How much money do SREs make?

Wondering about the average Site Reliability Engineer salary? Or how much top-notch SREs at best-in-class organizations are compensated? We did some research and are sharing our findings here.

Our research includes data from publicly-available sources like Payscale, Hired, and Glassdoor, government sources like the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and also discreet queries across personal contacts. The job market for SRE is strong as large enterprise companies are transforming how they do IT.

Some of this data is anecdotal and should not be taken as hard research. It was, however, reported with surprising consistency across the sources listed above and others and gives real insight into self-reported and government-collected figures. We collected our data in early 2020, however some of the available statistics were as old as 2018. This should be taken into account as you read on.

If you discount the figures at the extremes and focus on the middle range, you are likely to be within a reasonable margin of error for accuracy, especially when you take into account location, industry, and the specific company. Note that while we found data on some specific companies, we deliberately chose not to share those figures and do not name names.

How Much Money Do SREs Make?

While all of us know that “it depends,” we want real figures as a baseline to help us know if a job listing we are considering or an offer we are pondering is reasonable. So, let’s start with some numbers first, then we will move to a discussion of why someone would be most likely to be paid at one or the other end of the scale.


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The Average Annual Total Compensation Range for Site Reliability Engineers

  • Low \$75,000
  • Median average \$236,000
  • High \$450,000

The figures above are a standard range that includes both salary and other compensation.

For example, that low figure of $75k would be for someone starting out with a base annual salary of $69,950, stock grants or options amounting to $600 profit, and a yearly bonus of $4,450. This is likely to be a job at a company where technology is not the product, but rather a support role of some kind, and is probably located in a former industrial-focused city in the Midwestern United States.

The median average of $236k has a base salary of $185k, stock options or grants amounting to $33k, and a yearly bonus of $18k. This could be almost anywhere, although it might be a starting salary in some areas and a high salary in others.

At the high end of $450k, the base annual salary might only be $210k, but with stock grants or options amounting to $205k profit, and a yearly bonus of $35k. This is probably at a major tech industry company in Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York.

There are outliers that earn much more than this high figure, but they are all unicorns, people with very specific experience and talents who fit into a role that no one else is likely to be able to do.These can earn as much as \$500,000 up to over a million when you include total compensation.

Factors Affecting Site Reliability Engineer Salary

Salary figures are never universal. The low end of the scale won’t find any applicants in some locations, while it would seem generous in others.

Some industries and companies can afford to pay the absolute best candidates, who know their skills and experience are in high demand and expect salaries commensurate with their seniority.

Other industries are just happy to find someone who can do the job and is able to learn and grow, even if the company cannot pay top dollar.

Past experience also plays a role: Someone coming into SRE out of a related position in Amazon is going to start out with drastically different pay scale opportunities than someone trying to escape a failing start-up in Wisconsin.

Each company will have a compensation philosophy that works for their organization. Perhaps some pay to the 50th percentile and others may pay towards the 75th. It could vary for a variety of reasons: company bonuses that offset base pay, equity heavy companies, etc.

Here we present in greater detail some factors that influence how much a candidate should reasonably expect to be paid.

Experience

New, junior developers being hired to join a mature SRE team are not expected to know nearly as much as an experienced senior SRE being hired to create a program. What you already know and bring to the team is taken into account, and for good reason; the team will need to spend more time teaching you and mentoring you. It is worthwhile for someone just starting out in SRE to take one of these positions and really learn from experienced people.

The highest salaries are for people with 10+ years experience in SRE and often for those charged with leading a team or managing multiple teams or even creating an SRE program from scratch at a company that is just starting out. You must know what you are doing to be successful in these positions and you will be compensated accordingly.

Additionally, experience with specific technologies that are desirable and less common causes salary offers to go up. At the moment, experience with Golang, Java, Kubernetes, Linux, and DevOps prior to coming to the new SRE job will make you a stronger candidate for a competitive position or a better paid hire for a position with a specific gap to fill.

Further, much depends on the needs of the company and the SRE team. It depends on whether your background fits their current needs or their long-term growth expectations.

Do you come from software engineering or software development or maybe an operations team? Those people who have a mix of the two sides, development and operations, are considered unicorns in the industry, because they are rare. They also tend to have the highest earning potential.

Do you have experience as a DevOps engineer working in reliability engineering? Have you ever used service level objectives (SLOs) and error budgets? You are going to be in great demand and this experience could place you in the second tier of top earners, especially if you have several years of experience.

Were you maybe a quality engineer working in quality assurance (QA) or a systems engineer or maybe a solutions architect? Any of these can help your candidacy because you already understand how vital it is to test your system to know how it works. Some of your skills will transfer, but in SRE you will have a lot to learn. It uses a very different paradigm than the ones that use these job titles. You will have to show how your skills transfer. If you can create a clear map from past work to SRE needs, you will have a step up. Unless you also have some experience with DevOps or SRE, even minor, you are likely looking at an entry level SRE position, which may still mean a step up in pay and isn’t something to discount.

Location

Are you working in San Francisco or close by? Salaries there and at other high cost-of-living locations start with 17-18% higher salaries across the experience spectrum to account for how much an engineer must pay to live in the area. In addition, in locations like these the competition for SRE positions is higher as there are larger numbers of qualified candidates applying for open positions. If a job listing looks like the compensation package is too low, candidates will look elsewhere.

Places with a lower cost of living tend to have lower salaries. This tends to work out okay as workers need less to maintain a good standard of living in the area, so the applicant pool is not impacted by the lower salary offers, unless they are ridiculously low.

For junior and senior SRE’s in the following locations, typical salaries fall in these ranges:

LocationSalary
Downtown San Francisco, California\$136-262k
New York City, New York\$127-210k
South Bay, from South San Francisco to San Jose, California\$128-200k
Seattle, Washington\$118-195k
Atlanta, Georgia\$121-190k
Los Angeles, California\$118-184k
Austin, Texas\$124-165k
Phoenix, Arizona\$120-150k

There are stand out companies in each of these areas paying salaries above those ranges. There are some big names that pay senior SREs as much as $300k per year when you take total compensation into account. There are some extreme unicorn SREs that earn up to and even over $1 million per year in total compensation. We did not include the bottom 10% or the top 10% of unique salary figures in our range above.

Industry

Some industries have more money, stronger programs, and more stringent needs. Others are constrained and are either able or willing to wait for a suitable candidate willing to take a job that pays less than other industries might. While SRE work is similar across industries, it is not identical in all situations. The technology stack that is in use, the governance model, and even regulatory restrictions all have an impact on what a potential employer does, wants, or needs in a candidate. That affects what they are willing or able to spend.

Tech companies that have high potential market caps tend to pay high salaries because they are chasing after large valuations and want to attract the best talent. This is more true in places like Silicon Valley, New York, and Seattle than in other places.

The highest total compensation packages tend to come from one of the big 5 tech giants (FAANG, which stands for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google) followed by traditional finance companies and hedge funds, banks, the robotics and self-driving cars industry, followed by retail sales. A company that makes video games provides bonuses that are tied directly to company performance; a good hit game can provide bonuses of $100k or higher on top of a $200k salary!

Pay attention to details when considering offers. You may not yet meet the experience requirements for the highest paid positions, but that shouldn’t stop you. It’s okay to apply for jobs that feel like a stretch if you believe you can actually do it, because you never know! On the other hand, maybe you don’t want to be a part of that industry or the companies in it anyway. You may have a stronger interest in the technologies a certain company is using and take a position that pays less (but still in the range of what you know you are worth) with the rationalization that you will have work that is more interesting to you or that teaches you technologies you think are important to your career.

Bonuses

When an offer is given, the entire compensation package matters, not just the salary number. Pay close attention to the benefits that are included, including bonuses, time off, benefits, etc. Everything in the offer can be negotiated. For example, if you want to work remotely you can negotiate other aspects of the offer that matter less to you.

Are there annual or maybe even quarterly bonuses available? What size are they and how are they earned? Our research found that companies with bonus programs tend to pay base salaries that are slightly lower, but if the bonus criteria are met, overall compensation may end up being higher at the end of the year.

Some companies do not offer bonuses. Some companies pay bonuses based on performance metrics like meeting or exceeding personal goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Some companies pay bonuses based on profit sharing, calculating based on criteria like hitting or exceeding sales goals or some tie-in with stock price growth. Some companies use figures like these to calculate the overall pool of money available for employee bonuses, then using KPIs and similar to determine what each employee’s share of the pool should be.

Read and understand the details of any bonus-type compensation being offered before you get excited or disappointed. If it sounds reasonable, ask questions to determine how frequently bonuses are actually paid out. Did the interviewer earn a bonus last year? Last quarter? What percentage of people on the team earned one? In the company?

For companies that start with a lower base pay, equity and/or performance bonuses is usually what helps these companies stay competitive. Some of those performance bonuses can reach as high as \$60k in a year.

Stock Options

This is a tricky one, because there are so many potential variables. Is the company publicly traded or is it hoping for an IPO?

If it is publicly traded, what is the current share price and what is the employee discount? When can shares be purchased? How long must they be held before being sold? What are the rules?

If it is not a public company, is there a time schedule for going public? A plan? Is there a plan for other contingencies such as if the company was acquired? What happens to the options then? How many options are being offered? How many stocks/options are actually available in total? When do those options vest? When can and when must they be exercised? Pre IPO stock is typically offered with a 4 year vesting schedule, with the first year having a 25% cliff, meaning that 25% of the options vest after one year, then the rest vests month after month through the remaining three years. This has been worth around \$200-300k for popular startups.

In some cases, company stock and stock options can be an amazing opportunity for employees to benefit directly from company growth. In others, they are worthless. Take a close look at the company and evaluate it to determine what you believe to be the company’s potential for growth. Then you can decide whether the options are an attractive part of the offer, especially if the salary being offered is lower average for your experience level and location.

Remember, a vesting schedule is intentionally designed to buy your long-term loyalty. If you both like the job and the options have the potential to rise in value, you may be completely happy to stay regardless of the vesting schedule. There are places that will buy out remaining stock options sometimes as a sign-on bonus when hiring a talented senior SRE, for example, if an engineer doesn’t want to leave a company because they have \$175k in not-yet-vested options, the new company may pay you in cash to get you to join. That’s rare, but it happens.

Summary

Total compensation packages for Site Reliability Engineers tend to be good, especially when you compare them to other tech roles in similar locations, industries, and experience levels. If you are the sort that enjoys the challenge of keeping things running, you won’t regret making the move from a financial standpoint.

Guide Chapters

What is SRE? A primer for engineering leaders

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is the outcome of combining IT operations responsibilities with software development. With SRE there is an inherent expectation of responsibility for meeting the service-level objectives (SLOs) set for the service they manage and the service-level agreements (SLAs) we promise in our contracts.

SRE vs DevOps: Can they coexist or do they compete?

DevOps. Site Reliability Engineering (SRE). Are they different or just different names for the same thing? This article explores that question in depth by delving into each and then comparing them.

The role and responsibilities of SREs in software engineering

What do Site Reliability Engineers do and what exactly are they responsible for within an engineering organization? While the specifics will depend on your company, there are some general trends for how SRE teams tend to organize themselves. This article focuses on how SRE teams share responsibilities across members while at the same time recognizing the strengths each member brings to the team as they work towards a common reliability goal.

How to become a top notch SRE

You have some experience with programming or systems administration, development or operations, and now that you have heard about Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) you think this sounds like something you would like to do as your next step. This article will help you learn in greater detail what you need to know to not only be successful, but one of the best SREs.

SRE interview questions and job descriptions

What do Site Reliability Engineers do and what exactly are they responsible for within an engineering organization? While the specifics will depend on your company, there are some general trends for how SRE teams tend to organize themselves. This article focuses on how SRE teams share responsibilities across members while at the same time recognizing the strengths each member brings to the team as they work towards a common reliability goal.

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