On Monday, May 17th, as participants started their tenth week of course instruction, we hosted our 11th Town Hall with guest speaker Dev Nambi, Principal Data Engineer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (@fredhutch).
Dev is currently working in Fred Hutch’s Data Core and Data Viz teams where he builds systems to empower scientists, enabling and accelerating the pace of research. Dev is a data scientist and data engineer and describes himself as a jack-of-all-trades developer and an aspiring polymath.
At the Town Hall, Dev spoke about his job at Fred Hutch and gave lots of tips for people looking to launch a career in data science and software development. He said that to be a good data scientist, you need to know software engineering, statistics, and the business domain you’re working in. “They say that data scientists know more about software engineering than any statistician and more about statistics than any software engineer.”
He gave a typical problem that they would address at Fred Hutch. “Does smoking affect individual cellular DNA? If so, by how much, and can you actually test this? We are doing research so someday we could take a blood sample, sequence your DNA, and tell you.” Dev said the next step is obtaining the data and interpreting it. “Data-intensive visualization is available now; tools exist and the training is still in its infancy,” Dev said. “If you go to viz.fredhutch.org, you’ll see examples of cellular atlases: we sequence millions of cells and turn them into a visual atlas to see how different cell populations behave.”
If you’re seeking a career in data science or software engineering, Dev suggests: “Do lots of side projects. Do projects that interest you and are personally compelling so that when you’re stuck and frustrated, you’ll keep going.” If you don’t have job experience in a particular field, such as in data science, Dev advises to do a side project that has broad relevance, addressing a challenge everyone faces. “Then write a blog series about it and post the data publicly,” he said. (He once wrote a blog series about the data problem of buying a car, and looked at 500-600 different cars). “Have a blog and an online presence that showcases your work. If you’re going through a Bootcamp, academic course, or a program like Reskill Americans, write a blog about it.”
Dev said that when interviewing, in some ways it’s an advantage if your background is in something totally different than a typical software engineer. Dev’s department had interviewed people who just came out of bootcamps and gave offers to those who had taken their Bootcamp very seriously. “They had done more than just complete their courses and put it on their resumes,” he said. “They were able to talk about their projects and take it a step beyond. Curiosity, persistence, and communications skills are three big qualities that I look for in software engineers. That shows up in people when you interview them.”
While Fred Hutch isn’t hiring as many software engineers as it was before the pandemic, they are still hiring. To see what’s available, click here for their career website. For more information on Dev’s background, please click here.