Here at Samsara, we love our people. To share what it’s like working here, we created a Dev Spotlight series to highlight members of our team. Once a month, we’ll talk to a Samsarian to learn why they’re with us, what their work is like, and what they’re all about.
Katie Siegel is an engineering manager for one of Samsara’s newest products. Her career is intertwined with Samsara’s history in an interesting way: she joined the company when there were fewer than 50 employees, and then left to cofound a startup. With the experience she gained in her own venture, she’s now returned to help Samsara with a new business initiative!
Let’s hear more about Katie’s career journey with Samsara :)
Why did you decide to join Samsara?
Fall of 2015, I was a master’s student at MIT looking for my first full-time job. I knew I wanted to join an early-stage company, so I went looking for a company that had raised a series A in the past year. A Google search brought me to Samsara, an IoT company that I had never heard of. I cold emailed the jobs email alias (there was no jobs page back then), and received a reply from Sanjit, our CEO, to hop on the phone that afternoon. The call went well, so I squeezed in a Samsara on-site at the end of a week-long interview trip to SF, right before my flight back to Boston. I’m glad I did — I was impressed by how down-to-earth Sanjit and our CTO, John were, and how much they emphasized listening to the customer. Sanjit called me with an offer as I was boarding the plane, and I signed shortly thereafter!
My first day at Samsara in 2016 — the whole company went on an offsite to a sewage processing plant.
I joined Samsara fresh out of college in 2016. The company was less than 50 people then, and the engineering team was less than 15. I wanted to not only learn about the technical side, but also gain a holistic understanding of the business. Fortunately, the Samsara leadership team is uniquely transparent towards engineers about the sales process; the philosophy is that business savvy engineers build better products. In my first week at Samsara, John sent me a recorded talk by a VC about how to grow a sales team from scratch — I then saw the implementation of that process take place in front of my eyes. Overall, the lessons I learned during my first year at Samsara taught me so much that I was able to channel this experience into cofounding a startup.
Why did you choose to come back to Samsara?
After working hard on my startup for a couple of years, I realized I wanted to focus more on honing my management skills. So, I reached out to John and asked if there was a position at Samsara that might be a fit. I was still interested in early stage ventures and wanted to learn how to start a new business from scratch with the mentorship of an executive team that had already successfully launched many new products. Aidan, VP & General Manager of the new Connected Worker business unit, offered me a spot as the first engineer on the team. My first project: build an MVP of the new product.
When I returned to Samsara, I was trusted to lead the development of our new product; it has been an incredible opportunity for growing my technical leadership skills. I was also interested in gaining management experience, and know that Samsara has a track record of promoting women into their first engineering management roles. Over the past 8 months, we’ve grown the Connected Worker team to 11 engineers, matured the product from that first MVP, and closed a first successful quarter of sales!
What were some key takeaways from cofounding a startup?
It’s hard to summarize everything I learned into a few key takeaways, but here are two:
Openness to feedback — whether it comes from a peer, a report, or a manager — is incredibly important. Differences in opinion arise all the time at an early startup, and stress often runs high. To be a leader that people trust, I learned that I need to help others feel heard and empathize with different perspectives.
Perfect is the enemy of good enough. Samsara emphasizes launching MVPs and iterating based on feedback. At an early startup, a codebase can quickly become messy, and it is tempting to pause feature development to refactor existing code. Another common pitfall is over-engineering for an imagined future scale. While combating and addressing technical debt is important, it should be prioritized with product velocity in mind; the elegance of the codebase does not matter if you can’t sell your product.
What is your team responsible for, and what are you currently working on?
I am the engineering manager of the Connected Worker team. We’re focused on products that empower worker safety and productivity. Our first product is a camera system that gives organizations visibility into their operations.
Our team focuses on developing video management and site management features, advancing our products’ machine learning capabilities, and releasing robust hardware products. Since we’re an early team, we’re keeping our exact feature development plans under wraps, but I’m particularly excited about the developments we’re making around AI-enhanced search.
As a manager, how are you helping support your team during the COVID-19 outbreak?
One of my top priorities is making sure the team stays connected (pun intended). When we were in the office, our team had a culture of eating lunch together every day. Now that we are remote, we need to get a bit more intentional about the time we spend together. In a recent retro, members of our team expressed that they missed each other but that they were experiencing Zoom fatigue that made them reluctant to join our weekly Friday sales and engineering happy hour. We decided as a team to do a dev-only “walking” happy hour that week, which complemented the unusually good weather we’ve been having recently. The team called into the Zoom meeting with their phones, which felt different to sitting at our desks and looking at our screens.
Our team is very collaborative — people chat frequently over Zoom throughout the week, and we have daily stand-ups as well as regular team meetings. Our team thoroughly enjoys spending time with each other when in the office, so we’ve been having Jackbox, Scribbl.io, and Animal Crossing hangouts to try to keep that going. We also have regular team lunches and Friday happy hours. One week during happy hour, the whole team did a plank competition; call me competitive, but engineering did beat the sales team, just saying.
Friday Zoom happy hours!
What makes Samsara’s engineering culture unique?
Samsara’s engineering culture is unusually sales-focused; Samsara emphasizes that all engineers understand the sales process. On Connected Worker, we have regular business unit all hands meetings where engineers get in-depth insight into our sales pipeline, marketing strategy, and customers. As a result, the engineers on Connected Worker learn a ton about how to grow a business from the ground up.
Can you share your journey to becoming an engineering manager and how you hope to grow at Samsara?
As the first engineer and engineering team lead on Connected Worker, I grew the engineering team from scratch while playing a technical leadership role on the team. Last December, the team had grown to 7 people, and there was a need for someone to assume an EM role. I had already taken on many EM responsibilities, including 1:1s with everyone on the team, so the transition happened smoothly.
The work on our team spans firmware, computer vision, infrastructure, and product engineering; I’m enjoying working across so many different areas. Since I’m a first-time manager, I’ve set up 1:1s with more experienced engineering leaders across Samsara, so I can get lots of advice as I try to grow my people management skills. Recently, the Connected Worker engineering team grew by three people and split into three teams, so it’s harder to have insight on everything that’s going on in each team. That’s why one of my main priorities is to learn how to scale this team well so that we can keep building and shipping quickly.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from another Samsarian?
The best advice I received at Samsara was from my manager, Aidan. She advised me to be more open with my team in 1:1’s or group settings. Now, I’ll regularly talk about life with my team members — from how much I miss swimming, to my most recent baking experiment! More recently, I’ve been sharing how world events have affected me and what I’m doing to support the Black Lives Matter movement through protests, education, and more. I’ve found that in being more open about my life, my team feels more encouraged to share how they’re feeling with me.
Interested in working at Samsara? Check out our open positions. We’re always looking for great people to join us as we learn and grow together, and if you love learning and building things in a highly collaborative environment, we’d love to hear from you! 👋