For my STEP signature project, I relocated to Seattle, Washington for six months (June-December 2018) to work as a software engineering intern at Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit organization focused on accelerating biomedical research by promoting open science, among other initiatives. I specifically worked on Synapse.org, a platform where researchers can publish, track, and share their data with the research community. It was a very important experience for my professional development. I received valuable mentorship and I learned that I want to pursue software engineering as a career.
I’ve been drawn to the field of medical science since I enrolled at Ohio State, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to contribute to it. I bounced around majors until I realized I liked computer science the most, but I got involved in undergraduate research in a cancer research lab at OSU in the summer after my freshman year. I was fortunate to spend the next summer doing research in a National Institutes of Health-sponsored program. Through this program I learned about Sage Bionetworks–an organization that focuses on open science, collaboration, and other important components of biomedical research. Though what I was most interested to learn was that they have a software engineering team, and they had an internship program. I interviewed and was given an offer to work in Seattle for 6 months.
The work experience itself was fulfilling. I was treated like any other member of the team, and I never really felt like being an intern separated me from the rest of the team. After six months, I learned that I do enjoy the challenges in software engineering, especially knowing that my work can be indirectly advancing science and medicine by helping others develop our understanding of human disease. I learned that there is a lot about engineering that I haven’t learned in school. The hardest part of the job isn’t programming, it’s trying to balance user needs with existing infrastructure, which requires many difficult decisions and trade-offs.
Luckily, the mentorship I received was invaluable, and I was mentored in different capacities by most of the engineers I worked with. Trying to wrap my head around a mature codebase and immediately start contributing was a daunting task, but all of the principal engineers were happy to teach me through the learning curve. These types of selfless traits seemed to extend throughout the organization. One thing that I loved about Sage (and will look for in all future professional opportunities) was that everyone I interacted with was invested in the mission of the organization. All of the people that I worked with were selfless and wanted to see each other succeed. The organizational structure of Sage was also intriguing, and I really valued the interdisciplinary interactions that would happen regularly.
Though not completely related to my work experience, one of my favorite things about living in Seattle was the outdoor scene. Many beautiful hikes in the Cascades are less than a two-hour drive away from the city. Not knowing much about Seattle, I assumed that it rained most days, during all parts of the year. To my surprise, Seattle gets almost no rain in the summer. While I didn’t have a car to drive to the mountains as often as I wanted, many of the people that work at Sage are avid outdoors enthusiasts, so I still had opportunities to get outside. My boss even kindly planned and drove those of us without cars out on a couple of weekend day hikes. The most memorable hike was when we climbed Mt. Pugh, which was difficult, but very rewarding. It might be the mountains in the summer that I miss the most about living in Washington.
While I’m still trying to figure out more specific long-term career goals, I’m happily planning to pursue software engineering as I look past graduation. I’ve already accepted an offer to return to Sage this summer. I’m excited to see my Seattle friends again and continue to develop my skills as an engineer! Undoubtedly, my STEP signature project started the beginning of my professional life on the right note, and I’ve definitely transformed for the better because of it.