The one time the answer is straightforward is if you are building a product in the DevOps or SRE market, then you should have one or more engineers with that focus as part of the founding team; in all other cases, read on.
As a founder, you’ve looked around, bought into the idea of enabling and empowering your engineering efforts with SRE or DevOps, but you aren’t sure if now is the right time. After all, there are many places we can spend the hiring effort, time, and money. So is this the next move? Before we try to answer that question, though, there are a few things that, as founders, we should have discussed and outlined; it comes down to what performance do we need from our engineering team and what engineering culture do we want to build.
The performance of our engineering team should be thought of in terms of how quickly we can get ideas implemented to test them in the marketplace, how often we’re able to ship, and the quality of our product in the hands of users. The book Accelerate and the DORA State of DevOps report provide standard metrics that can capture these things and are a great starting point for your engineering teams’ metrics and KPIs. The other half of that conversation is describing your desired targets across your engineering teams’ KPIs, what is good, acceptable, and unacceptable performance.
Even now, we aren’t quite ready to begin the talent search. So before talking to potential hires, think carefully about how the SRE function will map into engineering at large. There is a scale here that maps roughly from “SRE operates some core infrastructure with some consulting work” to “every agile engineering team gets an embedded SRE.” A related scale is how much you want your other engineers to have to reach down the stack to deliver features and products. So this decision boils down to: are all teams laced with full-stack engineers, or do you layer up the engineering platform and reduce the skill space needed in your product teams?
At least outlining your choices on these two scales is critical because early-stage role boundaries nearly always result in hard organization boundaries as a company grows, and they will help focus your hiring in all areas of engineering, as you’ll know your vision for how the team will operate.
The final question to think about is the skills that you wish this SRE to embody. From the metrics and the culture question, you are now in a position to take an overview of the skills of a founding SRE or DevOps engineer and stack rank them as to how critical you see them to the role’s success. It’s an extensive list, and in all likelihood, you are not going to find many folks who are strong in all of them, pick what is essential in the medium term.
With all of this, you are much better positioned to have conversations where you lay out the performance, desired culture, and skillset with candidates, obviously critical in upping the chance of landing the right person.
In short, the right time to hire an SRE or DevOps engineer is when you see the need to drive the measured performance of your engineering team, have decided broadly on the organizational model, and have stack ranked the SRE skills to help focus your search and conversations.