Outreachy Interview: John Mendez on Improving the InterMine Data Browser

This is our blog series interviewing our 2020 Outreachy interns, who are working remotely for InterMine for 3 months on a variety of projects. We’ve interviewed John Mendez, who will be working on the InterMine Data Browser.

Hi John! We’re really excited to have you on board as part of the team this summer. Can you introduce yourself? 

I’m a US Army disabled veteran, a lucky husband, and proud father of two forever puppies, Didgy and Delilah. I started self-learning to code 3 years ago on FreeCodeCamp as a way to transition into a different career, and ended up founding a startup with my wife in our spare time. At first, coding was just a means to an end for me, but after coming into contact with the open-source community, I became enthralled with the prospect of giving something back to humanity through code.

People often ask me what the ideal scenario for our startup is. To that, I always answer, “hopefully it’s successful enough that we can hire under-represented talent to contribute to open source”. I genuinely believe that code can be used to uplift humanity, or enslave it. Hopefully, I can contribute more to the former.

What interested you about Outreachy with InterMine?

I came across Outreachy through a FreeCodeCamp post. I had no idea what to expect, and thought it would be a good way to gain the validation I needed to properly transition into a new career. My only interaction with OSS was through using it in my own project, so I assumed I would be working on codebases geared towards developers.

Then I came across InterMine, and my heart quite practically leaped for joy. You see, my father suffered from heart problems and passed away early this year. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit NY, with one of my aunts being the first in our family to become infected. 

So when I came across InterMine, I really fell in love with the mission to make data more readily available to biologists. Honestly, I didn’t even know it wasn’t. I never thought a non-scientist, beginner programmer like me would get accepted, so I continued to look for other projects. But a thought kept nagging me, “how many more lives could be saved if scientists could analyse data at the speed of their thoughts?”. 

This is why even though I highly doubted I would get accepted, I still had to make the effort. Because at this point in my life it would be the most impactful thing I’d be capable of doing.

Tell us about the project you’re planning to do for InterMine this summer.

My project is to bring the InterMine Data Browser web app and stack to more contemporary norms. The core of the project is already well-executed in jQuery, so mainly it’s a minor re-architecture using React. I do hope to finish that quickly so that I can continue to add more features though.

Are there any challenges you anticipate for your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

My biggest hurdle will be overcoming my lack of scientific terms. During the pre-internship phase, I would sometimes feel I was reading alien hieroglyphics, and my brain literally would ache lol. 

To overcome this gap, I will need to rely on my mentors to help me develop proper test cases to ensure the data is being properly analysed. With those test cases, and binging Wikipedia articles, I feel I can become proficient enough with the terminology to make adequate progress.

My 2nd hurdle will be my perfectionism. It tends to stand in the way of making progress, and at times I’ve ended up tinkering too much that I’ve made it worse! The only way to overcome that will be with tough deadlines I suppose, as well as understanding when the requirements have been met.

Share a meme or gif that represents your project

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