Behind the Scenes at Semaphore Solutions

This month, we thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain and give you a chance to learn a little more about Semaphore Solutions and the members of our team—how we got started as a company and what’s important to us as individuals.

At the start

Eleven years ago, a group of enterprise software professionals saw an opportunity to bring their collective experience to bear on challenging software engineering problems in complex domains—and to that end, we started Semaphore Solutions. Soon after, we were approached by Genologics and Illumina to customize Clarity LIMS for Illumina’s high-throughput lab in Cambridge, UK. This project was a huge success and resulted in further collaborations with Illumina and leading NGS laboratories, including Illumina’s lab in San Diego, Helix, and top 10 US hospitals.

One thing that became clear to us early on was that by applying software engineering expertise, our work was having a significant positive impact on the laboratory operations challenges of some extremely ambitious innovators. We now work exclusively with labs performing high-complexity molecular diagnostics and are extremely excited about the prospect of helping this sector continue to innovate.

Things that are important to us

The members of our team all bring their own unique experiences and ideas to the work we do. When we asked them what’s on their mind these days, they offered the following responses.

The one thing I wish our clients knew

Mike G, Strategy & Innovation

Large-scale automation—or standard operating procedure (SOP) digitalization—forces you to be really rigorous. It’s tough, it involves a lot of thinking through the details, and it’s better to start much earlier than you think. We’re good at what we do, but it can take time to solve complex problems. It’s a collaborative and iterative process, and you’re almost definitely going to need to set aside a significant chunk of time to answer our questions so we can help you overcome your most pressing challenges.

Pidge H, Project Manager

Time spent focusing on user needs is never wasted. Flipping the focus from “What can I make?” to “How does this serve the needs of the user?” is essential. Testing an interface with users outside the design team always presents surprises. While we can imagine user needs and usage patterns, real-life testing highlights things that aren’t expected and that can improve and streamline design.

Shabab A, Solutions Engineer

A laboratory information management system (LIMS) is a system that has to be designed and architected through software engineering. It’s not an application that works out of the box.

Cameron Y, Project Manager

Our goal is to make you as successful as possible. Our strength lies in providing solutions that are the most efficient for you. Our solutions may not be exactly what you had in mind, but they will always be what is most effective for the task you need to accomplish.

Owen D, Project Manager

It’s easy to forget that building software right takes a lot of work. From the outside, it’s hard to see how important specifying, designing, planning, testing, reviewing, and even just talking about the solution is, and how much time it takes to do it right. But that time spent at the beginning of the project immediately pays off the first time you don’t have to re-work something. That said, our clients are awesome and this generally isn’t a problem for us.

Danny H, Program Manager

Software solutions should be embraced but carefully managed. Not all problems require software and not all software solves problems. Software is only as good as the people writing and maintaining it.

Bethany L, Office Manager

Communication, collaboration, and teamwork are critical for getting the work done.

Nik A, Software Developer

Testing infrastructure, while not generally considered a deliverable that is part of a production release, is extremely important for speeding up and improving development. It can decrease the cost/time of the deliverables by a large factor or even mean the difference between a project that is viable and one that isn’t.

Eban T, Business Development

Software is a complex expressive medium, not a static capital asset. It requires care and feeding in the form of implementation services, change management efforts, updates, and changes to configuration. You can either pay now, or pay later—the question that drives which option you end up with is, “Do we want to have a known and low-risk stable solution, or do we want to completely change software platforms every 4 to 8 years?”

The one thing I’ve learned that I wish people knew

Pidge H, Project Manager

There’s always more interesting stuff in the back. I know this from museum work, but this applies across the board. Most people don’t get to see the best things, often because they’re too fragile, too weird, or too risky to share.

Owen D, Project Manager

So many of the challenges people face in development, and life in general, are routine and well explored. We’ve been leaping the same hurdles over and over for a long time. However, there’s still significant value in examining the solutions that already exist to determine if they might also apply to your unique problem and sharing what you do so others can take a similar approach.

Shabab A, Solutions Engineer

Traditional industrial paradigms generate too many externalities. For post-digital companies, the ability to operate at the intersections of the previous artificial boundaries (e.g., environment and preventative medicine) will be a major factor in their success. Furthermore, how effectively they can test and prove diverse ideas, and use them in these new frontier markets, will make an important difference in their competitiveness.

Danny H, Program Manager

The pandemic has shown how easily supply chains for supplies such as food, water, and PPE can be impacted and the lasting effects that disruption can have on global recovery efforts.

Ryan T, Software Developer

Being able to use a search engine effectively is a superpower. Besides Google, there are lots of other specialized search engines for different topics and industries, as well as search tools built into many applications. Knowing what search tools are at your disposal, what they’re capable of, and how to structure your searches to get the information you need quickly can make you look like a wizard at figuring out many kinds of challenges, technical or otherwise.

Bethany L, Office Manager

Life is too short. Make happy choices and build a career you enjoy. Never stop growing, learning, and asking questions.

Nik A, Software Developer

Code doesn’t come out of thin air (Stack Overflow notwithstanding). We don’t just sit and type esoteric looking nonsense with curly brackets and variable names like it’s an essay, in chronological order, left to right, top to bottom, or plunk together things like we’re building a lego set. It’s more like trying to perfect a Rube Goldberg machine—with multiple overlapping lines of motion, where one change could potentially impact the entire mechanism.

Katherine E, Software Developer

The behavior of computers is generally not that mysterious (assuming working hardware). They do exactly what they’re told to. They may have been given incorrect instructions by the user, or by the developer in the case of a bug, but they’re just following the instructions they’ve been given.

Stacey H, Finance Lead

Keeping detailed documentation up to date and with a version history is essential. Documentation lets you transfer knowledge, troubleshoot issues, and can help you identify areas that can be improved or automated.

Claire M, Software Developer

The key thing about software that I think a lot of people don’t get is that it’s soft. It never stands still. It’s constantly changing to meet the needs of its users. Only part of its value lies in what it currently does—most of its value lies in how easily it can be made to do new things. The capacity to add new features fast without breaking existing features is the holy grail of software development, and what great engineers constantly strive to achieve.

Eban T, Business Development

Organizations are as diverse as the human population. Irrespective of academic, non-profit, for-profit, or cooperative-consensus, every organization has a way of doing things. As a human whose job it is to shepherd these organizations into alignment, what I’ve discovered is that it’s up to your individual agency to determine how you want to participate. Do you want to change the organization? Or do you want to change organizations?

If you’d like to learn more about the collaborative work we do, check out our website and our other blog posts.