July 5, 2017

An Important Part of Engineering at Accolade: Empathy

By Accolade Marketing

Empathy. The word arises more than once when you talk to Sean Brady. It's a trait he says he finds in his colleagues at Accolade. It's a quality he seeks in new recruits. It's a word that matters to a man who cares deeply not just about the ins and outs of technology platforms and product development, but about the culture of the company that employs him.

Sean is, by his own accounting, “a hardcore engineer” who takes great pleasure in solving problems and building things. As one of the first employees of konciergeMD, a start-up company created to increase patient engagement with primary-care physicians, Sean joined the Accolade team in 2014 when his small company of 10 was acquired.

Accolade was already building a healthcare engagement platform with its highly personal health assistance model, Sean recalls. But to scale that business, Accolade needed a unique technology—built from within—that could help its Health Assistants do even more, more efficiently, for the people they serve. At Accolade's Philadelphia-area campus, Sean was soon directing engineering projects, overseeing the creation of technology assets that were distinctly Accolade's own. When, in 2015, Accolade further intensified its commitment to technology, Sean accepted an invitation to move to Seattle and to become a key part of what today is a global Product Development team located in Seattle, Plymouth Meeting, PA; and Prague.

With dozens of products in development, Sean, now a Principal Architect, is focused, among other things, on the Accolade cloud platform.

“There are many web services and data processing tools upon which Accolade and its partners can build healthcare consumer-engagement applications,” Sean explains. “There is a need, always, to integrate those disparate solutions. The Accolade cloud platform is allowing us to weave together independent consumer experiences into a single, cohesive platform so that individuals will have seamless access to everything from their Accolade Health Assistant to their digital health and fitness data to their online maternity resources to their insurance-covered services.”

The work is not only interesting from a long-term visionary perspective; it has immediate, practical applications that are already in play.

That's because Accolade believes in agile product development, which is to say the release of successive iterations of technology as opposed to a waterfall development methodology that yields, at the end of multi-year processes, a single solution that is most likely antedated.

“Our cloud platform is already powering our mobile app,” says Sean. “We'll continue to develop it, with many successive updates and roll-outs, for as long as it takes to solve the healthcare problem.”

In the meantime, as that platform advances, Sean remains deeply involved in the culture conversation that pervades the company.

“This is a place in which Tom Spann, a founder of the company, speaks not just of how we at Accolade take care of our clients but also of how we take care of each other,” says Sean. “Our Health Assistants build trust so well with their clients because they know how to listen, because they genuinely care. That kind of caring can be found throughout Accolade; even those of us who are not talking to members each day are being held to a standard that goes something like this: We are here to help.”

Tom Spann and Raj Singh, Accolade's current CEO, are wholly authentic people, says Sean, two of the most authentic people he has ever met. “These are people who recognize that this company cannot grow well unless culture is sewn into everything we do—into our objectives, into our business meetings, into our hallway conversations,” says Sean. “Tom and Raj and the entire management team understand that our success will be attenuated if our cultural values become mere platitudes.”

How, then, do engineers act on that idea of empathy? What does empathy look like in an engineering meeting?

“It looks like listening,” Sean says, after reflecting quietly on the question. “Because, look, it's true: we engineers talk a lot. We engineers are always eager to solve the problem, get the data, and rollout the new solution. But when engineers listen—not to respond but to understand—when they clearly value every person in that room, something very powerful happens. Something better than any one person might have discovered alone.”

Enjoy Accolade stories: