or the CTO.

                                            I’ve personally benefitted a lot from being active on LinkedIn. 

                                            Step 2: Start preparing for the technical rounds

                                            Now try to understand what the technical rounds at your target company/s would evaluate.

                                            It’s pretty simple.

                                            It’s everything you’ve already learned in your previous roles.

                                            If there is any theory or practical skills involved that you might be unsure of, get in touch with someone who has a good number of years working as an SRE and seek guidance

                                            Feel free to download the topic chart above and start studying the topics one by one.

                                            Please remember that consistency is very important here.

                                            Treat your interview preparation like a project.

                                            Give yourself weekly tasks and goals.

                                            You can even use tools like Trello to track your progress. 

                                            One of my favourite interview preparation resources is Github.

                                            You can go through these SRE interview questions on Github that come with explanations submitted by SRE experts.

                                            Finding trustworthy resources can be tricky, so it’s always better to have someone by your side to help you.

                                            An expert SRE can share a specific list of reliable resources that suits your current skill set. 

                                            They will evaluate you through mock interviews, provide actionable feedback and will track your progress throughout your prep journey.

                                            At Preplaced, you can connect with experienced SREs who can create a personalised learning roadmap for you. 🌟

                                            ⚡ Try out a FREE 1:1 strategy call with an expert SRE from your target company!

                                            Step 3: Practise, practise and practise + Mock interviews

                                            Solve problems, as many as you can.

                                            There are diverse test platforms available online such as LeetCode, HackerRank, Coderbyte, GeeksforGeeks, etc.

                                            Gauge what real-life challenges you could encounter as an SRE and how you see yourself overcoming those.

                                            ⚡ Practise SRE interview questions with a mentor.

                                            Step 4: Evaluate yourself

                                            It is crucial to find a way to evaluate your current interview and problem-solving performance.

                                            So, keep a note of all the mistakes you’ve been making, especially the recurring ones.

                                            Try to learn from those and avoid repetition of errors. 

                                            Speaking of mistakes, here are some of the common mistakes I’ve seen a lot of candidates make. 👇

                                            You definitely want to steer clear of those.

                                            Common mistakes to avoid for SRE Interview Prep

                                            ▶️ Not paying enough attention to communication skills

                                            SRE is a culture, not just a role.

                                            Applicants often forget that this is not your run-of-the-mill software development role.

                                            Filling the shoes of an SRE requires streamlining communication, verbal and written (in the document format)

                                            Check out this guide on improving your communication skills for technical interviews.

                                            ▶️ Restricting yourself to only certain tools and technologies

                                            Technology platforms are things you can easily teach yourself or someone else who’s an expert in those platforms can guide you.

                                            So, do not limit yourself to a specific set of tools you might have used in your previous companies.

                                            Have a wide knowledge base that’ll prove to be sustainable in the long run. 

                                            ▶️ Preparing for interviews alone 

                                            I don’t recommend being a lone wolf when it comes to interview preparation.

                                            Preparation requires attention to detail, proper guidance, expert feedback and evaluation.

                                            The best way to prepare for interviews is to have someone who gives you some constructive criticism on your skills.

                                            📌 A mentor can help you in numerous different ways right from resume-building tips and ways to frame your answers to transitioning into a new role. 

                                            And you can find an expert mentor right here at Preplaced.

                                            All you need to do is select one that suits your needs.

                                            ⚡ And claim your FREE 1:1 strategy call with them. No commitments!

                                            SRE vs DevOps: Some Myths around SRE BUSTED

                                            📌 SRE and DevOps are the same thing. 

                                            Not at all.

                                            DevOps teams focus on core development that supports speed, quality, and control.

                                            A DevOps engineer is constantly thinking of development, whereas, an SRE is busy working on improving the development cycle. 



                                            📌 Every SRE should be a DSA expert.

                                            Not necessarily.

                                            Being a DSA expert is not mandatory.

                                            Having basic or moderate-level knowledge of DSA is enough.

                                            📌 You can’t transition from a developer to an SRE role.

                                            Not true.

                                            In an SRE role, there are 50% of development and 50% of reliability functions involved.

                                            So, if you want to transition from DevOps to SRE, that’s the most ideal.

                                            However, if you’re currently working as a developer, you can still apply for an SRE role.

                                            📌 SRE involves a lot of operational work. 

                                            The role of an SRE combines architectural, development-related, and operational duties.

                                            It is never just operational.

                                            DevOps roles surely have more operational duties to fulfil than an SRE. 

                                            One Final Piece of advice from your fellow SRE 

                                            Interview preparation for this role is not paid much heed, but that’s where we’re going wrong.

                                            Being methodical in your approach and investing time in consistent efforts can actually get you placed in your dream company. 

                                            The role of SRE is an ever-evolving one.

                                            📌 The way you, as a candidate are unique and come with your own distinct skill sets, every startup has its own different needs when it comes to hiring for an SRE role.

                                            So, try to understand the reliability needs of your target companies in detail. 

                                            Build rapport with the interviewers from day one.

                                            Connect with as many like-minded techies as you can.

                                            The power of networking and communication is potent. 

                                            And lastly, don’t shy away from asking for help when you’re preparing. 

                                            If you’re feeling stuck in your SRE interview preparation journey, you can always connect with our mentors and seek consultation. 🌟

                                            You can also check out the below video where I discuss this strategy and some SRE interview preparation tips in depth.

                                            More Interview Prep Guides:

                                            A Beginner’s Guide to Google Technical Interview Preparation

                                            Amazon SDET Interview Process & Preparation Guide