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Changing Careers to Become a SAS Programmer in the Biotech / - page 8 / 9





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would have been a two and a half hour commute, so that was out of the question. Even though she was in California, Angela received a request from her former employer at Boots Pharmaceutical to work on a CANDA project. At the time, many companies were preparing a computer aided new drug application so that the FDA could review the information through the computer. It was a boon for programmers because many companies needed this solution. The problem was that each company had their own CANDA which made it challenging for FDA reviewers. There was a large learning curve for reviewers to use CANDAs between different companies. As a result, this method is no longer used but it did present an opportunity for Angela to work remotely at that time. She was able to use her own PC to log into the remote machine. The employer even gave her SAS locally to do additional development.

Angela began to explore other telecommuting projects through the placement firm NovaTech. She worked on projects for Knoll Pharmaceutical, Quintiles, Norvatis, and Norfolk Railroad among others. It worked well since she was able to do this job at her home. She began to master the art of telecommuting. Angela was then known as the queen of email. This was her main form of communication in addition to the phone. She worked for Novatech for six years. Near the end, she picked up a project for a CRO named PharmaNet. She was a contractor at first working remotely since Pharmanet is headquartered in New Jersey. They had delivered to her a machine and a printer with all the security and software preinstalled. With a DSL connection, she was able to log on via the VPN and she was able to do work from then on. There were some challenges at first since she had to sometimes wake up early to attend 6am meetings Pacific Time which was 9am on the east coast. She primarily communicated with the project manager and statistician remotely. All the annotated CRF were scanned electronically and emailed to Angela. If she needed to see it on paper, she could just print it out. She continued to do some validation programming but the majority of the time was spent developing summary tables, listings, and graphs.

Most of the meetings were done over the phone. However, Angela did also experiment with Net Meeting and MShow which allowed desktop sharing. Even though she started as a consultant, after 5 months, PharmaNet hired her on as a permanent employee.

Angela has a knack for working as a telecommuter. She feels that one of the primary skills needed is to have excellent communication skills. This can make or break the job since everything has to be communicated though the phone or email. She also has the passion for doing this since it gave her better control over her schedule and better quality of life by being closer to her kids. It also requires selfdiscipline since she has to construct her own self imposed 8 hour work days without supervisor enforcement. One skill she picked up was to keep tabs on her projects and communicate her status to various team members constantly. That way, they would know where she is at and send her the right amount of projects at the right time. Among these skills sets, she also had to gain a certain level of trust among her coworkers and supervisor. This was established at the beginning and worked out under the initial contract. During that trial period, if things didnʹt work out, PharmaNet could easily end the contract without any legal difficulties.

Angela has a good combination of communication skills along with being very adaptable in her work. She made the pivotal move from the data entry clerk into SAS programming by communicating to the right team. She then transitioned and adapted to the various programming requests that came her way even though she only had experience in data entry. When she was relocated to California to a small community, this outpost did not deter her from doing her work. She was able to adapt and reinvent herself as a telecommuting programmer. The technology in telecommunications combined with her talents enables Angela to be a productive and valuable resource no matter where she is located.


The more examples you see on how individuals become clinical SAS programmers, the more unique they appear. The stories of the four individuals in this paper are derived from a longer set of stories within the book Becoming A Clinical Trials Programmer. The book will explore in greater detail career paths along with technical information based upon valuable real world lessons. There is no one optimal path that you have to take in order to be successful in this career. The stories shared in this paper show how diverse the individuals are in the way they took their steps. Even with one individual such as Suzie Q, many turns were taken in her career before settling in this work. Part of the reason why this job is so diverse is due to the fact that the skill set required varies as well. There is the domain knowledge that is needed to understand the clinical data. This is combined with the technical skills of a computer programmer. It is the combination of these skills which creates such a diverse set of requirements. There is a certain level of aptitude that is required to perform well. The individual also needs to be interested and therefore maintain the tenacity necessary to overcoming challenges in navigating through the career path of a SAS programmer within the Biotech and Pharmaceutical industry.


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