Software engineer finds cutting-edge success at St. Jude

Clay McLeod

Clay McLeod is manager of bioinformatics software development in the Computational Biology Department.

Clay McLeod came to St. Jude looking for a challenge.

He sought a role where he could be innovative, make significant contributions and grow his career. Since joining St. Jude in June 2016, he’s done that and more—creating next-generation sequencing pipelines and helping launch the revolutionary data-sharing tool St. Jude Cloud.

“I’ve always enjoyed working on things that have the potential to make a significant impact. In my job interview, I expressed that I wanted to work on the front lines and be on the cutting edge,” McLeod said.

As a senior software engineer in Computational Biology, McLeod was hired to write or build pipelines to analyze the clinical genomics data of eligible St. Jude cancer patients. St. Jude performs whole-genome, whole-exome and RNA sequencing to assess patients’ complete molecular profiles.

After working for more than a year on the clinical genomics project, McLeod moved into a lead engineering role building St. Jude Cloud. A partnership with Microsoft and DNAnexus, St. Jude Cloud is the world’s largest public repository of pediatric cancer genomics data. Researchers worldwide can access genomic data, genomic analysis tools and interactive visualizations.

McLeod served as the primary project manager from the St. Jude side, coordinating a wide range of tasks from software development to outreach strategy to video production. He worked with a multidisciplinary team to guide the project to a successful launch in April 2018, while coordinating a major transition in the internal cloud-based analysis platform.

St. Jude has deposited more than 5,000 whole-genome, 5,000 whole-exome and 1,200 RNA-Seq datasets from more than 5,000 pediatric cancer patients and survivors. The goal is to host 10,000 whole genomes by the beginning of 2019.

Seeing the Cloud project from concept through development and into implementation has been most rewarding for McLeod.

“Being on the forefront of this technology and helping to move the world forward is both rewarding and challenging,” McLeod said.

McLeod, a native Memphian, had offers from organizations across the country, but he wanted to stay in his hometown to make the biggest impact. St. Jude provides him the challenges and vision that help him do his best work.

“I’m a huge advocate for the city of Memphis, and I love working at St. Jude,” McLeod said.

Earlier this year, McLeod was promoted to manager of bioinformatics software development. In October, he received the 2018 Amos Jacobs award—the hospital’s top employee honor.

“My work gets me excited every day when I wake up,” he said. “This was exactly what I was looking for—a chance to come in and help shape the future of how St. Jude shares its data with the world.”

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