Dan Sheppard, Developer for Ensembl

Dan Sheppard, Developer

To work here, with people who are immediately using [our services] to positive ends, and to learn about the impact of their work, gives our own a clear, immediate value." Dan Sheppard, Developer for the Ensembl Genome Browser

Dan Sheppard, EMBL-EBI

Q&A with Dan Sheppard

How long have you been working at EMBL-EBI?

About two and a half years.

What does your job entail?

Developing and maintaining the Ensembl Genome Browser, which is a little like Google Maps, but for human and animal DNA. You see can where you are in a chromosome, find the interesting structures and features nearby and, if you select one of those, a great deal of interlinked information about each of them.

What was your professional background, before you arrived at EMBL-EBI?

I worked at a University on a variety of short projects writing software to support research, often in the humanities or for libraries or museums. My own education was mainly scientific. I think that cross-cultural aspect was what people found valuable.

What attracted you to the role?

I was an occasional user of Ensembl before I applied for the role, and was already a fan.

What do you like about working here?

There's a nice mixture of the technology side of things with real science. In many other institutions, 'IT' often ends up in an introspective bubble. But to work here, with people who are immediately using it to positive ends, and to learn about the impact of their work, gives our own a clear, immediate value.

What challenges do you face in your work?

At the time it was developed, Ensembl was doing some pretty innovative things using technologies which weren't yet mature. We have a large and enthusiastic group of users and a regular cycle of releases. That makes it a challenge to combine innovation and long-term changes while not delaying data releases or being overly disruptive to users, who are trying to use your site to get on with their work.

What advice would you give someone applying for a similar job?

Ask questions, and learn all the time.