How to Become a Site Reliability Engineer: Never Stop Growing
For Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) Manager Stacey Young, a passion for engineering sprouted early in life. With the support of a teacher who recognized Young’s promise, she’s paved her own path as an engineer and leader. Young’s commitment to empowering her team to grow while appreciating a workplace in which she can bring her full, authentic self to work matters most.
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How did you become a site reliability engineer?
When did you first develop a passion for engineering?
Stacy Young: I’ve always liked mechanical things, putting things together, taking them apart. Seeing how things worked has always, always, always intrigued me. My sixth-grade teacher, Patricia Glorfield, decided that I was going to be her student before I got to sixth grade. I believe she was a chemist then a science teacher turned elementary school teacher. She looked for kids like me who were interested in the sciences in any way, and she pushed us to hone our skills, to learn new things, to dive into things that were a little different.
I was very mechanically minded, and she pushed that in me. We did science fairs and lots of projects above and beyond regular schoolwork. She pushed me to do things that were different for me and different for someone like me in my community.
It was a blast and I never got away from it. I never forgot her, and I don’t think I ever will. That was a big turning point in my life when the things that I liked made sense to someone other than me.
What brought to you Duo and Cisco Secure, and how have you found working here?
Stacy Young: In my technical career it’s always been fun to see how things worked, figure out how I can make them better and see how I can automate. I’m trained in databases and mostly been a Linux Unix system admin.
My career led me to a company where I worked with Austin Montgomery (currently SRE Manager at Duo). I was promoted into the role of manager of our SRE team there, and he was my director. When he left to go to Duo, my initial thought was, "He must be going somewhere that’s pretty decent that it could pull him away."
We would hang out regularly, have some wings, have some root beer, while he would tell me all the really cool things about Duo. At every meeting I was more and more interested while working to get my current team to that next level. As I got them there, I applied for one of the Duo roles, which happened to be managing directly under Austin Montgomery again, which made the transition easy for me.
“The interview process was pretty awesome, and I never thought that that was a thing.” – Stacy Young
Coming in, the interview process was pretty awesome, and I never thought that that was a thing. I interviewed with several different engineering managers and a couple of directors, but I’d never been through an interview process like that. It was honest. I felt like what I should be showing was my whole self, my real self, not something contrived for this interview. That made my introduction to the company awesome.
What are your goals and what lights you up about your work?
Stacey Young: My goals and what I love about my work go hand in hand. I see myself in general as a helper, someone who can help or who would at least like to help others achieve their goals. That applies both up through my management structure and down through to my direct reports — I want to help.
I want to help my direct reports become the best versions of themselves. I want to help them achieve the goals that they have for themselves, whether that is talking about barbecuing a steak or setting up your desk at home. We talk about, "Hey, what classes would be relevant to the things that you want to learn, and how can they help you with work?"
I don’t see it as everything is work, work, work. We’re whole people and we have to address our whole selves. Any of the people that work with me know that a lot of my references are about my six grandkids. Their personalities literally span the spectrum so it’s easy to use that in talking about things that we do.
But it’s also easy from a management and a leadership perspective down to me: the company has goals, our group has goals, our team has goals, all which feed one into the next. Helping the individuals on my team become better versions of themselves helps us also to achieve the goals that we have as a team. So first, as a person, then as a team, as a group, as a company, all of those things play together.
The fact that Duo and Cisco welcome your whole self makes it so much easier. You’re not hiding. You’re not carving off pieces of yourself that you have to put away or hide while you work. You just work. Most of us are in the tech stuff for fun. We enjoy it, which makes it easy to achieve and to aspire to the next level.
What makes good company culture?
What makes working on this team, at this company, and doing this work different from other places you’ve worked?
Stacey Young: One of the things that I’ve learned is that I as an individual can absolutely affect change. How I handle the changes that come to me, how I portray them to my team and how we go about addressing them are all things that can be changed by a single person. I’ve also learned how to push changes that we wanted to see.
“I didn’t think that I would be allowed to have a voice like this at this point in my career and this quickly after coming on board here.”- Stacey Young
I can see the individuals on my team growing. I can see myself and my peers growing, too, which is why it’s so exciting to be here. I can see that the ideas that I have and the discussions that I have with my peers, with my leadership, are making a difference. And not just on my team, but above as well; I never imagined that it would be as simple as having conversations. I didn’t think that I would be allowed to have a voice like this at this point in my career and this quickly after coming on board here.
I was like, “I matter. I matter. This is awesome…” I could see my leadership really was honestly interested in what I had to say. So much so that one of my managers said, “Hey, you know some stuff, you have ideas. Put them out there. Don’t wait for others. In larger groups, put it out there.” He was just being honest about what he wanted from me, and that was for me, amazing.
It’s not just me. It is the managers that we’ve hired since they get in, they want to know what you think, because you have a different perspective than the rest of us who are already here. You probably have ideas that the rest of us may not have ever even thought about. They embrace the new leadership and make them feel like they truly have a seat at the table. And the table is round. You hear about those kinds of things, but rarely do you get to live it and I’m in a place right now where I get to live it.
What qualities do you look for when hiring for your team?
Stacey Young: A willingness to learn and to grow is imperative. You can’t move forward without it. You’re going to have some stumbling blocks and we all know that growth is two steps forward, one step back. And so knowing that, yeah, I’m going to stumble, I’m going to fall, I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to misstep. I’m probably going to say some things that are plain and simply wrong or just taken wrong.
But I can learn. There’s no time where I can’t learn. I like the adage, “I never lose.” I'm either winning or growing and learning, but I don’t lose. If I can learn, if I can grow, then whatever mishap or mistake that I had or made, it’s just a growth opportunity. It’s just helping me to get better. So far, it’s working.
What advice do you have for people who want to enter this field?
Stacey Young: If we can keep an open mind about things that are different from us, different to what we’ve learned in the past, different to what we've experienced so far, we’ll go a lot farther. We will achieve things that we never imagined.
“I don’t like to limit myself to anything that’s going to exclude me from something else that might be really cool.” – Stacey Young
I’m like any other person. I’m an onion with tons and tons and tons of layers. I like keeping labels off of things as much as possible, because labels push us to close our minds. I don't like feeling boxed into a label. I can only do this thing or I’m an SRE manager. No, not really. I’m a manager in the SRE space, but I don’t like to limit myself to anything that’s going to exclude me from something else that might be really cool.
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