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Engineering & Product

Chris Lam, Principal Engineer at AskNicely

From dreaming of designing cars at a young age, Chris Lam, Principal Engineer at AskNicely may not have been considering tech as a career path in the traditional sense, however he did have a strong desire to become an engineer.

We caught up with Chris to learn more about his career journey into becoming a software engineer, some of the misconceptions about what what software engineers actually do day-to-day and what he enjoys about his role at AskNicely. 

Chris also share some great advice around putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. Thanks for sharing your story, Chris.

“I make a tool that people use to ask other people how they can do their job better.”

Firstly, how would you explain to a five year old what it is you do?

I make a tool that people use to ask other people how they can do their job better.

And for the adults, what does that translate to in regards to your day-to-day?

Day-to-day I do a lot of thinking about, reading, and writing code, in that order, priority and quantity. As a Principal Engineer, I help the team at AskNicely do the same, I institute best practices, advise products on technical matters and educate and mentor other engineers.

What are some of the common misconceptions about working in tech?

That we are all playing ping pong all the time or browsing the internet all day. On the other hand, the tech industry likes to inflate itself to believe it’s changing the world. Sometimes, it’s enough just to make some people's lives a little bit better.

“... I dreamed of being a car designer.”

Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid, if not what was?

I don’t think I considered tech as a career when I was a kid, making computer games, sure, but writing other kinds of software? I just never considered it.

I did want to be an engineer though, I thought they must know everything about everything to be able to build all the things in the world. As far as a dream though, I dreamed of being a car designer.

My books often had doodles of cars in them and later on I often visited the university library to read a magazine solely dedicated to concept cars, I loved reading that magazine.

Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately about how you ended up working at AskNicely? 

Out of university, I joined Datacom as a part of their graduate intake program. About two years later, I moved to London and began working with a SaaS company called Wine Owners.

On returning to NZ I continued to work for Wine Owners before finding a position at Gladeye, a digital agency. After nearly five years there, I was ready to try working in a company focused on a product and so I joined AskNicely.

“Extend yourself outside your comfort zone.”

Do you have any advice for people considering tech as a career path and how they might get there quicker?

Extend yourself outside your comfort zone. Talk to the other functions that you regularly interact with, learn their points of view and use their language.

I also credit my time spent doing agency work with helping me gain experience with tech choices and tradeoffs. Working on new projects at the rate that agencies do allows you to be exposed to many different styles of code and different use cases for them.

What is it specifically that you like about working AskNicely? 

AskNicely is a great place to work because there is a strong culture of being responsive and getting things done. There is also a lot of experimentation to find what works best. We try different processes, different technologies and reflect on what works best.

Lastly, AskNicely continues to grow and evolve.  What kind of candidates do you think AskNicely is looking for in terms of experience, attitude and character?

AskNicely looks for people who have opinions but are flexible in their thinking, people who can be autonomous and have the drive to take action.

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