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Introduction to the frontend engineering team at Lilli

14th April 2022
Introduction to the frontend engineering team at Lilli

by Marija Trachtenberg, React Native Developer

If you’re interested in finding out what it’s like to work as a front end engineer in a fast paced, creative, and purpose-driven health and social care scale-up then this blog post by Marija Trachtenberg, React Native Developer, who sits in our front end technology team, will hopefully give you some insight into our mission at Lilli. She discusses the problem we’re solving and how we collaboratively work as an engineering and product team and as a wider company to bring Lilli to life. It’s also an opportunity to showcase some of our amazing tech team’s recent accomplishments, our future ambitions and what we will be working on in the coming months.

Our mission

Before I dive in, I’ll share a bit about what we do as a company. Here at Lilli our mission is to help vulnerable people to live independently, for longer. This isn’t just limited to older people, but people with learning disabilities too. When I worked in health and social care policy I learned that as a society we are trying to shift (and are shifting) away from ‘institutional care’ and into ‘community-based’ care. Historically, vulnerable people would live in social care institutions which meant having limited choice with how their care is planned and delivered, and little independence to decide how they want to live. In relatively recent years we are moving away from this model of care, recognising that vulnerable people have a right to live where they want, as independently as possible, and this very often means they choose to live in their own homes (not surprisingly)!

During my time working with the Department for Health (via the National Institute of Care and Clinical Excellence) we were desperately looking for strong studies that measured the impact of various types of assistive or monitoring technology. The lack of robust research is due to a variety of reasons (one of which is insufficient research funding). Fast forward to 2022 and we’ve seen gigantic steps in policy, funding, technology, and shifting attitudes to assistive technology – and it is why I decided to come work as an engineer at Lilli.

Whilst there’s been a boom in healthcare technology start-ups in the past ten years, the boom in social care technology start-ups seems to only have just recently started. By joining Lilli as an engineer you just might witness – and more importantly – contribute to improving the social care landscape for many people in a very meaningful way. Healthcare has always been better funded compared to social care. And this is where Lilli can really make a difference in a sector that is understaffed and underfunded as the technology we are building and our clients are using can have a huge impact in helping to improve the efficiency of the social care system and improve people’s lives by helping them live more independently.

How we do that – as a company

At our core we are a data intelligence SaaS company. Whilst it seems like everyone is saying it these days, we do “turn data into insights”. In the UK a vulnerable person will have someone checking in on them every so often. Recent data is hard to come by, but a 2021 Personal Social Services Research Unit report found that in 2014/15 people who get home care provided to them from their local authorities get on average 12.8 hours per week. These same people are most likely also getting care from other people – occupational therapists, social workers, as well as getting additional care from their children or friends (informal caregivers). The way things currently are, none of these caregivers will have timely insight into how this person is doing. They only have the information they get from those visits, which may be once or twice a week. There is so much room for improvement in the data picture here and that is where Lilli fits in.

With the user’s consent we provide discrete sensors that are placed around a person’s home which allow us to create a picture of what is ‘normal’ but also allow us to show trends in behaviour. For example, are they getting up more often in the night or are they using the bathroom more frequently? Are they moving around the house less often or are they opening the fridge and using the kettle less? Effectively, our software creates behavioural flight paths which can identify anomalies in behaviour, create alerts, and generate actionable insights which can be used by their caregivers to intervene sooner and ultimately reduce risk to this vulnerable person.

How we do that – as an engineering team

First and foremost, this engineering team is not a team of “code monkey’s”. What I mean by that is: we are product engineers. We are actively interested in the industry we are in and the end users that our product touches, and supports. We won’t and do not enjoy coding away blindly. We use technology to solve a problem and we make sure we are always understanding the problem and so we engineer with the end-user in mind. We collaborate with our product managers and designers. We try to understand our customers and our users to the same level as our colleagues in product, business development, and customer success. This means you are encouraged to take ownership and be proactive and share ideas with other areas of the business – and this in itself is rewarding.

One of the many things that convinced me to join Lilli and that has been so crucial in also keeping me here, was how much I enjoyed the engineering team’s transparency, openness, kindness, and generally just a lack of ego when discussing any topic. Particularly, admitting when they didn’t know something. This type of environment means people can freely ask questions and problems can actually get solved. And, because people don’t feel afraid to ask questions, you’ll probably come across much less friction at work and have an overall better experience day-to-day.

I can contrast this to not-so-pleasant stories I’ve heard from other friends and colleagues who feel that there is a lot of friction in their day-to-day work because people don’t communicate enough and when they do, there is a certain element of fear or ego, which leads to those conversations being less productive. And of course, whilst this culture at Lilli makes for a great working environment, it also has a direct and positive impact on our customers! Speaking openly means we can spot problems sooner and customers will have a better experience on our platform.

So, who is in the engineering team?

The frontend team started off with Isaac Blake, the founding frontend engineer, who wrote the entire Web App from scratch in just six months. A real feat considering the amount of challenges involved in visualising complex data in graphs and charts. Our team is looking to add a Senior React Native engineer to help us as we have now expanded to offer our platform on both web and mobile!

There is also the Cloud team, a group of four engineers, two of whom specialise in machine learning data science – Russ Anderson, Glen Thomas, Piero Cornice, and Johnnie Harmer. This is the team that turns data into insights. It is such a pleasure to work with them to the point that, when having been given the opportunity to only do stand-ups with them every other day (instead of everyday), Isaac and I decided we’d rather continue seeing them everyday.

We also work with the product team, led by Sophie Rodrigues, Head of Product, and Andrew Sanyaolou, Product Manager. Andrew has worn a lot of hats since joining and his background as UI/UX designer meant he led the way on the design refresh which we will be implementing sometime in these next few months!

Finally, we are led by our CTO, Sameer Vartak. We’re quite an autonomous team, but Sameer is always available to brainstorm with us to keep our product moving in the right direction. I read somewhere that the best functioning teams are the ones where each employee is empowered to work autonomously because everyone is aligned on the company’s priorities. Sameer definitely creates this environment here.

Our biggest accomplishments

The frontend team has been working quite hard and our platform has come a long way in a very short period of time.

1. Isaac developed the web app from scratch, in just six months.

2. Dorset Council became our first pilot client in August 2021, which meant updating our platform in response to their feedback. Alongside this, we pushed out major feature releases based on further workshops and user research which includes, (but is not limited to):
Report Generation: Care professionals can download a consolidated report with summary insights for each of their service users. Working with Dorset, we learned that this was saving them 3 hours of administrative work per report. This report is used alongside a wider care assessment, to understand whether a person’s current care package is meeting their needs.

3. Since October 2021 we’ve made improvements aimed at scaling our platform.
We’ve made the web app more performant, reducing the amount of time it takes for the data to load into the charts. Previously, it may have taken 1-2 seconds to load data into the charts. We’ve now brought this down to around 0.2 seconds! We’ve also reduced the time it takes to see data in the dashboard after logging in. These improvements were made with the help of a few tools, including caching on the edge with CloudFlare and CloudFlare scheduled workers.
We know that some of our current users are on-the-go. While we do have a mobile-friendly web-app, we wanted to give our users a better experience. As a result, we are in the process of creating a mobile app! Currently, v1 of our mobile app has a smaller feature set focused on our on-the-go users. They can see a list of service users sorted by risk category and clicking into a service user they can see all of the same charts as before (i.e. movement around the house, time spent outside the house, frequency of sustenance events (kettle, fridge), number of trips to the bathroom, and more).

From a tech perspective, we’re also quite proud how quickly we built v1 of the mobile app. To deliver the App as quickly as possible we decided to use React Native which allows us to write the same code to develop for iOS and Android devices. We also developed our own internal shared repositories which allowed us to reuse code from the web app in the mobile app.

So, what are we up to in the next 3 months?

This spring we’re focusing on a few different areas:
• The web app is getting a design refresh (bringing joy to our users with pleasing UI),
• Expanding the feature set on the Native App (and launching the Native App to some of our customers!)
• And finally, setting up our continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) infrastructure which will help make our platform more reliable, robust, and resilient.

Want to join?

We are rapidly growing as an organisation, and the tech team is no different as we have plenty of exciting developments in the pipeline in the next year and beyond. We’re looking for fantastic people to join us on our mission to help shape the future of independent living.

If this all sounds good to you, we are hiring for a range of roles across our front end, cloud and data science teams. More specifically, if you have enjoyed reading about our frontend progress, we are looking for a Senior React Native developer to help us with our current and future projects.

We are a remote-first company which means our roles are all built with flexible working in mind, our unique culture at Lilli is really important to us as despite the remote nature we’ve built a supportive community where we all have a close working relationship and inject fun and joy into our daily working lives. We also do have the opportunity to regularly meet up as a company for our quarterly in-person meetups and some of us meet up for a co-working day each month (in London) to ensure we also get to catch up in person too.

Reach out to us if you’d like to learn more. We’d love to hear from you!

Further details on our open roles can be found here: https://www.intelligentlilli.com/work-with-us/

Sources
PSSRU Report 2021

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