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Software Development with Darren Platt - All about hiring

Amber: [00:00:00] Great to have you back, Darren.

Darren: [00:00:01] Absolute pleasure to be here.

Amber: [00:00:04] We're going to continue the topic of software development resources from our last episode. So last time we looked at how software development groups in biotech space are different from other industries, and you gave some great tips on how to stay competitive against big tech industries, big tech companies. Today let's talk about hiring.

[00:00:26] Is there any specific job site that you usually post your job to, you know, any sites tailored specifically to biotech industry needs or just in general?

Darren: [00:00:37] I mean, recruiting is one of the hardest things we do. And the problem is that we're looking for good software developers and they could have been working for anyone. So if we just put things out in biotech space, we may miss a really good software developer who wants to leave, know a bank or NASA or something and come and work for us. So we would definitely push things through LinkedIn. And that's been very, very helpful. We use biotech specific forums like Biospace or Synbiobeta. I'd say better for getting the more sort of biology jobs, less good for getting small software developers and then leveraging personal networks. A lot of people end up applying because of their friends or, you know, they live with or they know somebody who already works for the company and sort of raves about it or they just reach out to me. I've had surprising success with my current team recruiting from Twitter. We use F# pretty exclusively and that's a small, tight-knit community, and so everybody knows everybody. And so I've just seen people on Twitter saying I need a F# job, or I put something out there and people reply, and that's been really actually quite successful. And then we always try and we always try to reach out to communities that might otherwise not necessarily apply to us. At the same rates, we've posted on Women Who Code, specialty forums for people in incubators, startup incubators and things like that, trying to get sort of different types of people coming to us. Had a steady supply of interns over the years, some really bright. Often kids sort of at different stages of their learning who come and work for us for a while, go back to school, and they may or may not come back and sort of taking a full-time job when they finish. Sometimes they'll even go on and get a PhD. So it might be years before they come back to you, but intern can be a pretty good investment. But you have to be very creative. It's definitely a competitive field.

Amber: [00:02:30] It's great to hear that you're posting jobs on Women Who Code. I'm actually part of the group. I know there's a lot of good talent in that group. And then for interns, do you usually find a specific college to post, or do you just post on LinkedIn, specifies this is the intern position.

Darren: [00:02:47] Actually, I've done it two ways. I've definitely just opportunistically we've had people reach out and say, are you looking for interns? And often are too busy to even say, look, we would take an intern, but if we get a good candidate who just takes the initiative and reaches out to us, we'll definitely consider them. And then some years where we've been more focused and said we definitely want to recruit some interns for the summer, we have put ads out on our website and through the usual means, but also targeted schools where they have good traditional CS programs or biocomputing programs, and just ask people through contacts to put out job up on notice boards and things like that. And that's worked quite well. And I've been privileged to work with some incredibly smart people early in their career that way.

Amber: [00:03:36] I see that's great. So when I hire for my company, I typically like to hire someone for the long term. To filter that, one thing I looked at is their employment background and their histories. How long have they stayed at each job in the past? I wonder, are there any specific traits that you have noticed that make someone stay in the biotech industry longer than others?

Darren: [00:03:59] That's a hard question to answer. I'm not sure I really have the, necessarily have precise enough statistics to tell you why somebody says or doesn't. And we, you know, I would always do all the usual sort of good practices when you're hiring somebody, checking references and things like that to make sure that they're going to be a good fit for what we want. You know, somebody leaves the job repeatedly. It's not necessarily they're a bad programmer, it's just that it's not a good fit for what they want to do. I definitely have noticed that people with domain experience so biologists people who come more from the biology side are more likely to stick in biocomputing because it's their long term passion. If you're just a software developer and what you care about is writing good software, it doesn't really matter whether it's for NASA or SpaceX or us or somebody else, then it might be harder to convince them that biotech is absolutely the thing they want to be. If it's just purely software motivating them, a lot of things, it's sort of things they either keep people in a job or drive them away from it are the management practices. Do you work for a high performing team? If you're basically part of a high performing team that's having success and impacting users, that's a pretty good recipe for getting people to stay in any job for the long term. And then people get motivated for all sorts of reasons. I just want to learn language X, you know, if you're using language X, they might say, and if you're not, they may look elsewhere. So I think it's pretty hard to understand. There are definitely benefits to having people there over a longer period of time because you invest an enormous amount of time in them learning your domain and coming up to speed and building a lot of software. So we like people who like us and want to stay.

Amber: [00:05:43] Right, I agree with that 100 percent. So for developers who have not worked in the biotech industry but are interested in building scientific software, and if they don't have the background in science or connection in this industry, what's your advice for them to get into this space?

Darren: [00:06:01] Yeah, I think the first thing is just don't be deterred by the lack of knowledge about biology. Most any company that is building complicated software should be really excited about taking a great software developer. So your software development credentials should be enough to get you in the door. And then they should want to invest in all of the things you need to learn. As I said, I think earlier, some a good team will be made up of people who are really strong biologists with a little bit of programming and people who are really strong programmers, a little bit of biology. And so companies we do, for example, we have coffee and science on a Friday where we just pick a scientific topic and the people who are a little bit more biologically inclined will go over some interesting sort of bit of sort of biotechnology and explain it to the software developers. So that's one way to do it. If you really feel like you need to pick up as much of it as possible before you get the job, then I definitely recommend classic things like networking, find meetups that are sort of crossovers between technology and biotechnology. For example, we tend to present every year on what we're doing at the Open F# conference, which is mostly about F#. But we'll go and talk about the biology we're doing there just to get people interested. And then you can even if you're really keen to sort of dive in and a company doesn't have a full-time position for you, they'll often take you on as an intern with the understanding that they're going to get really good software development out of you and you're going to get a really good education in biology and maybe it'll be a longer term match. I've seen people definitely do that when they're interested in changing jobs and they want to dip the toe in without sort of a strong commitment on the other side.

Amber: [00:07:45] Is there any specific meetups you would recommend?

Darren: [00:07:50] Oh, that's a good question. I've got a very distorted perspective on this because I tend to go to meetups for the software technology. But I definitely know there are working groups around things like particular lab instruments or particular biotech activities, like testing and medical testing and things like that. And sometimes associated with conferences. They can be a little bit expensive. But I often recommend if people want to get a real taste, feel like synthetic biology, go to synthetic biology beta, the annual conference, and you'll get a really good sample of all the different things that go on. And I've personally helped a lot of just friends and friends of friends, get oriented around biotech, because I'm excited about it. I'd like to bring people into the field.

Amber: [00:08:39] So I have one last question for you Darren. What would you like to see in this industry as a whole to improve in the next few years?

Darren: [00:08:49] It is also an excellent question and probably an area where have to bite my tongue on a few things. I don't want to offend anybody, but I think anybody who has been in the field for a while knows about sort of a lot of our weak spots. And I think to be fair to everyone, this is like a brutal field for breaking and validating software methodologies. If you take a regular software company building a website, if you've got 10, 20 developers, you're going to succeed or not succeed based on sort of whether you know, you have a good idea probably or not, you'll have enough software developers to build it. Often in biotech, we're doing a lot of very complicated things really fast, building very complex software. The requirements are changing, the biology changes, and it really shows up good and bad sort of approaches to building software. So without naming names, I would say make sure, particularly for vendors who are building products that have software embedded in them, make sure you're really investing in good people who understand how to write good software. There's a ton of bad software out there and often it gets abandoned. So you buy, you know, a reader that reads something and it comes from software and they release that software and they never fix it. And it has all sorts of bad bugs, sometimes even security vulnerabilities. And they just never, you know, never get around to fixing it.

[00:10:11] And I think there's is bad, and, you know, we paid for an instrument that was many hundreds of thousands of dollars and it came with its software on a CD. We had to actually go out and buy a CD reader to install it. You know, you should be making software available for download. It seems like a pretty basic thing in sort of 2020. But some organizations, I think, spent so much time building the instrument that are trying to finish the software. And I think as a positive example, there are newer vendors like Oxford Nanopore that have built really strong communities around their customers so that customers can log in to their git repo, they can pull software, they can even send them patches and stuff like that. So they're trying to sort of get a lot of help from one other. Just a general piece of advice would be, I'm tired of writing the same thing over and over again. I think in biotech's is like sandcastles on the beach and sort of getting wiped out every time the tide comes in and we sort of fail to learn from all of that investment. And so to the extent we could encourage people to share more software, share more data models of good ways of representing workflows and different types of data, I think that would benefit everyone. And then just pay attention to software development tools, methodologies. You're not shipping crap.

Amber: [00:11:24] Yeah, I totally can hear you when you say you're tired of writing the same thing over and over again because I'm in the same boat.

Darren: [00:11:33] That's why I love Adurosys, because they're going to solve this problem for everyone. So I can just say go and use that.

Amber: [00:11:39] Well, that's what we're trying to do for sure. Well, thank you, Darren, so much for coming on the show and sharing your experience with the listeners. And this concludes our mini-series, kind of conclude our mini-series on the software development of our tech industry. I had a lot of fun talking with you. And I really appreciate your feedback and time.

Darren: [00:11:58] Cool, thanks, Amber

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