Career stories: Next-gen systems, servers, and SREs
December 16, 2022
Saira joined our Bangalore site reliability engineering (SRE) team to tackle large-scale, site engineering challenges and grow. She highlights for us the impactful work she found here — from ushering in LinkedIn’s next-generation, server query system that runs over a fleet of 350,000 servers, to mentoring the next generation of female engineers:
In my engineering career, I’ve always followed the path less taken. As a student, I became interested in cloud computing and systems engineering after working on an OpenStack project. My passion for this engineering area led to me pursuing a career in an essential, but less glamorized, type of engineering: Site Engineering.
Carving my own career path as a software engineer
I was building my career as a software engineer in Site Engineering with some software companies when LinkedIn reached out and asked me to join their production infrastructure, site engineering team. My recruitment team went above and beyond to consider me for a senior role, and I jumped into the interview process, which included coding, system design and architecture, code review and analysis, and Linux troubleshooting rounds to name a few.
I was excited by this opportunity to take the skills I had polished in systems and software engineering and continue to grow them at LinkedIn. I didn’t have to mull over my decision; it was an easy choice to join LinkedIn, because of the career growth opportunities and large scale of site engineering projects available to me.
Solving large-scale, technical challenges
Upon joining, I was able to dive right into large-scale, site engineering work here. Very few companies provide this level of opportunity. I’ve been with LinkedIn for several years and have worked on many different projects, each with its own set of unique challenges, including scaling for a large number of servers.
The learning exposure has been amazing; I’ve been able to work on our distributed firewall project to improve the resiliency and observability of LinkedIn’s firewall, as well as strengthen the YubiKey 2-factor authentication for our production servers.
Recently, I delivered my team’s first large-scale project from Bangalore: A next-generation distributed server query system – that collects system facts from across the server fleet and enables distributed querying, with the goal to facilitate querying the facts from a centralized place and scale with the organic growth of our data centers.
Learning and leveling up
As the tech lead on this project, I created early design proposals based on open-source technologies. My leadership team: a senior manager here in Bangalore and a director in the US, entrusted me with a lot of responsibility and motivated me when I ran into roadblocks along the way scaling our technology, especially since I was new to the system.
My manager was extremely supportive throughout the process, from the ideation to the implementation phase, as the project evolved through many iterations and improvisations to become a new solution.
Although this was challenging, it was a valuable learning experience for “failing fast” and making data-driven decisions. I achieved a major milestone for our team by successfully scaling the solution. Ultimately, my success with the project led to my promotion to Staff Software Engineer.
Inspiring the next wave of female engineers
As one of the first female engineers to be promoted to Staff on the India Site Engineering team, I believe it’s super important to pay it forward to foster the growth of the next generation of female engineers. The LinkedIn CoachIn program: an initiative to nurture and grow women engineering talent across India to land their dream job, provided an excellent opportunity for me to mentor female undergraduate engineers, and help them find careers with product-based companies after graduation. There’s a common misconception that Site Engineers work purely in operations, and that this role requires a heavy on-call work environment.
Through programs like these, I’ve been able to address this stigma. For example, I once served as a panelist addressing 150 undergraduate female engineers, where I could share my journey as an SRE, and why they should consider the field of site engineering during their engineering placements.
LinkedIn has also helped to better spotlight roles like mine through LinkedIn’s School of SRE course, which we open-sourced so that others can have access to the curriculum. This curriculum highlights how both new grads and current engineers can get started as an SRE, sharing expertise on everything from engineering fundamentals to programming languages and systems design. One of the huge benefits of this course is that students can connect with companies hiring for SRE/Site Engineering roles, which supports LinkedIn’s mission to make jobs more accessible.
LinkedIn’s investment in me
LinkedIn and my leadership team have also done a lot to invest in me and my growth. One experience that stands out is our WIT Invest program. If accepted, you join an internal cohort of around 20 senior-level, female engineers and product managers at LinkedIn. The 2-month virtual program provided me with tools around networking and building my personal brand, which has been incredibly valuable as an aspiring Site Engineering leader here.
My advice for engineers pursuing a similar tech role is that you could be an excellent fit for a Site Engineering role if your interest lies in building a large-scale, distributed system and if you are passionate about learning system internals. Companies like LinkedIn will give you the exposure you need to put those skills to the test and build software at a massive, global scale.
At LinkedIn, my engineering managers have been so supportive and trusting of me throughout my career here — creating impactful opportunities for me to challenge myself, and solve tough engineering problems at scale. I’m excited about what’s in store for LinkedIn and my career here.
Based in Bangalore, Saira is a Staff Software Engineer on the LinkedIn SRE team. Before joining LinkedIn, Saira held SRE and DevOps roles at Walmart Labs and Intuit. Saira holds a bachelor’s in computer science and engineering from the PES Institute of Technology. Outside of work, Saira is adventurous, loves traveling, and is an absolute foodie.
Editor’s note: Considering an engineering/tech career at LinkedIn? In this Career Stories series, you’ll hear first-hand from our engineers and technologists about real life at LinkedIn — including our meaningful work, collaborative culture, and transformational growth. For more on tech careers at LinkedIn, visit: lnkd.in/EngCareers.