From investment banking to genomics and health

Olivier Seret is a Principal Software Developer working in the Infection Genomics team. He moved to the Sanger Institute a few years ago to fulfil his passion for science and making a difference in the world.

Tell us about your work in up to 10 words

I provide informatics support to the Parasites and Microbes Programme.

Tell us about how you joined the Sanger Institute

I’ve always had an interest in science, and particularly biology. I don’t really know why I didn’t go into science after my A-levels, but I was interested in music at the time and thought I’d become a sound engineer. Then at university, I discovered computer science completely by chance and was good at it, so I pursued a career as a software developer.

Prior to working at Sanger I worked in investment banking and I enjoyed it. It was really interesting when it was all new to me, but I had no interest in finance. I liked my colleagues but I was bored by what I was doing.

I started looking for a job that would allow me to have a reasonable lifestyle, but that I would also really enjoy the outcome of what I was doing. When the opportunity came, I jumped on it.

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

The biggest change has been working from home. We could work from home previously, but the Institute wasn’t geared towards it, and you’d miss out on interesting stuff, like meetings and seminars. Now we do everything we did before, but remotely, and it works really well.

What projects are you working on?

I’m involved with two projects at the moment: MalariaGEN and JUNO.

On the malaria side, we are building several bioinformatics pipelines targeting both the malaria parasite and the mosquitoes for surveillance projects.

On the Group B Strep side, we are building a data sharing platform so that partners, and eventually the public, will be able to access all of the data gathered and produced by the JUNO project.

My role within both of these projects is that of a technical leader, which includes software development activities as well as ensuring the software development process and the software architecture are sound.

What is the most overused word/phrase in your team?

Pipeline. It’s used and abused. There’s always a pipeline to build or rewrite! It’s used in lots of different ways at Sanger. For us it means a set of processing steps that transform raw sequencing data into data that are interpretable.

Who is your science hero?

Nothing to do with genomics, but I would say Einstein! His contribution to physics and the understanding of the world around us has been quite amazing.

What is the most exciting development in your field from the last 10 years?

I suppose moving software systems towards microservices, where we break things down into much smaller pieces. The idea is to build software solutions as a potentially large collection of simple, isolated but interconnected services. It has numerous advantages, but also comes with added complexity and cost.

What is the most exciting discovery you have made?

I’ve certainly had revelatory moments in my career. The transition to agile software development was something I picked up on early on – though I didn’t discover it! It’s an approach to software development that allows the teams involved to respond quickly to change.

If you could time travel to any period in history, which would you pick?

I’d love to see how people lived in Ancient Egyptian times. They gave us so much, even down to writing and hieroglyphics. I’d love to see how Pharaohs and that civilization worked, where everything is so different to now.

If you were omnipotent for the day, what would you do?

I’ve always loved travelling, but married someone who doesn’t love to travel. I’d love to be able to teleport around the world and see as many things as I could in one day.

Further information

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