DAY IN THE LIFE INTERVIEW: LEONOR FRIAS

We are happy to introduce you to Leonor Frias, Algorithms Engineer at Made of Genes, the first marketplace of applications based on the user’s genome!

Read more to know what it takes to be an Algorithms Engineer at a Barcelona based disruptive start-up.


1. What is the best part about being an algorithms engineer?

The best part of it to be able to contribute to real life problems by making an appropriate (algorithmic) abstraction and decomposition. Indeed, describing algorithms from scratch is rare, so it is key to identify subproblems and adequate implementations for them.

2. What brought you to this area, what’s your background? 

From an early age I loved solving puzzles and discovered programming in the school as a teenager. Not surprisingly, I studied Computer Engineering and did a PhD on Algorithm Engineering. After finishing my PhD, I really wanted to move from abstract problems to real life challenges to in turn find the solutions in the abstract world again. In this context, I found bioinformatics a perfect fit. I worked in CNAG Genome Sequencing Center for almost 5 years and in June 2015 I started at Made of Genes.

3. What time does your day start, and what does your typical work day schedule look like?

I appreciate that at Made of Genes we have flexible timetable. This way, I take the opportunity to start the week energetic by going to the gym at 7:30 AM (i.e. before work). Otherwise, I usually arrive around 8:30 and leave at 17:30 with an hour lunch break around 13h.

4. What kind of projects are you currently working on?

My main task at Made of Genes is (genomics) pipeline development. At Made of Genes we design our own pipelines, and facilitate its design to others. This task requires some genetic knowledge, research on existing methods (software), and technical/algorithmic abilities to develop new methods when needed. Currently, I am working on making the modules yet more portable so that they can be easily combined together and executed from a GUI. Besides, I am working on several external consultancy projects developing new pipelines and modules.

5. What do you consider the greatest achievement in your work to date?

For me, coming from a “pure” research environment was very satisfactory to just after a few months being able to deliver yet basic but production ready software and pipelines.

6. What is the one app you could not live without?

Apart from email and calendar, which nowadays is like a must for everybody, I am really keen on Confluence to document and look for information about the internal projects. Documenting is always a rather tedious task but with Confluence is a little easier.

7. What’s the best thing about working at your company?

My main motivation to work for Made of Genes was and still is the unique company goal: making private and safe personalized medicine based on the genome a reality. We spend many hours at work and I think it is definitely important to believe in the project. Besides, I am happy to be surrounded by nice, diverse and talented colleagues from which I learn every day.

8. Where is the after work hangout?

Our current office is in a rather residential area, in the outskirts of Barcelona. When we meet after work we move go to Gràcia neighborhood or the city center.

9. Who is your professional role model? 

I do not have as such a well-known professional role model. Anyway, I mirror myself on anonymous professionals who progress in their professional life while keeping a balance with their personal life. As an example of woman in IT I personally admire is my friend Kerstin which I met in a Google event. She managed to do her PhD in 4 years even though having her two children abroad during it. Nowadays she has a responsible position in an IT company in Berlin managing around 20 people.

10. What makes Barcelona a good city for technology, startups and diversity?

First of all, Barcelona area has strong technical and life sciences universities. Secondly, Catalunya region has a long tradition of small companies (i.e. the precursors of startups). Thirdly, from its geographical strategical position in the Mediterranean and near France, many Barcelona made businesses are oriented looking at Europe, while for international companies is a door for the south of Europe. All this, and its incredible life quality standards, makes it a very cosmopolitan city and perfect place for startup environments.

11. Which tech trends are you most excited about?

After the first basic production ready version of the pipeline, we decided to containerize modules using dockers to ease their portability across platforms. I was not familiar with the technology but I was so excited about the advantages of installing software only once, being portable and lightweight, and the great public repository of already existing containers. Being a so young technology I have seen its fast growth in terms of community and system support and I would say it is a technology to stay for a while.

12. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employer?

The top 3 qualities I look for in an employer are definitely value for employee’s tasks execution, trust and freedom, and finally, empathy.

13. And finally, what is the one piece of advice you would give to a tech professional starting out?

I would advise that when choosing a position, consider not only the company and the project but make your final decision according to the team. Even in a technological field, people interaction is crucial for the good development of a project but specially for your professional development and personal satisfaction in the role.