What is an Observability Engineer?

Learning Objectives

• Understand the role and traits of observability engineers in managing complex IT systems.

• Explore real-world examples showcasing the value of observability engineers in critical incidents.

• Learn about the responsibilities of observability engineers, including anomaly detection, troubleshooting, monitoring, optimization, user experience enhancement, data-driven decision-making, and compliance/security support.

• Identify the stages where observability engineers are needed in the IT system lifecycle.

• Discover the industries and organizations where observability engineers are in high demand.

• Understand the reasons behind the existence of observability engineers.

• Explore how observability engineers leverage telemetry pipelines for proactive monitoring and optimization.

• Embrace the potential of observability engineering in unlocking IT system capabilities.

The complexity and unpredictability of today’s IT systems pose a significant challenge for organizations. Observability has emerged as the practice for managing the unpredictable nature of these systems.

However, in this chaotic environment, the observability practice has itself become complex. Organizations are now putting focus on this issue; and many are now defining a relatively new role called the “Observability Engineer,” a role with the expertise and tools to tame the complexity and unlock the true potential of their systems. 

The practice of optimizing system performance, ensuring reliability, and deriving actionable insights from telemetry data, the proactive, data-driven approach of observability engineers makes them invaluable in navigating complex IT landscapes. The engineers who focus entirely on this domain are in high-demand because of their specialization in collecting, processing, analyzing, and visualizing data from various sources within an IT system, enabling them to  uncover hidden patterns, detect anomalies, and optimize system performance.

Today you're going to gain a comprehensive understanding of observability engineers and their vital role in observability, optimizing system performance, ensuring reliability, and driving continuous improvement. 

Let's dive into the story of the observability engineer. 

Who is the Observability Engineer? 

Observability engineers are problem solvers specializing in optimizing system performance, ensuring reliability, and driving actionable insights from telemetry data. Simply put, they're the driving force behind proactive, data-driven solutions and operations. 

Compared to other roles within IT operations, observability engineers stand out primarily  due to their specialized skillset and unique focus on proactive observability. 

Let's look at some of the hallmark traits of the observability engineer. 


Unlike system administrators and IT operations teams, who often react to incidents, the observability engineer takes a proactive approach, designing telemetry strategies, implementing comprehensive monitoring systems, and leveraging advanced tools to gain real-time insights and identify potential issues before they escalate.

Telemetry Data Analysis Expertise

Observability engineers possess in-depth knowledge and expertise in telemetry data collection, analysis, and implementation, fully understanding the intricacies of and how to derive meaningful insights from different telemetry sources such as: 

  • Metrics: Quantitative measurements providing insights into system performance, resource utilization, response times, and error rates
  • Events: Discrete occurrences or incidents within a system that capture changes, activities, and potential issues
  • Logs: Textual records of system-generated messages, events, and activities that offer detailed insight into system behavior, errors, and user actions
  • Traces: End-to-end visibility into the flow and interactions of individual requests or transactions, used to identify bottlenecks, latency issues, and performance optimizations

Using specialized tools and their expertise, these individuals identify patterns, detect anomalies, and build a holistic understanding of system behavior beyond traditional monitoring approaches' current limitations. 

Complex Distributed Systems Understanding

Observability engineers have an extensive understanding of the complexities native to modern distributed systems, being well-versed in the challenges posed by microservices architectures, cloud-native environments, and hybrid infrastructure setups. Understanding these allows them to design telemetry pipelines, build monitoring systems, and implement observability practices that effectively analyze and capture data from these complex systems. 

Collaboration / Cross-Functional Skills

Observability engineers are crucial in bridging the gaps and fostering collaboration among different observability domains, including Infrastructure, Applications (APM), and Networking. These domains often operate independently, leading to ineffective communication and hindering the overall observability effort. However, observability engineers help close these gaps with the cross-functional skills necessary to address the challenges and drive synergy. 

Real-World Example

Consider an e-commerce company facing customer complaints about frozen shopping carts within their application. The APM team, primarily focused on application performance monitoring, uses a distributed tracing tool and real-time user monitoring (RUM) to analyze the sequence of events in the application flow. Despite their efforts, they struggle to identify the underlying issue, resulting in substantial financial losses. 

Now let’s say that simultaneously, the networking team is leveraging a network monitoring tool for observability but is unaware of the customer complaints reaching the APM team. Through synthetic transaction monitoring and log monitoring, they detect a red flag indicating a network connectivity issue. However, they lack awareness of its impact on customers. 

Recognizing the urgency of the situation and the disconnect between the teams, an SRE, after resolving the issue, decides to hire an observability engineer to ensure such incidents never occur again. 

Upon arrival, the observability engineer investigates the situation and identifies a solution: routing relevant network monitoring data to the APM team and sharing application-related insights with the networking team. The observability engineer effectively connects the dots between the domains by implementing this integration through a telemetry pipeline (like Mezmo, for example). 

When the APM team encounters a problem, they can cross-reference the application flow data with network monitoring information to identify potential network issues. Similarly, the networking team can correlate their observations with customer-facing problems detected by the APM team. 

The observability engineer used a simple yet highly effective solution to resolve the communication gaps and prevent significant losses. Leveraging a telemetry pipeline, an integral component enabling seamless data integration, empowers observability engineers to enhance collaboration across observability domains.

By actively coordinating and aligning the efforts of the different observability domains, the observability engineer creates a more holistic understanding of the IT system's behavior and performance. This approach allows for a comprehensive analysis beyond individual domains' limitations. Furthermore, the observability engineer can identify cross-domain opportunities for optimization and improvement, leading to enhanced system performance, reliability, and user experiences.

Through effective planning, organization, and communication, observability engineers help overcome siloed operations' challenges and promote cross-domain initiatives that drive continuous improvement and maximize the potential of observability within the organization. 

What Does the Observability Engineer Do?

Observability engineers are experts in addressing critical problems within IT operations. They specialize in the following:

  • Detecting Anomalies: Using advanced tools and techniques, observability engineers identify unusual patterns and deviations from normal behavior, allowing them to address potential issues before they escalate proactively.
  • Troubleshooting Incidents: When incidents occur, observability engineers apply their expertise to quickly diagnose and resolve problems, minimizing downtime and optimizing system performance.
  • Monitoring System Health: Observability engineers design and implement comprehensive monitoring systems to continuously assess system health, ensuring optimal performance and reliability.
  • Optimizing Resource Allocation: By analyzing telemetry data, observability engineers maximize resource allocation, ensuring efficient utilization and cost-effectiveness.
  • Enhancing User Experiences: Observability engineers identify areas for improvement in user experiences by analyzing telemetry data, optimizing performance, and reducing bottlenecks.
  • Enabling Data-Driven Decision-Making: Through their expertise in telemetry analysis, observability engineers provide actionable insights that enable data-driven decision-making, helping organizations make informed choices based on real-time data.
  • Supporting Compliance and Security Efforts: Observability engineers are crucial in ensuring compliance with regulations and maintaining robust security practices by monitoring and analyzing telemetry data for potential vulnerabilities and risks.

Through their skills and experience, observability engineers empower organizations to maintain highly performant, reliable, and secure IT systems.

When are Observability Engineers Needed?

Observability engineers are invaluable throughout the lifecycle of IT systems. They often lead the charge in various situations, including:

  • System Design and Implementation: Observability engineers play a vital role in the early stages of system design and implementation. They provide insights and guidance on telemetry requirements, instrumentation strategies, and best practices to ensure observability is built into the system from the ground up.
  • Ongoing Maintenance and Monitoring: Observability engineers are essential for continuously monitoring and maintaining system health. They establish comprehensive monitoring systems, configure alerts and notifications, and proactively identify potential issues to maintain optimal system performance.
  • Incident Response and Troubleshooting: When incidents occur, observability engineers are at the forefront of incident response and troubleshooting efforts. They leverage telemetry data to diagnose and resolve issues promptly, minimizing downtime and mitigating the impact on users and the business.
  • Optimization and Performance Enhancement: Observability engineers are called upon to optimize system performance and enhance efficiency. They analyze telemetry data to identify bottlenecks, optimize resource allocation, and fine-tune system configurations for improved performance.
  • New Feature Development and Releases: When new features or system updates are being developed or released, observability engineers ensure that the telemetry infrastructure and monitoring systems are in place to capture and analyze relevant data. Doing so enables assessing feature performance, user experience, and overall system impact.

Observability engineers are essential throughout the IT system lifecycle, from design to maintenance, incident response, optimization, and feature development, ensuring performant, reliable, and secure systems.

Where Can You Find Observability Engineers?

Observability engineers appear in various organizations and industries where there is a need for proactive monitoring, performance optimization, and actionable insights from telemetry data. You can frequently find observability engineers in places like:

  • Technology Companies: Technology companies that develop and maintain complex software systems, cloud-native applications, or distributed systems employ observability engineers. These companies prioritize observability to ensure optimal system performance and reliability.
  • IT Operations Teams: Large organizations or enterprises often have dedicated IT operations teams that include observability engineers. These teams focus on maintaining the health and performance of IT infrastructure, implementing monitoring solutions, and troubleshooting incidents.
  • DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) Teams: DevOps and SRE teams emphasize collaboration and the integration of development and operations functions. Observability engineers play a crucial role in these teams, driving observability practices, implementing monitoring tools, and ensuring system resilience.
  • Cloud Service Providers: Cloud service providers employ observability engineers to support their customers in monitoring and optimizing their applications and infrastructure in the cloud. These engineers provide expertise in leveraging cloud-native observability solutions and services.
  • Consulting Firms: Consulting firms specializing in IT operations, performance optimization, or digital transformation often have observability engineers as part of their team. They assist clients in implementing observability strategies, optimizing telemetry pipelines, and driving continuous improvement.
  • Financial Institutions: Insurance companies, banks and other financial institutions rely on observability engineers to ensure the performance, reliability, and security of their critical IT systems and applications.
  • Startups and Innovative Tech Companies: Observability engineers are often sought after in startups and innovative tech companies, prioritizing monitoring, performance optimization, and fast incident response to deliver high-quality products and services.

Exploring job postings, industry events, professional networks, and online platforms dedicated to IT operations and observability communities is your best option if you aim to catch an observability engineer in their natural habitat.

Why Do Observability Engineers Exist?

Observability engineers exist to address the increasing complexity and scale of modern IT systems and overcome traditional monitoring approaches' limitations. The need for observability engineers arose due to several factors:

  • Modern System Complexity: Modern IT systems often use microservices architectures, cloud-native technologies, and distributed setups. These systems involve numerous interconnected components and dependencies, making gaining comprehensive visibility into their behavior and performance challenging. Observability engineers bridge this gap by implementing telemetry strategies and advanced monitoring techniques to understand system behavior at a granular level.
  • Proactive Monitoring and Incident Response: Reactive monitoring and incident response approaches are no longer sufficient in dynamic and fast-paced environments. Observability engineers focus on proactive monitoring, leveraging telemetry data to detect anomalies, identify potential issues before they impact users, and enable faster incident response. They are crucial in ensuring system availability, reliability, and user satisfaction.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: In today's data-centric world, organizations rely on actionable insights to drive decision-making and improve business outcomes. Observability engineers are vital in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting telemetry data to provide valuable insights into system behavior, performance trends, and user experiences. These insights enable organizations to make informed decisions, optimize resources, and enhance the user experience.
  • Optimizing System Performance and Efficiency: Observability engineers are essential for optimizing system performance, resource allocation, and efficiency. By analyzing telemetry data, they identify bottlenecks, latency issues, and areas for optimization—this optimization results in improved system performance, reduced downtime, and cost savings for organizations.
  • Ensuring Compliance and Security: Observability engineers contribute to compliance and security efforts by monitoring and analyzing telemetry data for potential vulnerabilities and risks. They help organizations identify and address security gaps, ensure compliance with regulations, and maintain a robust security posture.

Ultimately, observability engineers are needed to navigate the complexities of modern IT systems, implement proactive monitoring practices, derive actionable insights from telemetry data, ensure the reliability and security of IT operations, and optimize performance.

How Do Observability Engineers Do What They Do?

Observability engineers leverage telemetry pipelines as their primary tool to collect, process, and analyze data from various sources within an IT system. By effectively utilizing these pipelines, observability engineers can uncover hidden patterns, detect anomalies, and derive actionable insights that drive proactive monitoring, troubleshooting, and optimization efforts.

Here's how observability engineers harness telemetry pipelines, like Mezmo, to perform their tasks:

  • Collect Data: Configure telemetry pipelines to gather data from metrics, logs, events, and traces.
  • Process Data: Transform and enrich the collected data for meaningful analysis.
  • Monitor in Real-Time: Set up real-time monitoring using telemetry pipelines for proactive monitoring and immediate incident response.
  • Analyze and Visualize: Utilize analytics and visualization capabilities provided by telemetry pipelines to gain insights from the data through custom dashboards and visual representations.
  • Troubleshoot and Optimize: Utilize telemetry data for in-depth troubleshooting, identifying root causes, and optimizing system performance.
  • Drive Continuous Improvement: Leverage historical telemetry data to identify trends, plan capacity, and implement proactive measures for ongoing improvement.

Embracing the Potential of Observability Engineering

Observability engineering empowers organizations to overcome the complexities of modern IT systems. Through their proactive approach, specialized skills, and effective use of telemetry pipelines, observability engineers optimize system performance, ensure reliability, and drive actionable insights from telemetry data. They are the driving force behind proactive monitoring, rapid incident response, and continuous improvement efforts. 

By leveraging the capabilities of telemetry pipelines, observability engineers unlock the full potential of IT systems, enabling organizations to navigate complexity, drive innovation, and deliver high-quality services to their customers.

It’s time to let data charge