Samsara Dev Spotlight: Vineet Shah

October 30, 2020

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.

Vineet Shah is an engineer on our Firmware Infrastructure team. He first joined Samsara as an intern in the summer of 2019. As a summer intern, Vineet had an extended opportunity to experience our culture first-person before virtually onboarding as a full-time Samsarian in April of 2020. We recently caught up with Vineet to talk about his summer internship, his decision to join the company, and his current team.

Let’s meet Vineet!

Why did you decide to join Samsara?

I discovered Samsara in the summer of 2019 while looking for a summer internship before my senior year. As a Raspberry Pi and Arduino hobbyist, I have always been interested in IoT (Internet of Things) because it requires balancing both hardware and software. Samsara stood out to me because it is a mid-size IoT company with strong growth potential. As an intern, to attain the best possible experience, I wanted to make sure I found a team that was a good fit before I committed to anything. I knew that I not only wanted to work on a backend project but one that would directly impact customers. Being on a tight deadline, I had to make a decision quickly since it was late into the recruiting season. To accommodate my offer deadlines, Changping, an engineer on the Data Platform Team, called me on a Sunday morning to explain the tech stack and various teams at Samsara. Based on our call, he thought I would be a great fit for the Backend Infrastructure Team since the technical challenges stem from trying to improve the customer experience. I was amazed that an engineer was willing to call a prospective intern on the weekend to make sure my questions were answered and my interests would be met. A few minutes after the phone call, I signed my offer letter.

After an insightful internship experience, the next step in my career was to determine whether I wanted to work at Samsara full-time. I chose Samsara for a variety of reasons. I wanted to be a part of Samsara’s goal to become an industrial IoT leader. It was clear that other employees shared a similar passion for our products. I loved walking around the office and seeing employees working on various products to build an integrated platform. On my walk from the desk to the kitchen for my afternoon coffee, I would walk past some of our gateways with wires lying around them, engineers testing the computer vision capabilities of our dashcams, and people drawing diagrams on whiteboards. This is unique to an IoT company and one of the coolest parts about working at Samsara.

Another reason I chose Samsara is its employee-focused culture. During my internship, my mentor Tom encouraged me to explore and take control of a project which had direct customer impact. My manager Daniel helped me outline specific goals to grow as an engineer. He would provide me with feedback on what I did well and where I could improve. This company offers immense room for growth and everyone is rooting for you. I guess all I can say is I’m glad Samsara chose me.

This company offers immense room for growth and everyone is rooting for you.

Interns and New Grads panel

How would you describe your internship experience?

My internship experience was impactful, challenging, and overall…rewarding. On my first day, I was given a Vehicle Gateway and some sensors to become familiar with the product. I immediately went home and set them up to start learning more about our platform. Opportunities like these — to dive into our systems and explore how they work — are what made my summer fruitful.

I joined the backend infrastructure team and started my internship project — figuring out how to scale our commonly used Proximity Search feature. This feature allows customers to see which of their vehicles passed through a geographical area within a specified, 24-hour window. It makes it easy to filter and find footage of a driver at a certain location. Some uses of this include fleet managers exonerating drivers if someone on the road complains about a driver’s reckless driving. A customer, who was following up on a bad driving complaint, found a video of the truck in question by using Proximity Search and saw that the driver suddenly braked because someone threw a shopping cart into the middle of the road which was not the drivers fault. This was an infrastructure project that directly impacts the customer, exactly what I wanted to work on.

This search puts a heavy load on our backend systems because it requires parsing through an org’s vehicle location data and filtering it in a geographical radius for a time range. Customers often had high page load times and there was clear room for improvement. It was exciting to work on a project that is used by customers directly while tackling infrastructure challenges. I began by identifying bottlenecks in our current implementation by digging into the code and analyzing metrics. My mentor Tom paired with me to take my findings and think of ways we can optimize processes. We identified that reading a lot of location data at once negatively impacts performance and overwhelms our caching system. We decided to query the location directly from Amazon’s S3 (where it is stored) and bypass our cache since there was no advantage of putting it on the cache. I also explored migrating the service from AWS ECS to Lambda since these requests weren’t made often but were resource-intensive when they were. After researching various Lambda architectures I was able to replicate the workflow onto it. In order to evaluate the architecture, I ran experiments where I would test the workflow at various loads, did a cost analysis, and showed how Samsara could use Lambdas as a proof of concept for future optimizations since we don’t currently support them in our infrastructure. The open-endedness of my project gave me the freedom to explore and work on technically challenging problems and by the end, I made Proximity Search ~10x faster.

Apart from my technical growth, I had a fantastic summer becoming friends with interns and full-timers through various social events. The most memorable one was Campsara, where folks from all our offices came together as a company at Camp Navarro to explore the outdoors and celebrate the end of the quarter. Check out this amazing recap video made by Matt Fang, another intern from last summer. Samsara also set up special events for interns and mentors. We did a scavenger hunt spread out over Chinatown in San Francisco run by the Go Game Company. Finally, I shared my experience as an intern on a panel where Samsara invited other interns and prospective new grads from other companies to learn more about our work and culture (as well as providing ice cream and burritos). The value of my internship experience still persists to this day through the lasting connections and professional growth I gained from that summer.

Some of the interns and new grads at Campsara — our company-wide offsite at Camp Navarro

What is your team responsible for, and what are you currently working on?

I am on the firmware infrastructure team, a new team that is responsible for creating the infrastructure that enables communication and configuration of our customer’s devices with our platform. This includes tooling to allow firmware and product teams to safely deploy and monitor upgrades to devices in the field. I decided to move to this team because there is an organizational need for engineers to work in this area and it aligns with my interest at the intersection of hardware and software.

My most recent project involves automating a part of our firmware upgrade process. When we push firmware updates to our devices, our devices will download the new firmware using cellular data. Data usage incurs costs, so we try to optimize these upgrades as much as possible. We can create delta upgrades which are patches from the current build on the device to the build we want to upgrade to. Consequently, a delta upgrade is significantly smaller than a full upgrade, so the devices will only have to download the delta file to apply the upgrade. We have created these delta upgrades manually, which requires firmware teams to identify what builds our current devices are running and generate a delta file for each combination of firmwares we are upgrading between. It is not guaranteed that all of our devices are on the same build at any given time so this process can become tedious. My project automates this entire process. Now, when we do firmware rollouts, we can just specify which builds we want to upgrade a set of devices to. When the firmware upgrade request happens, our backend services will automatically create a delta file and send it to the device to avoid doing full upgrades as much as possible. This helps save us money by reducing cellular data usage as well as making our firmware rollout process smoother and less manually intensive.

The team celebrating my virtual birthday. The background says “Happy Birth DELTA Vineet” — a pun on my most recent project and to indicate that I am one year older.

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

Since Samsara is the first company I am working at full-time, I wanted to understand what motivates current engineers and what it means for their careers. I would consistently ask people during random lunches, coffee chats, and happy hours “what are you optimizing for in your career?” I received a wide range of answers; some would say it is direct customer impact, rapid growth, or ownership of products and services.

One of my favorite answers to this question is from Vidushi Rai, an engineer on our assets team. She cares about sustainability and one of the things that attracted her to Samsara was our ability to influence the carbon emissions of our customers who happen to be in the transportation and industrial sectors. Samsara helps our customers be more efficient with fuel usage and routes and ultimately cut costs while also reducing their carbon footprint. Check out Samsara’s sustainability page: https://www.samsara.com/sustainability. Being able to work at a company that enables her personal growth while also being able to have a positive social impact motivates her. This conversation left me questioning what is important to me and what I want out of my career and the company I work for.

Her advice to me was to find a place where the work motivates you, where you know you can grow as an engineer, and where you can work with smart people. It is better to work at a company whose mission you believe in because it ensures you can work on things that are important to you and to the company.

How do you hope to grow at Samsara?

My main focus is thinking about how we can create a robust and scalable infrastructure that will handle increased load over time. The team will often identify bottlenecks and we are constantly thinking about how can we redesign parts of our systems to scale and maintain performance in the long term. I am fortunate to be working under the mentorship of engineers like Chris FrostJim Rowson, and Zach Dylag who understand our technical systems but are also able to explain concepts and best practices at this stage of my career. Band-aid solutions can solve the problem temporarily, but investing in sustainable long-term solutions makes a huge difference. When we develop new infrastructure, services, and products, “how can we build this for the long term” is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

The work assigned to me so far has kickstarted that growth. If any issues come up with ingestion services, it will affect the customer experience. The services that my team is responsible for have a company-wide impact so it’s exciting to work on projects with high visibility. This challenges me to constantly think about the effects of our solutions in the short term and long term.

When we develop new infrastructure, services, and products, “how can we build this for the long term” is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Who is your favorite Samsarian and why?

I want to give a huge shout-out to Aashish Kapur for his extensive technical knowledge and approachability. When I first joined as an intern, I was constantly running into small issues and I was hesitant to pester folks on my team. Aashish, who sat across from me, recognized my reluctance and asked how he could help. This helped ease my transition into the company and it was nice to meet a new grad that I could bounce ideas and questions off of. He understands so many parts of our system and always tries to help people in any way that he can. Even as we have shifted into a long term remote work environment, I still see Aashish helping people in Slack threads and guiding them in the right direction. He is my unofficial mentor and I try to follow his footsteps in any way I can.

Vineet and Aashish by Bixby Bridge in June 2019

If you could give one piece of advice to future student applicants, what would it be?

The application and recruiting process can be a tough time, especially during a global pandemic. Don’t stress. It’ll all work out the way it was supposed to in the end. The experience of going through this process, regardless of success or failure leads to valuable insights about yourself and what you want to do. Know that the next thing you do doesn’t have to be what you do forever. Keep an open mind as you search for opportunities and don’t be afraid to do something that may not have been the path you intended on taking. Let the recruiting process guide you towards making the right choice — put in the effort, listen to your instincts, and you’ll know what the answer is.

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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