Jessica Lam is a person driven by curiosity, and that drive has lead her to the top of her field. Working as the Chief Architect and VP of Engineering at LoungeBuddy, she specializes in innovative user interfaces and iOS native app development. This is just the latest incarnation of a long journey that leads all the way back to her childhood, but everything could have been completely different, if not for one fateful choice, and a crucial role model that entered her life.
“When I was in middle school, I had one of those fancy TI calculators, and I liked automating all the pointless equations we had to use in different classes. After that I just started doing more interesting things on it, got into programming classes eventually with Code Warrior, Pascal, and Programming Club, which was especially hard in high school since programming wasn't cool then! Even though I did a lot of that, my original passion was art, and I was prepping my portfolio to go to art school. Pretty much at the last minute, I decided to go for Computer Science / Engineering instead at UIUC with an application sequence in Graphic Design.”
“An important factor for me going into and growing in my interest in CS was that I had a CS teacher that was a woman. Somehow because of that I didn't feel too out of place even in a class of all boys. It wasn't until much later in my career that I started having to deal with the various forms of sexism. In college, I had a freelance business that helped me pay for college. I was also fortunate in that in one of my earlier positions, I had a chance to get into iOS development very early, around the 2nd year that the SDK came out.”
As her career has progressed Jessica has made a conscious effort to constantly improve herself, taking on roles and responsibilities that have pushed her to grow as an Engineer and a professional. One such opportunity came through a colleague, and her introduction to Women Who Code.
“My friend Michele Titolo runs an iOS Workshop and asked me to do a talk. It was a great group that asked really good questions and it was a really awesome experience for me. It was the 1st time I gave a tech talk outside of my immediate work environment. I don't really like public speaking and I usually prefer fielding and asking questions individually in a more mentoring type situation. The experience was important for me to break out of my comfort zone.”
In addition to her key role at LoungeBuddy, Jessica is also an advocate for inclusion in the tech industry, and has strong opinions on what needs to happen to happen in order for tech to evolve into a more diverse and open field.
“To change the current climate of tech, it'll become increasingly important to have capable women leaders to break the stereotypes at that level. Though my day to day job is highly technical, with software engineering (aka actually writing code), system architecture, and engineering management, it was often more believable for people that I was on the product side of the fence instead of engineering.”
“I love that Women Who Code provides a safe environment for women to explore. It's awesome, because often times we are socialized into thinking that mistakes are permanent and failures are to be avoided. Engineering goes counter to that! I think software engineering, and engineering at large, is a very empowering skill. It gives you the power to bring your imagination to life, from something that's just in your head, to a reality ready to be shared with anyone. I think that way of thinking is also valuable in life, where in tough situations, instead of thinking of all the ways something is wrong, we are also empowered to think how we can change the current realities and fix it.”
When asked what advice she would give to the next generation of Engineers, Jessica said, “You never know until you try. There shouldn't be a fear of wanting to pursue what interests you the most. For some people who are interested in engineering but feel that it's ‘too hard’ few things are
hard, only unfamiliar, if there's a will, there's a way. For others, it may be wanting to pursue a safe choice instead of the one that actually calls out to you. It could be quitting the boring job that pays well and actually doing what you've always wanted, what excites you. Life is short, do what makes you feel alive.”