Data Engineer Sofia Bazakou

Meet Data Engineer Sofia Bazakou (36). She joined The Hyve in October 2019. In the past years, she has mainly been working on OHDSI-related projects and likes being part of that community. In her spare time, Sofia likes to craft and play games − be it board games or computer games.

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

I have a Bachelor in Mathematics from the National Kapodistrian University of Athens. I’ve always liked the idea of using math to leverage biology and the medical sciences, so I went on to do a Master’s degree in Biomathematics at Durham University in the UK. After that, I worked as a research assistant at Newcastle University on a modelling project for sleep apnoea devices.

Then there is kind of a gap in my resume. My husband took a postdoc position in Los Angeles and we moved to the US together. Because of how the American job system works I did not work during that time. Instead, I travelled and explored the States. After a couple of years, we decided to come back to Europe and move to the Netherlands. I started looking for a job again and I found The Hyve!

Sofia at Yosemite in California

So your background is in mathematics. Did you learn programming and other IT-skills during your studies or did you acquire these skills later?

In my Bachelor’s there were some programming courses. However, the focus was more on the theory behind programming rather than hands-on coding. So I was trained more in computer science rather than programming.

During my Master’s, I started working with R and continued using this programming language for the project in Newcastle. Because I thought programming was interesting, I followed that up with online courses on Python, machine learning, and so on.

How did you get to know The Hyve?

That’s actually a nice story. By the time we had decided to move back to Europe, I was once again trying to find a job. At a physics conference, my husband met a lady who knew Kees van Bochove and she suggested I’d get in touch with him. So I sent Kees a message and submitted an open application. At the time there weren't any suitable positions for me at The Hyve and. I was told they’d keep me in mind, but I soon forgot about it.

Then, at some point, I was unexpectedly contacted by Harry van Haaften asking if I was still interested in a job at The Hyve and if I wanted to come in for an interview. By that time my husband and I had settled in the Netherlands. So I went in for an interview and they hired me. The whole process took about a week. It was a very stressful week, but exciting as well.

What team are you a part of and what products or projects are you working on at The Hyve?

I’m part of the OHDSI team, which is part of the bigger Health Data Infrastructure team. My first project was a big assignment where we built a custom knowledge graph for a client. After that, I joined the OHDSI team and I’ve been working on these projects for the past two years.

What do you do at The Hyve?

As a data engineer, I mainly focus on projects converting data to the OMOP CDM (Common Data Model). This includes preparing the data and deciding on how to convert them as well as writing ETL (Export Transform Load) pipelines. More recently, I’ve started helping and training people who would like to join the OHDSI community and explaining all about the open-source software OHDSI has to offer. With my team, I recently gave a workshop at an American university, focussing on how to use the OHDSI tools, best practices, and pipeline design.

Were you also involved with the big UK Biobank project?

Yes, that was my favourite project so far. It took ages because it involved so much data with different structures. We had to consider and combine so many things. It was very interesting, both from the data perspective as well as from a technical point of view. We needed to figure out how to actually transform the data and write an ETL that would stand the test of time. While the project itself was interesting, what I found actually even nicer were the many positive reactions we got when we presented our UK Biobank work at the OHDSI Symposium last September. It’s very rewarding to see that The Hyve’s projects have an impact and, for me, that’s part of the appeal of the job.

What do you like about working at The Hyve?

Working on OHDSI, you have this real sense of community. There is so much interaction with people in grand projects and within working groups. It makes you feel that you’re part of something bigger and that’s very nice.

Also, I like that my colleagues are friendly and collaborative. There is a strong team spirit and I find it a relaxed and inclusive environment. I also appreciate that the company is small because you get to know everybody. In a bigger company, you wouldn’t even know people outside your bubble, let alone that you would sit and have a beer with them.

Can you mention an exciting development in your field?

Within the OHDSI community, we organize more and more often so-called study-a-thons. It brings together people from many sites and different disciplines for a week of intense research. The idea is to look at different datasets and compare results on the spot.

I think that these events are significant because in order for them to happen you need a huge amount of coordination between people from all over Europe or even all over the world.

What I find even more impressive is that such an event allows you to really utilize all the work that we at The Hyve do, converting research data to a common data model. During a study-a-thon, you really can see how it leverages research, there and then. That you can run analyses across multiple sites and get comparable results, rather than isolated research because of data protection and stuff. I think that’s pretty significant.

Sofia cycling in Utrecht

What do you like to do when you're 'off-duty'?

A range of things, really. I do like board games but also computer games. I like yoga. Though now that we can’t go to the studio, it’s a bit up and down. I can’t always find the motivation.
I also really like to do crafts. Crochet is one of my favourite activities. I find it very relaxing and very satisfying to create something.

Some of Sofia's crochet projects