Software development in Kenya is one of the driving cornerstones of digital transformation. The country ranks high in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of innovation and is benefitting from solutions that transform traditional business models and strategies.

It is in this climate that site reliability engineering (SRE) – a software engineering approach to IT operations – along with Kenya’s hunger for software talent, become the factors that determine business continuity, growth, and success. The future will be powered by software, and it’s up to local enterprises to source the solutions and resources, human and otherwise, to make that future a reality.

SRE roles and priorities

As enterprise IT (and indeed, entire business models) in Kenya starts to revolve around software, the need for a software engineering approach to operations becomes more critical for businesses. Site reliability engineers and SRE teams use software as a tool to manage systems, overcome challenges, and automate tasks in the pursuit of productivity, efficiency and performance.

These professionals, typically wielding a background in systems administration or software development, are responsible for everything related to code, including its deployment, configuration and monitoring. They are also responsible for overseeing services in production and the launch of new features by defining the necessary system reliability via service-level agreements (SLAs).

The keyword for effective SRE is balance. According to SRE best practices by Google, engineers should only spend up to half of their time working on operations, while the other half is spent on development objectives such as new features, automation, and system scaling. SREs should also be in constant touch with other development teams throughout the organisation and, to keep them focused on their priorities, should redirect excess operational work and poorly performing services back to the relevant teams.

In the face of limited talent and human resources, businesses in Kenya and across Africa need to ensure their professionals are focusing on the work that derives maximum value.

The move towards DevOps and the cloud

Given what the role implies, SRE can be considered an implementation of DevOps and bridging the gap between development and operations teams, doing so by creating an overlap in responsibilities.

Whereas traditionally software development was siloed and cut off from the challenges and constraints experienced by operations, resulting in stand-offs between the two departments and wasting time, money and resources in the process, DevOps unifies and creates shared goals for the departments, balancing reliability and scalability with the production of new services and features.

SRE is also a pivotal component of cloud computing in that it enables organisations to move to a cloud-native approach for developing and deploying applications. Kenya remains one of Africa’s leaders in cloud adoption, propelled by the constant introduction of new players, investments in digital infrastructure, and initiatives to facilitate cloud skills training.

Compared to static IT environments, cloud environments require advanced monitoring and incident management approaches that account for their elasticity (i.e. a changing number of instances based on organisational requirements). The use of microservices and containerisation also add new layers of complexity in terms of observability and troubleshooting, and so organisations need to have the human resources they need to make sure everything works according to plan.

Nurturing talent inside and outside the business

In the wake of the global COVID-19 crisis, Africa as a whole began efforts to strengthen the pipeline for software developers. This included formal and informal education initiatives, corporate investments in digital skills building, and training and certification opportunities that close the gap between education and employment, as well as familiarise young graduates with the tools and solutions they would end up using in the workplace.

Enterprises can aid this multi-prong approach by looking inward. To fully support their IT infrastructure and software development strategies, organisations need to nurture in-house talent, upskilling existing employees who may be already working with traditional IT architectures and existing applications. These are the people who know how your systems work, and they are ideally positioned to oversee the modernisation of your IT workloads. They know what operational capabilities your business needs to function and how software development can happen without compromising that functionality.

Africa will also see the way that software engineers carry out their responsibilities transform thanks to artificial intelligence (AI). Gartner predicts that by 2028, three-quarters of enterprise software engineers will use AI code assistants, the usage of which can lead to higher work satisfaction and retention (a critical benefit given the continent loses local talent to better work options elsewhere in the world).

All this goes to show that site reliability and the skills to maintain that reliability are what make or a break Kenya as a software-driven economy. Supported by a healthy ecosystem of technology vendors and partners who have the resources, human and otherwise, local enterprises can fully achieve their operations and development goals.

By Christopher Saul, Territory Sales Lead for East Africa at Red Hat