Introducing Sam

On June 1st, Sam Elliott followed Laura and Pirmin in becoming lowRISC’s newest employee. A few weeks into his new role, he shares why he joined lowRISC and what he’s been doing since he started.

Sam Elliott photo

“I joined lowRISC CIC as a Compiler Developer, working on the RISC-V LLVM backend, and so far I’m enjoying working on the team! Prior to lowRISC, I worked as a compilers and programming languages researcher at the University of Washington, where I completed my Masters degree.

“I worked for about four years on the academic side of compiler research, trying out new ideas with new technologies. As well as working with academics, during that time I worked at Microsoft Research, on Checked C, and at NVIDIA on an experimental compiler team. This was both challenging and fun, but I found that I was more satisfied with the work when it was closer to problems that normal software developers face. I’m really happy to have moved over to a more focused compiler development role on the team here at lowRISC, where I get to improve LLVM and participate in the wider open source community.

“My first month at lowRISC has been lots of fun. Alex and Luís have been great mentors to get me up to speed with the project. As we’re hoping to stabilise the RISC-V backend soon, some of my time has been spent ensuring we can build and run the LLVM test suite on RISC-V. Gratifyingly, it seems 98% of the tests are passing – with some pending patches – and the rest are not far from also doing so. A few of the other patches I have committed this month have related to tuning the optimiser and instruction selector to make better decisions for RISC-V. Of course, we’ll never truly finish tuning the optimiser, especially as more and more instruction set extensions and open cores are implemented and released.

“On top of all of this, it was good to get out of the office and meet other RISC-V and open-source hardware supporters at the RISC-V Workshop and WOSH in Zurich. It was an almost overwhelming amount of information for someone so new to the ecosystem, but the community has been very friendly and welcoming.

“I’m not just interested in how programs can be compiled to be as efficient as possible; I’m also interested in how the design of programming languages allow developers to write programs that contain fewer errors. This is why I joined the Checked C project, and am interested in Rust. Along these lines I am beginning to look at improving the support for compiling Rust programs to RISC-V. Rust uses LLVM as a backend, so a lot of the work is already done, but we want to make sure the experience of using Rust on RISC-V is as good as it is for any other platform. Rust support is a key requirement for the RISC-V ports of distros such as Debian and Fedora, and I look forward to helping stabilise further support for the platform in these distributions.

“Having stable RISC-V support in both the Clang and Rust compilers, in addition to the existing support in GCC, should allow more people and projects to adopt RISC-V and quickly get started on the platform.”


We’re excited to have Sam join our team and help further accelerate our toolchain and LLVM-related efforts. If you’re interested in joining us on our mission, check out our jobs page for details on positions we are looking to fill.

Alex Bradbury, CTO and Co-Founder