From engineering to operations, Meet the Appvians is a series that shines a spotlight on the people behind our products: What they do, what they enjoy outside of work, and how they’ve experienced life at Appvia. For this edition of the series, we caught up with Vincent Lam, one of our Solutions Engineers, on his path to working in DevOps and why he says he feels so loyal to the Appvia team.
Vincent has a fair bit of history with Appvia, having worked alongside our CEO Jon Shanks, COO Jay Keshur and other members of the (now) Appvia team before the company existed, during their time embedded into the UK Home Office.
As a Solutions Engineer (which we used to call Site Reliability Engineers), Vincent supports Appvia customers through on-call support and developing systems to improve and increase site reliability and performance
You’ve been with Appvia since near the beginning, can you tell us how that story unfolded?
It’s all a bit serendipitous, really. After I graduated with my master's degree (in Advanced Computing), I had no real idea what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be in tech, but I didn’t have a concrete career direction. I was applying for more engineering roles; ironically I didn’t want to be in support, I wanted to create stuff.
I applied for all sorts of roles: developer, web developer, java developer. But I eventually landed in a DevOps role with the Home Office through a graduate scheme with QA consulting. The term DevOps was completely new to me, but I really liked the idea of a mix of ‘developer’ and ‘operations’. That, paired with the prestige of the Home Office as a large, well-known organisation sealed the deal for me and I decided to give it a try.
My first day at the Home Office was actually quite daunting—working and studying are two very different things. Everything was very new, and the team was incredibly smart and knowledgeable.
I worked with and alongside Kash (Appvia SRE Lead), Jay (Appvia Co-founder and COO), Jon (Appvia Co-founder and CEO) and many others who are now also in the Appvia team, before Appvia even existed.
What was your time at the Home Office like as a graduate?
We got given a bunch of work to do and just … figured it out! I got paired to work with Lewis Marshall (Appvia Tech Evangelist) in one of my first big projects; I still remember him handing me some code and me having no idea what was happening. I really had to self-learn, but it really helped me build my knowledge of what we were doing at the Home Office and set me on a path of continuous learning and growth.
And how did you eventually transition to Appvia?
The graduate scheme was a two-year scheme, but Jon (Shanks) offered me a role when Appvia was founded … and I took it. The people I worked with at the Home Office who had left to start or join Appvia, were so smart. I really wanted, and needed, that opportunity to soak up all the knowledge from them.
The rest is history!
It’s a big decision to leave a large organisation for a small start-up, right?
Absolutely and, don’t get me wrong, my time at the Home Office was amazing. But the skill of everyone at Appvia and the knowledge that I stood to gain by just talking about things with colleagues moved the needle for me.
Considering I still work with a lot of the same people, it’s like this has been my one and only job - but I don’t want to leave Appvia, because there’s still so much knowledge for me to sponge up. Again, the quality of the people on the team is so high, which I think speaks for itself.
The second thing is trust. Even as a graduate I was given important, high-priority tasks to work on … and the team trusted me to do them, and do them well. Because of that trust, I feel quite loyal.
Can you give an example of that ‘trust’ in action and the impact it had on you?
Early on at Appvia, Kash (SRE Lead) asked me to investigate what we could use as a support mechanism within the business. I was completely given the trust to go out and explore different products and analyse which would fit us the best. We ended up going with Jira, which is industry standard, but the point is that I had the complete trust to go out and explore the possibilities.
But the trust, as I mentioned, started before that. I always go back to this one experience at the Home Office: We managed a Kubernetes Cluster hosted in a data centre and a ‘secret level’ platform.
We had some data stored there and needed some functionality to introduce a retention period for that data and I was tasked to try and create a solution to moving the old data out after a certain amount of days. It was a simple enough task but felt really cool to work on this kind of thing as a graduate. And, to have the level of flexibility I was given. I was just given the task and I could do it however I wanted. So, I decided to write it in Ruby, which I had never used before. I don’t think I would’ve made that decision if I didn’t feel safe and trusted.
Speaking of some of the specifics, can you describe what you do day-to-day as a Solutions Engineer?
There are two aspects, effectively. I’m part of the support team for the Home Office and am still on-call to give them 24/7 support, as well as explore some new work we're doing with them. I also provide general Appvia support and am currently working with one of our Solutions Architects to provide MVPs for consultancy clients who plan to move on to Wayfinder in the future.
So, you mentioned that when you graduated with your master's you wanted to go into Product. How has your mind changed as you’ve been in a support-type role?
It’s changed completely! I really like to do this side of things, because it dips into several different areas. There’s a little bit of automation here and there, plus you get to support customers rather than just purely building things. There’s a lot of room for growth and expansion as well.
And how do you see your role expanding?
Just taking on more responsibility and owning new things, I think. As we take on more customers, I’ll take on more ownership of the support process that has been created, to liaise with the Product team to solve issues that might arise within the product.
We’ve talked a lot about trust. Given that, which of our company values do you resonate with the most?
Empowerment and candor. Especially candor. Everyone in the company is open and willing to help, really. People take responsibility and initiative for their own work and own up to mistakes, without blaming everyone else.
I think that’s very key in any work environment but it's, sadly, not always the case. I have friends who work at big corporations who say that there's a lot of blaming going on. We're so lucky that it’s not like that here at Appvia.
Shifting gears a little bit to what's becoming my favourite question: What is your workspace like while we’re working from home?
I have a pretty messy desk! I have a lot of stuff on here: hand-sanitiser, headphones, speakers, a water bottle. I’ve got a second monitor and, most importantly, there’s always a cup of coffee here!
I see a messy desk as comfort. It’s not super messy, I still know where everything is and it’s nice to have everything around me!
So you have all of your favourite things surrounding you - do you have a favourite song to listen to while you’re working?
Recently, I haven’t been listening to anything because I find I’m too distracted! I put on headphones to drown out the noise, which really helps me concentrate.
I respect that! What do you like to do outside of work / what are you excited to get to do again?
In lockdown, I play a lot of video games. Nothing specific, just whatever’s popular, new or on sale. Outside of lockdown, I played a lot of basketball - at least once or twice a week - so I look forward to being able to do that again.
COULD YOU BE THE NEXT APPVIAN?
We're looking for talented and passionate people to join our growing team in London and beyond —. check out all of the current open roles. To learn more about Vincent or find out more about the growing SRE/Support Team, connect with him on LinkedIn.