Interview with Dan Vice President Product Engineering and Data Services

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Interview with Dan, Vice President, Product Engineering & Data Services

Monday, November 7, 2016

Meet Dan, Vice President Product Engineering & Data Services to know how our employees make most while working in a global company, get into insights into our culture and learn about technology careers with UnitedHealth Group.

  1. What is your current role and how long have you been working with us?

I am Vice President, leading our Product Engineering and Data Services team here in India. Product Engineering is exactly what it sounds like – Product Development. We develop commercial, external facing products jointly with our US team members. Our Data Services team is focused on large data warehouses, Big Data, Analytics, Reporting, etc. Much of the work our Data Services team does is more internal facing, but this capability will be leveraged in the commercial space as well. I have been working for UnitedHealth Group for 8.5 years and have been in my current role for just under one year.

  1. What is one thing that inspires you to do your life's best work(SM) on a daily basis?

I cannot give one only. In an Executive Development program that I participated in at UnitedHealth Group, we were asked to define our ‘Purpose’ in a single statement. Purpose? What is that??? I thought I would really struggle with this! But then I closed my eyes and thought, “What motivates me and gets me excited?” The answer came right into my mind: “To be a genuine partner to those around me while constantly seeking challenge, learning and the opportunity to create something exciting and meaningful.” So it is those things that inspire me – being a partner, being challenged, learning and creating something meaningful. It is four things, not one. Sorry about that!

  1. How do your passions or hobbies outside of work contribute to your role at UnitedHealth Group?

One time, a colleague asked me what my hobbies were in front of my wife. I answered something like, “Programming and fooling around with computers.” I can tell you for certain that it was the wrong answer for my wife! ☺ After some learning the hard way, I would say my hobbies are centered around my family – be that travel, boating, sports, or just supporting my family members in their challenges and joys. Those values of being centered on family and supporting through challenges as well as celebrating joys is a lot of my role at UnitedHealth Group – just substitute team members and colleagues for family. In fact in many ways they are my family at UnitedHealth Group. Oops! I hope my wife wouldn’t be seeing this!

  1. Can you tell us about Optum and its relationship with UnitedHealth Group?

When I first started, Optum was a tiny business. Now Optum is about one-half of UnitedHealth Group and continuing to grow fast! UnitedHealth Group is basically a top-level holding company. Within UnitedHealth Group there are two main businesses. The first we refer to as our ‘Benefits Business’ which is where we deliver insurance business, whether we are taking the financial risk as for small employers or individuals or whether we are merely administering the insurance plan as for large employers or Medicare Advantage. UnitedHealthcare and its subsidiaries comprise this part of the business.

Optum, on the other hand, provides products and services to all stakeholders in the health care system – Doctors, Hospitals, Insurance companies, State and Federal Governments, Pharmacies, Patients, etc. At Optum, we draw on the breadth and depth of our experience in working with UnitedHealthcare to help make the health care system work better for everyone.

  1. What makes the culture at UnitedHealth Group different from other employers?

One immediate answer is the focus on Culture itself. A few years ago we began the ‘Our United Culture’ journey. This was initiated right from our CEO and was recognized as a multi-year journey. Our values of Integrity, Compassion, Relationships, Innovation and Performance are the foundation of everything we do. We really do live these values, as well as support them with specific culture training to help guide us in how we do our work. In fact, this is equally relevant to our lives outside of the office as well! This brings me to another important element at UnitedHealth Group. There is tremendous support for employees in terms of training, learning and development opportunities. I have never seen such support at other companies I have been with.

  1. Can you tell us how an employee can make most while working in a global company like us?

The opportunities are boundless. I think the best advice I can give is to look for and to embrace the opportunities. We are certainly a large company and the eco-system of a large company can be either stifling or invigorating. I am happy to say that at UnitedHealth Group, our size and scale is a huge asset to us, both at an Enterprise level and at the level of individuals. While we are a large company, we work in small and focused teams. We have strong bonds with our co-workers. We have clear direction on what we are doing and, most importantly, why we are doing it. At the same time we have such a rich and diverse set of resources available to us in the company. We have only to look around or ask, and any expertise we need can be available. The opportunities to interact, collaborate and learn are everywhere. All we as individuals need to do is to take advantage of them.

  1. Tell us what it takes to work on a global team and how we use technology to support communication within teams?

The world is a small place – and getting smaller all the time. I am from the US. I am living in Hyderabad. When my son was very young, he was close friends with a boy who lives around the corner from us. Now they are both in University. His friend, Johnny, has been a serious ballet dancer for many years. He even took a year off to study with the New York City ballet company before starting at Swarthmore last year. This is just how small the world is – we were talking to a neighbor in our colony and she mentioned that her son goes to Swarthmore. We ran into him on the street and said, “We know someone at Swarthmore – his is a freshman and took a year off to study dance.” He immediately replied, “You mean Johnny? He is one of my best friends!” So in the US we live around the corner from Johnny and in Hyderabad we live around the corner from Johnny’s best friend – how weird is that???

Working in a Global team is similar. We work with, and build relationships with people from all over the world – US, India, Philippines, Ireland, UK, etc. It is wonderful to be able to make so many new friends. Technologies such as WebEx, Skype, WhatsApp, Email, etc., all bring us together and make the world smaller. The moments when I meet someone face to face who I have been working with remotely for months or years are always very special. It is terrific to have the diversity of people, ideas and cultures as part of our company. I guess my one complaint would be that with a Global organization, it is always the work day somewhere and as such there is always work to do – remembering to power down at (local) night is important!

  1. Where do you see the role of technology in health care in the coming 3 years?

Technology will be central to nearly every change coming in Health Care. The days of paper charts and fax machines are long gone. Today medical records are electronic, doctors and hospitals are connected through EMR (Electronic Medical Records) systems and HIEs (Health Information Exchanges), claims are submitted using EDI (Electronic Documentation Interface) through Clearinghouses, payments are made electronically, consumers book appointments and chat with nurses and doctors from their smartphones, doctors, hospitals and health insurers all monitor the health of their populations using advanced analytics and machine learning. The question of where do I see the role of technology could be turned around to where don’t I see the role of technology! Fundamentally, we need to use technology to anticipate what is needed and to remove friction from the system. But we also need to recognize the critical role of the doctor and ensure that technology is enhancing the doctor patient relationship and not getting between them.

  1. Why should a software engineering professional consider UnitedHealth Group over any other product company?

I often put it this way; Software Engineering and Product Development are hot. Health Care is hot. Product Development within health care is nuclear hot! And UnitedHealth Group, through Optum, is the clear leader in health care products and services world-wide; leader in scale, leader in financial strength, leader in innovation and leader in a great place to work. Why would anyone look further?

  1. Can you share some light on the kind of research and innovation work we are doing in India?

Interestingly, most of our research and innovation work happens in India. Not that we don’t have colleagues in the US and other geographies involved, but the heavy lifting happens in India. We are doing research involving consumer / patient applications such as using Wii and/or Microsoft X-Box to help guide patients in performing physical therapy exercises as well as in predictive analytics and machine learning to help identify patients in need of intervention, health care fraud and many other things that computers can recognize better than us mere humans! The innovation pipeline is wide open and many new things are taken up every week. Another thing we are currently exploring is how we could use blockchain technology (think Bitcoin) to help secure healthcare transactions. Fascinating stuff!

  1. What are some of the health care products that our teams are currently working to redesign health care?

I can’t get too specific since our most advanced things are certainly proprietary, but let me touch on one thing that is public and very exciting. We have a product which we have sold to both Providers and to Payers in the past. This product can find very subtle problems with medical claims that would cause them to be denied by insurers and give exact instructions to resolve the issues. A “bad” claim that gets to an insurance company takes 2-3 weeks to come back to the submitting doctor and increases the cost of processing the claim for the insurance company significantly. While we have been selling this to individual doctor’s offices, hospitals, etc., it is slow to implement that way. Our vision is a National Administrative Claims Utility where all claims for the whole country would flow through this and other tools. In the past year, we have made some major progress towards achieving this. Instead of selling to individual doctors, we have partnered with nearly all the major clearinghouses that handle the electronic submission of claims. Now, instead of just passing the claim to the insurance company, they run the claim through our tool to ensure it would be paid and if there is a problem it is sent right back to the doctor or hospital. This saves the doctor or hospital a lot of time and money and saves the insurance company time and money – this is our vision: Make the health care system work better for everyone.

  1. Tell us more about the Technology Development Program in India.

In India, our Technology Development Program is focused on hiring students directly from their colleges, be it as full time employees or as interns. The program helps us to bring in fresh ideas, new talent and enthusiastic new colleagues. The program is pretty formal – we have induction and some training, both in technical specialties and in health care, then we have what is called an ‘Active Learning Project’ where new joiners get to exercise and hone their skills on live projects. Post that, they join their first product teams. We closely and mentor all our new joiners and also look to shift their projects and/or roles within the first six months so that in one year they will have experienced multiple roles and possibly multiple products. This breadth of experience gives them a great foundation to build a long career with UnitedHealth Group.

  1. As a fresh graduate what kind of growth & development opportunities can one expect at UnitedHealth Group?

There are tremendous opportunities for learning and development at UnitedHealth Group. We have a rich catalogue of training covering both technical and “soft” skills. Some is computer based and can be taken at convenience. Some is leader led and held either within our offices or at offsite locations. We also support our employees in getting any certifications they may be interested in pursuing. Some common ones are PMP (project management), AHM-250 (health care), CSM (certified scrum master), etc. Finally, we are preparing to launch a program that will give support from the company for those who want to pursue higher studies while still remaining as an employee. In terms of career growth, really the sky is the limit. UnitedHealth Group and Optum are very fast growing and highly dynamic. Hence, it is possible to pursue many paths to personal and career growth. No two people’s paths will be the same!

  1. How do you mentor your teams for greater growth?

We have a very strong culture of support and development. Every employee – from newest individual contributors to myself – has a Development Plan that is maintained in a self-service tool. Any training courses or even ad-hoc activities can be automatically linked to the appropriate goal in someone’s development plan. We have routine 1-1 meetings between every employee and their manager on a regular basis. The intent of these meetings is not project status, but rather coaching and guidance to help people grow and progress. These are two way meetings where the manager is also looking for feedback from the employee! In addition, we have special mentoring programs for all our new joiners through TDP and also for our managers. We have a program called ‘Manager Alpha’ that all new managers can avail as well which is focused on what it takes to be a good manager and coach for a team. So many support systems are there – it is an environment where you almost can’t help but grow and prosper!

  1. What advice would you give to someone who is about to begin their career in technology or software engineering?

My best advice is look forward to the challenges. Some of my best memories of my career and most rewarding times tended to be the times I was working the hardest. Whether it is on a brand-new product development that fundamentally changed an entire market or whether it is during a crisis caused by bugs or problems in our products, I have found that when we are forced to rise to a challenge it becomes a great experience. Even in cases of terrible product problems that profoundly impacted our customers, it is how we react and what actions we take to resolve the issues that define us. So learn, look for opportunities and look forward to the challenges! Best of luck on your journey!!!

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