Forum:I’m considering a career transition from software engineering to bioinformatics. Is it a good fit for me?
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4 months ago
Mango ▴ 10

I’m a 36-year-old self-taught software engineer with a BS and MS, both in Electrical Engineering. I live in Silicon Valley. I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years now, but my career seems to have stalled, and I’m interested in a career shift. For the last couple of years, I’ve been interested in doing something related to the medical sciences, such as cancer research or drug discovery, that also leverages software engineering, data science, statistics, and machine learning. Bioinformatics seems to fit the bill.

So I know software engineering, machine learning, data science, and so on. I’m very confident in my math and statistical abilities. However, the last time I took any kind of a biology related course was in college, 17 years ago. In other words, I know the “informatics” part very well, but not the “bio” part.

A few days ago, I consulted my aunt, who has an MS and PhD in Bioinformatics. She’s worked as a researcher and scientist in various biomedical startups over the years. She told me that, in order to switch to bioinformatics, I would only need to pick up a basic level of knowledge in topics like biology, genetics, and so on. She even said that just taking some courses online would be enough.

If this is true, then I’m pretty excited, but I wanted to come here to ask for some more feedback. So in your estimation, given my skills, background, and experience, what would I have to do to successfully switch over to a career in bioinformatics?

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I live in Silicon Valley. I’ve been in the industry for about 10 years now, but my career seems to have stalled,

Curious if you are independently wealthy as a result of a successful career and are looking to try this out as a fresh challenge.

If you have no biology background then it would take serious effort to pick up enough biology and learn about research to make significant biological contributions. On other hand you should be able to immediately contribute your software engineering knowledge (specially with bio startups) since many biologist writing software may have never received formal software engineering training (self-taught).

On other hand if you need a regular/steady income then this may become an experiment. You should be able to easily switch back though, should you decide that bioinformatics is not your cup of tea.

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4 months ago

For the hardcore software engineering and ML positions you'll generally be ok with limited bio knowledge since you'll be working with or for someone that has expertise in the domain of interest and from whome you can learn the field. I would at least pick up a copy of alberts molecular biology of the cell and give that a read though since it will give you the general bio background knowledge you'll need.

You'll also need to pick up some file formats, software, and software engineering principles that are more common in bio, like workflow languages (e.g. snakemake, nextflow). Both of those languages have repositories with publicly available workflows you can use to both learn the workflow managers, and to get exposure to the common bio file formats and softwares that interface with them.

Also might be worth biting the bullet and picking up some R since so much bio software is published through it and the bioconductor universe.

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