Engineering At Samsara

Samsara Dev Spotlight: Kelsey Lam

June 4, 2019

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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.

Samsara is growing fast, and in the last year, we’ve expanded our reach — opening a new East Coast and European hub! We recently sent a landing party of San Francisco-based engineers to London and Atlanta to jump start our new Engineering offices there. These volunteers from our SF office are currently in the middle of their temporary multi-month shifts on teams that will ultimately be London or Atlanta-based.

Kelsey Lam is a Full Stack Software Engineer on the International team at Samsara UK. Let’s meet her. 😄

Kelsey Lam works outside in London

Why did you decide to join Samsara?

From the start, I was looking for a company with a small tight-knit engineering team, where I could have a large impact. But one of my primary concerns was the risky startup stereotype. Personal development is a top priority for me, so I wanted to work somewhere established enough to have solid engineering mentorship. I also wanted to be at a company that was actively growing, so I’d consistently have new opportunities and lasting impact (a.k.a. my work/the company still exists a year later). Knowing that John and Sanjit had previously succeeded in building Meraki made me feel confident that Samsara would likely be high potential and stable, but still fast-paced with opportunity for impact.

A critical moment for me was seeing the product demo during my onsite, I was really impressed. Hearing engineers showcase their work and the technologies they used to build it, I was able to picture what it’d be like to work on these problems too. Seeing all the features made me feel like I’d always be learning something new. On that note, knowing I could be flexible between the frontend, backend, and even mobile via React Native was a big draw to me. I didn’t have a strong preference for a specific part of the stack and wanted the opportunity to explore all of them! I was also excited about Samsara’s modern tech stack, which uses Go and GraphQL on the backend and React, Typescript, and React Native on the frontend.

Knowing I could be flexible between the frontend, backend, and even mobile via React Native was a big draw to me.

On top of all that, I connected with the people I chatted with throughout my interview process. In getting to know their backgrounds and hearing about all their considerations in joining Samsara, I felt like I could really relate to them. If they were happy and succeeding at Samsara, the same could be true for me! It was also easy to imagine working with them because they were super nice and down to earth.

Kelsey Lam at Tower bridge

The most London-y picture.

What brought you from SF to London?

I came to London primarily to seed our UK office to help with hiring and onboarding. We’re responsible for bringing over processes and the most important bits of engineering culture from SF. Our first hires in London are going to be the core of our London team. We want to share our culture and values with them so they can carry these on to the whole London engineering team, and also develop their own unique culture. I’m a little nervous but mostly excited about having that responsibility.

We’re responsible for bringing over processes and […] engineering culture from SF […] to the whole London engineering team […]. I’m a little nervous but mostly excited about having that responsibility.

I volunteered because I thought it’d be a great experience! The London team will have the opportunity to build out not only localized parts of the product but also new core features that drive the company’s European sales and growth. The chance to be a part of building that team is pretty unique and I feel like I get the best of both worlds. I get to build on this small team: lay the foundation and grow something from scratch but I also still get the support of the full Samsara engineering organization. Additionally, I get to challenge myself technically by working on a new area of the product.

I’ve never lived outside of the San Francisco Bay Area so I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to finally leave the nest, experience a new awesome city, and travel. So far I’ve been enjoying the city a lot, not to mention the amazing studio Samsara put me up in 🙂 (did you know heated towel racks are a thing here??).

What is your team responsible for?

I’m working on the Internationalization team which is responsible for the company’s international expansion features. One piece of that is support for different languages and units of measurement. We also work with the Site Reliability Engineering team to bring up EU-based servers and data storage for our European customers. Our team primarily works on any new product features to support the European market.

Traveling in Prague!

Traveling in Prague!

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been working on what we call the Rules Engine. We need this because each country has different legal requirements on how long a driver can work in a given day. The Rules Engine is a state machine to help track how long a driver has been driving, resting, etc. based on their logs. We pull these logs from a device called a tachograph via our vehicle sensor, and then we use them to figure out whether they are in violation of certain rules, e.g. driving more than 10 hours a day. Right now we’re working on supporting UK-specific rules, but we eventually want it to be extensible to rules for any country! I have found this problem really interesting from an engineering perspective since we want to design an extensible system that makes it easy to implement rules of high complexity.

What makes Samsara and the engineering culture unique?

Something I really like about the team here is that people are always taking initiative to make things better. I feel like the engineers here truly care about improving things, whether it’s customer experience, developer tools, documentation, the recruiting process, or culture. I find it really motivating to work with people who care a lot about the product and the team. One, it’s great for me when tools and processes are improved, and two, it inspires me to do the same and enjoy the work I’m doing. Also, the environment within the engineering team overall is super friendly and we enjoy goofing around together, which makes me happy to come into work every day (and stick around to chat, watch shows, play ping pong, etc).

I find it really motivating to work with people who care a lot about the product and the team.

What was your biggest fear before joining Samsara?

After interviewing and signing with Samsara, a part of me was still concerned about whether I made the right decision. Worst case scenario, this could be a stereotypical nightmare startup where I’d have to work nights and weekends all the time. Based on how I’d previously envisioned adult work life, I also had pretty low expectations for how close I would feel with coworkers. Thankfully, I found that neither of these concerns were a problem at Samsara. I get to work normal, flexible hours and have made a lot of great friends here!

What is something you have learned at Samsara?

I’ve learned to not be scared of taking on larger responsibilities and tasks and, instead, believe in my ability to take on more as I know my team will support me if I need help. For example, I was somewhat nervous about mentoring an intern after being at the company for only 5 months. It ended up being a really great learning experience, and my manager was there to guide me along the way. By challenging myself to do things I don’t have 100% confidence in, I feel like I’ve been able to grow a lot quicker.

Traveling in Prague

How do you hope to grow at Samsara?

As an engineer, I’d like to grow my technical skills by exploring different parts of the stack while working on various kinds of projects. For example, I’ve worked on some end-to-end features from scratch like Documents, but I’d be interested in diving even deeper into the backend infrastructure. Aside from expanding my technical depth, I’ve also had the opportunity to lead a large project. Considering design tradeoffs and breaking down the project into incremental deliverables challenged my scoping abilities. By leading others on the project and communicating with external stakeholders, I realized how I could improve in those areas as well. Though challenging, I was excited to identify new ways I could grow as an engineer early on, and I hope to exercise these skills on even larger projects. I also hope the time I spend in London seeding the team helps me improve my leadership abilities.

What is the best advice you’ve gotten from another Samsarian?

How to smash in ping pong better 😂

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! 👋

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