Release Engineer vs Release Manager

I often see these two terms used interchangeably when in reality I don’t think they are. The release engineers are software engineers first. They know about the development cycle, branching strategy, versioning, etc. Release managers are not necessarily engineers. In fact, a release manager is more a role than a title. Someone in this role will coordinate the actions that need to be executed in order for the live release the going out. In this sense, the release engineer can put on the release manager cap, just as much as the project lead or senior architect can.

In an ideal world, a release manager would not be needed. The release engineering would be in charge of setting up an infrastructure such that the steps required to make a live push are automated. To paraphrase Beyoncé: “If you like it, put a button on it”. Etsy’s Deployinator is a very good example of what an automated release manager should be, but you particular solution doesn’t have to be all that fancy and it can boil down to a few deployment scripts cleverly parameterized and executed from any CI tool.

It is understandable that for many organizations, a release manager is needed, but this shouldn’t be seen as a permanent requirement. Mixing in a engineering approach (that can come from the development engineers), even if it’s just part time, will gradually make the deployment process smoother. Even if it sounds counterintuitive, good release engineers should aim to put themselves out of a job, by automating every step of the process.

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