A self-taught programmer, Sammie Waldie shares how her Japanese language degree helps her in technical operations


What does the Japanese language and coding have in common? Senior Site Reliability Engineer Sammie Waldie says the two aren’t that different.

“I really fell in love with the unwritten rules and hidden things that are in spoken languages that we don’t think about,” she says. “It’s the same as how we work with computers. A lot of the challenges of site reliability are learning what things we’re abstracting away and learning how to fix something.

”While Sammie has a degree in Japanese language and literature, she’s a self-taught programmer. She’s been playing with computers since she can remember. 

“One of my first memories is on the floor of my dad’s office where we had a Windows computer,” Sammie says. “My dad wouldn’t miss a chance to teach me about technology. I was 12 when I got my first computer and it crashed all the time with Windows ME. He [my dad] helped me install Linux, so that’s what I grew up using.”

At Elastic®, Sammie works on the operations side of things. She works on the tools that make it possible to fix something when it breaks, she says. 

For example when a team is ready to launch something new, Sammie works with them to make sure that when something goes wrong, they can engage quickly and ensure the team is notified. She worked with the team on Reliabot, an incident management tool, and spent time on a production readiness project. 

“I fell in love with operations, but in a way that I could talk to other engineers and have an impact on how they work,” she says. “I make the tools we have at Elastic work for them [technical teams].”

Sammie’s role involves a lot of collaboration with members of her team and other teams on everything from programming and tool configuration and management, to writing process documents and strategies for how we’re going to get things done, she says. 

“We write engineering solutions to people problems.”

Before Sammie moved into a technical operations role, she was in a technical customer support job where she wrote and debugged code and SQL queries, a background that helps her in her current role.

Deep technical knowledge is required as a site reliability engineer, she says. 

“Programming is mandatory,” Sammie says. “You need to sit with stuff you haven’t seen, and ask good insightful questions to understand it.”

It’s a lot of logical thinking and understanding complex systems in your head, she says. 

“We can teach someone a language or Terraform and how to maintain a service, but we can’t teach the thought process in engineering,” Sammie says. 

Operations has more self-taught engineers, Sammie says, but you still need to think a certain way. The same set of skills required to self-teach programming are the same skills that are effective in operations, she says. 

The camaraderie with other women in tech is unparalleled, she says. 

“From the moment I got here [to Elastic], I’ve had a group of women at all levels that have always been willing to talk, advise, help me through things, and give me feedback. That’s been the most incredible experience.”

When Sammie started her career, she had yet to transition or come out as transgender. 

“I was seen really differently [to how I am now],” she says. “I think I would have had a harder time getting established if I was seen as who I am.”

For women looking to join the tech field, Sammie recommends asking questions and leaning on your teammates.

“As a woman there is a lot of pressure to know everything. Ignore that impulse and ask questions,” she says. “You will absolutely seem like the smartest person in the room.

And above all else, don’t lose heart even when it seems difficult, Sammie says. 

“When it feels frustrating, don’t give up. You will achieve things.”

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