Alison MacNeil, Ancillary Development Services | Reykjavik

A Writer and a Rocker

An interview with Manager of Analysis Tools and Applications Team, Alison MacNeil, by Amy Swearingen

What led you to this career?

Curiosity and great timing. I started a technical documentation company 12 years ago and I wrote to the Reykjavik office to see if they needed any work done and it just so happened that they wanted someone to improve the documentation for GOR. Working in research connected to health sciences was always my plan, but I got somewhat sidetracked by a semi-professional music career.

Where and what did you study at university?

I finished a degree in Chemistry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. I tried to continue that route here in Iceland when I moved here in 1998, but the Icelandic language was a barrier so I went into software development. More recently, I did a degree in music composition at the Iceland Academy of the Arts.

What is the best aspect of your role at Genuity Science?

The constant learning.

What is the biggest challenge of your job?

Also the constant learning – with so many people with specialized backgrounds, it is a challenge to try to keep on top of everything. There’s a lot of extracurricular reading and refresher courses in everything from data science and statistics to genetics. Or, explaining to people (outside of the company) what I do. That’s challenging sometimes.

What advice would you give someone starting a new role with Genuity Science?

I have a reading list that can be adapted for anyone here if they want to know more about the sides of this business that aren’t in their specific education or work history. I started a library in the Reykjavik office for this very purpose.

What career advice would you give to your younger self?

I gave a talk about this at Reykjavik University a few years ago. I think the one that resonated most with people was: “The internet won’t visit you when you are old.” I think that one is mine.

What do you do day to day, or week to week?

I try to find interesting ways to add value to our notebooks and try to assist other people in their important work here at the company. I spend a lot of time looking things up. Currently, I’m reading a lot about pandas to be able to add meaningful visualizations to our notebooks using the Python SDK. I’m also watching a lot of videos about Kubernetes. Trying to keep ahead of the wave.

Which teams do you work with regularly?

I work a lot with the Cohort team in Reykjavik. The focus has been working on notebooks lately. I’ve also worked extensively with the GOR/Platform team in getting the GOR open source project off the ground. It changes a lot from week to week.

If you weren’t in your current career, what career path do you think you’d take?

I have several careers already as I am notoriously bad at denying myself any of the options. If I’d stayed in Canada, I might have gone to med school. It is the family business. That and teaching, but that was less likely.

What are your hobbies?

I write songs and play guitar in a rock band.

What’s the best thing about where you live?

My children are safe here. Nature is never far away. Also, the music scene is different from anywhere else in the world. Hard to say what the best thing is. It’s all great.

What’s something about you that people whom you work with would find surprising?

I grew up on a decommissioned army base from WW2 with many of the barracks still standing, one of which is my father’s ridiculously large storage shed. That’s where I record music in the summer.

What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken?

I go every year to Canada to stay on my parents’ farm with my children and spend three weeks enjoying nice weather, fresh vegetables, and swimming in the ocean. The internet barely works there and everyone in my family loves to cook. It is paradise.

What’s your favorite movie and why?

Die Hard. And yes, it is a Christmas movie.