Lily Xia

Full stack engineer

Lily Xia

Full stack engineer

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  • Hear from Lily, full stack engineer

Hear from Lily, full stack engineer

Tell us a bit about yourself and what attracted you to join Canva.

I’ve always enjoyed the creation process, being able to make something from nothing and see the results. That’s what drew me to software engineering in the first place. Straight out of university I got a job at Google, and I worked for about six years between their Sydney, New York and San Francisco offices.

I’d heard of Canva and I knew that the engineering team was founded by Dave Hearnden, a former Googler who’s very well respected. So I knew that the quality of engineering would be high and from what I could see it looked like a really fun company. The fact that it was a popular consumer product also resonated with my original motivation for becoming a developer, to build things that I could put in everyone’s hands.

During the recruitment process I had a chat to Mel, and her “crazy vision” for Canva (as she likes to call it) really made an impression on me. The idea of working on something so ambitious was very attractive to me, Canva is an idea that just keeps on getting bigger.

What does a full stack engineer do at Canva?

Canva has a lot of backend and frontend engineers, but there’s still space for people like me who like to see a whole feature through. You might end up being pulled more towards frontend or backend, but having that flexibility to work across the stack will always be useful and there’s plenty of projects where that skillset is needed. It’s not just the web application either, most of our mobile engineers are essentially working full stack.

An example of something I’ve worked on is social media integrations, so instead of having to download your design and then posting it, you can do it directly from Canva. On the frontend that involved building the share dialogue, and on the backend I was dealing with the social media site APIs for example. It might only save 30 seconds for each user, but multiply that by our millions of users and I’ve saved people years of time!

Backend and frontend engineering have very different challenges, but I have a lot of fun with both. Whether it’s scaling challenges on the backend or browser quirks on the frontend, I like to work through all those issues and get a finished feature in the hands of the user. I find it quite liberating to work across the stack and complete a defined project on my own.

What do you find most interesting about your job?

I’m interested in building the future. Technology is changing the way we do everything, and the pace is only increasing. Ten years ago I didn’t even have the internet on my phone, and now I can’t live without it – what’s going to happen in the next ten years? That’s the kind of thought that excites me. Canva is helping anyone design anything, whether they have design experience or not, and ten years ago that just wasn’t happening. If you think about that statement, “helping anyone design anything”, you can see that while we’ve achieved a small part of our goal, and there’s lots of exciting work in front of us.

What do you find most challenging?

Canva is growing extremely quickly, so that brings a lot of challenges, from getting new engineers up to speed to distributing responsibilities amongst the team. On the personal side, I’ve just come back from maternity leave and suddenly I’ve found that I don’t know half the company! That pace of growth can be disorienting, but it’s also exciting.

How would you describe the culture of the engineering team at Canva?

The Canva founders have really focused on making a great culture here, and it’s paid off. It’s a very close and friendly place where we all share lunch together, go out for coffee as a team and generally care about each other. When I was pregnant earlier this year and wasn’t drinking coffee, my whole team decided to go and drink bubble tea with me instead. That’s the kind of place it is.

Canva has really focused on gender diversity in the engineering team recently as well, and it’s showing good results so far. That’s been a very positive thing. Having a diverse team really opens up discussions to a broader range of ideas and opinions, which allows you to come up with better solutions.

What are some of the Canva perks you most appreciate?

There are so many perks, from the lunch and breakfast to the whole office environment. Personally the office space is quite important to me, and it’s really nice here with all the greenery we have and the big windows and couches everywhere.

I was pregnant earlier this year, and Canva has a very generous maternity leave policy. Even now that I’ve returned to work, it’s very flexible and I’m able to work part time from home. We even have a mother’s room, which I’ll be able to take advantage of soon. I’ve always felt that I had a lot of support from the company.

What skills or attributes are you looking for when hiring full stack engineers at Canva?

Problem solving skills are very valuable here, because the product is growing very quickly and you never know what you’ll be working on next. Flexibility and good communication skills are important for the same reason, you have to be comfortable moving through different parts of the codebase. The exact technologies you’re familiar with aren’t that important, once you have the engineering background it’s easy to pick up a new framework for example.

What advice would you give to people applying for a full stack engineering role at Canva?

You might be someone who’s very confident about the whole process, but even if you’re not, don’t give up! If it’s your goal to work here and you’re driven, you’ll probably get in and do well. There are even people working here who went through the interview process more than once – that kind of tenacity and enthusiasm counts for a lot.  Apart from that, we’re growing super fast, so get on the boat!