Interview with Jessime Kirk

Hi, I'm Jessime! I'm broadly interested in biology, technology, and how those things can be used to build things that improve people's lives. I'm also interested in startups and entrepreneurship. I view building companies as "building things, that build things, that help people".

What is your bioinformatics engineer background?

I've been involved in life sciences for nearly 12 years now. Probably the briefest rundown I can give is that I:

  • did microbiology and epidemiology in high school,
  • received my undergrad degree in Biochemistry,
  • got my PhD in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • interned at Google for a summer doing software engineering,
  • and have been working for Invitae, building clinical genomics assays, for the past couple years.

For more background, check out my resume.

What is your current project you work on?

Surprisingly, I'm working on something other than a coding project right now. During most of grad school, I always had something cooking in the background. These projects were usually motivated by some skill that I wanted to practice:

  • How do you program in a group?
  • How are webapps built?
  • What does it take to sell a product?

Over time, these questions have gradually become more focused on soft skills instead of technical ones. These days, I'm more interested in answering questions like,

  • How do you motivate teammates?
  • When should you be persuasive during tough decisions?
  • What does alignment on a product vision look like for a team?

These skills are somewhat harder to practice, but learning to become a good storyteller seems like an underlying skill for all of these end goals.

All of that to say, I'm currently writing a story about a prank I pulled in high school!

I'm hoping to post it to my blog in the next month or so.

What tools do you use to create web apps?

I've tried a few different things over the years. I started my journey with Flask. It's great for when you want to get something simple up and running quickly. What I don't like about it is that you then have to make decisions about everything. If you've done a bunch of web programming and have opinions about everything, then use Flask. But if you want a more opinionated, batteries-included approach, go with Django. For either of these frameworks, I've had a lot of success hosting with Heroku. It makes things like provisioning a database really easy.

The last time I made a webapp though, I cheated. I used a low-code application called Anvil and wrote about my experience with it. Bottom line: I'd strongly recommend anyone who's familiar with Python to at least give it a shot next time they need to write a webapp.

Why would you recommend using Python for the backend?

I'm afraid I don't have anything particularly insightful to say here. The benefits of Python are pretty well trodden territory. My favorite feature is how I can scrape data from a web, do some data munching and complicated machine learning, generate some pretty plots, and serve it to the web, all in a single process and language. Very few other tools have that sort of versatility.

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