Mental Models for SREs

Friday, June 08, 2018 - 4:10 pm4:35 pm

Mohit Suley, Microsoft


A mental model is an explanation of someone's thought process about how something works in the real world. They set an approach to solving problems and can be thought of as 'personal algorithms'.

A trusted SRE must have reasonably good problem-solving and decision-making skills. Unfortunately, these skills do not improve with knowing more technology alone. This talk brings mental models from behavioral psychology into our world and describes a few that make engineers take better rational decisions and solve the right problems without unconscious bias.

Some of the models we'll talk about, giving pertinent examples from our day-to-day work:

  • Hanlon's Razor
  • Occam's Razor
  • Proximate v/s Ultimate Cause
  • Systems Thinking
  • Normal Distribution
  • Selection Bias
  • Observer Effect
  • Survivorship Bias
  • Sunk Cost
  • Availability Bias

Audience Takeaways:

  • Mental models are pervasive in our day-to-day lives and it pays to identify them and be mindful of how they work
  • Specific models help SREs do better decision-making, troubleshooting and problem-solving.
  • A specific list of models that one can practice on

Mohit Suley, Microsoft

Mohit is an Engineer on Bing's Live Site Engineering team. By day, he investigates all issues that subtly affect Bing’s availability and performance. Designing systems to proactively improve availability and route around problems is a core mission of the team. In his spare time he loves long walks, tinkers with hardware, and chases his goal of reading more books than Bill Gates.

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@conference {214961,
author = {Mohit Suley},
title = {Mental Models for {SREs}},
year = {2018},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jun

Presentation Video 

Presentation Audio