“Michael… why are you changing roles from a Senior Doctor and Head of Product at a Health Tech Company to a Software Engineer?”

In 2015 while working as a junior doctor on the Robotic Urology team at Guy’s Hospital, I realised I would rather be the one who created the robot than the Consultant who had spent 15 years learning to operate it. In parallel I was in awe at some of the things that software developer friends were able to accomplish.

A 2 minute intro to robotic surgery from my old boss the legendary Mr Ben Challacombe

So I started dabbling in software, got addicted and went on to complete a 5 month full-time software development course at Maker’s Academy (London) while working A&E shifts at the weekends.

During Maker’s Academy in 2016, I was doing an A&E shift and got frustrated by having to use a piece of tattered paper taped to the wall to help me decide what treatment to give a patient who was having a heart attack. So I built a clinical decision support tool using Meteor.js to digitise this algorithm – available at https://highsteacs.com (not maintained so the https certs are expired).

I ended up presenting this to the Cardiologist who had done the research to validate that algorithm who absolutely loved what I had made and so together we built on that product for their Academic Cardiology team at University of Edinburgh – and I built another data visualisation tool for them available at https://scotheart.highsteacs.com (also not maintained so the https certs are expired). This involved the whole stack of project & product management skills.

I helped organise and took part in several digital health hackathons – our product even came second at one of them. At that point I probably should have just become a junior software developer.

But in 2017, I was offered a sponsored place to be part of the prestigious Saltire Fellowship – a 2 month Scottish executive education programme at Babson College, Boston MA including lectures and conferences on sales, marketing, innovation, entrepreneurship, accounting, leadership. I was sponsored by the Digital Health and Care Institute – a Scottish Government Digital Health Innovation Centre, lead by a fantastic “Digital Doctor”. As part of that sponshorship, I returned to Scotland at the end of 2017 and worked for that organisation for 5 months into 2018.

This fellowship lead to a full-time role in 2018 to 2019 where I was a clinical informatician and clinical product advisor working 2 days per week for an Emergency Department in Glasgow and the other days at the Digital Health and Care Institute. Apart from doing some Python in my spare time, I didn’t get to code during this time, and I also received mentorship from clinicians who – through sheer force of character – managed to convince me that I should be focusing more on clinical leadership and clinical informatics, allowing “real developers” to code.

July 2019, I took on my latest role as Head of Product at a Health Tech Startup – it has been during this role that I have finally seen the light and realised I have to get back into software engineering permanently and full-time because I have been jealous of our development team getting to build in React/React Native, GraphQL and Elixir/Phoenix! In my free time during the past 6 months I have built “Sick Fits” and “Catch of The Day” two React.js apps, with the former showcasing a range of fullstack skills. I have also been learning some React Native, hooks and Redux.

I can do a full 10 hours in the Emergency Department, come home exhausted and still want to do 2-3 hours of coding – if that isn’t passion, I don’t know what is.

Product management is fun, and it satisfied me at first – however I think it lacks a lot of what software engineering has in terms of the feeling of “building” something. As a software engineer you have built something measurable – as a product manager you have contributed for sure, but it’s not as tangible. I think I need that tangible element.

I also spend a lot of my time as a product manager writing documents, responding to tenders, facilitating meetings, answering emails and interacting with the business function. It doesn’t give me the buzz of building something that software engineering does.

I love the thought that as I get more proficient at coding, I will be able to build amazing products with brilliant people that solve real problems. I would like to be CTO quality in 5-8 years, and I believe I have the drive to make that a reality.

But I know there is a huge amount to learn.

That’s why I am looking for a junior developer role at a company where I can learn best practices – both technical and soft skills – that make a great engineer.

I am focusing on learning 1) React and React Native 2) the functional programming paradigm and 3) GraphQL. This is evidenced in recent personal projects I have done such as “Sick Fits” and an Udemy React Native course I am doing.

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