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An Interview with Flavia Goncalves: The Promise of Healthcare for Mission-Driven Engineers

Apr 4, 2019 By One Medical

Flavia Goncalves is a One Medical engineering lead. Her team focuses on leveraging innovative technologies to improve the member experience. On a rainy March morning in downtown San Francisco, One Medical digital lead Mark Gopez sat down to talk with Flavia about why healthcare is hot, the value of mission-driven engineering, and how good it feels to work at a place where you’re using technology to improve something so essential to our society.

#1 Working at One Medical: A Mission-Driven Workplace

Mark: What attracted you to One Medical?

Flavia: I've always tried to work in industries where I could make an impact; where I could make a difference. Before One Medical, I was at a company called Prosper. They do peer-to-peer lending, trying to help people who have credit card loans with really high rates.

At One Medical, the combination of talent, mission, and growth that I could see for my career were very important in my decision to come to work here.

Mark: I love it. You are very mission driven.

Flavia: Yes.

Flavia: I had been a One Medical member and when I heard about this opportunity, I thought to myself, "Well, I really like One Medical—my doctor’s awesome, the offices were super nice—great service, this is interesting. I'll check it out and see what they’re all about."

I came here, and everyone I talked to was really smart and kind. It was an easy decision. You always want to work at a place where you're collaborating with smart people. Unfortunately, in this industry, some super smart people can also be jerks in a culture that rewards success at all costs. That’s not what I’ve experienced at One Medical. There were no egos—nothing. It was just people being truly themselves, genuinely caring about helping people, and putting those people, our patients, at the forefront. That’s something, right? It’s absolutely selfless.

I'm not just working here because I'm making tons of money or whatever.

Mark: Well, hopefully that too.

Flavia: [Laughs.] Well, yes. But it's more about actually applying my skills for something good.

Mark: Can you actually unpack that a little bit? Is that perception jerks in the tech industry something you’ve experienced yourself, or is it more of an anecdote you’ve heard from your friends and circles?

Flavia: No, I have experienced that—places where people are really smart, but there are a lot of jerks and you’re working 60+ hours a week...all that kind of stuff. I've worked at places where there was a lot of ego, where there were some toxic people. I do think the industry is slowly changing though, moving toward a better culture, and I haven’t experienced any of toxic culture at One Medical.

#2 Working at One Medical: Why Healthcare is Exciting for Engineers

Mark: Let’s shift gears. You mentioned your experience with Prosper, which sounds more like a traditional start-up in the FinTech space. With your experience now at One Medical, do you see the Health Tech space as exciting as an engineer? Do you get just as much chance to work on innovative technologies and challenging problems that you were tackling in FinTech?

Flavia: I think it's actually more exciting to be in the healthcare industry. Healthcare in this country is pretty broken, and there haven’t been many trying to fix it, though that is starting to change. It's becoming a more popular space, but it still isn’t super crowded. Right now, the impact that you can make in healthcare is significant.

Mark: As an industry, healthcare is not as technologically behind as everyone thinks—at One Medical we’re working in a modern tech stack. Is that a big reason you joined, or is it more about our mission? What do engineers really care about when they decide to interview at One Medical?

Flavia: I think it depends. A lot of engineers are looking for the latest, shiniest technology, right?

But that's not the only thing that matters, and certainly not the main reason I get up in the morning and come to work. For me, the main point is: How can I use technology and my knowledge to do good in this world?

Sure, I like the shiniest, most recent technology too—that's fun, but that's not the main thing I look for in a job.

#3 Working at One Medical: How Diversity Makes us Better

Mark: Can you talk about diversity at One Medical?

Flavia: A diverse group really helps drive a diversity of ideas. I see it at work here at One Medical, where we have a great commitment to inclusivity and openness.

Mark: Can you explain what you mean by “diverse?” Are you talking about skill sets or something else?

Flavia: There is a diversity of skill sets and backgrounds. We all collaborate to come up with the right solution, and that collaboration is really important. There’s also an openness to ideas and an openness to listen to your peers. Managers aren’t saying, "Let's do it this way because I'm the boss."

As a manager, people are going to challenge my ideas, which is a good thing. There isn’t any sort of idea that because you’re senior people are going to obey everything you say. Nurturing these core values is very healthy, and helps everybody grow in their careers.

Mark: I want to unpack that a bit. Can you explain some of the challenges that teams have solved collectively?

We have what we call “coalitions,” which are groups of people from different teams who get together to work on something they see as a problem that needs to be solved. It could be more of a technical problem, or it could be a process that needs improvement.

Right now we have a coalition working toward a service-oriented architecture. [Editor’s note: Known by the acronym SOA.]

But this isn’t a challenge that a siloed group of architects should solve, so we’ve set up a coalition with several people from different teams. We’re working well together to figure out the best approach to SOA.

People are super interested and super invested in this work. I think it's amazing. It's really getting everybody together to solve a big problem.

Mark: This might be a provocative question: Does a diverse team make the work better?

Flavia: Absolutely. I come to work knowing that there's acceptance, and that's huge. I can actually be myself and feel comfortable. I don't have to hide a part of myself while I'm at work.

#4 Working at One Medical: How Being an Engineer in Healthcare is Different from Other Engineering Jobs

Mark: How is working at One Medical different from working as an engineer in another industry?

Flavia: For me, it's the impact we have on people's lives.

Mark: So you truly believe we're still on that path?

Flavia: I do.

Mark: Give me some of your biggest tech challenges that healthcare faces.

Flavia: One of the biggest things for me right now is how we can empower our patients, our members, to take control of their health by surfacing their health information in the right ways at the right times. I’m like everyone else: If I have some symptoms, I’m immediately scouring the internet for answers. And the answer is always: "Oh my god, I'm going to die." [Laughs.]

So how can we actually empower people and show them helpful information at the right time? I think that helping people take control of their health like that is really important.

This is technically very complex. For example, let’s say I go to the ER, and later, I'm at my primary care provider. How do these records get exchanged in an efficient way? Many health organizations use different systems for their health records. It's not one integrated system where everything talks to each other seamlessly, which creates a big challenge.

Mark: Have we begun to crack the surface on how to marry these databases and keep health records safe?

Flavia: We definitely have. There's a whole team of engineers at One Medical working on this specific issue. We’re thinking about the best way to exchange data—How do we ensure the data we have is correct? Do we show it to the patient? How do we go about doing that?

Mark: What are some of the most exciting things you've been working on?

Flavia: We recently released our brand-new machine learning-based appointment system which allows for a more conversational flow when booking appointments, and now we’re seeing how we can make it even better.

We all care about our members and the population we serve. People don’t come here just because they want to work with a specific technology—they come here knowing that they want to make a difference in people's lives. We definitely get excited geeking out over the latest technologies, but our mission is the big reason we’re all here. I think that's the most important thing: Everybody here cares.

Mark: So if I spent a lot of my time talking about our tech stack on our engineering page, you're suggesting that's probably not going to be enough.

Flavia: You should absolutely talk about our tech stack, but it’s also important to emphasize that people are here because they care about improving healthcare. For example, if somebody says, "I think we should do this latest chat thing because we can use this new technology," people will challenge that by asking, “How does that benefit the doctor or the user?"

We're not doing things just for the sake of technology. We want to actually make healthcare better because it’s the right thing to do for the greater society.

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