Jon North

Principal Programmer S-cubed Biometrics Ltd

Joining S-cubed

I still have the original email from when I joined S-cubed in 2013. However, I have known Mark Baillet for more than 20 years, right from when I was at Oxford Brookes University doing my degree in computing. I was taking a sandwich course which included a year out to gain work-experience; I worked for a company called British Biotech in 1999 – 2000, where I met Mark.  After completing my degree, I went back to work for them. Eventually they were bought, with several of the scientists moving to Evotec.  As I had an understanding of the clinical databases the scientists used, I moved to Evotec for about year.

From Oxford to Wales and back again

Wales

In the meantime, my extended family had all moved to Wales and, as being close to them is important to me, I soon followed them into the Welsh countryside. I found myself in an interesting dilemma while looking for IT work – almost all local IT jobs were with the local council, but that came with a requirement to speak Welsh; not something I can do. To say I was a bit despondent is probably being kind.

Oxford

Meanwhile back in Oxford, a company called Origin were looking for a Clinical Programmer and I dropped them an email. Of course, Mark was there along with a number of others I knew from British Biotech. I remember the interview was very informal, more of a chat really. Just like many other companies, Origin was bought out and by 2013, I found myself working for Mark at S-cubed Biometrics Ltd. It’s a small world being in biometrics; when I go to events like PHUSE, I am still bumping into the same people from the last 20 years.

Life at S-cubed

Every day at S-cubed is different which is one of the best things about my day. I think if I had a tightly defined role in a big company, I wouldn’t be very happy. There are challenges of course, clients often come to us to solve their data issues. Some of those can be really problematic but there is great satisfaction in solving and fixing their data so that it’s ready for submission. I’ve worked from home for the last 5 years, so the current lockdown situation is nothing new for me. I certainly don’t miss being in the car for hours on end, when I can be more productive at home.

Family Focus & COVID-19

When I am not working, my family are my focus. I come from a large family – I am the oldest of 8 children – with 4 of us living in Wales, along with our parents. My parents run a local grocery store and during the lockdown and social distancing measures, they have continued to work. Both of them are in the vulnerable groups for COVID-19 but that hasn’t stopped them working and supporting the local community. Various members of the extended family help out in the store, including nieces and nephews; part of my support is to visit the wholesale markets in Birmingham to buy fresh supplies for the shop on Saturdays.

I have a brother-in-law working in the NHS, while another brother-in-law and sister work in care homes. In one way or another, the family have been exposed to the whole village and have been in high risk situations with the virus. We’ve just had to get on with it. I can see my S-cubed colleagues looking very nervous, when we have had our virtual company ‘coffee mornings’. I can sense the rest of the team backing away!

The Future? 

I don’t know what will happen in the future. For my family it could be quite an interesting time. Their village is one of those that the Welsh government has decided to let strategically flood. According to a recent BBC article, they could be the first climate change refugees in the UK. But I’m further away from the coast and about 10ft higher up! So, I guess I will be staying put and continuing to work for S-cubed.

In the next 10 years, in my working world, I am not sure what will change.  Despite CDISC standards being available for many years, there are still clients who do not want to use them; I’d really like to see CDISC standards become more widely adopted as sometimes, it still feels like it is an afterthought. As for current buzzwords of AI and Machine Learning? Maybe the big pharma companies might start to make some progress but from a CRO perspective, I don’t think it will impact us directly for quite some time. AI is certainly the current buzz-word but when you consider that many of the fundamentals of the industry rely on technology more than 20 years old (e.g. SAS transport files) I think it could be many years before we see any mainstream use.

Introverted Procrastinator?

As for words that describe me, I am quite an introvert. I am also a great procrastinator. If I can put off doing something I will – not client work obviously! I do like being busy and S-cubed often has different projects running at the same time and that keeps my brain engaged. But I’ve always been the same, unless there’s a sense of there being a goal or deadline, I can easily get distracted by other small things that need doing. Even at school, revising for language tests, I’d avoid doing anything until the morning before and get up really early to revise. Mind you, it was probably good training for getting up early to buy the fresh fruit and veg from the wholesalers.

I am more than happy at home, although I do like to get away with my family. 25 of us went to Portugal last year staying in a couple of villas and that was great.  To give you an idea of my level of introversion, I went to Puerto Rico for an Oracle Clinical Conference a few years ago. Most people would be really excited and looking forward to being on the beach. Well I went out to the beach in my jeans and a shirt and promptly returned to my hotel room. It just wasn’t for me!

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