Building America’s first virtual health clinics with Salvo Health’s engineers

Full-stack software engineer Simon Tam talks about what engineers gain at Salvo Health

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May 2, 2024

Engineers: We know you’re in short supply. There are not enough experienced engineers to meet the demand, and many companies increasingly need you to build their platforms and products. As you begin your application with Salvo Health, consider the benefits of working with an entirely unique healthcare start-up, in a secure industry, founded and backed by the industry’s best doctors and tech innovators.

To help you understand a little more about what it is like to work at Salvo Health, I sat down with experienced full-stack software engineer Simon Tam to talk about what engineers have to gain by joining our team.

If you’re considering applying or are in the interviewing process, our conversation can give you valuable insight into working at Salvo Health.

So Simon, can you tell me a little bit about your background before you worked at Salvo Health?

I've worked in a variety of industries, but mostly in tech startups of all stages. However, prior to Salvo, I worked in politics. I was a web director for a presidential campaign and then a CTO for a mayoral campaign.

The thing these roles have in common is that I’ve always wanted to work on solving big problems. And I think healthcare is one of the biggest problems here in America. I mean, healthcare in general is kind of a mess.

Did you always know you wanted to work as an engineer?

Yes. And no. I think I originally wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but I very quickly realized in college that mechanical engineering was not for me. I pivoted to computer science. I just love the breadth of problems that can be improved with computer science.

You often hear about people not studying computer science in college, but doing boot camps and learning how to kind of become an engineer outside of the traditional education path. Do you feel like we're open to hiring software engineers who have pursued education non-traditionally?

I absolutely think we're very open to it. It's all about getting the help you need, from the right person for the role. I'm a personal advocate for people coming to software engineering from all different career pathways, and I am a fierce advocate for bootcamps. I have been lucky to have participated in panels at bootcamps, helping people make the jump from the learning stages to joining the industry.

We need diversity in terms of background, because it helps us solve and look at problems in different ways.

What have you been able to accomplish in your six months here? What are you most proud of?

I think the most exciting thing about where we are right now, is that we’ve gone from zero, the ground floor, and are building our way up, arriving at the Alpha version of our product.

And Alpha is always an exciting time. You have this, this open field, this blue ocean in front of you, and the freedom to imagine what type of product you want to see, and what type of impact  you want to have.

Then you have to take the dream, and figure out; How can you break it down into what's shippable? What's within the scope? How can we do it best, for the best return on investment in terms of resources and time?

The earlier people join, the more impact they can have on the early stages.

What we're doing at Salvo hasn't really been done before, right? The virtual clinic model and our text-based care is innovative to the industry. What does that mean for engineering?

I think I mentioned what I love best about software engineering is that it’s all about problem solving. At Salvo Health, we’re not just problem solving in a silo, but problem solving alongside stakeholders, alongside providers. We’re working with stakeholders trying to understand; How can a doctor provide better care via text? Or how can we guarantee the same, if not better, care asynchronously through our app, than having to go to a doctor’s office?

We’re talking with our health coaches, gastro specialists, care navigators, and trying to determine how we can leverage technology to make tasks more scalable, more efficient, and actually deliver care in a much better

Can you give me a tangible example of a problem you've solved by collaborating with our care team and stakeholders?

Yeah, absolutely. The exciting thing about having released our Alpha product is that now we have actual feedback, members who are using our app. Now it's a real thing that we can react to.

You know, we have different roles on our provider team, the doctors, the coaches, and member support. And they’re receiving and sending more and more messages to and from our members. So we’re working with the care collaborators to figure out how we can deliver service notifications to our members in a way that's not overwhelming, but makes them feel like they’re getting consistent, actionable advice on their health. It has to mirror a text-conversation so it can’t feel automated, and it can’t feel like bombardment.

So we are literally sitting with our ops and care providers, and going through the workflow, and planning the optimized, desired process together. Then determining, what are the engineering tasks and features we have to build to support this?

What's something you're really looking forward to starting?

Speaking of automation. I'm really looking forward to starting our care orchestration. We are going to start to codify how doctors and coaches deliver care. Like I said, it has to be similar how they would do it in person. How can we automate certain things that doctors or coaches might do to help them make their interactions more efficient? Asking a member how they're doing, how they're feeling, introducing them to new content every day is important, but it doesn't necessarily have to be human at every single interaction. What's more important is that the doctor and the coach see the responses, and be able to identify when the member really needs them. But the actual asking itself can be automated.

What makes Salvo Health different than your previous workplaces? What sets us apart from a typical job in engineering?

I think one of the best things about Salvo Health is that our leadership team and our team come from so many successful startups and similar fast-paced environments. I think that really helps set us up for success. It's a lot easier to anticipate the challenges of a startup if you've done that sort of work before.

I also think that everyone is incredibly mission-driven, and we're all aligned on improving access to better specialty healthcare, especially for those dealing with chronic gut conditions. I’ve learned about the statistics of the number of GI doctors versus the population of affected people, and I was blown away at that lack of care and the lack of access.

It's something that we all are genuinely bonded by.

How would you describe the philosophy of engineering at Salvo Health?

I would say we optimize our environment for learning. It is definitely not a “move fast and break things” type of engineering style, because we have to maintain a certain level of care and trust in our services. You cannot move fast and break things when it comes to the health of our members. Rather, we trial our iterations and learn from our members.

That's really interesting. It feels like a more inclusive mentality than “move fast and break things.

Absolutely. We're amplifying the efforts of our providers, and also making it easier and more efficient for them to provide care. We’re also learning what works for our members. Together, we work together to debate: Should we automate this message? How and when do we deliver certain results or responses? What kind of content is creating interaction or requires interactions? Can we deliver this in a better way?

The care to our members has to continue to a high standard, but, as the engineering team we help every care collaborator learn more about what they’re trying to do and what they can accomplish.  

Amazing. Considering that deep collaboration, what do you think we're looking for in an ideal engineering candidate?

At this exact stage, I would say we need people who are experienced, have had a few years working in tech, preferably startups, or a fast paced environment. You have to have a certain level of humility, and flexibility. The ability to switch gears or reprioritize in the middle of a project is important.

And what do you think an engineer has to gain by joining Salvo Health?

You’re building something entirely unique, from the ground up. When you have no example before you, it’s both a challenge and opportunity to bring your own perspective. We want engineers to leverage their own experience, their own judgments, and be able to say, hey, I know a way, or approach, to solving this problem, or moving this project forward. I can really take this new feature, and own it, and bring it to fruition. And I think that is rare for any field, but definitely, especially for engineers.

We put a lot of trust in our employees.

Absolutely, absolutely. We have to trust everyone to do their jobs, and each other as we scale.

What’s our current tech stack?

We’re primarily a Typescript shop with React and React Native. Because we’re at an early stage, we need fungibility of engineers who can work on all aspects of the code base.

Oftentimes, start ups at this stage have zero-to-little work/life balance. What does it look like for you at Salvo Health?

What's really unique about Salvo Health as a startup, especially compared to other early stage companies, is that most early stage companies have a very short term focus.  It's hard to imagine and build things that could last for five years, when you're trying to find funding for the next six months. Right?  It's a misalignment if you're developing a product to last three to five years, and you're concerned that you might not be around for next year.

Salvo Health is unique because we’re well resourced and we're able to have medium term focus. We can make well informed, high ROI decisions like focusing on scalability of both architecture and culture. Our architecture is designed from the start to scale for thousands of members. We’re focused on improving the flow. Additionally, we recognize that burning out, coding long hours day after day isn’t conducive for doing our best work. While we might potentially log some late nights before a milestone or a big deliverable, those are going to be exceptions, not the norm, and will be very clearly communicated in advance.

Amazing. Thank you for speaking with me today, Simon. Can you tell me about what kind of roles we are hiring for?

We’re currently hiring a back-end engineer and a Director of Engineering. Feel free to connect with me via LinkedIn to ask any questions or apply directly.

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