Behind the scenes with Helix Engineering

Helix

This is part of a new blog series written by the Helix Engineering staff. To follow along with the team as they publish, keep tabs on the Helix Engineering blog category.


At Helix, our mission is to empower every person to improve their life through DNA. We believe in a world where every person benefits from their biological information and is able to help all of humanity lead better lives. Everybody has the right to learn about their DNA—it doesn’t have to be a mystery. We need to find a way to help people learn about themselves, explain the complexity of DNA in ways that are easy to understand, and find partners you trust who will help interpret the information for you.

Delivering on this mission requires a robust, fast-moving engineering team covering a wide range of skills and disciplines. As CTO, I’d like to share with you how we arrived at that team, and where we’re going next.

The genesis of the idea

Science and technology evolve rapidly in the right environments. In 2015, the convergence of several key innovations enabled this vision: First, the cost of next-generation sequencing had dropped substantially; second, the software industry had matured techniques to manage very large-scale data sets; third, the research community had reached an accelerating point of learning about human genomics; and fourth, consumers were showing increasing interest in quantifying themselves and learning about their health and wellness. This led to Helix.

Helix is tackling hard problems in consumer genomics. From building a full next-gen sequencing laboratory, to the large-scale bioinformatics processing of petabytes of DNA information, to the partner integration platform and the consumer experience, our engineers work with a wide open technology landscape.

The lab

Helix is tackling hard problems in consumer genomics

Helix has built a state-of-the-art sequencing lab in San Diego that meets the most stringent CLIA and CAP regulations for performing next-generation DNA sequencing. The processes are controlled by a custom lab information management system.

The bioinformatics engineers and scientists build and improve a high-throughput pipeline to extract meaning from the raw sequence data and validate it. The amount of data generated is massive and requires a dedicated data engineering team. All of these systems run in the cloud, which brings its own challenges and requires specialized DevOps expertise to utilize effectively.

The partner platform

Once we’ve processed the DNA information, we manage it with a platform designed to integrate securely with our partners. Helix requires the highest standards in software development and documentation to ensure a streamlined experience developing, testing, and deploying applications on the Helix marketplace. On top of that is the consumer commerce experience, where you can browse and purchase unique applications to interpret your DNA and help you answer questions about health, fitness, nutrition, ancestry, and many other topics.

Helix engineers use the latest technologies to build our platform. On the back end, we use the Go language to build our microservice-based architecture and data stores (relational and NoSQL) and many AWS services. On the front end, we rely on React for our web applications and fetch data through REST APIs and GraphQL. Our application SDKs are in Swift and integrated with numerous partner apps. The DevOps infrastructure packages services in Docker containers and benefits from an advanced CI/CD pipeline to build, test, and deploy.

Security

Security is at the core of Helix. We apply many measures to achieve security in depth and data protection. Balancing the need for strict security and regulatory compliance with productive development in an agile development is an ongoing challenge we take very seriously.

The team

Helix is at the forefront of an entirely new industry, and we face unique challenges that we love solving every day. We can only succeed with a truly cross-disciplinary team with a diversity of backgrounds. Nowhere else will you find a company that combines world-class genetics with technology expertise, leading design, and innovative business and consumer marketing teams, all driving toward the same goal to unlock the potential of the human genome. We draw expertise from many different fields to work together and solve fascinating problems as an agile team.

The trends I mentioned at the top continue to accelerate: cost and supply chain efficiency, big data capabilities, findings from human genetics research, and expanding consumer interest. I’m excited to play a part in this next wave of innovation in helping people lead healthier lives. If you feel the same way, we’d love to talk with you.

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