Startup adventures: Work with Heart

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of my current or previous employers.

Introduction

In this series of articles, I will reveal my perspective and thoughts on effective teams, individual contributors, and company culture. Over years of both managing and being managed, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, what inspires and what disheartens.

Cutting-edge software development teams are now a core part of a broader range of industries, many of which have positive social impacts, including biotech, healthcare, education, government, and more. Now a talented tech worker can practice her craft and contribute to the greater good.

With a large effort, it often takes a team to get the job done. Together, my talented team of engineers and I have made powerful, company-changing software. Thanks and credit go to my team: William McKinley, Lloyd Hsu, Udayakumar Dhansingh, Subhash Periasamy, Annice Mathew, Shridhar Nayak, Anand Nair, and Arvind Chidri.

Who are we?

Personalis Inc helps cancer patients by enabling the next generation of personalized immuno-oncology therapeutics and diagnostics through rigorous innovation.

Personalis Inc is partnering with biopharma to develop and commercialize the next generation of cancer immunotherapies.

For engineers, applying experiences to aspects of life that can impact others has been a dream. At Personalis Inc, we’re enabled to apply those experiences and help our partners and the end-users feel the impact.

Opportunities

As a bunch of software engineers, when we embarked on our journey at Personalis Inc, it was already a 4-year-old startup that was very hungry to scale business to 1000x. The opportunity to take the business into such a scale was and is still tremendous to our team. Back in 2015, the software engineering team had just 3 members to start with and was tasked to produce a reliable product in less than 6 months we had to take care of operational pains, which required us to build a workflow orchestration and management product, that would later lay elements of the software to participate in the business, thus empowering systems to gather data to provide insights that help to make timely business decisions. The 3 member team delivered the committed product in 5 months (a month early) and supports operations to date. This platform is now the core of our business which helps Personalis scale up to increasing demands and is backed by a strong infrastructure team.

Learning

Delivering products that continue to work in such a short time is a great achievement for the team, and here are the highlights that helped deliver value quickly:

  • Never be afraid to explore the unknown: It took us to learn a new domain to which we were never exposed to, BioTech. Getting to communicate with various members like doctors, genetic counselors, and business operations teams, helping them understand our vision and plan and getting them to align to our execution, and validation, was a critical piece of the puzzle.
  • Communications: Anyone can have a great plan, even an execution team. However, if those are not communicated at the right time to the right people, it leads to gaps and disconnections. Timely communications provided confidence, as we built the product and showcased upcoming excitements in short sprints to the business users. Timing communications have been instrumental in eliminating the FUD factor (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) from the business user's perspective.
  • Development Philosophy: “Prototyping for 1x, building for 100x, and engineering for 1000x”, has helped our team produce business value quickly. The engineering team doubled down on this philosophy by repeating it in various product initiatives and business processes.
  • Balanced Product-Platform engineering: In my opinion, this is the most critical combination for successful software delivery. Striking a balance with alignment towards, how much product features must be built, and what kind of engineering backing must be provided during development, has proved to be the winning approach. Any slight deviation on this, will offset the roadmap and even reduce business user confidence.
  • Keep customers delighted: A delighted customer has already built trust and will speak on your behalf. Reinforcing communications and keeping up with acceptable response times when things go wrong, builds mutual trust, and keeps the moment forward.

The combination of our team members helped us strike a balance and take lead in the above areas at the right time and has been a formidable mix to achieve continued success. This has now become a core culture of the software engineering team, and we’ll keep adding value to the core aspects that make us successful.

If you liked our learnings, and would like to know more or would like to cover other aspects of our journey, do let us know your feedback.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this blog posting are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Personalis Inc. staff, and/or any/all contributors to this post.

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