your daily code for breakfast

Spotlight 62: let’s meet molecular biologist Vedrana!

It’s spotlight Friday! This week will be less focused on programming: we’re diving into biology, science and tech! I’m very excited to introduce you to Vedrana, she is Director of Scientific Research at Clue and she’s doing some amazing & inspiring research on health, cancer and early disease detection. And, although I wrote her name wrong for a million times (ok, I’m exaggerating, but it’s terrible of me), she still responded with a lot of humor and she is definitely one of the nicest people I’ve been talking to. Thank you Vedrana!  Oh, and be sure to watch her talk on ‘how big data transforms female health’! 

About Vedrana
Molecular biologist with doctorate from Humboldt University Berlin, turned entrepreneur innovating in health. In the past 15 years I researched diverse aspects of cancer and other complex diseases, and in the past two years I worked on intersection of sensor technology detecting actionable biological output. I have deeply rooted love for sensor technology, and I strongly believe that Quantified Self will continue facilitating early disease detection.

Name: Vedrana Högqvist Tabor
Job: Director of Scientific Research at Clue
Favorite website, app or gadget: for fun and inspiration and where all of the peer-reviewed scientific work abstracts can be found. My favorite gadget is my FitBit, as it tells me so much about my health.
Favorite book: “The pleasure of finding things out” is pretty close to being the favorite book. This one is a good mix of different qualities of Dick Feynman-scientist, lecturer, engineer and generally a very curious person.
Twitter: @Dr_Tabor
Site: not yet, but soon. Until then:

What inspired you to pursue a career in mobile technology?
My biggest passion and drive in life is making us all healthier. I want to enable early disease detection, as a cancer scientist I have seen the molecular and biochemical parts of cancer. I have seen how cancer cells look in biopsies. And one day I thought it is the time to try to see it on a meta-level: on a level of a whole human being against one starter cancer cell. The inspiration was a need of early disease detection, which came through a premature loss of people close to me. And, above all: global individual health cannot work successfully without tech.

What does your working day look like?
My working day starts early in the morning (for me, ha), when I read science and medical news, I follow that with checking my e-mail, and make loose plans for the day. After I arrive to Clue, we have a team standup, where we sync up across the current project, but also of the team’s other activities, with that knowledge I finish planning my day.

On average my day is split between reading science papers, writing, designing next levels of the science related projects and interacting with our research partners outside our company.

My work involves quite some traveling, presentations on different conferences, meetings and meetups.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
By far it is disease detection project. This is the only project I have experimented with twice, in two independent jobs and touching very different problem each time. Disease detection, especially early disease detection is paramount to maintain our health. If we manage to execute that well, we will see a major shift towards individual ownership of health, and that should lead to better maintenance of health.

This is also the most complex project I have ever worked on. There are so many aspects and dependencies, and the human-technology interaction is still very new. It is hard to execute, but not impossible.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
Many people inspire me, for different things: their bravery, integrity, and good sense of humor. Currently, it is Siddhartha Mukherjee because of his humane “biography” of cancer.

Why do you love working in Tech?
Every day is an opportunity to learn and experiment with something new. Tech is such a fast evolving field, and the new possibilities open up every day. It is technology that transcends the usual dividers that makes me love working in tech so much.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
No, i do not. I probably did miss out on some important knowledge, I can’t code. But I more and more understand what it takes and how long it takes top code well, and how complex and beautiful it is.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
It is never too late to learn to code, if one wants to do it. I learned a lot from Codecademy and Coursera, I still can’t code on a level that is needed for a good or a decent level professional, but that is me  purpose was to understand the process better, not to start coding for my career.

Extra question from LindaWhat are the three key events/people/thoughts in your life you think made you into who you are today?
The first one is when my dad gave me the book “Atoms”, I think I was 6 years old at the time. It awakened such an innocent curiosity in me, I tried to understand what is that small thing that we call atom, and how comes we are all built from them, and end so different: the wooden bench I’m sitting on, and I. That set me on a path to become a scientist.

Death of my grandma. My grandma was 74 at the time of her death, and her life melted away in front of our eyes in less than two months. We did not get the diagnosis until the post-mortem was done. Then we knew it was cancer. This triggered another type of curiosity, I call it desperate, but maybe it is better to call it determined curiosity: I wanted to learn everything about cancer, how it starts, and build up in us, what is responsible for that. I wanted to learn how to stop it, and remove it from the lives of all of us.

Lastly, I get to thank my husband for where and who I am today. I have evolved in another person thanks to challenging conversations, support and ideation we often run between us. He allowed another way of curiosity to develop in me, and that is useful, or even pragmatic curiosity, very much channeled towards the goal of finding a way to keep us all healthy.

“My biggest passion and drive in life is making us all healthier”