Zane Schafer, Chief Technology Officer at Ovation, discusses his excitement around applying engineering rigor in genomic data and why he is committed to Ovation’s mission to advance precision medicine.
Daunting challenges are fun. They get me out of bed in the morning and keep me out of bed into the night. Intelligently applying modern, commercial-class software engineering techniques to human genomics at scale is definitely such a challenge.
My software engineering career began in a startup that was not very different from Ovation in size and stage. On the other hand, what I was building (project scheduling software) was night-and-day compared to the exciting things Ovation is tackling. As time went on, I had the opportunity to contribute at other growing and successful companies, smaller and bigger. Eventually, I was leading teams that solved our customers’ enterprise-class management challenges with highly automated, high-quality, secure, economically efficient, multi-tenant SaaS solutions.
Here’s the main thing I learned along the way: find, develop and empower top-end software engineering talent that combines teamwork and pragmatic business savvy with, bluntly, “chops.” That’s most of the game right there. Get a critical mass of those people working well together, make sure they’re pointed at a clear, exciting and worthwhile goal and it gets pretty cool pretty fast.
Then came the chance, with Ovation, to apply what I’d learned to make a difference to the world at large – to make software that matters beyond helping our customers make more money. I do concede that a lot of impressive things have been accomplished with good software in healthcare and life sciences, but there’s still a huge upside in bringing more of the management, technology and operational techniques that have been developed in the last decade or so in the broader commercial domain. A lot of the software and tooling we have now was built with more sweat than elegance. That sweat definitely has a place and can get you somewhere, but it usually doesn’t produce consistent quality, price-performance or the ability to continuously improve.
Ovation’s work on bioinformatics pipelines (aligning genomes and calling variants) is a great example. This is a “solved problem,” as it were. But our team has turned a quasi-manual, inconsistent and hard-to-scale system into a repeatable, scalable, high-quality one by adapting techniques learned in other software applications.
It’s very satisfying being a part of the team that is bringing that kind of software engineering rigor to help millions of people live longer, healthier and happier lives. It’s hard, but all the more fun because of that.
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If you want to learn more about our mission to advance the development of precision medicine by enabling the use of molecular and human genomic data at scale, get in touch with our team.