Gregor speaks about his transition from a research scientist to software developer, what attracted him to work for Phlo, what he finds exciting about the digital health landscape, his passion for travelling and inspiring tech innovations!
My background is a bit different for a software developer in that I’ve spent most of my career working as a bench scientist in the life sciences industry. At school my favourite subjects were biology and chemistry, and from a young age I wanted to work in a healthcare related field to help treat and cure diseases, so I chose to study biological sciences at university.
After completing my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Glasgow University, I worked in research and development for a number of different pharma and biotech companies. During my time in the lab I got to be part of some really interesting healthcare projects, including new types of drugs for diabetes, Schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease, a bedside blood-typing device, cell therapies for treating cancer, and blood tests to profile a person’s allergies.
Besides science, my other big passion growing up was technology and I spent a few years learning to program in my spare time with the goal of one day being able to use it in my day job. My attempts eventually led me to CodeClan, a digital skills academy based in Scotland, and in November 2019 I left my job and joined their 16-week full-time course in Professional Software Development.
The experience was pretty intense but ultimately very rewarding and I finished the course in March 2020 armed with a new set of skills and a determination to find my first job as a software developer.
I started at Phlo in June 2020, joining the product team that focuses on our patient-facing application. As a developer, my day-to-day work involves maintaining our current application, adding new features and providing product support by investigating and resolving any technical issues our patients and pharmacy team may have. The role is quite varied and involves a lot of communication both within my own group and with the wider team.
I see a lot of similarities between my previous career and the work I do now. While the tools are different, the objective is very much the same – to provide a product that meets a patient’s healthcare needs and helps to improve their quality of life.
For me, Phlo is a great example of a product that uses modern technology to solve a healthcare need that’s been around for a long time. Health and tech are the two areas of society where we’ve seen the biggest advances in the past twenty years or so, and it's exciting to see them used together in new ways to change people’s lives for the better. Because of my previous background in developing new healthcare products, it seemed like a great place to start my career in digital health.
Every new feature or improvement the product team builds is done with our patients in mind. This can be something as simple as changing the wording of a button to make its function clearer, or as complex as adding more features to our operations software to reduce bottlenecks and make sure our patients get their medication on time. Before deciding on what tasks or features to build, the team will consider how it will add value and how it will improve the Phlo experience for our patients.
We’re different from traditional pharmacies by the fact that we give our patients control over where and when they receive their prescriptions, from the comfort of their office or home. Although we rely on technology to enable this, we still retain the human aspect of a pharmacy service and our patients are able to contact our prescribing team to discuss their medication, much like if they were to visit a traditional pharmacy. Keeping the personal touch makes us more than just a medication delivery service.
I caught the travel bug at a young age and ever since I was a teenager I’ve enjoyed visiting foreign countries. I’ve had some great travel experiences, from taking a road trip along the west coast of the USA to riding bullet trains across Japan. My next trip is on hold for the moment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I’m looking forward to getting out and seeing more of the world again soon.
Closer to home, I like to go for long walks when the unpredictable Scottish weather allows (great for both body and mind) and when I’m indoors I relax by reading, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, and catching the latest must-see series on Netflix.
I love that every day there’s something new to learn, whether it’s how a specific part of our application works, a new approach to solving a problem I’ve been stuck on or an aspect of UX I haven’t come across before. Also, it’s great to be part of a team that really cares about what they’re building - everyone is motivated to make Phlo the best product to meet our patients’ needs.
The aspect I’ve found most challenging has been starting a role in a new industry 100% remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic – I can’t just turn to someone next to me to ask a trivial question, and I’m missing the water cooler chats that I would normally use to get to know my new colleagues. However, the team have been great at answering my (many!) queries on Slack and a round of Zoom calls with my co-workers in my first week helped me to get to know my co-workers very quickly.
I’ve always wanted to help others and use my skills and knowledge to make a difference. I also enjoy challenging myself by learning new skills and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
One of the recent innovations that excites me is how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used by doctors to assist the diagnosis of major illness using medical imaging. The role of AI here isn’t to make the decisions for the doctor but to provide them with more information to make a quicker and more accurate assessment of the patient’s condition. AI often gets portrayed negatively by the media, with nightmare predictions of road accidents involving driverless cars and robots taking away people’s jobs, but this is an example of how it can be used responsibly with great benefit.