DNAnexus Snapshot: Five Minutes with Andrey Kislyuk

andrey kislyukIn this series of Snapshot blog posts, we profile some of our fascinating team members to give you a better sense of who we are.

This week we chatted with Andrey Kislyuk, a senior software engineer who came to the company two years ago and has been building the engine of our new platform ever since.

Q: What do you do at DNAnexus?

A: I engineer different components of the system other than the front-end website — tools and application development, SDK, and the infrastructure that runs the customers’ jobs. I also work on security and compliance of the system.

Q: Where were you before coming to DNAnexus?

A: I was a bioinformatics scientist at Pacific Biosciences, a DNA sequencing company. I worked on single-molecule DNA methylation detection, among other things. Before PacBio, I was in grad school at Georgia Tech, where I was working on microbial genomics for my PhD. My undergraduate degree is in computer science, and I really love writing software. Bioinformatics is such an unexplored area right now; there’s an abundance of problems to solve.

Q: What drew you to DNAnexus?

A: I really identified with Andreas Sundquist, the founder of the company. I think he’s a very talented software engineer as well as CTO. When we started talking about cloud computing and bioinformatics, I was immediately excited about what I could do at DNAnexus. The real power of cloud computing is collaboration and the ability for experts to share their knowledge and work together on hard scientific problems. The field needs a platform for people to be able to collaborate, and that really comes together when people work on the same medium and they have no friction in terms of sharing data and algorithms. At DNAnexus, we want people to focus on scientific problems, not to worry about a compute cluster crashing. What we are trying to do is enable all of our customers to solve the really exciting scientific problems.

Q: What is something you learned since joining the company that you didn’t expect?

A: One thing I’ve realized is that working with a high-performance engineering team involves cultivating some skills that nobody can really teach you. When you work on a team and a cutting-edge system like this, you come up against all kinds of interesting issues that have to do with communicating within the team and making sure the team is focused on specific things — all of these organizational dynamics.

Q: If you weren’t a software engineer at DNAnexus, where would you be?

A: I’m sort of all over the place in terms of my aspirations. They range from AI and machine vision research to aerospace engineering. So I guess it would depend on which day of the week you catch me.

Q: Fill in the blank: There is probably a genetic link to ______.

A: Visual acuity. I am endlessly fascinated by how different animals can see different things that we cannot see, and how some people can see different amounts of the visual spectrum. It’s so interesting to think about whether we can engineer ourselves or make a device to let us see other parts of that spectrum. That would open up a mind-blowing array of possibilities for what we can perceive.

Q: If you could sequence the genome of anyone in history, whose would it be and why?

A: The Last Common Ancestor! It’s amazing what we can learn by comparing genomes, and I want to go back in time and peek at what that early life form was like. The “design decisions” made back then, so to speak.

Q: If you could have your genome sequenced, what would you hope to find or not find?

A: Hmm. A genetic basis for my predisposition to kumquats? I have no idea.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that nobody at DNAnexus knows.

A: Growing up back in Russia, the winters were cold enough (and my trips to school long enough) that I got frostbite on the tip of my nose not once, but three times.