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Changing Careers to Become a SAS Programmer in the Biotech / - page 5 / 9





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This insight encouraged Gene to continue to learn more about SAS through the use of the few SAS manuals he had access to. He also learned by seeing sample code that these consultants would share with him. Gene was now spending 50% of his time working on SAS which was more than he had ever done before.

Transition to Consulting

There were corporate challenges at VISX which lead to layoffs. This and other management turmoil lead Gene to try out the consulting world starting with work at Roche Biosciences. It started out as a 3 month contract which is typical for an initial contract. This introductory period allowed the company to evaluate the consultant to see if it worked out without making a big commitment. If things went smoothly and there was work to be done, it was normally extended. Gene worked on the precursor to Oracle Clinical known as Rx/Clinical which is the clinical trials relational database jointly developed by Oracle and Syntex, which later became Roche Biosciences. Even though he started out working in the role as a data management, Gene grew into the position of a SAS programmer and continued to work as a consultant at Roche for three and a half years. This was where he learned the majority of his SAS programming skills. During these same years, Gene noticed that there were some individuals in this large organization who began to have a ʺDMVʺ mentality. After years of working in a bureaucratic organization, they lacked the desire to learn new things and became less motivated. Some of his colleagues were in the same company for tens of years. He began to see how this stagnation crept into his work routine as well, even though he was a consultant. This realization woke Gene up to the reality that perhaps he was also falling into this stagnation, and keeping true to his original reasons for becoming a consultant, he decided to make a change.

Gene ventured into a short contract with Quintiles Pacific down the Peninsula in Mountain View. This was the first time he worked in a Clinical Research Organization (CRO) which was different from his experience with a pharmaceutical company. His initial thoughts were that since it was a service organization, the work would be varied since they were servicing many different clients at the same time. It turned out however that many clients rely on the CRO to dictate the standards and the way the work was done. It therefore turned out that the work was still done mostly in the same way across different clients and projects.

The desire to learn new things and work in different environments drove Gene to continue into other projects. He had heard from other SAS consultants that finding jobs on your own was the way to earn the biggest salary. Despite this fact, Gene relied on job placement firms such as Trilogy and ASG to land him new opportunities. Gene preferred working in this manner because he relied on the marketing resources of these firms to find him the projects so he could just focus on ʹdoing the work and not trying to find the workʹ. If one is lucky, there is always something new and interesting to learn within each work environment. At Pharmacyclics, he worked with the Trialex System which was a browser based thin client software to manage reports and analysis files he created using SAS. Now living in North Carolina, his current project is for Schwarz Bioscience, which is actually based in Germany. He however works at home most of the time connecting to servers in Germany. When Gene started, they did not have cube space in their North Carolina office, so the arrangement was for him to connect via his cable modem from home and work through a remote desktop within a Citrix environment. Most of the time, it worked well but once in a while, his keyboard would spontaneously switch to a German style keyboard and his Ultraedit editor would create unexpected characters so he would have to log out and back in to use an English keyboard again.

Different organizations have different approaches towards validation of SAS programs. This is partly due to varying interpretations of the regulations and also due to how different managers and organizations function. At this current project, Schwarz Biosciences has an approach of validating all the output 100%. This means that there is an independent programmer who would produce the same numbers in a separate SAS program stored in a separate SAS dataset which is distinct from those that are meant to be submitted to the FDA. This means that there is a separate program that performs a PROC COMPARE to ensure that the two sets of numbers are identical before it is deemed ʺvalidatedʺ. When Gene first started, he primarily did the duplicate validation type programming. Now that he has been on the project longer, he is doing more of the original programming that will be part of the submission.

Since he works remotely, Geneʹs main method of communicating with his coworkers is through email. Ninety percent of the time, his email and communications are dealing with detailed information such as data, file, and variable names. He does recognize that at times, it does take a little longer to describe or show someone something in email whereas if he were to be physically in front of them, it would be faster.

Resourceful Reinvention

Gene has found many creative and resourceful ways to learn and reinvent himself as a SAS consultant. Even before he started working professionally, his interest in 8bit microprocessors and working at the electronic circuitry level coincided with his tinkering tendencies and attention to detail personality. This inclination to focus on the details grew as he worked with data discrepancies. If Gene were to find one data issue, it would bother him to just leave the rest alone. He has to then investigate


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