Angela Landrigan, Ph.D., Director of Products at Cytobank Inc.

“As the tech field becomes cloud-based, the flexibility and remote work culture will grow”

Gabriela Motroc
tech
© Shutterstock /Lamina2014

Women are underrepresented in the tech sector —myth or reality? In addition to the Women in Tech survey, we also launched a diversity series aimed at bringing the most inspirational and powerful women in the tech scene to your attention. Today, we’d like you to meet Angela Landrigan, Ph.D., Director of Products at Cytobank Inc.

Is tech a boys-only club? So it seems. But the light of smart and powerful women is finally shining bright. We root for excellence and justice and, above all, we want meritocracy to win. This is our way of giving women in tech a shout-out.

A research study by The National Center for Women & Information Technology showed that “gender diversity has specific benefits in technology settings,” which could explain why tech companies have started to invest in initiatives that aim to boost the number of female applicants, recruit them in a more effective way, retain them for longer, and give them the opportunity to advance. But is it enough?

Women in Tech — The Survey

We would like to get to the bottom of why gender diversity remains a challenge for the tech scene. Therefore, we invite you all to fill out our diversity survey. Share your experiences with us!

Your input will help us identify the diversity-related issues that prevent us from achieving gender equality in technology workplaces.

Without further ado, we would like to introduce Angela Landrigan, Ph.D., Director of Products at Cytobank Inc.

Angela Landrigan, Ph.D., Director of Products at Cytobank Inc.

Angela is passionate about building analytics tools to accelerate the field of immuno-oncology. She enjoys empowering teams to build robust but easy-to-use tools that link high-level, scalable views to underlying raw data. Prior to joining Cytobank, she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow while co-mentored by Dr. Paul J. Utz and Dr. Ronald Levy in the Stanford University Immunology Program, where she was awarded a NIH U19 pilot grant during her Ph.D. studies and postdoctoral fellowship. During these studies, she discovered a novel pathway by which T cells are activated, and characterized the response of cancerous T cells to immunotherapy agents. Prior to that, her research focused on functional RNA in the lab of David Liu during her undergraduate career at Harvard University.

What got you interested in technology?

I did my Ph.D. studies in immunology at Stanford, focused on T cell signaling and lymphoma. Stanford is a very collaborative and interdisciplinary environment where labs are often composed of people from different departments.

It was there a little over seven years ago that I met the co-founders of Cytobank who bridged immunology and informatics departments and were building out the Cytobank platform to support high-dimensional single cell data analysis. I started out consulting part time while wrapping up my studies at Stanford, intending to move onward on the academic path after, but I ended up loving my work at Cytobank so much that I joined the team full time instead.

When I first started, coming from being a bench scientist, my role focused more on supporting customers and helping with quality assurance for features being developed. It was interesting to work with immunologists and other scientists from around the world who were working on a wide variety of research topics and to envision ways to support and scale research globally. Over time, I learned a lot from the developers, operations team, and other colleagues and had good mentorship to the point where I now run the product team.

From a young age, I was interested in science, medicine, and the way the world works — my dad helped me with science fair experiments (and for-fun home experiments), for example mapping the boundary between rods and cones in the human eye, the Hermann grid illusion, and creating magnificent colors by mixing household acids and bases.

First taste of the tech world

In the 1990s, I suddenly became ill and spent a year bedridden and unable to attend school. My family connected with an employee of BBN Technologies who was running an experimental program to empower children in schools through Multi-User Simulated Environments (MUSEs) whereby kids could log in (via telnet) and communicate with other kids from around the world. MUSEs are structured such that people can also use a programming language that is a derivative of C to build rooms and program automated robots. Being that I was unable to leave the house, this became a large part of my life for that year and how I continued to grow and empower myself despite the challenge I was facing.

I met people from around the world, learned new languages, and built multi-lingual automated virtual robots using this derivative of the C programming language. I then eventually became so interested in the power of this that I learned to program in C, set up my own server, and cloned and modified the actual C code for a MUSE environment that was running on the server. This became my first taste of the programming, servers, and the tech world.

After about a year had passed, we found a doctor who made interest insights into my immune system — hearing her describe CD4 and CD8 T cells for the first time, I was immediately fascinated at the knowledge of there being a whole system of cellular players that have so much power over human health. Suddenly, I had a passion for immunology and programming in my hands. It took several years before I regained full health, and fighting through this challenging time cultivated the perseverance I have today. I went on to teach programming workshops to University of Massachusetts faculty and do research at a pharmaceutical company during high school, studied biochemistry and worked in an organic chemistry lab at Harvard during college (organic chemistry made everything about biology click for me), and then moved into my application of interest by studying immunology in graduate school at Stanford.

A strong framework for collaboration

I feel very fortunate to have found many people throughout my life who have helped me grow. My dad laid that foundation by always messaging that if there’s something I want to do, I can do it, and then modeling how to connect with other people to achieve my goals. He taught me how to identify my goals, make a plan, and connect with others. This gave me a strong framework for collaboration, and I’ve been fortunate to encounter many colleagues over the years who have proven very open to collaboration and communication, which are key ingredients to career and personal growth and contribution to the field.

I have had several research and business mentors over the years of my studies who have likewise taken the time to help me grow in my scientific and business abilities, and always created amazing opportunities for growth and contribution. I am particularly appreciative of the mentorship of Cytobank advisor Bill Ihrie who taught me how to effectively build shared vision and mobilize and motivate a team, Grace Thorne, who gave me my first research opportunity, and David Liu, PJ Utz, and Ron Levy who helped me grow in scientific thought and publish contributions to the field. During my Ph.D. studies, I paid it forward and mentored a young lady for her first research experience and she is now thriving in her medical studies.

I did not learn that women are sometimes disadvantaged even in the current era until late in high school, and by then, the “you can do anything you set your mind to” message was already ingrained in me. I am thankful to have encountered many people in life who share the goal wanting progress in science and medicine, and wanting to grow the next generation of capable minds, whoever they may be!

A day in Angela’s life

I am the Director of Products at Cytobank, Inc. where I communicate with a variety of stakeholders to build a shared vision around the product roadmap, and then mobilize our development, quality assurance, and system operations teams to execute it. I operate at the high level of strategic discussions and long-range roadmap vision, and also at the granular level of wireframing and building functionality requirements.

I routinely interact with the product development team, commercial, field, marketing, customers, and strategic partners. My role involves a lot of communicating, organizing, and coming up with creative and efficient solutions, but it also involves a lot of technical know-how and execution. One of the things I love the most about my job is that I am always learning. From how to effectively mobilize teams to the technical workings of AWS environments, I am continuously broadening my expertise.

I love helping scientists and clinicians worldwide solve big problems in science and medicine. Our product roadmap is heavily driven by our customers and it is inspiring to see the frontiers of research being pushed forward at institutions around the world. It’s a wonderful challenge to work on a platform to help them get the most out of precious datasets as quickly as possible. We are entering an era with machine learning where we can gain tremendous insights into disease mechanisms as well as treatment safety and efficacy profiles. Immuno-oncology is particularly interesting to me, and I look forward to seeing continued understanding and refinement of therapies as well as the ability to predict and prevent adverse treatment events. I am hopeful that machine learning approaches such as those we work on at Cytobank can aid in this effort.

A second thing of which I am proud is having been able to involve my daughters so closely in my career. It has become a fun family activity. They have taken an interest in immunology from a young age to the point where I was inspired to write and illustrate a children’s immunology book. They can now tell you all about their favorite immune cells and what they do, and my 6-year-old recently recorded a video showing how easy it is to run machine learning tools on a human bone marrow dataset in Cytobank. It is wonderful to see my girls feeling empowered and confident about science at such a young age.

Why aren’t there more women in tech?

I hear that sometimes this is from poor messaging to girls about their abilities and potential, and I have high hopes that we are near the end of that era. At least at my daughters’ school, there is a lot of messaging around any child being able to work hard and persevere to achieve whatever goals they set, and students participate in “An Hour Of Code”, for example.

I wonder also if the lack of women in tech stems from a lack of awareness about the applications — perhaps the field is perceived as “sit behind a screen” rather than “interact with many interesting, collaborative people to cure cancer and help patients”, so perhaps there could be more awareness about the applications.

Whenever a new field becomes accessible to a population, it opens the opportunities for that population to contribute their novel ways of thinking to the field, expands the possibility of finding a best-fit career, and increases the feeling of empowerment within that population. Globally, there are still cultures where women are oppressed and not given freedom and equality in basic life arenas. When we contrast that with cultural regions where women are treated equally and allowed to flourish, we can see the difference it makes in progress in the field, personal satisfaction, and interpersonal respectful relationships.

Obstacles

Mindset, communication, and the interplay between the two — work toward a place where you feel a calm confidence about your ability to set a goal and structure and execute a plan and communicate proactively and with all of your emotional regulation skills in top running order.

The desire to have significant time raising a family — I think as the tech field becomes increasing cloud-based that flexibility and remote work culture will grow, appealing to women who have opted out of tech careers to protect time with young children. We are in the era where cloud tools readily allow for seamless communication, execution of work, and transparency in achieving objectives.

Tips & tricks

The advice I would give to anybody is to set a goal, structure a plan, figure out what resources you need to execute your plan, and communicate! Identify communicative, kind, and uplifting mentors who can help you structure your plan and build the skills you need to move along your path.

There are many different types of roles within the tech field to suit a variety of personalities, so don’t worry about needing to be one particular personality type to succeed. In addition, more and more companies are embracing flexible work schedules and remote tools to support employee real-life needs.

Finally, while I never thought I would work at a start-up, I can now wholeheartedly recommend it because it affords the opportunity to learn a lot across many different areas with simple lines of communication and less bureaucracy. It can be an intense experience, but a great fit for someone who enjoys learning and growing.

 

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Author
Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc is editor of JAXenter.com and JAX Magazine. Before working at S&S Media she studied International Communication Management at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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