Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about potentially making the switch from a Site Reliability Engineer/SRE to a pure Software Engineering position. But I’m not sure if this is the right move for me to make.
On a personal level I definitely enjoy writing code and designing/building systems, and the unique parts of being an SRE (configuration engineering, infrastructure work, etc) aren’t that interesting to me.
From a career perspective however, I’m not sure if moving to a pure SWE position is smart. I’ve spent the entirety of my ~10 year long career working on the ops side of things, either as a Sysadmin or an SRE. I’m okay enough at programming - I’m confident I could get a SWE position, but if I were to change it’s very likely I’d be down-leveling to an entry level position and taking a pay cut, which I’m reluctant to do given the recent layoffs and cost cutting in general.
Unfortunately switching inside my company is a no go, all the Dev teams are based in other countries, and only employ locally, so if I do decide to make the sea change, it will have to be externally.
How should I be approaching this question and what guidance can you give me?
How much conviction do you have that you will enjoy being a SWE more than SRE? Since you don't have the option to try it internally at your company, in a hybrid role, the cost of switching and getting it wrong is high.
Given that you enjoy writing code and designing/building systems, though, it sounds like you would enjoy in the SWE role. If you feel good about it, I would encourage you to make the switch ASAP.
Your career is long and you want to work on something that you're excited about. Your career is decades long, you still have many years to go!
There might be a temporary career growth plateau, but I actually don't think it'll be that bad, given how related the SRE <> SWE roles are.
The other benefit you have is leverage -- you're not in desperate need to leave the company. What I'd advise you to do is apply for 10-15 SWE roles and do the interviews. Hopefully you'll get a few offers, and that will allow you to calibrate what level you're offered.
You only need one company to not offer you entry-level in order to make that your "target level" -- I'm confident you can pull it off.