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Welcome Sam Willis!

· 5 min read
Purva Gujar

We're thrilled to introduce you to the newest addition to our team, Sam Willis! With a passion for product building, a knack for problem-solving, and a drive to innovate, Sam is joining us as a Founding Engineer.

We sat down with Sam to learn more about his career, what led him to Electric, and what he likes to do outside of work.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

When I was around 11, I started playing with HTML, building fan sites for computer games, before eventually venturing into PHP, and Pearl to build websites for small local businesses. I didn't pursue a computer science degree at university though, instead, I studied industrial design and technology. This was crucial in my development as a software developer — it provided me with broad exposure to various fields, including aesthetics, software development, and mechanical engineering; and it taught me to look at products more holistically.

At university, I took a year to work at a Cambridge-based engineering consultancy as part of my degree studies, working on cutting-edge biotech and medical development. I was involved in projects related to biotechnology, medical devices, robotics, and PCR testing. Notably, one of our projects was acquired by Bosch, and I had the opportunity to design the interface for programming Bosch's robot lawn mower. It was a prototype, but I do hope it made it into their final product.

After finishing my degree, I found my way back to the same company. However, my entrepreneurial spirit never waned. During a road trip, my wife and I decided to venture into the world of e-commerce. We established an online store called Posterhaste specialising in personalised prints and art for gifting purposes. Posterhaste went live just before Christmas in 2012, and eventually, I left my full-time job to focus entirely on this online business. At Posterhaste, I not only designed and developed the online store but also led the business to global sales of seven figures per annum with a total of over a quarter of a million orders with a small team of only four people!

What led you to Electric?

I was looking for a simple note-taking app that would allow me to scribble, do calculations, and sync across multiple devices. I couldn't find one so I began experimenting with building one with CouchDB, PouchDB, and Yjs. While the initial implementation worked reasonably well, I couldn't shake the feeling that PouchDB wasn't the ideal platform for this app.

My curiosity led me to explore SQLite in browsers, and I became increasingly interested in CRDTs, SQLite, and so forth. It was during this exploration that I came across Electric, and upon seeing a job opportunity related to it, I decided to pursue it. And here I am, helping make local-first a real game changer for app development!

How do you stay updated with the rapidly evolving technology landscape?

I spend a lot of time on Hacker News; it helps me learn about new technologies, projects, and trends.

There is AI, but there is a lot of hype these days. Closer to Electric, and related to my own interests, is a focus on the future of web development.

I believe the current way of web development is needlessly complex and in the future things will be simpler. There will be a divergence between different approaches to web development. On one side of the spectrum, we have an emphasis on a "local-first" approach, which prioritises client-side rendering.

On the other side of this evolving paradigm, we will find the more traditional approach of server-side rendering. Here, the focus shifts towards tools that facilitate server-side rendering, resulting in websites with less JavaScript and a greater emphasis on rendering logic residing on the backend. This approach aims for a simpler front-end, allowing the server to take on more of the rendering workload.

What advice would you give to software developers who are just starting their careers?

For someone who is just starting out, I'd focus on AI - study AI or related fields in university. Also, I think it's crucial to address any fears or apprehensions about AI potentially taking away jobs. I believe AI is more likely to create additional job opportunities rather than eliminate them. As AI technologies continue to advance, there will be an increasing demand for people who can develop, maintain, and innovate with AI systems.

Additionally, it's essential to embrace a proactive mindset. Don't shy away from trying out new ideas and taking on challenges. Building your own projects and experimenting with various tools and technologies can be an excellent way to gain practical experience and deepen your understanding of that field.

Lastly, adopting an attitude of openness and willingness can be a tremendous asset. Be open to new opportunities, collaborations, and learning experiences. Saying "yes" to new projects can lead to unexpected growth and knowledge.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Any hobbies or interests you'd like to share?

One of my favorite pastimes is engaging in DIY projects. In fact, I recently finished remodeling our kitchen. It took 6-weeks but I enjoyed it tremendously. It was so satisfying and I think the end result is beautiful. I'm really happy with how it turned out! I also like to ski and snowboard when I can.

However, like many people, I do face the challenge of burnout from time to time. Managing burnout effectively hasn't always been my strong suit. I've found that spending time with my kids helps me to recharge and regain balance in my life.