Engineering At Samsara

Samsara Dev Spotlight: Wei Wu

April 17, 2019

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Here at Samsara, we love our people. To share what it’s like working here, we’re kicking off 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.

As Samsara continues to scale rapidly, Engineering Managers play a key role in ensuring our team culture, processes, and strategy remain top-notch. We expect Eng Managers to provide technical insights, but their primary responsibility is to guide the growth and development of the individuals on the team. They work closely with (or are also) the Team Lead — the role that is responsible for the successful scoping and engineering execution of all projects their team owns.

Wei Wu is an Engineering Manager for the Workflow team at Samsara SF. Let’s meet her. 😄

Wei Wu and Joy Chen

Why did you decide to join Samsara?

I was impressed by the huge surface area of problems that Samsara is solving, and how hardware and software are leveraged to tackle those problems. In addition, everyone I talked to seemed genuinely happy working at Samsara. Not every company I interviewed had such positive spirit.

The interview included opportunities to get hands-on with the Samsara sensors, dig into compliance regulations in trucking (I hadn’t given much thought about the logistics required to move goods from point A to point B before), and ask questions about the challenges of scaling an incredibly fast-growing engineering organization. When I left my on-site interview, I actually felt more energized — I had been super engaged the entire time. That feeling was what ultimately stuck out to me as unique and special when I was deciding between different opportunities. I figured that if interviewing at Samsara had been so invigorating, then actually working here would be even more fulfilling.

When I left my on-site interview, I actually felt more energized — I had been super engaged the entire time.

What is your team responsible for?

Workflow team meal

I manage the Workflow team. Our primary mission is to help fleets with their day-to-day operations (AKA their internal workflows!) by providing ways for fleet managers to create and assign routes to drivers and communicate with them while they’re out in the field. One of the coolest features we’ve built is Documents, which allows organizations to create forms for drivers to fill out at every stop of their route. The forms are completely customizable, and it’s been awesome to see the inventive ways fleets use them to streamline their processes. Drivers in the field no longer have to keep track of tons of paper forms, and fleet managers can act on document submissions like compliance paperwork or invoices instantly instead of waiting for drivers to physically deliver them at the end of their routes.

We also provide tools that help fleets operate more efficiently. For instance, we created a report that compares planned vs. actual distance/driving times of routes. This allows fleets to evaluate their route performance in seconds instead of taking days to run analysis themselves. They can identify routes where they’re consistently early or late, and make informed choices to shift route stops around to be more efficient.

What are you currently working on?

I joined Samsara just over a month ago as an engineering manager, but I’ve actually spent my first few weeks here ramping up on the technical stack and contributing as an IC. When every engineer starts at Samsara, they get a mentor who scopes out a set of starter tasks that increase in scope and effort as the new hire progresses.

Actively participating in the development process was the most valuable thing I could’ve spent my first month doing — I have a thorough grasp of Workflow’s product area now, and I also understand first-hand some of the pain points of working in our codebase and maintaining the systems we own. As I transition into assuming my manager responsibilities full-time, I can use this experience to inform roadmap planning and prioritization.

What makes Samsara and the engineering culture here unique?

I’ve found the decision-making process at the leadership level very refreshing. Samsara’s engineering organization is growing quickly, so we’ve had to set up a lot of structure and process in a relatively short amount of time. This doesn’t come without growing pains, but every week managers discuss feedback from engineers and enact concrete action items to address them.

We don’t spend a ton of time agonizing over what the perfect solution is before executing it, but prefer to try something that’s directionally correct and then iterate. I think everyone appreciates this effort to address concerns quickly, and that in turn reinforces their willingness to continue providing feedback so we can keep improving.

We don’t spend a ton of time agonizing over what the perfect solution is before executing it, but prefer to try something that’s directionally correct and then iterate.

For example, when I joined, some engineers were feeling bogged down by the volume of interviews that they were conducting each week. This was escalated to managers, and we worked with the recruiting team to audit how many engineers were trained to conduct interviews and identify people who were eligible for interviewer training in an automated way. We were able to impose a weekly maximum number of hours engineers would spend doing interviews while preserving the response time to candidates. There’s still work to be done to decrease interview load, but all of this happened in a matter of days and has already improved engineering quality of life.

What was your biggest fear before joining Samsara?

Before joining Samsara, I’d worked at Yelp for five and a half years, and it was the only place I’d worked after graduating from school. After so long, I was nervous about what it would be like to start somewhere new. What if my skills weren’t transferrable? What could I bring to the table? Would anyone sit with me at lunch?! Thankfully, I overcame these anxieties pretty quickly — my coworkers patiently answered my questions about our technical systems and engineering organization, but also actively solicited my insights as to how we could make them better.

What was your journey to becoming an Engineering Manager, and how do you hope to grow at Samsara?

I was a full-stack engineer and then an iOS engineer for the first four years of my career. While all the technical problems I solved were interesting, I realized I felt most impactful when anticipating and removing obstacles for my teammates. I was also perceptive to the strengths and weaknesses of my peers, and constantly trying to figure out how we could work better together. For all those reasons, I decided to pursue an engineering manager role. My manager helped me find a good fit on a user-facing feature team, and I hit the ground running from there.

I realized I felt most impactful when anticipating and removing obstacles for my teammates.

My first year as an engineering manager was so challenging! As an engineer, even if I didn’t know how to approach a problem upfront, I took comfort in the full tool belt I had built up to help me investigate, spec, and execute. But as a manager, I was faced with a totally new problem space that I hadn’t developed any tools to handle yet — how do I communicate an inspiring vision to the team, how do I coach engineers through their career development goals? At Samsara, I want to keep adding to my manager tool belt and empower others to grow their impact. I’m looking forward to figuring out how to keep teams happy, nimble, and productive as we continue to grow.

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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