February 21, 2023

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Edith Silver Walker on hiring at OSOM, her time in China, and what it's like working here

The business of making phones requires more than just engineering know-how. Like any other company, there’s additional overhead to consider, like personnel management, logistics, and endless administrative tasks to keep the team aligned and on-task. OSOM’s Edith Silver Walker is the glue that holds us together, and she’s got the secrets for what we look for in an employee, commentary on how Shanghai has changed over the years, what the vibe is like here, and what she loves about Saga.

Thank you for taking the time, Edie. There are a lot of different sides to OSOM as a company. We all do very different things. You and I are not on the side of playing with the hardware or programming. We’re on the — what’s the phrase? We do the “soft” side of things, working with words and people. Of course, everybody here does a whole bunch of things. But you’d probably have more titles than anyone else on the team with all the different things you do. Can you introduce yourself a little bit?

Yes! I am Executive Assistant to “Chief Hooligan” and Founder Jason Keats. He’s self-sufficient, so I don’t do things like travel booking, though I help when needed on anything. Another big component of my job is team cohesion, the “fun” factor.

You do a lot more than that! It’s not in your title, but you’re basically our HR, too. You’re the glue that keeps things going behind the scenes.  

Well, thank you for that. I handle hiring and onboarding and plan internal events and activities — important for a remote company. Lucky for me, I get to interact with and enjoy every team member, so creating good times is an extra pleasure!

Our hiring team is efficient, and the best part is offering positions at a company where the future is blazing and the team is awesome (or OSOM!).

I love all that I do, much of which I’d never done before. As a curious learner, it’s satisfying to get to do a lot that’s new. And as a start-up, we each cover a lot of bases.

Hiring is on a lot of minds these days, given all the layoffs happening elsewhere (and all the open positions we have right now), so let’s focus on that a bit. What was it that drew you to work here? Neither you nor I were at OSOM from the beginning. 

A recruiter found me on LinkedIn. Then interviewing with the C-suite, Jason and I clicked. Unlike my investment banking days, it was relaxed and even fun, sharing some China tales. I felt great confidence in him, Dave, Mary, and Wolf.

The designing and building of consumer tech was a bold new path. This is my first time working with software engineers, and I truly love it. I’m in awe at how much of their independent work needs to come together and how well it does at OSOM. I also like being remote, being on a global team, and our “HQ” is an hour from home in San Francisco, which comes in handy. And there’s kind of a destiny twist in that Mandarin proficiency was a strong plus in the job description, and I happen to speak it. So that’s a win-win and feels meant to be.

Because some of the people interested in working at OSOM might be reading this, can you tell them a little about what it’s like working here outside the advertised details on the job listings?

You’re always surrounded by bright minds. Many start-ups have geniuses and visionaries, but OSOM has experienced leadership and powerhouse teamwork thanks to a core team foundation that previously worked together on a similar product.

There’s also just a lot of laughter and wit. The nature of people drawn here is really cool. But it’s hard work; you need to be willing to take it on, be flexible, help your colleagues, and “work smart.”

Our path since I joined has not been linear, in an exciting way — surprises have been in store. Jason is a fearless and decisive leader, and OSOM has many strong hands to play.

I couldn’t agree more. Everyone here is so smart, I feel like I’m the dumbest person in any given meeting; the people here know things so deeply. We balance being laid back with being focused, and there’s no waffling. 

Being surrounded by all these people is amazing. I was a features editor and edited physics lab books, so that’s both writing and science. And I come from generations of engineers — my great-grandfather founded F.J. Stokes Machine Company, and my grandfather was there when they invented the freeze-drying machine and introduced freeze-dried blood plasma and penicillin right before WWII. (Also freeze-dried coffee!) The invention that always got us as kids, though, was the press to make Life Savers candy! Laughs. My mom’s dad was a mechanic. I like figuring out how things work, using my hands, and have been a go-to fixer since a kid. Mechanical engineering might’ve been a missed calling!

While software development isn’t in my DNA, we’re all tinkerers at OSOM, even here in the General and Administrative Department!

One last thing about jobs at OSOM: What do you look for when you’re reviewing resumes and hiring? (And a reminder to our readers: We're hiring!)

Behavioral and cultural fit is important, especially at a small company where people work closely on intricate and tight timelines. Sometimes needed skills and knowledge can tip that a bit, but integrating well as a team is vital. Organization and self-discipline to work remotely are also necessary. Plus, sharing a fundamental passion for the products we work on.

You touched on it a little, but what was it like living in Shanghai? How long were you there?

Five years. This was “old Shanghai,” before elevated highways, when Pudong was rice fields, and there was only one pizza place. For American employers, it was a “hardship” posting. But we lived a local (not expatriate) lifestyle. That meant learning Chinese, adventurous taxi rides, weddings, never-ending meals with friends, long talks over green tea, making dumplings, and pounding watermelon slices on broiling summer days. 

Happily, areas of “old Shanghai” remain — stepping over scooter parts under repair on a sidewalk, people sitting on low homemade stools resoling shoes or snipping green beans. It’s a city of fascinating contradictions. The best way I can describe it is that all senses are firing. I could go on for hours. It’s our second home.

You volunteer quite a lot. Tell us a little about some of your volunteer work.

My mind hums with ideas, problem-solving or fresh ones. One thought led to a flash mob school fundraiser, which became a school tradition. Another was making fleece hats for those in need, all running annually for several years. I loved uniting and collaborating with diverse public school groups. I served two terms on the School Site Council (data and budgeting), coached soccer and basketball, and led the school to translate communications into languages for ESL families.

In Shanghai, the summer pre-COVID, the kids and I volunteered at a hospital on the pediatrics and geriatrics floors.

These days, I’m VP of Fundraising on a middle school PTA and help at the elementary school library. Next week I’m a lead for STEAM Day at the elementary school — with a physics experiment, naturally.

Because we’ve all been not-so-secretly using them for a while, what’s your favorite detail on the Saga phone?

I’ve been using an iPhone, but now it feels plastic-y and flimsy, while the Saga feels like a dream in hand. It’s even better than expected, and now that I know maestro Dave and the caliber of his team, I expect nothing less. The materials and balance are perfect. Finally being lured away from Apple!

Yes, he did, and yes, they are! Thanks for taking the time, Edie.