An Interview with Senior Software Developer, David Cotter, by Eimear Doyle.
As usual, I am out of my comfort zone. Software Development is the unenviable terrain I am about to traverse this time. Think patterns? Think Big Data? Apparently not!
According to our Head of Software Development, David Cotter, it’s think deep…think magic!!
Tell me about your background before GMI?
I’ve worked in three main areas of software development. My first job was in email servers, and then telecoms, then payment card security. So life sciences was a very big change!
And what made you want to join GMI?
Coincidentally, I was interested in genomics and was doing my own study in this area. I spoke to a friend and expressed my interest in the subject. She knew someone in GMI and they contacted me about a prospective role. I was delighted, as taking up a role here gave me the opportunity to change direction and diversify my work. Genomics is dealing with genomic scale data, lots of data and infrastructure, lots of different components. The technical work was different, and its application to the field of genomics represented a change in direction for me as well.
Tell me about your team and set up here at GMI?
We have various projects in a number of areas. For example, there’s a project concerning quality control of genomic data, a project to do with the handling of actual DNA samples, and a project to do with capturing, storing, and managing patient data.
The team members have an opportunity to make a real contribution to any of these areas and they get exposure to all of them. Currently the teams are small; people take responsibility and do more, and at this particular stage that works very well.
What other fields of expertise do software development work with at GMI?
Bioinformaticians: since control of data is very important we collaborate with them to assess the quality of the data we are getting as well and what data is required further down the analysis pipeline.
Scientists play a vital part in the process; determining what data we are going to capture, the genomic data and phenotypic data, medical history etc.
Laboratory scientists have an essential role to play as well; managing samples in the Lab, determining what we are doing with the sample. It’s a multi-disciplinary effort.
Software development, why is it important to GMI?
Universally, software development is becoming more and more important. In GMI, data is a vital part of genomics– capturing data, analysis of it-all of that requires software development.
What type of qualities/attributes do you look for in your team members?
That they demonstrate the ability and flexibility to work in a fast-paced environment and are keen to learn new things; someone who is not necessarily looking for an exact programming language or framework. I am interested in the type of attitude and the environment they have worked in before.
They don’t need to have done the job before, it would be great if they had, but this not a very realistic requirement.
Do you think anyone can do software development, or is it a skill that suits a certain type of person?
It does seem apparent that some people have aptitude for it and others don’t. Usually they have computer science degrees – but not always, and some of the best software developers don’t have a degree, but can demonstrate that they have worked on lots of different projects, are open to new learning, always trying to figure things out, and are passionate about software development.
If you weren’t a software developer, what would you do?
Originally, I intended to do a degree in physics, but I preferred computer science, so maybe a career in science? Perhaps a teacher – I have a notion I am good at teaching.
Why would someone want to work for you?
It’s an opportunity to learn lots of new things in an area you have never worked in before and make a contribution to something meaningful. Figuring things out for yourself and taking ownership.
In terms of culture, what is important to you at GMI?
We are small, at an early stage, and everyone is optimistic. People are very collaborative and open. We have this shared goal about what we are trying to achieve; to sequence a large number of samples and improve outcomes for patients. That is the goal that we share and are working towards.
What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself, about to start off a career in IT at GMI?
You should avail of online resources like Kahn Academy. If you want to learn more about Software Development there’s, for example, Coursera, Code Academy.
Beyond that you can learn genomics on Cousera or Deep Learning on fast.ai. Many of these courses are free. The opportunity is immense — there’s no end to what you can learn now.
To my younger-self? Think outside your definition of software development. Think deep learning. Think genomics.
And what about the proverbial Desert Island question? What would you bring and why?
I would bring a laptop with a magic power supply and wifi connection.
What about food and a knife?
Well, I could use my laptop to watch videos on hunting/gathering. Go on YouTube and learn some new survival skills. A knife? What if it breaks?
I don’t ask about Shakespeare’s Collected Volume. He’d Google it! Of course!