A biologist’s adventure in data science and in Crazy Town

Once upon a time I, Csaba Ortutay, was a young molecular biologist with a huge enthusiasm for science and knowledge. I was young and probably a bit naive, perhaps not alone so at that of my age. I was sure that I have something great to contribute, probably finding a cure for some disease, solving one of the fundamental mysteries in biology, or at least figuring out how to navigate the maze of Academia.

First encounter with data

As a doctoral student I was working on a project tracking the evolution of some genes behind the pathogenicity of some bacteria. Here I had to deal with lots of data from databases, and I had to use some programming (my hobby anyway) to perform my research tasks. It turned out that this was very beneficial for my career as I started to work more and more with biological data, and less and less at the laboratory benches.

After earning my PhD (in evolutionary genetics) I have joined the bioinformatics research group in Tampere where I have moved even faster towards data sciences. I have established databases, developed automated data analysis pipelines and web services, and yes, I have published several dozen research papers related to all of these.

I have noticed that people want my data skills and I liked teaching, so I started to participate in the international bioinformatics programs of multiple Finnish universities, and started to mentor masters students in their thesis work. Teaching runs deeply in our family for several generations, so maybe I have a vein doing that.

From lecturer to entrepreneur

After a few years I have realized that there is a need for these skills even outside of Academia, so with a fellow bioinformatics professional we have established our company (called HiDucator), to offer our courses to universities and companies all around. Of course, life as an entrepreneur is very different from the life of a university professor, so I had to learn a great deal of new things, only some of which was related to bio, data, or analysis.

I was happy to deliver our courses to our handful of customers in Finland, Hungary, and Ireland, when a friend of mine has approached me with a question: “I know that you do interesting things with data. I work for a mobile game startup and we need a data scientist. Are you interested?”

Goodbye biology

At the Data Innovation Summit in Stonckolm, 2017

And that’s how I have let the bio go and drift ever closer to the data aspects of my work. Of course, in the beginning it was very hard work. There were tons of new things I had to figure out: cloud services, stateless microservices, databases for unstructured data, scalability, and many others. Fortunathttps://www.hiducator.com/ely, I was part of a great team who helped my baby steps, and I haven’t stopped learning new things.

A few years have passed and again, a realization has come that outside my bio-echo-chamber, there are even bigger demand for these non-bio kind of data analysis skills, so we have started to develop new courses for my company, which was running with our usual bioinformatics courses ever since. Also, other startups have found me who heeded my assistance with figuring out their needs and opportunities for handling the data aspects of their projects, and I was happy to help them.

Do I know Finnish?

As a bit of side distraction, with some friends we dipped into the idea of the development of a sentiment analysis on Finnish internet texts. Most of the natural language processing services are available for English text, so for the Finnish language market there was a need for new ideas. I liked the challenge, so I have put together all of my data related skills with the web development and sales expertise of my friends, and we have implemented a new idea from inception to commercialization.

First I have conceived a new algorithm, and I have implemented a proof of concept in R. After some testing and fine tuning to real life cases, this was refactored and reimplemented in Python as an AWS Lambda function, migrated to the cloud, got multiple web interfaces, and some marketing, and it is available as an API service from our company, called Absenses.

The crazy guy in data town

Member of Crazy Town, Tampere, 2019

In November this year (2019), I gained an opportunity to be part of Crazy Town in Tampere. I came to learn new things (again), mostly about sales and marketing; to meet new people, and move forward my own companies, HiDucator and Absenses. But at the same time, I strongly believe in sharing new ideas and brainstorming data related real-life issues. Already I had the privilege to meet very interesting people and projects, like the developers of Lola Panda apps or the data scientist at the Platform of Trust. I like to contribute because I see the opportunities behind data, which can advance the business cases of so many enterprises, small ones and big ones alike.

The article was originally posted on Csaba Ortutay’s LinkedIn 27 November 2019.