What I Wish You Knew: Raymond Lam
Principal Software Developer
Written by Raymond Lam, edited by Laura Schaefer
I had originally gone to graduate school at the New England Conservatory of Music with the intention to train to be a professional musician. For various reason, however, after I finished up my Master’s, I decided that the professional musician’s life was not for me. One of my undergraduate majors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was in Computer Sciences, so I decided to go back to that field and become a software engineer.
I watched the Internet grow up as I grew up myself
Music aside, I have always had a natural affinity for the engineering and science fields. I was sort of a “computer nerd” growing up (I guess I still am one), so software engineering was a natural career for me to choose. When I was a kid, the World Wide Web was a thing the only hobbyists and researchers tinkered around with in, and now we live nearly every moment of our lives online.
Do you remember when you actually had to pick up a telephone if you wanted to talk to someone, or actually had to get up and go to a library if you wanted to know who wanted to know who the 23rd President was? I write web applications for a living – in particular, I work on the cloud-based electronic health records product at athenahealth, Inc., which doctors use every day to treat patients more effectively than they could in the “pen and paper” days – so my job feels very relevant.
Tracking actual impact in real time
Tens of thousands of medical providers use the software that I have written every day, and this does not include their medical assistants and other staff – not bad for a web application that isn’t a consumer web site like Amazon or Google! When you walk into our office, the first thing you'll probably notice is the many large screens everywhere displaying various dashboards, graphs, and tables. We’re a metrics-driven company, and because our software is web-based, we can track in real time the actual impact that our software is having on the productivity and effectiveness of medical practices around the country.
“Fulfillment” is a great way to describe the feeling I get when I patch out a change to the application and see the next day how it made the various lines or numbers on our dashboards go up or down. Maybe it means that my change saved doctors time so they can see more patients, or maybe it means that I made it easier for them to accomplish some task, like record blood pressure, so they do it more often — insurance companies will pay doctors more when they do this sort of thing. Seeing the impact of your work so quickly and at such a scale is great fun.
I have no regrets
When I was in college, I spent my summers as a student at music festivals like the Aspen Music Festival, so I didn’t have any internships on my resume, and I did not originally intend to pursue a career in software engineering. I missed out on all the career fairs and such. I was a fresh graduate of a music school applying for software dev jobs, so it was a little weird! This was in 2009 too, and that wasn’t a great time to be looking for a job in the first place. At least my resume was pretty memorable, though!
My CS background at Wisconsin was pretty solid, though, so it wasn’t as hard as it could have been. After I was hired for my first job, my career has been pretty smooth. I’d do everything the same way again.
What I wish you knew
For so many reasons, the more diverse a workplace is, the more enjoyable and fulfilling it is to work there. It’s actually win-win, because studies have shown that workforce diversity has a positive impact on profitability. These facts aren’t exclusive to my field, obviously, but the software industry, especially the startup scene in Silicon Valley, has a reputation of being dominated by young white men.
So, if you are a person of influence at a software company, I want you to know all the benefits of a diverse workforce. If you love to code and are thinking about making it a career, whether or not you are a young white man, go for it! Don’t be intimidated! Software engineering is a fun and fulfilling career, and even more so when you bring to it your unique background and perspectives.
As my career has progressed, I have built bigger and more complex applications and components of applications, and even frameworks upon which other software engineers build their applications. I like what I do and I like how my career has evolved, and in its current direction I hope to have formally the title and role of “Software Architect”, whose job it is, among other things, to design systems and make high level technical decisions. I like to have influence and I like to make a large impact – who doesn’t?