Life at Sonder: reflecting on three years on the tech team at Sonder

Nate is a Senior Software Engineer on our Technology team and is based in San Francisco, California. In this edition of “Life at Sonder,” Nate discusses the evolution of Sonder’s tech, the importance of leaning into conflict, and learnings around not letting the pursuit of perfection slow things down.

What’s life like on the tech team and what’s your role?

I’m a Senior Software Engineer, and I serve as the lead on a small team of three. As part of the Services team, we focus on innovative, out-of-the-box ideas. We communicate the technical feasibilities and tradeoffs of non-technical ideas so others can make better decisions. Mostly, we build beautiful things that make the lives of our guests better. I am grateful to be surrounded by talented people who are not only a joy to work with but who push me to be better. We solve challenging problems and travel a road of continuous growth and learning together.

Why did you decide to join Sonder?

Ironically, I was called by a recruiter while on vacation in a lifeless and uninspiring hotel room! As funny a coincidence as that is, it was really a great first impression, as I scrolled through the website imagining how much better my accommodations could have been.

While interviewing, I met some really impressive people — including Francis, our CEO and cofounder. I began to realize that the people I worked with really were the greatest factor as to whether I loved my job or not. Pandemic aside, we spend more waking hours with our co-workers than anyone else in our lives. And at the time, Sonder was doubling in revenue every year. I knew I could really have an impact and help contribute to that exponential growth!

Having been here for three years, what excites you most about how our tech offering has evolved over time? 

It is great to see us evolving our technologies as the company grows. Some of the services we used when I joined were a great option for a young company, and back then we didn’t want to invest 10,000 engineer hours in software that might need to significantly shift in six months. Now that our long-term goals are more clear, we’re able to build specialized systems in-house to take every aspect of the business to the next level — from operations to real estate, to our guest experience.

As we nail down all of the core parts of the guest experience, we’re given more room to dream about how we can elevate that experience beyond what anyone else is doing. One of the finalists of our last hackathon was a voice-activated digital concierge that could extend your stay when asked. What if we had clever robots handling room-service? There are so many possibilities.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far?

To lean into conflict. My instinct is to run from it. We all have valuable perspectives that deserve the light of day and add strength to the decisions of a group. We have an obligation to speak up, as well as the need to listen with compassion and open-mindedness. When everyone feels comfortable and is committed to doing those two things, we are all stronger.

How do you see technology playing a role in our overall guest experience? 

Technology is ubiquitous. We live and breathe it every day. It’s like asking “how will electricity play a role in our guest experience?”. What we want to do with tech is close the gap for hospitality. If you feel more comfortable managing all the aspects of your stay within an app, from pre-stocking the fridge and setting the temperature before you arrive, to getting extra towels or calling your car to the entrance, we want to find a way to make that happen.  

You were part of a group that won an award at a recent hackathon — can you talk a little bit about that experience?

The Sonder Hackathon is something that the entire tech team does about twice a year, where anyone can submit ideas. Those ideas are presented in brief pitches to the team, and then people break into small groups to work on them. We take three days away from our regular duties to work on these projects, and then present a demo the following week. My colleagues (Mouhamadou Sall, Ilyess Bachiri) and I worked on a Sonder Gift Card idea, which I’m currently working on bringing to life for our customers along with a small team of talented people across the tech org! It feels good to have the opportunity to bring this concept to fruition.

What’s your advice for anyone looking to begin a career in software engineering?

Don’t worry about attaining perfection or making the best decision possible. Too many people are hung up on indecision or perfection to the point that they never actually build anything. Build as many things as you can, as quickly as you can. You won’t even know how to make good decisions or attain perfection until you’ve made mistakes. Assume you need to experience a certain number of mistakes to get there, and just get started!

Rapid-fire questions

Aisle or window?

Window!

Modern high rise or historic townhome?

Historic buildings are usually more interesting.

Book or podcast; got a favorite?

Music! Check out my new album here!

What’s the last trip you took?

Kyoto, Japan – it was amazing!

What’s the next trip you want to take?

Scuba adventures in the Philippines.

 

What’s the best travel advice you ever received?

A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.

What do you most look forward to while traveling?

Expanding my mind and altering my perception.

 

Interested in learning more about our teams and opportunities? Check out our careers page.

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