Data Engineer Oleguer Plantalech

Meet Data Engineer Oleguer –aka Olly– Plantalech-Casals (27).

By the end of his master studies in Bioinformatics, he chose to look beyond academia for his internship and thought The Hyve might be a good place to start. The internship led to a permanent position as of December 2016. Olly has been working in the Cancer Genomics team ever since.

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

In high school I was already fascinated by DNA and everything related to inheritance. When I started my bachelor in Genetics in Barcelona, I was in the second cohort of this specialization. It was something quite fancy and new. While I was studying the bachelor I became interested in Bioinformatics: how can all the data scientists generate be analysed? As it was quite expensive to continue studying in Barcelona, I eventually decided to come to the Netherlands for my master’s degree and study Bioinformatics at Wageningen University.

How did you get to know The Hyve?

I heard about the company towards the end of my master’s and it was a bit of a coincidence. I had to do an internship and I had been looking into some companies, but I was a bit lost. I wondered: what can I do aside from academia? I didn’t like the idea of doing a PhD, because I really wanted to work in a more practical setting. So, finding the right company for the internship was kind of important to me.

It was funny because one of my friends told me: ‘I know this company, The Hyve. I was planning to do an internship there but, in the end, I chose a more research-focused internship.’ That is how I found the company. I was curious about the company’s focus on open source, so I contacted them, got an interview, and did the internship. The internship was a success, so when I finished my master I continued to work here.

Was your master a good preparation for your work at The Hyve?

In a way, yes. But I also changed my scope a bit. The master basically taught me how to deal with biological data. Here, I am mainly working on the informatics part: developing new features, or configuring servers with new instances. That’s something I eventually found more interesting.

What do you do at The Hyve?

I’m part of the Cancer Genomics team where I mainly work with cBioPortal, a portal that is used for visualizing cancer genomics data. When we have a client that is interested in the portal, we usually build a personalized instance for them based on the public one. Sometimes they request new features that cBioPortal does not have. All the new features we develop are released to the public, so everyone can benefit from it. This is one of the core values of the Hyve: working with open source, which I find really interesting.

Of course, our clients also have private data that they may want to load into these specific instances. In that case, I have to figure out how to make study data fit the cBioPortal data model and how to load the data into the portal so that it can be properly visualized. This part of the job is most closely related to what I’ve studied.

Can you describe your day-to-day activities?

It’s usually just sitting in front of a desk and a computer. Sometimes my work is about deploying a new instance to a specific server. Other times, a client wants a new feature, so I start by figuring out how this can be implemented. Once the feature is built and tested, it needs the approval of the cBioPortal community to be released publicly. My work also involves checking new pull requests with code improvements or new features that other members of the community want to introduce to cBioPortal. I review them and give my opinion before they are approved.

At other times, I may work on loading proprietary data in private portals. The data needs to fit a specific format, and I usually write scripts to do so.

What do you like most about working here?
I think the most important thing for me is the size of the company. We’re continuously growing, but still we’re not really a huge company. Everybody knows each other and it’s really easy to feel at home. Also, if you encounter some problems you know who you can ask for advice.

We also do things together outside of work, like bowling for example or just going out for dinner. These are the things I like best about the company.

Can you mention any exciting developments in your field?

When I check the news and read about a new development in cancer treatment, I always tend to think: tools like cBioPortal can contribute to these breakthroughs. For example, the latest news I read was on ovarian cancer. Usually this type of cancer is very difficult to detect because the symptoms are very generic. Therefore, the detected cases are in an advanced stage, with low chances of survival. Now scientists have found a compound that really seems to be significantly contributing to overcome this type of cancer. I always like to think with tools like cBioPortal I’m not doing something alien, but we’re really helping scientists with their research.

What do you like to do when you're 'off-duty'?

I am involved with the basketball club in Hilversum, De Dunckers. Since last season I’m playing there, and I started coaching a team of 16 and 17-year old guys. I find coaching really exciting and motivating. It takes a lot of time, but it’s rewarding as you can see them improve. My father is also a basketball coach, so it kind of runs in the family. And I can also ask him for help because he knows more than I do!