Director of Quality Engineering Anne Dawson went from launching satellites to delivering software and data transformations that power cancer care. Below, she talks about her connection to the Syapse mission and the work her team does to build high-quality products for precision medicine stakeholders.
What brought you to Syapse?
My journey to Syapse has been an interesting one. I actually went to school to work in the space industry. I have both an aeronautical engineering bachelor’s degree and a master’s in mechanical engineering. I worked at Lockheed Martin launching satellites in orbit, readjusting their orbital trajectories and so forth; basically keeping a satellite healthy and pointed in the right direction. Very different from cancer data!
I worked on a project for Lockheed software system testing a new tool. I became the resident expert on running and testing a particular set of software applications and really enjoyed it. So then I kind of pivoted out of Lockheed, even though that was originally my dream job. I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid — who doesn’t?
I started working in software testing at a startup and ended up becoming a director there. During that time, my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. She’s a very vibrant woman — I mean, VERY vibrant — and the cancer she had was “treatable”. But the problem is, they’re basically using a sledgehammer to treat the cancer and at the age of 86, any type of sledgehammer totally destroys your system. She was just wasting away, and it took some time to get the combination of therapies somewhat balanced. Thankfully, she’s 95 now and doing great! That’s when I asked myself, is there a better way to treat cancer?
One day while looking at job postings I came across a position at Syapse. It was a bit of a stretch in terms of fit but I had a great conversation with the recruiter and said, hey, you know, I just love your mission and what you guys are doing, here’s my resume if another opportunity opens up. And eventually something came up that was a perfect fit — and here I am today.
When you’re talking to friends and family about what you do at Syapse, how do you explain your role?
Right now I wear several different hats. Most of what I do is around the quality of software and data being delivered to our customers. This includes both the platform and the services that enable us to ingest data from health systems and third-party integrations and show that data to oncologists and other health systems in the network. Overall, I help make sure the product is working as required and that we deliver value to our customers.
What other teams do you collaborate with at Syapse?
Every durable team that we have, I work with. Basically I’m embedded in the engineering team, and I work through the processes of delivering software as well as data transformations (ingestion, mapping, normalization, and output back to the customer). I also work with customer success to understand each customer’s requirements and delivery timelines so we can align the product with their needs; the data insights team to visualize the data and render those visualizations in the platform; and the clinical informatics team on data quality so that when we ingest and normalize data it’s correct. In the next six months we’re going to be building up a data validation team to focus on measuring data quality to make sure we’re presenting the best possible data to the customer.
What has surprised you since joining Syapse?
The dedication of the people. Everybody really puts 110% into trying to make sure this company is successful, and they’re extremely knowledgeable. We have so many unique people across the board. This is the first healthcare data company I’ve worked at and it’s very different from software startups or Lockheed because there’s a different connection to the mission and such a diversity of people committed to Syapse’s success.
The other biggest surprise has been the willingness of the executive staff to pivot quickly and seize opportunities when they arise. I think it requires a lot of courage to make those changes instead of just continuing heads-down on a roadmap. The healthcare field is constantly changing at a rapid pace and we have to make sure we’re always on that edge.
What are you most excited for in the upcoming year?
I’m very excited about delivering a new product we’ve been working on and seeing how it gets leveraged. If you ever have the chance to build something, you want to see someone actually use it and be excited about it and give positive feedback to see how you’re doing. That’s key. The team has been working on it for quite some time and when you put so much effort into something and it gets delivered to a customer, there’s always a moment of, “Oh gosh, are they going to like it?” But I think in this case, they’re going to be super excited about the product. It’s going to be a game-changer and open a lot more doors for us to be able to show what we can do.
If you could become an expert in anything instantly, what would it be?
I’d love to learn four or five languages.
What’s something new you’re learning right now?
So much! This one is boring but I’m learning FHIR, which is a healthcare data format.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
What time of year? Right now [late July] I would say Alaska. Otherwise I ask what time of year because I have some specific favorites: I adore New Orleans for spring or fall. Europe in the fall, Hawaii in the spring. It all depends on what I feel like!
What’s your favorite snack in the office kitchen?
Chocolate espresso almonds.