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Blanca Cabrera, Data Scientist within the Clinical Bioinformatics 

Women in Tech

Can you tell me about the industry you’re in and the role you play?

I’m in the healthcare industry. I‘ve always had more of a focus on diagnostics, working with radiology imaging from different types of scanners, and processing them. Now I have moved towards digital pathology which I find really interesting.

The main role that I play is to participate in the digitalisation of healthcare that is taking place nowadays. Basically, creating solutions to existing problems. Using technology and coding.

What led you to work in Bioinformatics?

I’ve always liked the joining of technology and healthcare. I really enjoy working with images and healthcare data. So, Bioinformatics is all about that. I have always been involved with medical technology and I recently had the opportunity of diving into Bioinformatics.

For me, one of my main focuses working on the healthcare industry is that the main goal of the job is something good. The final technology will not be used for developing weapons or making people more addicted to a product. The end goal is to heal, to have a diagnosis or to cure an illness. And I certainly love that.

What is something about your role that many people wouldn’t know about?

I think the role of data scientist is quite new. But it’s also quite mainstream at the same time, a lot of people talk about it. And, it’s quite broad. Under the same job title, people can be working on a wide variety of industries and data to achieve very different goals.

What I do is working with images and omics data. There is a big community of professionals and researchers focused on these fields and it is increasing nowadays. This allows many open-source tools to be available, making the job smoother and enhancing the possible outcomes to get from it.

What is an average day at work for you?

It would be some meetings with my colleagues, to simply update each other or to discuss about project topics. Then, when having to implement a new feature or starting a new project, I would do some research about it and make sure I am understanding everything properly. Because Bioinformatics is a really broad subject, so you can not know everything! When something comes up, it’s about reading, and talking to end users and experts in the field to understand what the actual needs are.

When that’s done, there is a lot of research in how to implement what has been decided and what is the state-of-the-art way to do it. This step is mostly coding and debugging. All in all, it involves a continuous learning on both new biological topics and new technologies.

Working with professionals in the healthcare industry

Where I work is an institute with people having a lot of knowledge in different disciplines. When needed, there is always someone who may be able to help you.

Additionally, most projects are collaborations with hospitals, companies, or research groups. In these, every party has expertise in a specific field. This means that there are a lot of interactions and exchanges of ideas to get the best possible outcome. It is good to keep an open mind, be flexible to changes, and be willing to learn something new every day.

What do you see as the future potentials of Bioinformatics?

There are a lot! I’m really passionate about this field. And there is a lot of research going on nowadays. It’s not only to bring the right information for doctors to make decisions; but also to let them spend more time with the patients and to automate the bureaucratic procedures. These tend to keep them behind a computer and not talking with the patients which is what really matters.

Also, in terms of diagnostic tests, there is so much more information that can be taken nowadays and every day they are discovering less invasive techniques for that. Not only with highly sensitive sensors, but also with high resolution imaging, there is a lot of data that can be processed to have a more precise diagnosis that leads to a better treatment and patient prognosis. This amount of information processed properly contributes to improving precision medicine. To have exactly the right treatment for the right illness and for the right person. The future potentials of Bioinformatics are so broad. It’s very cool that there are so many things that can be done!

What challenges have you faced, if any, in your career?

Two main ones. First, redirecting my career towards coding. I did not come from a computer science background but through my experiences I learned that I wanted to focus more on coding. When you don’t have a computer science background you have to convince people that you are good enough and you have to really work on educating yourself! I think that was one of my biggest challenges!

The second one was finding a job at the beginning of the pandemic! I finished my masters right when the pandemic started. Of course, in the healthcare industry from one side there was a boost of research focused on COVID19. But on the other side, most companies didn’t know what to do because most budgets were frozen due to COVID19. It was such an uncertain situation. A lot of people had lost their jobs, people who were more qualified or with more years of experience were applying to entry level positions. So, that was hard, but I made it!

What do you think would encourage more women to work in the tech industry?

Having more role models would encourage them. Also, if they knew more about technology like electronics or coding from a younger age. They may even develop a passion for it from an early age like it can happen for biology, chemistry, or economy. Its so interesting.

Regarding the healthcare industry, we take healthcare for granted or think it’s only what happens in hospitals, but there is so much more. Not only in diagnosis, but in treatment, in the development of new drugs, developing new biomaterials, wearable devices, connected implants, improving wellbeing, prevention care, home care, … there are a lot of things related to it.

What advice would you give to other women looking to begin or further their career in the industry?

If you like it, go for it! The technological space is quite male dominated, and it can be quite intimidating at the beginning. To see only men on coding roles, and mostly women on quality and management roles can trick your self-esteem and think maybe it is not the right place. Thankfully, this is changing. So don’t let this trick you, embrace the challenge and go for it!

We sometimes spend more time working than sleeping so it is better to enjoy your job!

What piece of advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Even if it’s simply for mentoring, networking, to ask for advice, or to ask for help. Our lives are surrounded by social media streams that make reaching out to anyone as easy as a click, why not benefit from it? Sometimes when starting there is the tendency to idolise people because they are successful or are driving an industry change. At the end of the day, we are all human. Most of the people will kindly answer, and some will actually help and that’s really nice!

I think the healthcare industry is very interesting for its endless opportunities to improve the medical industry as we know it.  Additionally, there are a lot of opportunities out there. Not only in big pharma companies, but also there are many start-ups developing incredible projects.

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