Team Spotlight: Alpha Diallo's Journey from PhD to Business and Tech

Alpha Diallo, PhD’s voyage into bioinformatics and science has been non-linear. From learning to code as a youth in Guinea, West Africa, to leading Form Bio's scientific solutions team, he’s let his curiosity and passion be his guide. Read on to learn more about his journey.

Jill Roughan, PhD

Jill Roughan, PhD

September 27, 2022

Team Spotlight: Alpha Diallo's Journey from PhD to Business and Tech

Can you tell us a little bit about your role at FORM?

At Form, I lead the solution science team. My team is responsible for pre-sale activities with customers and clients. We engage in different types of activities, like discovery discussions, to better understand their needs and show them the value of the platform. Our goal is to convince them that all the different challenges, and pain points that they're encountering, can be solved by our platform at Form.

What led you to get into this field? 

I was born and raised in Guinea in West Africa. I was always passionate about computer science. I was very lucky to get a computer at a young age and started building applications. That's really rare, especially in Africa, so I was very thankful to my parents and family. I was able to go to Montreal to pursue my undergraduate degree in computer science. The beauty of computer science, from my perspective, is the fact that you can apply it to nearly anything: finance, biology, physics, and more. You can also work from anywhere, so you don't need to go to an office. You just need a laptop and a place to sit, and you can be productive.

Given your background in computer science, how do you understand biological science? Did you ever actually work in a wet lab or did you spend a lot of time talking to wet lab scientists?

I never worked in a wet lab, but I’ve gone to visit and see the type of amazing work that scientists do there, to talk with the Principal Investigators and people working in the lab to understand their use cases, their design, their pain points, and make sure that I have the end-to-end type of vision of what we are trying to accomplish. Most of the time in the lab, they have different experiments where they're trying innovative types of sequencing approaches.

Do you think in the future there will be a “go-between” for bioinformaticians and wet lab scientists?

Ideally in the future, we will not need somebody. We’ll have end-to-end types of solutions. And my vision for that is, that in order to have a better understanding of healthcare and other areas, we need to be able to have a multi-omics approach. So basically I will be able to take a look at your genomics, transcriptomics, epigenetics, phenotypic, clinical, and proteomic data, and integrate and harmonize all those different layers to give you an overall snapshot of a person’s health. On top of that, we may be able to add longitudinal data. Right now, we are seeing countries, especially in Europe, that are sequencing all the newborns to be part of their National  biobanks. Ideally, after one or a few years, we will be able to sequence you as well, and all that information will be part of your clinical data set. 

It sounds like you’re advocating for removing barriers between different bioinformatics stakeholders

Definitely. I think that's how we will evolve because there is a lot of knowledge in all the orthogonal departments. We have been working a lot in silos, and being able to break those different barriers will help us to do amazing science. Think about the different outbreaks that have been happening recently. Being able to interconnect the FDA’s data with what's happening in Europe, Asia, and Africa as well, is so valuable, so we can have live surveillance of what's happening. Having different researchers collaborating, and different departments thinking about how to solve their problems will help us make a lot of innovative discoveries. Doing more open science and being able to share all that knowledge will help speed up the pace of discovery.

Do you have any advice for people who would want to get into this field?

I think the first piece of advice, as a scientist, is definitely to be curious. You need to learn and be motivated about learning. This field is evolving so quickly, so you need to keep up with the pace. If you are not curious enough, I'm not sure that you'll be successful in this field. 

I think my other advice is that you need to be able to take risks and get out of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Learn from them. That's how you will grow. I started as a computer scientist and then was able to learn management, science, and business skill sets. Just keep adding to your range and invest in yourself by reading about orthogonal types of technology. That will help you grow as a whole. 

My last piece of advice is something my father used to say a lot, "Life is not a sprint. It's a marathon." You need to find your rhythm, find something that you love, and keep moving forward. Keep learning and improving every single day, and enjoy your life and what you do.

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