Samsara Dev Spotlight: Anthony Washington

Albert Hu
Albert Hu
Dec 12, 2019 · 8 min read
Samsara Atlanta HQ

Here at Samsara, we love our people. To share what it’s like working here, we created the Dev Spotlight series to highlight members of our team. Once a month, we’ll talk with a Samsarian to learn why they’re with us, what their work is like, and what they’re all about.

This month I’m proud to introduce you to Anthony Washington, a full-stack engineer on our Docs & Messaging team based out of Atlanta.

Anthony joined Samsara in July and since then he has made a huge impact not only at Samsara, but also within his local community. In August, Samsara hosted an event to increase awareness for the non-profit /dev/color, which strives to advance the careers of black software engineers. While at the event, Anthony was inspired to apply to /dev/colors A* program. In November, not only was he accepted into the program, but he and other members of our Blaccsara employee resource group had the incredible opportunity to attend AfroTech!

Without further ado, let’s learn more about Anthony’s journey to becoming a Samsara Software Engineer, his experience at AfroTech, his participation in our Blaccsara community, and much more!

Why did you decide to join Samsara?

Prior to interviewing with Samsara, I was looking for a fast paced, customer focused environment where I could mentor and impact others while developing scalable software. I ended up applying to several companies, and many rejections later, I stumbled across the Samsara Software Engineer role via LinkedIn. I was really excited to understand how the team leveraged hardware and modern software technologies. The realization of how Samsara products can resolve operational challenges and empower the economy was very inspiring to me.

Fast forward to my on-site interview, it started with a product demo that blew me away. I was able to grasp a visual understanding of how the hardware sensors transmitted data to the backend servers to define the customers dashboard experience. Throughout my interview, I had the opportunity to connect with people across various teams and learn about their journeys to Samsara. Everyone was positive, forward thinking, and passionate about the problems they were solving. Also, I was really impressed with the transparent responses regarding scaling challenges and diversity and inclusion initiatives. After completing the interview, I felt enlightened and optimistic about the opportunity to build with Go, GraphQL, React and React Native. Deciding between multiple offers, I felt good knowing I’ll grow my career with genuinely happy and intelligent people who value collaborative knowledge sharing.

I joined Samsara in July, I still feel the exact same, and haven’t looked back since. 🦉 ❤️

What’s your team responsible for?

I’m part of the Documents and Messaging team! We’re responsible for enabling synchronous communication and document sharing between fleet operators and connected drivers.

Messaging enables fleet managers to directly send messages to drivers from their Samsara Dashboard. The text information fleet managers can communicate to drivers is limitless, we’ve even implemented text to speech communication to eliminate distracted driving.

Documents allow fleet managers to create required digital forms so drivers won’t forget important business information after completing their scheduled routes. This is very efficient for drivers, because it eliminates them having to keep track of paper forms associated with routes. Also, fleet managers can now instantly iterate on these digital documents instead of waiting for drivers to physically deliver paper forms.

Documents are completely customizable, it’s been very exciting to see the workflows incorporated by fleets to streamline their processes. The most impactful moment for me has been discovering organizations use Documents to verify that every student exits the school bus. It makes me feel really proud to know I’m improving the safety of children by writing software.

Documents and Messages Team Outing

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been working on enabling fleet managers to construct custom documents that’ll contain required fields in their dashboard. This would allow document submission to be restricted for drivers if all specified required fields are not completed. We needed this feature to eliminate the possibility of fleet managers losing information that will impact their daily operations. From a driver’s perspective, it’s very easy to forget information when you’re operating quickly and scheduled to complete several routes within a certain time range.

To enable this feature it required working across our code stack, from creating React components, to modifying our GraphQL layer and building the user experience in our React Native mobile app. It felt great getting this out to customers to eliminate their pain points and simplify information discovery. Shoutout to the team for the detailed feedback on the engineering spec prepared before writing any code and the Github pull requests! 🦉 ❤️

What makes Samsara and the engineering culture unique?

Day-to-day, it’s clear that we believe a team built on knowledge sharing and transparent communication enables us to build for the long term. Everyone has access to detailed engineering documents in Dropbox Paper, can ask questions in our dedicated Slack channels and executive AMA sessions. These communication tools present opportunities to ask for help, give management feedback and keeps everyone aligned with our company focus.

Another unique culture trait is our focus on building with the customer. I visited a customer site during my first month to see first hand how our products can continue simplifying their day-to-day operations. By connecting directly and working side by side with our customers, we create the necessary feedback channels needed to identify their pain points in order to produce timely and effective solutions. This also enables our team to stay focused on customers needs and not what we believe they need.

Most importantly, I enjoy our supportive, “HAVE FUN” engineering environment, where everyone is positive and loves sushi! I truly enjoy coming to the office everyday to work along side my team. 😄

What was your journey to becoming a Full-Stack Engineer, and how do you hope to grow at Samsara?

My journey to becoming a Full-Stack Engineer really happened by luck! Growing up in a single parent household in Mobile, Alabama, we had limited access to quality educational resources. Andrew Large, my high school teacher taught us how to configure networks using Cisco Packet Tracer software. I had no idea what routers, switches and computing networking were, I just wanted an A out of the class. Mr. Large had bigger ambitions for me. He showed me how to execute computer diagnostics, perform system updates and create ethernet cables. With these skills, my best friend and I became the go-to people for any computer issues that faculty encountered.

I applied to Tuskegee University as a Computer Science major to learn more about system troubleshooting. Intro to Programming was my first class, and at that point I didn’t know what “programming” was. Our first assignment was to build an “About Me” site using HTML and CSS. As I pasted <div> elements into my site, I realized that I’ve been using “programming” to customize my MySpace layout!

Fast forward, I spent 3 years as the department teacher assistant, mentoring students and leading programming lectures. I received a Software Engineering internship with Boeing, where I wrote software for NASA to help the International Space Station. Post graduation, I joined Intel to expand my technical knowledge in the Cloud Computing space. Grateful for the knowledge and lifelong relationships built at Intel, I was ready to start a new chapter at Samsara. I’m excited about executing challenging deliverables that’ll test my comfort and improve my leadership skills. Ultimately, I hope to mentor and empower others to achieve their impactful goals.

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

I recently had coffee with Derrek Harrison, the Connected Driver engineering director, while in San Francisco for AfroTech. Derrek shared with me that one of his biggest failures had to be, “over engineering to build the perfect solution for customers.” As an engineer who’s a perfectionist myself, going down this rabbit hole is easy. I’ve realized there’s no such thing as a perfect solution. Simply, identify your customers’ problems, iterate to build something directionally correct and get it out to receive feedback!

SF visit — First cup of Philz coffee!

You said you recently attended AfroTech. What is AfroTech and what were some of your key learnings?

AfroTech is the largest three day tech conference that brings together African American entrepreneurs, engineers, venture capitalist and inspired techies for discussions, workshops and networking events. It provides black techies access to a network of resources to reassure us that we’re not alone and able to prosper through adversity. Since this was my first time attending, I didn’t know what to expect! The conference was held in Oakland and boasted over 10,000 people in attendance. The music, energy and vibe being transmitted was inspiring, inclusive and informative.

I met so many inspiring people, some I knew personally, some I followed on social media, and some this was our first exchange. This experience was empowering and culturally relevant with exclusive panels like “6AM in Atlanta: How I Built and Scaled Drakestagram”, “Level Up Your Online Brand” by Facebook, “Turning Your Ideas Into Reality Through Design” and “7 Must Have’s for Building Valuable Product and Services”.

Some key quotes that resonated with me the most:

  • “Don’t just bring the problems, bring the solutions to improve the team.”
  • “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.”
  • “My failures fueled my success, I built a lot of products and the failures taught me the most.”
Samsarians @ AfroTech

Hearing the authentic stories from entrepreneurs who manifested their vision through hard-work, dedication plus patience changed my perspective about:

  • Not quitting and fighting imposter syndrome
  • Becoming more comfortable sharing your ideas and learnings with others

These entrepreneurs’ success wasn’t achieved individually, they relied on others for support, mentoring and shared learning. At Samsara during on-boarding you’re assigned a mentor to help you feel comfortable, supported and ready to contribute. To maintain our shared learning culture, that same energy and effort given to onboard new hires has to occur continuously. If you aren’t helping those around you to be better at their jobs every day, then you aren’t doing your job.

I’m grateful that Samsara recognizes the importance of initiatives like AfroTech, connecting with talented individuals to make tech more representative of wider society is possible!

Swing by our careers page to check out our open engineering positions, learn more about our key values, meet us at one of our upcoming events, or stay on top of Samsara Engineering happenings by following us on Facebook! 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! 👋

Samsara Engineering

Technical thoughts and explorations from the Samsara Engineering team

Albert Hu

Written by

Albert Hu

Engineering @Samsara, previously @Magoosh, retired rapper

Samsara Engineering

Technical thoughts and explorations from the Samsara Engineering team

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