Q&A with Sahan Wimalasiri: Senior DevOps Engineer at Particular Audience

Published 6th Jun 2022 by Rochelle Ritchie
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Welcome to our blog series, people of PA. With each post, we’ll feature one-on-one interviews with the talented individuals on our global team. You’ll get to know the people inside the company, their story of hyper growth and what it’s really like working at Particular Audience.

Meet Sahan Wimalasiri, Senior DevOps Engineer at Particular Audience. At work, Sahan leads DevOps optimization for the company. Outside of work, Sahan is fascinated with how AI can automate his life. This includes everything from measuring electricity usage to automating his cat door with facial recognition. 

Sahan is always the first in the office and wears loud t-shirts that would make anyone smile. Here’s some background on Sahan and insight into his role at PA. 

Q: First off, when did you know you wanted a career in tech?

A: You know, I got my first computer when I was in Year 1. I remember, it was an Apple Macintosh Performa. 

Ever since then, I’ve loved computers. 

Along with it being my first computer, it was also the first piece of hardware that I broke apart (and tried to fix). 

I remember my computer breaking when I was in Year 2. I opened it up to try and fix it myself. I opened it up with a screwdriver. 

Obviously, after that moment, even after putting it back together, it didn’t work. While this was an expensive lesson and experiment to run. It's something I look back on fondly. I’ve been obsessed with optimizing things ever since.

I always thank my dad for that very first computer, because it got me to where I am today.

Q: Starting from Year 1 to now. How did you land on a career in DevOps?

A: My career started working for an education startup in Pyrmont, where I focused on tech support. My role there lasted 5 years. After that, I evolved my skills to network admin, and DevOps! 

Since starting in DevOps, I’ve seen my role as bringing a customer focused, network hardware point of view to a software development team. 

My first DevOps role was at PetSure, where I got to build a DevOps culture in the organization. 

During my time there, we moved from a data center to Azure and I brought best practice for build and release processes. This is when I got to take the team on a journey of what DevOps culture is.

From there, I moved to The Yield, an AgTech startup, after its Series A funding. While they’re a much smaller team than Particular Audience, at the time the team was going through a platform redesign. Which was a big learning curve for me.

This is where I found my passion for data science. The Yield gave me a great opportunity to learn from really smart people who mentored me in data science and engineering practices. 

My work at The Yield brought a build and release process to the company, helping them increase release velocity and stability. As well as building infrastructure to run on low cost spot-instances. And then, in the later stages of my time there, my role also involved mentoring a newer DevOps team member. 

Q: What brought you to PA?

A: Honestly, I’ve always loved the tangible impact you make in a startup.

For me, seeing how I could make a tangible impact at PA was one of the main reasons I joined. It was also a perfect opportunity to use my knowledge in AI and big data. 

I remember before I started, I was handed a very concise roadmap of everything I would be working on if I was to take the job. Seeing the roadmap and the concise methodology to how we’re approaching product/system development got me across the line. Having a clear vision and understanding the end state is endlessly helpful when you first join a company.

Aside from the roadmap, I’m a big fan of a close knit team. 

We spend more time at work than at home, so I want to make every moment count!

Q: Please tell us about your home automation projects - namely running Kubernetes on a cluster of Raspberry Pis’.

A: I’m fascinated by AI and automation. So, if I think of something that will automate life at home, or an experiment I want to try, chances are I’ve implemented it.

Here are a few of the different things I’ve worked on at home. Note: This list does not include everything.

  1. Monitoring the energy usage at home. We use solar panels at home, and I wanted to see how much energy we’re consuming and creating. So, I installed a device which allows me to monitor my energy usage. The device together with some open source tools allows me to visualize the energy utilization at home.
  2. Building a cat door with facial recognition. While I was working on my data science training and AI recognition technique, I decided to create a cat door that would recognise my cat as it got closer to the door. Inspiration was from this article. If you feel inspired to try the same, instructions are here thanks to hackster.io.
  3. Building a car door sensor. I’m currently working on a RFID sensor for my car, which means when I’m close to home, the door opens automatically. Inspiration from Circuit Digest.
  4. Lights being automated is a given.
  5. Measuring my cats food intake and output. There’s a weight sensor on the water, food and litter box. From the food and water bowls I can graph all of this in detail through an open source graphing service. Inspiration on the weight sensors for the food and water bowls came from Instructables.
    This is how I taught myself data science. I can predict when he will eat. And can predict how much cat food or litter to buy.
  6. I also have a gardening water system that waters the plants based on the weather forecast from BOM. Because visiting Bunnings and buying a sprinkler is just too easy. ;) If you feel inclined to do the same please I recommend the following sprinklers_pi GitHub project.

All of this is based on open source tech. I’m a big believer in open source tech.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I love photography. Especially astrophotography. I have a Flickr page for all of my images.
Most recently, I’ve visited the Hunter Valley and Warrumbungles to do astrophotography.

Side note: Sahan is also known for wearing the loudest t-shirts in the office. It keeps things lively. Sahan even has a Devops labeled t-shirt. And one with Jenkins on it. 

Q:  What does a normal day at the office look like for you? Noting that you are the first in the office EVERY DAY!

A: When I come in first thing, I complete tasks that might be blocking people from their work. Things they need to happen to make their day more efficient.

I see DevOps as a cog that keeps the engineering team going. If someone needs something done to complete their work, that’s what I focus on.

Aside from productivity, I get in early every day because I like the peace and serenity in the office first thing. I work well in a range of environments, in that way.

I love a couple of hours alone, then love when everyones in the office working together. Being in the office together makes it easy to work through anything.

Most recently, Tuan and I have been learning from each other. Which might not have happened if we weren’t sitting near each other in the office!

Have any AI projects, or something you’d like automated? Or even a great DevOps t-shirt you think Sahan should buy? Feel free to reach out and let him know.

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