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Changing Careers to Become a SAS Programmer in the Biotech / - page 4 / 9





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him the fundamentals and rigorous approach towards programming, including debugging programs. He then progressed into learning the BASIC language. In addition to Geneʹs disposition towards problem solving which attracted Gene towards computers, he also had interest in becoming a ʺdoctorʺ so he started his undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins in 1980 on a degree in Biomedical Engineering. This combined his clinical aspirations with his analytical, researchoriented, engineering ambitions.

The university setting, including summer jobs, gave Gene experience working on research projects. Even though he spent a lot of time in the lab working on animals, technology was ever present. For example, the research labs had a Radio Shack TRS80 computer controlling a dogʹs heart rate. The combination of technology as applied to medical research was fascinating because it was very ʺFrankensteinʺ. Similar to how tinkering with early 8bit computers gave Gene the fundamentals of software development, the laboratory he worked in gave him a foundation for medical research which later aided him in his work on clinical trials.

Although he did not use SAS yet, Johns Hopkins and his graduate work at Case Western Reserve University did allow Gene to work with BMPD. This was another statistical software package at the time which allowed him to run statistical models such as on ANOVA, TTEST which were in routines similar to SAS PROCs.

The First Job

One of the first jobs that Gene started to work on after his Masters degree in Biomedical Engineering was working as a Data Manager in Los Angeles for a nonprofit organization named Los Angeles Regional Family Planning Council. He worked on projects dealing with clinical trials on contraceptives such as the IUD and nonlatex condoms. Gene worked closely with the data in a role as a DBA/Data Manager using dBase III with tasks such as defining the database structure and setting up data entry screens. He was also introduced to SAS but had limited resources since there were no other SAS programmers in the entire organization. He therefore referred to his manager who had a statistical background, but was limited in SAS knowledge and he also used SAS reference manuals. Gene enjoyed learning programming on his own and purchased additional SAS manuals directly from SAS Institute to teach the SAS language to himself. .

As a Database Manager, Gene worked closely on data discrepancies such as programming edit checks and the process of transferring data from dBase to SAS via flat ASCII files. Once he had the data in SAS, he was able to generate descriptive statistics using PROC MEANS, FREQ and UNIVARIATE. The programming practices being conducted were not as formally structured as in a typical clinical trial. As a policy, permanent analysis files were never saved, but instead the same SAS program would import the source data, create temporary analysis files, and directly generate statistical reports . At this point, Gene only dabbled in SAS and it had not yet become his main job.

After leaving LA, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work for a medical device company dealing with laser eye surgery named VISX. He sought out this new position as a biomedical engineer, since it matched his college education. Although he did initially accomplish some engineering improvements on their product, his background in working with clinical data ultimately dictated his role at VISX. Since Gene had been working as a data manager, they had placed him in a position working closely with their DOSbased Paradox database with analysis in SAS. He continued working on the data discrepancy management which was then exported to SAS for analysis. Since this medical device was VISXʹs major product and its major competitor, Summit Technologies, was developing a similar product, there were tremendous timeline pressures to get the data submitted to the FDA for approval and beat their competitor to the open market. So VISX decided to hire SAS consultants to assist in achieving this goal. Although marketing approval for VISXʹs product was virtually completed in Canada and Europe, they were still in the process of getting approval in the USA and therefore were submitting the clinical trial reports to the FDA. Part of Geneʹs responsibilities was to guide the SAS consultants in their job. He was not their formal manager but he worked closely with them since he understood the meaning of the data and had some experience with SAS programming. He could bridge the gap between what topics the statisticians wanted to report on and how SAS programming could accomplish these tasks. This was an eye opening experience in that for the first time, he discovered that there existed such a job where you can program in SAS 100% of the time as a job! This intrigued him since he did not care for the administrative aspect of the jobs he had seen. These SAS consultants would just come in, focus on their work and were not involved in as much meetings or office politics. These guys were ʺdoersʺ not ʺtalkersʺ. They did not have administrative tasks such as dealing with yearly performance reviews and were just there to do a specific job. Gene saw this as a refreshing alternative way of working. He also liked how these consultants had opportunities to experience how different companies operated since they did not stay at one company as long as permanent employees. This variety of work kept these consultants on their toes and prevented them from falling into a rut, with boredom and stagnation.


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