Youngmi Park - Software engineer

Youngmi Park - Software engineer

As a software engineer in the Web Production team, Youngmi helps develop and maintain EBI Search API, the tool which allows researchers from all over the world to access EBI's data.

Q&A with Youngmi Park

"I really like my job, it gives me a strong motivation to learn something new and to make the system better."

Q: What do you do at EBI?

I am a software engineer and I develop and maintain the EBI Search application programming interface (API). The project began more than 10 years ago, then my manager recruited the current team members dedicated to the EBI Search project, including myself. My work is mainly in Java.

The project had already begun when I started eight years ago and was playing an important role as a gateway to the vast amount of data available in EMBL-EBI resources by providing a fast and uniform way to access them. Now we have added more features including new Web Services, as well as maintaining the existing system so it is capable of handling the ever-growing volume of data.

Q: What is it like working at EMBL-EBI?

I really like my job, it gives me a strong motivation to learn something new and to make the system better. It’s always an exciting challenge to keep the API stable while also making it better by integrating features such as cross referencing between databases.

When I saw the job advertisement, I didn’t know anything about bioinformatics. Somehow I managed to get the position! The first time I tried EBI Search, I was kind of panicked, because I tried using it like Google, but when I got the results I didn’t understand the bioinformatics information I was seeing. Eight years later, while I understand a lot more about bioinformatics, I am still learning.

Q: What is your professional background?

I was a software engineer and had never worked in bioinformatics. I worked for Samsung on factory automations, especially communication between two systems. After that I moved to a search engine provider, where I was working on Java and databases, before making the move to EBI.

Q: What is the most important thing about your work at EBI?

Many projects rely on EBI Search, which means I have a duty to think about what I’m doing very seriously. If I break something small in the system, it affects all of the data service teams using our API - so it is very important to me to get things right.

Search engines nowadays are an essential part of software, including web applications. There are two options for EBI teams who want to integrate a search feature into their applications, they can either run their own search engine or use our API. I think that the latter option shows good teamwork and collaboration because data service teams can continue focusing on the data and on what they want to do better, while we handle the search aspect. Through this collaboration, the quality of search results can be reviewed and enhanced with expert knowledge coming from both data services teams and us, which is a beneficial mutual dependency.

There are two types of collaboration at work, one is service teams providing us with the data and the other is those teams using our API. Service teams can then provide us with feedback on how to improve EBI Search API. When we add a new feature this is usually the outcome of a collaboration with one of the data service teams, then many other teams get to benefit from this new feature for free!

Q: Where do you do your best thinking?

At home at the end of the day, when I have some time to myself! When I sit in the office I can sometimes be too close to the task I am working on. When I move back a bit and chill, maybe with a drink, it helps me to relax and think about other things and then suddenly I come up with a brain wave! Also, I really like sharing ideas at conferences and learning from posters and talks. It’s a really good opportunity to think about and share new ideas.

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