Making a difference in software development

Neither I nor Kamil Śliwak, the other co-founder of Code Poets, ever studied chemistry or biology. However, the world of science was always close to us, whether out of pure interest or through many friendships we’ve made during our uni years. And even before we started our company, we participated in a project that aimed to connect business and research.

That world was always somewhere around the corner, and that’s perhaps what helped us realize that we want to do meaningful things as a company. We really want to contribute and work on important software projects that we believe in. It’s what fascinates us, gives us motivation, and fuels our creativity. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—one step at a time.

How exactly we went after bio- and cheminformatics?

The project that changed it all

In 2016, we were hired to create a web app for Chematica, a software for retrosynthesis started by a Polish professor, Bartosz Grzybowski. Being a part of this project was a fascinating experience and, without a doubt, pushed us in the direction of life-science software development. However, in that particular project, we didn’t really need anyone with a scientific background to deliver what we were supposed to.

On the development side, it was just another job, like many others. But in terms of its potential value and scientific significance, it felt different and ensured us that it’s precisely what we want to do for years to come.

Let’s build a dream team of life-science software developers

Even though our scope of work in Chematica didn’t require any experience in biology or chemistry, we already knew that specializing in this field should be the plan for Code Poets. So, the first decision we made was to hire developers who speak the language of science. It turned out pretty quickly that it was exactly the right move, and there are quite a lot of chemistry and biology graduates who switched their occupations to software development. What’s even more important, some of them already worked in software houses and missed the connection to science that they had during their university years. We were a perfect match for them. So, pretty soon after the decision to find scientists that could code, we had plenty of applications, and we started hiring shortly after that.

A few months later, the stars aligned perfectly. During the course of the Chematica project, it turned out that the client also needed support for the back-end side. As opposed to the front-end, in this case, the knowledge of chemistry would help us significantly. So, with the new team members, including chemistry and biology graduates, we were ready to take responsibility for that part of the project as well.

At some point, Chematica started getting attention from some of the biggest companies, including global corporation Merck, which decided to acquire it. During the purchase, we participated in the technical due diligence process, and shortly after, we joined the international team, effectively landing our first corporate cheminformatics client. Since then, we’ve worked on several lengthy life-science software projects while gradually expanding our team of developers with a scientific background, including people with Ph.D. in chemistry and biology.

“What do you mean a cheminformatics software house?”

Everyone on our team must have heard this question at least a dozen times. And it’s perfectly understandable to ask that if you’re not familiar with the term, but we’ve heard it even from scientists who work with bioinformatics on a daily basis. Why is that?

The most obvious reason is that very few software houses have such a specific specialization. Bioinformatics software is developed mainly by academic institutions, startups, and corporations. Software development agencies such as ours are a rarity. Companies usually don’t even consider looking for teams like ours, even when they desperately need a software partner for life-science projects, because they simply don’t think they exist.

Our teammate Karol Bubała learned about it firsthand during his trip to the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting in San Diego. While talking to other participants at the conference and introducing himself as a scientist and a developer from a cheminformatics software house, he would often leave people baffled. One time after another, Karol had to answer questions like “what do you mean by cheminformatics software house?”.

So, let’s answer it by listing a few facts about Code Poets.

  1. Right now, 9 members of our life-science tech team are biology or chemistry graduates, including 2 with a Ph.D. degree.
  2. We focus on hiring developers with a degree or some other scientific background.
  3. We’ve worked on 5 bio- and cheminformatics projects, both with startups and enterprises.
  4. We participate in global industry events, such as the American Chemical Society’s San Diego conference.
  5. Our skillset and experience allow us to work and communicate much more efficiently in life-science projects.

While the first four points are pretty self-explanatory, the fifth one deserves its own separate paragraph.

Scientists and excellent programmers, in this order

Richard Feynman had the most incredible gift of presenting complex ideas in an accessible and even humorous fashion. He could communicate with ease, no matter if he was speaking to a fellow scientist or just an enthusiast without years of formal education.

See, most scientists, no matter how brilliant they are, don’t have that talent. That’s why it’s so crucial for them to work with people who understand their language and what they’re working on. Here’s why we’re able to truly make a difference. With our team of like-minded, experienced developers/scientists, work becomes incomparably smoother and more efficient.

  1. Much more efficient communication, we know the scientific terminology.
  2. We have a complete understanding of the projects we’re working on, which allows us to figure out and suggest better solutions, as well as work faster and avoid mistakes.
  3. As graduates, we have similar experiences; we understand research and other science-specific processes.
  4. We have a similar worldview, and we’re passionate about what we do, which makes us communicate even better.
  5. We’ve worked with startups and corporations. We know the challenges and requirements in both cases.

How does it work in practice?

During one of the projects, we discovered that an algorithm implemented by our client had some crucial flaws. The true nature of the issue couldn’t possibly be found without the expertise in chemistry, even by a highly experienced developer. So we’ve explained the situation to our client, proposed a solution, and quickly dealt with the problem, potentially saving thousands of dollars in work hours thanks to discovering it so early. Of course, that’s just a small example of something that happens very often, but it’s all those little wins that make projects go forward efficiently and save clients money.

And it’s not only the programming experience that comes in handy. One of our projects (L7 Informatics) is software for lab workers. It requires knowledge about lab processes, equipment, and much more things that most devs would have to ask a hundred questions about. We just knew it right away because we’ve worked in a lab, and that’s why we’re more than just developers. As developers with commercial experience and scientific background, we became consultants for our chem- and bioinformatics clients.

Are you looking for a life-science software development team?

Now that you know that teams like ours exist, you can consider hiring us for your life-science project. I hope I’ve done a pretty good job explaining how our team can help build software much more efficiently. And if you have any more questions, we’d happily answer them on a call.