Allison Regier

How many years have you been in tech?


Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?

I loved school and I was interested in all kinds of things. I especially loved reading, and I also liked math because I was good at it.

How were you exposed to tech?

My family had an Apple IIe and my folks taught me how to put in the floppy disks to play various games and use the word processor. I could sound out words to type stories before I could read or write with a pencil. As we got more advanced computers I liked playing games like Carmen Sandiego and getting creative making cards and posters with PrintShop. When I went to college I was interested in foreign languages and had the goal of being a translator or linguistics researcher. I also was a math major originally. For that major, I had to take an intro to computer science class, and I discovered that programming was a lot like learning a foreign language, and the process of coding really appealed to me. So I switched to be a computer science major. After graduation, I worked in a programming job for a couple years. When my husband wanted to go back to graduate school, we decided to apply together. I thought maybe I could get into computational linguistics. The school I ended up going to didn’t have anybody working in that field, but they had just hired a bioinformatics faculty who was looking for students. It turns out that bioinformatics has a lot in common with linguistics – we are just studying the language of DNA!

What is your current role?

I am a senior scientist at the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University. I use our massive computing cluster to munge and analyze data from thousands of human genomes to search for genetic causes of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

When I defended my dissertation, one of the biologists on my committee said that she was amazed at how much biology I had learned with basically no biology background. That made me feel really good!

What are you learning right now?

Our computing needs are growing all the time, so I am learning how to scale up our software to handle bigger and bigger data sets. I’m also learning a bit about systems administration as we take some of our work to the cloud. For fun, I have been taking an online course in the Scala programming language and playing with it.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?

I love the relaxed lifestyle of being able to live in an affordable inner-ring suburb. It is a great place to raise kids with lots to do. And it is very important to me to be within driving distance of my family.

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