#IAmGalen: Michael Tamlyn, Principal Software Architect, Engineering Manager

#IAmGalen: Michael Tamlyn, Principal Software Architect, Engineering Manager

MichaelTamlynHow long have you been at Galen, and what do you do here?

I joined Galen in October of 2012 as an Integration Architect. Today I am our Principal Software Architect and Engineering Manager. In that role, I’m responsible for the overall design and implementation of our software solutions in addition to leading and staffing the engineering team.

What drew you to Galen originally? And how has Galen changed since?

Quite a few reasons, so I’ll share a few. First and foremost, several people I respected were already here. Their ringing endorsements meant a lot. Second, the industry. Healthcare provides an opportunity to solve some very complex problems and it’s quite satisfying building a career in a space that may indirectly or directly improve care. Third, the vibe.  It was clear my co-workers would be simultaneously hardworking and fun to be around, our customers already respected and trusted us and I would be supported in any effort to contribute to the overall direction of the company.

Galen’s culture has not changed much over the years, but its solutions have evolved. Originally focusing on EHR implementations and upgrades with a dabbling of technical work, we now focus on optimizations, integrations, migrations and data archival. This reflects how most healthcare organizations these days have an information system already in place for each function. Instead of helping clients acquire something fundamentally new, we help them improve upon what they have.

You’ve been a big leader behind our conversion platform, GalenETL.  It’s a very unique solution, can you tell me about one of the problems that stands out most to you when building it and how you went about solving it?

No doubt about it, designing Galen’s ASCII logo, which led to a record-shattering increase in performance and productivity for users.


Seriously though, the inspiration to build GalenETL comes from a frustration that within our industry, data migrations (A.K.A. conversions) tend to be risky, costly, limited, and frustrating for clients. While we’ve changed all of that, the most challenging problems to solve are those relating to images and documents. Inverted TIFFS, multi-page old-style JPEG-in-TIFF TIFFs, PDFs, JPEG2000, XML files transformed with XSLT into HTML containing JavaScript, zip files containing Word documents, the list of scenarios we’ve encountered are as numerous as they are complex. To really dial up the challenge, too often images and documents don’t follow their format’s actual specification or are simply corrupted. This has led to a process I’ve followed pretty consistently over the years:

  • Gather as much sample data as possible. Edge cases matter.
  • Do not reinvent the wheel.
    1. Look to the open source community for tools and libraries but understand the code top-to-bottom before integrating it. Respect licenses. Give back.
    2. Consider high-quality third-party libraries but avoid low-cost low-quality options.
    3. Study the format’s specifications when it’s helpful. Don’t be afraid to dig in.
  • Encapsulate your work. Need to clean-up invalid XML, transform it into HTML via XSLT, and then convert the result to PDF? That’s three distinct steps, so make three decoupled components to get the work done. Divide and conquer reduces the complexity you face on a given day and promotes reusable components.
  • Work iteratively. Small successes keep you going.
  • When the work is looking extremely difficult, such as working with corrupt files, simply refuse to give up. Walk away and come back to a problem later if you need a break, but always come back.

In the end, we have abstracted away these complexities away from our customers and made document imaging an area of expertise for the team.

Being part of the development team is hard work, day in and day out.   What does your team do to stay motivated?

Establish ownership, create purpose and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Everyone on the team takes ownership of the solutions we build. Knowing that your teammates are as committed to the project as you are makes every difficult decision, every bug, every complex problem more satisfying to solve.

A clear sense of purpose drives you towards goals, even when they are far off in the distance. Understanding why you are building a solution makes working on small pieces of a very large puzzle far more enjoyable, because you understand how your work contributes to the completed picture.

Perhaps most importantly, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our team builds solutions that impact real people in healthcare settings and we abide by strict regulations. With that kind of weight on your shoulders, you need relief. A relaxed environment, regular hilarity, shared entertainment, and good food help remind us that we’re all humans striving to balance work and play.

Looking into the future, what are you most excited about?

Bringing customers live on VitalCenter Online Archival. It’s designed to scale, both in terms of users and data, and being able to watch those numbers in real-time via a beautiful dashboard will be amazing. It used to be that I could watch GalenETL saturate a powerful server’s capacity and marvel at the work it was doing. With VitalCenter Online I get to watch something similar, except it’s aggregated across all of our customers and much larger in scale. Super cool.

I’m also a sucker for user interface design, and want us to build compelling user experiences. As we perform usability studies and receive client feedback, we’ll be making changes to VitalCenter Online Archival and eCalcs to improve the experience. I can’t wait to see how things look and feel a year from now. Professionally, almost nothing would make me happier than knowing our clients can happily get in and get out of our applications quickly so they can take back some of their time.

Caught the Galen culture bug? Meet some other awesome Galeneers here

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