I’m Jessica Lam, serial entrepreneur, software architect, and oil painter. I’m a technical advisor that aims to help promising startups mitigate execution risks early on in engineering and product.
I've led engineering from company inception to scaling to acquisition at multiple startups, operating as founder CTO or comparable technical roles. My speciality is engineering GSD, I enjoy the challenge of optimizing on multiple vectors of engineering excellence x product goals x business deadlines.
When Loungebuddy was acquired by American Express in 2019 we were a small team of 5 engineers building 5 separate products being used worldwide and in the world class Centurion lounges. We had a robust architecture that scaled, and it was an interesting experiment implementing the ideals of “small team of A players” in those 4 years from the very beginning.
Similarly at Notion, when it was just the 4 of us at the time in 2014, each of us was proficient in wearing multiple hats, moving at breakneck speed.
I believe the best thinkers are the ones able to synthesize from a wealth of perspectives. That requires having sufficient understanding in many related or completely unrelated fields of interests. The dispersed perspectives and information are crucial for increasing the number of possible frames for evaluating data in any situation.
Early in my career, I had a lot of opportunities to work in very different work environments and that has helped me figure out how I want to learn and develop my edge. I kicked off my career at NCSA at University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign as a student programmer. NCSA was the birthplace of innovations such as the Mosaic browser, it was a great environment to be exposed to a lot of cutting edge research and genuinely smart people.
In parallel, in order to meet my education expenses, I started doing freelance web development. Since I was doing a minor in graphic design along with my computer science degree, I had the necessary skills to execute entire projects from start to finish. Through this I was able to not only develop my design skill, but also be comfortable doing full stack development. Instead of looking for a job that fit my interests and skills, I made my own way. This has proved to be a valuable skill - knowing that when what you want isn’t there, you can be the one to make it.
When the iOS SDK first came out around 2009, I was working at Sony Pictures Imageworks Interactive as a staff web engineer. Since iOS developers were not a thing yet and I was obsessed with Apple, I found ways to pitch iOS projects within the company while learning the framework on my own. Eventually we got greenlit for an official Sony Pictures iOS app after a design contest within the company. After submissions by various designers and employees within the company, the design I submitted actually won. The same skeuomorphic film reel interactive UX also later got us access to iPad hardware access pre-release for testing in Cupertino.
Whether this was instrumental in my subsequent job offer from Apple, I will never know, but what it did instill in me was knowing that the idea that “Jack of all trades, master of none” is utterly false. Having deep understanding and striving for excellence in different areas builds a systematic understanding that feeds into, and informs many other areas.
Working at Apple was very different from any other places I’ve been. I met some of my favorite people there, whether through serendipitous encounters in Caffe Macs or on the job, and it was a privilege to work with some of the best of the best. This really set the bar for what craftsmanship excellence can look like.
After Apple, I briefly worked at 23andMe before joining a former Apple coworker and one of my best friends in starting a company for collaboration tools, and thus started my startup rollercoaster ride that brought me here today.
Ask me anything about
- early-career optimization
- working at startups vs. large corps
- starting companies
- iOS engineering, full-stack engineering, services architecture, scaling, code review
- technical leadership at the implementation level
- “making your own door” vs. knocking on doors
- lean engineering teams, scaling decisions, avoiding common engineering pitfalls
- startup risk-mitigating while outcome optimizing
- Jill of all trades, master of many
- Oil painting and art
or anything else!