By Justin Farris

Inside Phosphorus: Meet Pat, Software Engineer!

Hey Pat, tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hey, Internet. I can already tell we’re going to get along, because I also love cats!
About me: I grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (a.k.a. “Atomic City” or “The Secret City”), which is worth Wikipedia-ing if you haven’t heard of us. I can neither confirm nor deny rumors that I glow in the dark. I did attend the University of Chicago, which once hosted a nuclear reactor under its football field, so elemental chemistry has been something of a recurring theme in my life. After college, I moved to NYC and taught mathematics for several years before coming back to the computational side.

What is your title at Phosphorus? What do you do for the company?

I’m a software engineer, which means I get to figure out how computer code works and perform a combination of fixing, breaking, and building new functionality. At Phosphorus, that means I work on the web applications our end-users see, the data pipelines that process patients’ genetic information, the servers where that information is stored, and all the interactions in between.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My job is awesome. We have a great team here, working at the cutting edge of both computational processing and genetics research. Not only am I part of the work, but I also get to take part in some really fascinating technical conversations. I love spending time with smart, motivated people and learning from what they have to say.

What have you learned from working at Phosphorus?

My last exposure to genetics was freshman biology, so I’ve picked up a great deal of domain knowledge: why “Illumina” technology is called that, nomenclature for different types of mutations, rare genetic conditions, etc. I was also new to Scala, our primary programming language, which has been a treat; it’s a lot more concise than Java, its parent language.

What has been your favorite project so far?

My most interesting project so far has been to overhaul the reports we send out to patients that summarize their test results. I found it was a great deep-dive into the way we organize data, including categorizing different diseases based on severity, symptoms, underlying genetic causes, etc. Since reports are our primary means of communication from research to clinics, taking on the project also improved my “big picture” of how the work we’re doing every day is helping real people. It was informative and motivating!

What is your typical workday like?

I get in a few minutes before the daily engineering stand-up, grab a small second breakfast, and fill my mug. After everyone’s updates, we usually split up to work on whatever features are assigned for the day, or bug reports / small tasks for whoever is triaging issues that day. I like to eat lunch around noon. After that, it’s back to reading/writing code, testing, Googling, asking for feedback, and occasional Twitter breaks. We sometimes have a longer meeting in the afternoon (planning, architecture discussions, etc.), and on Tuesdays we do yoga.

Do you have a personal mantra?

Not really; I respect goals like “be kind” and “first, do no harm,” but life is seldom so simple.

Tell us something about you most people don’t know.

In grade school, I spent a lot of time working on the school newspaper and was really excited about journalism. I ended up managing the website, so for a while I was writing both news and code. Both involve a logical, structured progression of ideas, but you have to make concessions based on what can be done with the language (and understood by your audience, whether human or compiler). Still, some people have this idea that you can only be a “math person” or a “writing person,” which is a false dichotomy.

What is one thing you are looking forward to in your free time this next year?

Mass Effect: Andromeda (the video game) — unless we actually make first contact with aliens, or space travel becomes affordable, in which case I’m looking forward to that!

Do you have any hobbies?

I’m a big science fiction fan, so I like to engage with speculative ideas however I can: movies, shows, videogames, books, articles, etc. Socially, I play a lot of Overwatch and Magic: the Gathering. I also collect interesting yarn and sometimes make things out of it. Oh, and I have two cats, who impede that last hobby just a little bit.

Which ice cream flavor best describes you?

I’m going with red bean. If you’ve never had taiyaki, it’s a fish-shaped waffle that gets stuffed with tasty things — usually red bean paste, but sometimes also ice cream, cookie rolls, mochi, and all kinds of good stuff. Red bean may strike some people as an unusual source for an ice cream flavor, but it goes well with other flavors and can be a great support for building something great!

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