MOD: Masters of Data

Bringing the human to the data

Dave Albert: Doctors need data too

Dave Albert, CTO, Podcast Host

September 23, 2019


...if your report is specifically tailored... once we have enough of those users, we can put that directly in front of them, clearly marked who it's from, but it is relevant information...

We talk to Dave about the system he’s building at Medit for organizing the immense amounts of data medical professionals need to consume.

Ben Newton: Welcome to the Masters of Data Podcast, the podcast where you bring the human the data. And I'm your host Ben Newton. In this episode I interview Dave Albert, CTO and co-founder of Medit, and the host of the CTO and Co-Founder Talk Podcast. I always love interviewing other podcasters and this was fun. We talked to Dave about the system he's building at Medit for combing through immense amounts of data that medical professionals could possibly consume, and putting the information that's actually most relevant to them front and center. And that of course raises some of the same bias and privacy challenges that we've talked about on this podcast before. And Dave and his team take that very seriously, and we got to talk about that. So without any further ado, let's dig in.

Ben Newton: Welcome everybody to a another episode of the Masters of Data Podcast. And I'm your host Ben Newton. And I'm excited to be on today with a fellow podcaster, that's always fun. Maybe a little scary because they actually, yeah, they're part of the dark art, but I'm glad to have Dave Albert on.

Ben Newton: Welcome Dave.

Dave Albert: Thanks so much for having me, Ben. It's a pleasure.

Ben Newton: Absolutely. Dave. He's got a lot of things on his plate right now. And he's a CTO and co-founder of Medit, and we'll talk about that in a minute. And he is also the host of his own podcasts like I was saying, the CTO and Co-Founder Talk Podcast. I suggest everybody go and check that out. So, definitely excited to have you on today, Dave.

Ben Newton: And you know, as per usual what I like to start with, because I think this is all about meeting people and understanding how other people think about the world we live in. So I love to always start it, kind of talked about your background. Like how did you end up where you are? I mean, in the area of health and technology and even starting a podcast and all these things, just give us a little background on yourself. What's your story?

Dave Albert: Sure. So I'm going to jump way back, but I won't stay there too long.

Dave Albert: So when I was nine years old, my dad brought home a computer from work. And I thought it was no different than the pong machine and the Atari 2600 that I'd been playing with. Started playing games on it. Realized one of the games that I was playing was a little too hard. You know, they were all built in Basic back then, and I found variables that I was able to change to make the game easier. I then bought a few books and had the, I can't remember the name of them, but the magazines that had all the Basic code in it that you would type down, and then save it onto a tape drive after you've typed it all in and try to make it work.

Dave Albert: Then, when I was in college, I-

Ben Newton: No, no, wait, what computer was this?

Dave Albert: So we had the-

Ben Newton: A fellow nerd here.

Dave Albert: Yeah, yeah. We had the Compaq portable.

Ben Newton: Oh.

Dave Albert: The one with the little, I don't know, the four, six-inch screen.

Ben Newton: Oh yeah.

Dave Albert: And then after that I had the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. Then we went through a number of 286s, 386s, 486s, and on.

Ben Newton: Okay.

Dave Albert: Then I was in college and I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. My advisor said, "Oh, you need to do an additional class, so go take this programming class. It's supposed to be pretty easy and interesting." So, "Oh, that sounds cool. I like computers." And in one of the sessions, the professor said something about, "Well, when I worked at IBM..." I said, "Wait, wait, wait. You got paid to play with computers? That's a thing?" I was halfway through my first semester of college before I knew I could get a job doing it, and I was like, "Well, this is obvious. There's no reason to do anything but this."

Dave Albert: And then I went and worked at a bank as a network administrator, IT manager. Left there, tried to start an internet security company, back when that wasn't a thing. But I was too naive to actually do it properly. I had too much of a hacker mindset, as in, I was a little too Richard Feynman. I couldn't charge enough to make it a viable business, but I wanted everybody to have internet security. Anyway, after that, a friend of mine got me to come work at a hospital as a systems administrator for a short term contract, that ended up turning into a number of years.

Dave Albert: Then I transitioned to a clinical analyst at a hospital, which is kind of like a cross between IT support and software development. And then because of the software we use there, I ended up... So this was all in West Virginia, in the United States. I was on a mailing list about this medical healthcare software we used, and through that list I ended up getting an offer to come to Ireland for a job interview, and I was like, "Oh, what a great story." I had a free trip to Ireland and the next thing I know, I guess we'll sell everything and move to Ireland.

Dave Albert: My youth was not planned out so well. It just sort of fell into place. And after four years there, the contract expired and I realized I needed to... The IT support elements were just draining my soul. And realized that the creation of software, and the operational elements of it, but the creating, it gave me energy. But resetting passwords and things like that over and over and over just sucked all the energy away from me. And I went to be a lead developer at a marketing agency where I met my current co-founder. She and I worked in a very similar situation. So this was a healthcare marketing company. I was the lead developer. She was a senior client director, I think was her title. I don't remember. I didn't pay much attention to that. I just liked the code I was getting to write.

Dave Albert: We worked together for a few years. She went off to a pharmaceutical company to become the global head of digital marketing for that pharma company. We stayed in contact and I went to be a senior site reliability engineer at Symantec. So that was a great opportunity to learn a lot of about operations of high scale solutions. So I learned a lot, great team there, but we had stayed in touch and we just both wanted to own our own thing. A little bit of ambition, a little bit of naiveté, which I'm sure everyone has in their first full time venture.

Ben Newton: Yeah, I would say so. I think that's kind of core to the recipe, isn't it?

Dave Albert: Yeah. And so we started our company, and we were looking for the product that made the right fit. We knew it was probably going to be in health care and that's where Medit came in. So Medit, we're trying to curate the medical web for healthcare providers. So basically we pull in all the blogs, journals, websites, podcasts, videos, everything that a healthcare provider would want to know about on the internet related to medicine. And using machine learning, and peer-to-peer recommendations, we categorize, filter and recommend the right content for the user based on who they are, what they do, and how they act with the content that we're providing. So, what do they read? What do they ignore? What do they like, what do they dislike, what do they bookmark, share? All that sort of stuff.

Ben Newton: You know, when you and I talked before, I love your story, especially the decided to go to Ireland bit. I think that's fantastic. I can see how the love of computers got you into software. But tell me a little bit more about, you had spent time in healthcare, you had an appreciation for that industry. What made you decide that this... It sounds like an interesting problem of kind of collating and presenting news and information to these medical professionals, but what made you just think that that was a problem that needed to be solved?

Dave Albert: Really, so my co founder, she is our CEO and I'm the CTO. So a lot of the drive towards that problem was through what she was seeing as a digital marketing expert in the pharmaceutical industry was how you get things in front of doctors. So the main thing for her to do was to understand what it is doctors and other healthcare providers care about. And by next year, medical information will double every 72 days.

Ben Newton: Wow.

Dave Albert: I believe those are the right numbers, but it's definitely right in that area. But it will double every 72 days. So that's crazy. All of the amount of information that existed up to one point will be doubled a couple of months later. That's insane.

Ben Newton: And what's driving that growth?

Dave Albert: It's just like the same with all information, but the more doctors you have that are forced to, forced might not be the right word, but they must publish. So to grow in their career, they have to publish. There's also, with each disease area that's found, there are more people finding interest in it. So with any type of issue that has an awareness type of campaign around it, there's going to be more research around it. So there's going to be more papers published. It's going to be more articles about those papers. So it's just an ongoing snowball of content. And so that's what made Julie understand that it was a significant problem. Understood that there's no current solution that that fills quite this void, and that should we be able to fill this void for the healthcare providers, then we could easily monetize it through sponsored content and other sponsored elements within the application. But they're all very upfront and clearly marked.

Dave Albert: So instead of a pharmaceutical company sponsoring a report that ends up in a journal, a paper journal, that may end up in shrink wrap sitting on a doctor's desk until it ends up in a recycle bin. Instead of that, or also being in the same journal with a hundred other articles that that particular health care provider doesn't care about. So how much time do they have to go through that whole document, that whole magazine, to find the one thing that matters to them? Chances of finding it are slim. But if your report is specifically tailored to psychologists in Ireland, once we have enough of those users, we can put that directly in front of them, clearly marked who it's from, but it is relevant information.

Ben Newton: That makes a lot of sense. And in some level, it sounds like this is a specific problem for the medical industry that is just reflective of the wider thing going on in society right now. Because when you're talking about shrink crack magazines that don't get read that sounds like at my house. I'm like, "Oh I should read these magazines." And then you know, like my wife's like, "Have you read any of those that are in that box over there?" "Uh, I intended to."

Dave Albert: Absolutely. That's why I can vividly see the, I can't remember the titles of them, but they were the magazines that related to computers and other software that were larger than a magazine but smaller than a newspaper. I can't think of what they were called, but I can't remember how many of them I had sitting on my desk. And that was years ago. So that was before you even had the number of outlets that you have now. So you know, Medium, LinkedIn, Twitter, it's just there's so many places to get content now.

Ben Newton: Yeah, no, absolutely. And are you guys, right now, are you focusing on in particular geographic area or particular medical disciplines? Or like where are you kind of starting your focus?

Dave Albert: Our big focus right now is Ireland, the UK, the U.S. and Canada. Those are the places we believe we can monetize most quickly. But really, anywhere where medicine is practiced in English, we're usable and valuable. So our marketing campaigns are more focused on the four big area. Ireland, because we are here and have, but the UK, and the U.S. and Canada are also pretty high on our list.

Ben Newton: Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. And as you're talking through it, one thing that does come to mind, and you and I had touched upon this when we were thinking about what to talk about, was a few different times on this podcast I've interviewed and talked to people about privacy and bias in data. And where a lot of it comes down to is, you know, the company that we love to love and love to hate, depending on your perspective, but Facebook in terms of like a lot of the hot water they've gotten into lately. And a lot of its been around news streams, in about how much they are or are not controlling those new streams, and echo chambers, and all different kinds of things like that. And it sounds like this is something that you guys would be distinctly dealing with as well. So how do you think about that and how do you guys work around that and try to avoid some of those problems? What's your thinking on it?

Dave Albert: Yeah, it's definitely something that is front and center in everyone on the team's mind. We use machine learning and data points based on user's behavior so that they get the experience that is right for them. But we also make sure not to share any of that information with other places. So like even though, let's say we do have some sponsored content related to, I think I mentioned psychologists in Ireland earlier, the company that wanted their information promoted in front of those people, we could make sure that it was only seen by the psychologists in Ireland. But the pharma company would not know any of the details of the specific users. So we could let the pharmaceutical company know, yes, there are this many people who saw it. There are this many people who read it. This is the amount of time they spent on it. But they would not know Ben Newton spent 10 minutes on this. We would never share that.

Dave Albert: We also want to make sure that we don't create echo chambers. Now, luckily most of medicine that is used for decision making is peer reviewed and thoroughly investigated. But still we don't want to just have that bias confirmation reinforcement. So we're always thinking about what we can do to make sure that, are we maybe giving contrasting examples of different perspectives? To make sure that, just like in the political ecosystem, people on the left are pretty much only seeing left leaning news and people on the ride are only seeing right leaning news, and so that creates a bigger divide. Whereas in reality those people in person are much less divided than they are on the platforms where they have their tribes.

Dave Albert: So I think it's a little bit different of a problem but it's still very relevant and top of our mind. So everything we do, it's always about what are we actually incentivizing? So we're giving you this information, and your action of doing this will increase the likelihood of seeing that in the future. Making sure that we don't drive anyone down some hole because they liked one thing one time and now that's all they see.

Ben Newton: And even listening to you talk about it, I could... Two things come to mind. I'd be really interested to hear how you think about. One is that you brought up pharmaceutical companies a couple of times, and there could always be this sense of like how do you avoid that, they clearly have a very strong vested interest in influencing doctors one way or the other. So how do you avoid that that pharmaceutical money doesn't overly bias the system you're building for one. And then, and I was even thinking, I come from a science background myself, and I think it was Max Planck gave this quote that I read the other day, which is, I think it was Max Planck, but I read in another book and it was something like, "Science advances one funeral at a time."

Ben Newton: Meaning that like people tend to hold onto opinion strongly and they tend to go to one direction, and then somebody will move on, and then the thought process moves somewhere else. And you saw that with like a lot of things in physics, and I'm assuming in medicine as well, that there probably are groups of people that tend to congregate around a particular idea. So, are either one of those a particular issue you feel like you guys are dealing with? Or am I missing it?

Dave Albert: I would say the second one, I'm not sure. It's something that we definitely do consider. I have no good answer for. But it is on our minds and it's actively considered, so that's better than nothing. I mean, the problem-

Ben Newton: Awareness in the first step, right?

Dave Albert: Yes, exactly. And no one has ever accurately solved that problem. Right? So if no one has solved it, the chances of us having it before we've even gotten real traction, that's not possible. But it is in our minds and ingrained within the team already, that these are things that we need to care about. The issue about the bias from pharmaceutical companies, yes, we definitely think about that. That's why any promoted material is clearly marked that it's promoted. It's clearly marked who it's been promoted by. The content is tracked with analytics to show the results of how it's received.

Dave Albert: Now that doesn't necessarily give a positive or negative connotation back, but this is letting the authors know whether the information is valuable or not. So yeah, even as I'm saying that, I could see how that could still be gamed. So yes, it's absolutely on our mind, but we also know that this is something that's not new in the medical industry. You know, there's always been pharmaceutical reps who bring around, well it's less now because of regulations, but bring around lunch, and pens, and sometimes in the past there were trips, places, and things like that.

Dave Albert: So that sort of activity has always been around. So our hypothesis is that the medical professionals have been trained, I mean, not necessarily through a training program, but just through the understanding of the awareness that that is an issue. So we make sure that it's clear that this is not necessarily organic material, but that it is relevant to you.

Ben Newton: Yeah, that makes sense. And in all fairness, I think that happens in sales and marketing in any industry. I mean, I've spent years in that area and there's always a balance there, because it's like, "Oh, you're trying to sell me something, you must be evil." "Well, no, not really. I'm just trying to... We're all making living here." But on the other hand, I think with medicine there's that extra tinge of this is about lives. This is about biology, which just tends to add an extra level of anxiety on top of it, maybe.

Dave Albert: I think that's probably not wrong. I think we do also have... One thing about the medical industry is often things do move slower than in other industries. So the chance of a single piece of content or material making a drastic impact is less likely than in technology, where everybody's trying to move fast. And one article from one high profile individual can lead to a bandwagon effect, where now there's a new piece of technology that everyone is talking about. And it's not necessarily been vetted by more than just a few thousand Twitter followers. If you know what I mean.

Dave Albert: And you're absolutely right about the marketing elements from other industries. Like one of my favorites is Digital Ocean. You know, they're a hosting company. They have one of the absolute best platforms for basically a knowledge base of just articles about everything. Obviously, they're not doing that out of pure altruism. They're doing it as a bit of marketing, but it's also really valuable content. I mean a lot of it's written by different people in the community as well as members of the company. But it is a valuable resource, even though it is also in an effort to make more money.

Ben Newton: Yeah. And this actually does come up a lot, even in my own area and things I do every day, is that I think sometimes we don't give credit to the people that are consuming this information. They're not as naive as sometimes we think they are. Like, you people were smart. But I think the approach that you guys are taking, where you put it on the surface... It's different if you hide it, and people don't know. But if you're up front with what's happening, and particularly with these promotions and stuff like that, then, people are smart. They can make their own decisions. And I think that that seems like a pretty good approach to getting around a pretty thorny problem. So, this is... I think what you guys are doing is really, really interesting.

Ben Newton: And of course the flip side of that, is that part of the reason why we connected is because you have a podcast where you talk about some of the trials and tribulations of starting and running your own company. So, being a founder. So to talk to me a little bit about that, why did you start the podcast? And what's it about? And what do you talk about it?

Dave Albert: Sure. So it started because I've always known that having a personal brand, air quotes, is value. The more content you create, the more there's an understanding of you, which can help... Probably less, there's going to be fewer healthcare providers reading or listening to my content, than there will be technical people. But as we began to grow, hopefully soon, it'll be easier to explain to people who I am, if there is a lot of information out there.

Dave Albert: It also... Well, so I'm not much of a writer. I tried to blog for awhile. I just, it didn't work. I have minor dyslexia when I was younger, or slight dyslexia might be what it was called. Anyway, I have a hard time writing continuous statements, as in what a blog looks like. I seem to really like talking about technology, and I thought, "Well, I should have a podcast."

Dave Albert: And I started that with pretty much the sole purpose of just trying to get my words out. Then I realized that I wasn't doing much with it, because I was trying to overcomplicate and make it perfect. And basically the first year I only had maybe four or five episodes. And then I said, "You know what, I'm going to stop that. I'm just going to try to create something." And started recording episodes, and then I thought, "Instead of waiting until it's good to invite people on to talk, which is my end goal anyway, why don't I just start asking people I know?" And I would ask a person and almost everyone just says, "Yes, I would like to talk to you about the..." So it has both turned into, and always was supposed to be, a podcast that I wish I had had before I had started.

Dave Albert: So it is the opportunity to talk in a long form format, uninterrupted for a change, in today's modern world. Everybody turns their phones off before we start recording. So that's great. Just to talk about different elements of technology and creating a business and being part of a startup. Really I just try to talk about things that are interesting to me, but that are also relevant to anyone who either is in a startup, wants to be in a startup, or has dreamed about starting a company for years, because I've been all of those people.

Dave Albert: And so I just wanted something that if I could have... I know for a lot of entrepreneurs it's really hard not to make your own mistakes, but if you have heard people discussing a certain mistake, you may recognize that mistake in yourself before you've gone too far down the path and realize, "Oh, down this path, there, there be dragons, let's go back to the other way. Because this is what Dave and that other guy, or that other lady, were talking about. Let's not do that. Let's do the right things."

Dave Albert: So yeah, I get to talk to cool people, and hope to get you on after we get this one recorded. Yeah. So people like yourself, other people in technology, people who are in startups, people who facilitate startups. It's just interesting conversations that happen to be recorded.

Ben Newton: I like that. I like that. You know, it's interesting you say that because a lot of times when I recruit people for this podcast, is I say I started off recruiting topics, and now I realize I recruit people. I think it's all about the conversations and interesting people. And I like that.

Ben Newton: And you know, now that you've been doing this, what are a couple of things that you felt like you've learned from doing the podcast? Other than actually how to make a podcast. But what have you learned from these conversations?

Dave Albert: I really have a hard problem describing particulars like that. So, no, like I listened to hundreds of hours of audiobooks, and hundreds of hours of podcasts, and talk to dozens if not hundreds of at meetups. So I don't necessarily know where the things I know come from.

Ben Newton: I hear you.

Dave Albert: So, if anything I've said on this podcast has been stolen directly from someone else, it was not intentional and reach out to me and I'll give you full credit. But I am just an amalgamation of all the people I've met, and all the conversations I've had, and the thoughts that have come from that.

Ben Newton: I like that.

Ben Newton: But it has been a good learning experience for you? It sounds like.

Dave Albert: Oh, absolutely. I mean the number one learning experience in my life has been the startup. It's harder than anything I've ever done, but it's been the number one learning experience.

Dave Albert: Number two is probably the podcast. So, and I mean, the startup has so much inbuilt responsibility that it's far above anything else in my life in what I've learned from it, because I've had to learn. But the podcast is also much higher than most anything thing I've done. Just because I get that deep learning from different people, and usually after someone talks to me, they're willing to introduce me to the next person. So it's almost like finding the bibliography as you go through a book, you get to the bibliography and you read the next book in the series. And so, I asked each person that I talked to, who else should I speak to? And they usually can point me in a direction, if not give me someone specific.

Ben Newton: Yeah, no, I think that's great. And I absolutely agree with you. I mean, one of my favorite parts about running a podcast is getting to hear those different perspectives, and I'll find it influenced myself. And it influences me in ways that it's hard to even pinpoint, because you hear all those people describing what they've gone through and their opinions, and it kind of seeps into you. And I think that's one of the best things about it. So I can totally relate.

Ben Newton: Yeah. So, I definitely suggest everybody listening to Dave's podcast. He's had a lot of really great guests on there. I always love having other podcasters on here. I think it's fun to support the community and to keep the good content coming out. But you know, Dave, I've had a lot of fun talking to today. I really think that you've got an interesting story. I think that what you guys are doing at Medit just sounds fascinating, and I think it's great that you guys have such open eyes about some of the problems you're facing. And I wish you guys all the luck, and I appreciate you taking the time to come on the podcast today.

Dave Albert: Thank you so much for having me, and all the support. I look forward to having you on as well.

Ben Newton: Absolutely. It's a date. And thanks everybody for listening to the podcast and as always, check us out on your favorite podcast player, distributor, wherever you find good podcasts today. Rate us and review us so that people can find us, and look for the next episode in your feed. Thanks everybody for listening.

Speaker 3: Masters of Data is brought to you by Sumo Logic. Sumo Logic is a cloud native machine data analytics platform, delivering real time continuous intelligence as a service to build, run, and secure modern applications. Sumo Logic empowers the people who power modern business. For more information, go to For more on Masters of Data, go to and subscribe, and spread the word by rating us on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

The guy behind the mic

Ben Newton

Ben Newton

Ben is a veteran of the IT Operations market, with a two decade career across large and small companies like Loudcloud, BladeLogic, Northrop Grumman, EDS, and BMC. Ben got to do DevOps before DevOps was cool, working with government agencies and major commercial brands to be more agile and move faster. More recently, Ben spent 5 years in product management at Sumo Logic, and is now running product marketing for Operations Analytics at Sumo Logic. His latest project, Masters of Data, has let him combine his love of podcasts and music with his love of good conversations.

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