Uniting Engineers with End Users to Improve Customer Experience: Anna Quackenbush with Illumina

Show Details

Anna Quackenbush works at the biotech company Illumina, who are at the forefront of aligning technology and genetics with the medical industry in what is being referred to as the medical revolution. Illumina specializes in creating integrated systems able to process genetic variation and biological functions through DNA sequencing.

As the world evolves, people like Anna become very important to act as a liaison between creator and user, filling in the gaps so that things work the way they need to for the doctors using them. With her background in biomedical engineering and genomics, her role as a translator between scientist and end user of her company's product is crucial.

As language in the field adapts to a place where doctors who have not studied technological advances are nearly left in the dark, Anna sees first hand the value of creating a bridge between people and the new language.

Topics we discuss:

1. DNA sequencing
2. Advancing medical technology
3. Customizing medical treatment
4. Language bridge
5. Company-wide knowledge
6. Data storage issues

Related Links:

1. Illumina
2. Linkedin
3. MIT Intro to Biology Lectures
4. The UX Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Lean Buley
5. Jared Spool Website
6. Jeanne Bliss Podcast

Show Transcript

Carlos: Anna, it’s been a long time coming. Thank you so much for coming on the show. How have you been?

Anna: I’m good. Yeah, thanks for having me, Carlos.

Carlos: You know, as I was telling you earlier, the last time that we did the pre-interview I think I wasn’t as prepared to understand even some of our conversation that we had at that time. I don’t want to say I didn’t understand it but I wasn’t as prepared to ask better questions. Since we did the pre interview I’ve gotten it all up a lot of more context about the lab industry in particular how sequences play a role and what Illumina as a company does etcetera. We are going to get into those details here in a second. But anyways, just so you know that excitement has been going up as we’ve gotten closer to this interview.

Anna: Oh, that’s great to hear. Yeah, it’s definitely an exciting field. I always love the opportunity to get to talk about it and help educate since I know DNA sequencing is more a buzz word in news and in media, and helping people understand what that really means, it’s always a great opportunity.

Carlos: So let’s begin with that, this is always the way that I want to introduce some of our subjects is we are going to be talking a bit about the overall user centric experience design in which you’ve had a big role at Illumina so from working with the product teams at some point, building, even working with engineering— you’ve worked with marketing, now you are working on different areas of a company but you are able to see like the company from, I want to say you are able to zoom out and see different areas of the company like even the periphery of that and how the user experiences plays a role. But just to give you the context I think we’ll start with, we’ll try to introduce the industry as a whole and how it plays a role within the world that we live in. But before we get into that tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get into tech? What’s your background like and what interested you to get into tech and especially in this industry.

Anna: Sure. I got a degree in biomedical engineering and had to focus in genomics. So I picked that area, honestly, I started out as biology major, realized that grad school is not going to be a thing for me. Luckily I had a friend who is already in this field and was raving about the possibilities. So I need the switch and then after college found myself in San Diego. I came over here from the Midwest so it’s the sunshine the really drew me here. It also happens to be time where Illumina is headquartered. So I found a job initially in Illumina’s software department and quickly saw the value that my background was able to bring to the role. So biomedical engineering especially with the genomics focused area is a nice blend of both science and engineering.

In Illumina, our software developers are tasked with creating products for sciences. However, few of them have ever been in a biology lab and so the customers and our developers speak very different languages. And it makes it difficult for our software development engineers part of development in general to know what customers need and expect just because they are completely different environments. So that’s where I came in the systems engineering world, having the opportunity to go out to talk to customers about what they needed, what their workflow was like, and then bring that back to the software team and help put that in context for them, and put it in a language that they understood to help fill their creativity and make sure that they were pointing in the right direction for our customers. So that’s really what got me started was this great opportunity in the software world.

Carlos: I kind of want to put a pin on that and talk about this for a second. It sounds to me like, and this is a pattern I have seen over and over that engineers are coming into a specific industry because, one it’s interesting, and also you can trace the value of what you do if you trace it right, through, like, a long tracing. How you can see how you are affecting somebody’s life at some point. Even if you’re doing it indirectly through your clients, through that labs that buy your products and services, you can draw a line between your work and that up. But I am curious about your perception of this. Is this something that you think as a group, apparently this is about that, it’s that learning the language, learning the bio lingo, the actual lingo of the labs requires a degree and at least requires some experience in order to be allowed into a lab to do something as basic at it may sound, you know PCR. But understanding the principles of PCR is not just, and please can you explain what PCR is because you’ll do a better job than I can. But explaining that to engineers is one thing but then building products that influence that process it’s a different process so you have to understand that context. So it’s a two part question: how do we enable engineers that don’t have this experience to be more interested and understand the science behind the work that they are doing? But also the impact that they could have on people’s lives.

Anna: Yeah, I mean that’s a great question and it’s something that, a topic that I am personally really passionate about. To me, I think one of the key skillsets that somebody could have to help bridge that gap is just around storytelling. I mean, making sure that you understand your audience and that’s on both sides when you’re going out and talking to your end users and understanding their mental, where are they, what’s their headspace, what emotional components go into their job that they have to do every day. You know, some of our customers as our products are increasingly used in healthcare situations. You know we have this great aspirational goal of having sequencing as sort of the standard of care and many healthcare situations such as like oncology and where undiagnosed genetic diseases. The people that work in those labs are making real decisions for patients and many of those have time critical components to them, so they are approaching their situation with a certain amount of stress already undermine the work that they are doing. And if we are delivering products that are confusing or slow them down and not just our products but also our services and how we help them operate as really as a business. That really matters to the customers into their context; and then finding that way to bring that back to the development teams to make sure that they get it. I mean, it’s really a translation having to tell that story, hear that story in one language and translate it into another.

Really early on, as I was having the opportunities that I have in the systems engineering world and then pretty quickly switching over to a user experience which I know we can touch on. One of the things that really resonated with me was making sure that we were able to operate within the bounds of our technology. So knowing the types of questions, the perspective of the software engineers what they needed to know to be able to get their job done, and then providing that extra layer of context. You know, we are giving them verbiage and talking about workflows, like you said, PCR. We have a lot of technical terminology even in our interfaces of our software interface and we had to make sure that our developers, they ask a lot of questions, they are quizzical. We hire some really smart people. We need to make sure that we weren’t just dropping our requirements document in their lap without giving them the context of the why. You know, we want to make sure that we are empowering all of our employees to have a critical eye and use their brain. That meant that they have to have that full understanding of what they are doing. We also have done, there’s been some really cool things that the software management team has done to help get exposure to more of the basic biology concepts. Eric Lander, who is a big name in genomics had an MIT series that was on mind about basic biology principles. We had a series of launch and learns back in the day where the whole software team was invited to spend an hour of their day once a week listening to this really energized professor speaking about aspects of biological systems. And that it just really helps us understand what are customers are doing with our products.

Carlos: You said something key there, there’s a translation, not only translation as in language but there is also a translation in skills and with that you have the scientists, you have the actual scientists, let’s put it that way; and then you have these software engineers that don’t understand beyond language, right? Beyond, now they actually have to work together to build these products in a joint way whether they are mechanical engineers, right? Because it’s hard to find people that are an electric engineering, mechanical engineering; remember we are building hardware products if you want to simplify that. You’ve got all sorts of disciplines within engineering that need to work together with the scientists and again kind of build those products. So it’s interesting to see how these experts at their field are able to take on these new language and these new skill set in order to apply their own. They need to go beyond what they’ve already learned in the past in order to really make an impact here. By the way, two things, PCR because I said it and I don’t want to be the one that then somebody says, “Hey Carlos, you didn’t explain it.” Explain to us what PCR is and why it’s so important in the context that we’re talking about.

Anna: Sure. Yeah, so PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction. This is just like mini concepts. I’m probably going to butcher it myself just because I don’t get to read up on it often but it is a way to amplify segments of DNA. So like when you have a blood sample and you extract, you know, the blood sample has cells in it and you need to get the DNA out of those cells and that’s some workflow in the lab. And then once you get that you want to be able to make a lot of copies of it so that when you put it on something like our sequencing machine you have a lot more coverage to make sure that you can see exactly what was there. And so the PCR is a step that allows you to just really replicate the fragments of DNA that you have so that you could have more copies of it when you do further experiments downstream.

Carlos: And then the other one was you mentioned that this biology course, is it still mind you and if you happen to have a link to it I’d love to have that on the show notes not only for people that are listening in that might be interested in somehow brushing up on their biology skills and maybe people are interested in getting into this industry as a whole. And you know, for whom for myself and my team I think we all need to get a little bit better about this stuff.

Anna: Yeah, I will. I’ll definitely check on that. It was MIT’s at one point. I think they still have this, a lot of their courses or lectures are aligned and there was a video series around this. Let me look and see if I can get you that link. But I agree, I mean just the more that healthcare is evolving in some of this molecular biology hands are evolving and how they scale, and how we think about them in terms of providing medical solutions. I do think that it’s important for more engineers to understand the biological concepts that underlay life in general.

Carlos: The way that I also think about this is we know that this is important for health, for future of humanity. We know that having doctors being able to make decisions based on real data for their patients is just the future of what is coming for medicine. At some point it wouldn’t be strange if all of a sudden they say it’s mandatory for everybody to get an exam at some point, right? That’s great for Illumina but that will also mean that it will be, again we will all have better data and maybe we’ll have a bigger industry, more competitors etc. But I think in order to get there we need more people to come make a difference, and I think this is what I’ve seen with developers they usually stay within the realms of building code for the sake of creating great code, now that’s not all developers, right? The more senior, more mature developers understand that their skill sets affect an industry so I’ve kind of in a mission to figure out how to turn more developers help push this field further because we need them. We need the scientists, we need the engineers, we need developers even if it’s for this part of the industry or you’re creating the suitable or other devices. We need more people to help push this field forward.

Anna: Yeah, I completely agree. I mean, we on sequencing it is speaking mostly to the software side. One of our biggest bottlenecks right now in our end to end workflow is certainly around data and analysis and data storage. We are turning out terabytes of data within two days on some of our platforms. Most systems especially in hospitals we’re you have older infrastructure, they just don’t have the money, they don’t have the physical space to put the right solutions in place to help them grow their capabilities that they want to. And again, it’s really those software development teams that are going to come in and help find those revolutionary, the new tools, that are going to allow people to have more access to this both in terms of throughput and being able to analyze quickly and on pace with the instruments; and then thinking about long term storage and data access. We need better solutions than we have today.

Carlos: I think we’ve done a good job at explaining a bit of the context of what we are going to be talking about today. So let’s get into the work that you are doing at Illumina, but to do that, what is Illumina? Tell us a little bit about the company and the job that Illumina does within the industry.

Anna: Sure. We are a product development company. We primarily build instruments and software that allow scientists to explore our genetic makeup. So our systems are used primarily in laboratory environments where people are answering questions about everything from where undiagnosed diseases in humans to searching for more robust agricultural solutions to help feed the planet. So historically our customers have been mostly in the academic labs, labs in universities. But we are seeing a shift into more of our systems being used in hospitals, and a lot of it is just as we progress in our understanding of the impact of our genetics on things like cancer. You know, we talk about rare diseases quite often and reproductive health as well. So we are seeing a number of different avenues where sequencing is making more of an impact, and that is shifting again not just where they are use but how the systems are use.

Carlos: Can you give us a bit of an example, layman example, right, the patient journey. Where do those labs fit into the picture and where does Illumina fit within the lab?

Anna: Sure. Yes, so if you think about for instance a cancer patient. A tumor is generally not made up of one type of mutation. Cancers are usually cause by erratic cell growth, something has changed in the DNA of your cells and it’s causing them to grow exponentially and that’s what make tumors. Sequencing can be used to understand specifically what mutations are in that tumor and that can end up changing the types of medications that you get to treat your cancer. In the past, people thought that you wanted to use a drug that completely wipe out your tumor and so they would look at your cancer and say, “Most of this tumor is made up of cells with this mutation." We know that this drug will treat that mutation so use that until the cancer is gone. So when you use that drug to treat your tumor you are able to kill all of the cells that respond to that drug.

Usually there are other cells that are still there that are cancer causing that that drug that you use didn’t get rid of. And those are the one that end up causing a reoccurrence in your cancer. And so people are starting to change how they are thinking about treating tumors so that they are not necessarily wiping out the predominant cancer type but finding different ways to maintain your cancer where maybe you don’t want to eradicate it, maybe you just want to maintain it. Maybe that tumor is at a place, the cancer is at a place where you can survive quite a bit longer by keeping that from growing as opposed to wiping it out entirely. So that’s one of the new areas that people are focusing on and that is sequencing is key to being able to do that analysis because you really have to have that visibility into the exact makeup of your specific cancer because everybody is different.

Carlos: So I’ve been thinking about this as I am learning more about this and it is, like, do I need to change my doctors to, not that I have doctors by the way. I don’t even have a general practitioner, that’s embarrassing but it’s true. Should I be on the lookout for finding a doctor that is forward thinking and using genetic testing for decision making is do you know anything about that because that’s kind of the entry point, right? If you are thinking of at some point in this conversation we are going to start talking about the user experience and the periphery of all that. But if you think about it that’s the beginning of it, right; finding a doctor that will at some point use a lab that uses Illumina?

Anna: It’s true. And I’m going in, I’ll let you pick your doctor on your own merits but it is something that we talk a lot about. I mean, I’ve heard stories where people go to top medical universities and ask somebody, “Can you tell me what sequencing would do to help my mother with her cancer?” And the doctor is likely to say, “I have no idea what you are talking about. You have to go find intriguing, young, aspiring doctor fresh out of med school that had classes on sequencing and genomics.” Because it’s so new that there are many doctors who hadn’t had any kind of training on genomics and sequencing as part of their medical degree.

At Illumina we get asked a lot about whether or not we are going to establish physician education courses on sequencing technology and I am not sure. I don’t think it’s anything that we’ve really invested in yet but it is something that we talk about. How do we help physicians understand what this means so that we can all have more access to it. I’m not saying this from the business perspective but just from the betterment of humanity and our ability to treat diseases and maintain healthcare cost which are also a bit out of hand.

Carlos: If you think about it, that’s the entry point to growth in our industry, right? We want to convince the users to demand this sort of treatment. Let’s say patient as you said went to his doctor, “Hey, you have a lump”, and then he goes to a specialist and the specialist doesn’t even think of the genetic treatment of this going through a sense of that genetic diagnosis and identify what sort of treatment might be better at that level. I am already anxious about this. Like I want to know what doctor I need to pick that will use the right tools versus one that will just use what he learned 25 years ago in med school. Because let’s be real, that’s the sort of thing we are talking about. The medicine is not improving at a speed in which the industry or in which medicine evolve, pick one is impossible for them to do it. I hear that something like, I don’t know exactly the number but thousands of papers are released every single day, not all of them are actual final, but the amount of knowledge that these doctors would have to have is just impossible for one doctor. So I would want my doctor to have the best tools available to make the decisions at least for my case.

Anna: Oh, of course. And I think that shows pace at which sequencing has really grown and has established itself as an incredibly valuable tool for us as we look at healthcare just because we have so much infrastructure, so much education we still need to be putting into place in our healthcare world and thinking about how we bring new types of technology to the clinic. I mean, I know I for one would hope that we see more of this just as tech grows in general in the biomedical world, in the healthcare world and thinking about other revolutionary new ways of operating and doing business. I know electronic health records for one is something we’ve been hearing about for years and years. And I know it’s really painstaking to get some of that in place but technology like sequencing are revolutionary in terms of patient outcomes and so how can we help people get more comfortable both patients and physicians in terms of requesting and acting on the types of information that they are getting. Yeah, it’s just a different time. It’s been really fun to be involved in this.

Carlos: So because of your involvement, I think this is where we start talking about your particular experience and I think it place nicely into the context and how we’ve been talking about it. Tell me a little bit about your current role and what is it that you’re doing at Illumina today.

Anna: Sure, so I am currently leading a customer experience initiative within the company. So after I had my job in the software engineering team, I had the opportunity to build a user experience team within product development. And that’s where we shifted from thinking about translating user expectations for software engineers to also thinking about how we brought that into play for the rest of our development organization like our mechanical engineers and our packaging engineers, so that was a really great opportunity. And after I got that team off the ground I shifted into the world that I have today which is that broader role thinking about company-wide efforts to improve customer experience. So now I am not just thinking about products but also looking at our services and our digital capabilities so as customers try to order products and they receive their products, and manage their invoicing, manage service visits that’s where we see the next wave of opportunity for us in making those interactions as seamless and as easy as possible.

Carlos: You study biomedical engineering so you are a scientist on your own merit, so being a scientist working with engineering, I know at some point you also work with product marketing if I am not mistaken?

Anna: Yeah, that’s right.

Carlos: How do you think that those things prepare you to be in this role of being able to identify those touch points with clients and those points of interaction that Illumina has?

Anna: So both my last role, building that user experience within product development, and my current role focus on building supports and getting buy in. We hire a lot of scientists and engineers and we keep everybody quite busy in the company. We also hire some of the smartest people in the world. We actually received MIT’s top spot for smartest company a few years ago. So my co-workers, they are not easily fooled and you have to have a compelling story to be able to get their engagements and I say that with that highest regard. I mean, these are smart cookies and so it’s not an easy sell. So in both of those positions I had to convince them to give up their most valuable resource, which is their time, and that was usually upfront, sounds very much for my own benefit. I want their time understand their processes. I want their time collaborate on process improvements to help me reach my goals around delivering something more for our customers. So it was certainly an interesting task getting to work with those people and understand what they need and how I can help make their lives easier. That is as we talked about really different depending who you are talking to in the company.

We’ve grown very quickly at Illumina and we are pretty open internally about our need to look at our processes across the company because we know that there are gaps and there are opportunities to optimize. Some of our processes were built around tools that haven’t have necessarily been brought up to support the size of company that we are now and that we aspire to be in the next 3-5 years. So having to tell that story for them to help them understand how we can help each other was really one of the key elements to both success in my current role and in my last role.

Carlos: And without that previous context being able to talk to them at their level about engineering or different areas of the company. It’s harder to make that sort of compelling argument, right?

Anna: Yeah, it is. And this really goes back to something I mentioned earlier which is making sure that we understand the technical limitations and specifications of our product design. You know, I don’t want to waste somebody’s time by going to them with really lofty visions of some ideal design that I saw on consumer product. If I don’t understand the underlying technical challenges, both understanding our product and understanding the effort that it would take for them to implement something. I don’t want to waste their time with that. I mean, you only get a few chances I think to go to somebody with too large of request before they start taking your call. So I wanted to make sure along the way that I’m finding ways to leverage the information that I have, to make sure that we are providing input and value to teams that resonate with them within their worldview which again will be different across the company.

Carlos: So in a second, we are going to talk about some examples of those areas that you’ve been able to make some changes on. Some of those experiences if you would. And I’m having a hard time finding a word but it’s like the point in which either potential customers, existing customers, have an interaction with Illumina. And I know there are plenty of them and we are going to touch on those in a second. But one thing that you did mention that was very interesting and it’s a bit of a mind shift that in which Illumina is B2B company and also the labs are a B2B company, but somehow you’ve had to make this shift to being more user-centric and because now you’re clients want or expect a more of a B2C experience. What happen there and how did you come to that conclusion?

Anna: So there are, I’d point two main things. One I think we live in the age of consumer and you have companies like Amazon which are completely changing the way people think about ordering products, shipping products, receiving products. And I know personally, I do my fair share of Amazon shopping and it has changed how I think about the ease of which I should be able to order something, have my credit card on file, do the one click to send its way, send it last time. That ordering experience stays with me throughout my day so even the companies I interact with at my job my expectations have shifted even though I know that I am working with B2B companies and my comparison points is a B2C. I think a lot of companies are struggling with this just as the bar continues to get raised just how do we make it easy for people to do what they need to do. And this is something we think a lot about with the customer experience initiative.

Historically, people have used the net promoter score to assess customer loyalty so that’s been sort of their top level KPI for customer satisfaction, customer engagement. We are starting to think more about customer effort score. There’s been plenty of research that has shown that just being able to do something easily is enough to keep people loyal and happy. And I think that just shows that everybody is increasingly busy with mobile and technology moving to the direction it is. Our time is more and more precious and we don’t want to spend it having to call somebody to correct the shipping address that we use to place an order. So I think that comes into play as we think about that. But the other one is just as we continue to shift into more regulated environments. And I think we’re going to see this increasing as sequencing plays that larger role in healthcare. The workflow of our customers is changing and where we had academic labs before as our main customer segments. They were in a pretty unregulated. Those are people doing really early stage research and so they are asking way out there visionary questions and trying to get some insights into what could really be valuable for the research and commercialization later down the line. But now we are looking at more of people who are doing routine testing, using the answers and medical care situations and their expectations are just completely different than they were in the past.

Carlos: Basically, they could go to jail if they are using the wrong tool.

Anna: Exactly, yeah, and so thinking about their emotional state and the stress levels that they may be experiencing because of the products that we offer. We think about the most logical work flow and I’m using air clothes there, just being engineers sitting around putting work flow diagrams together. We are going to put together the most logical, seamless, simplified work flow that we can, however that vision can be confounded by a labs need to work within the boundaries of different regional regulations, so two examples that I can give of that right away. One is recyclability. We have our instruments and every time an instrument is run you have to use a cartridge which is made of plastic. It is a one time use cartridge that you use for every time you run that instruments, as people think more about sustainability and green initiatives we have been getting more request about how we can help those companies recycle. So again thinking more about the consumer industry I definitely recycle as much as I can at home, so it is just somebody taking what they expect of the world around them into their work relationships. And so we’ve looked into recyclability quite a bit with our plastic cartridges and it is fascinating the types of issues that we ran into when we are trying to meet customer expectations and some of this. So first of all what types of materials you can recycle vary across the globe but we also have in some cases hazardous materials that are shipped in this cartridges. And across the globe there are just a ton of different ways that people have, countries, regions have asked for those types of materials to be handled when disposing of the cartridges, down to the definition of empty. We spent a lot of time talking about how to define an empty cartridge. So if I supposed to say it is not a one sized fit all solution but it is for something that will expect to be able to do because you expect to be able to recycle plastic, so we have to figure out how to bridge that technical gap, the technical challenges with real world human expectations.

Carlos: How many micrograms is empty? Right? At a lab level you can answer that question many different ways. I’m sure that is tricky one by the way, that is interesting that that’s an issue.

Anna: Yeah, for your reference if you have more than three drops that come out of it, I think it is not considered empty.

Carlos: What?

Anna: I know, right? So, we have a lot of fun with these questions. But we really try, we really are trying to listen to our customers and do something different every time we make a new system, we tried to move the needle on some of these consistent challenges that we know people have.

Carlos: By the way, I’m going back to the drop thing, so you basically like put these things in an oven for them to dry because it is impossible to dry them 100 percent, or am I wrong?

Anna: I didn’t think about that. Yeah, we should think about whether we should just have some kind of heating unit.

Carlos: Hey, there we go we solved their problem.

Anna: Well done, Carlos.

Carlos: That’s, I kind of stick to that point because the common denominator here is for people listening is that there is a ton of these issues as a company we might not be thinking of, right? How our people receiving our invoices, you know we will talk about that one in a second, but I know there is that, there is like systems integrations, potential API’s for other developers to integrate and pull information from our software. I know a big one in your case is upgrades and system change to the actual sequencer, so let’s talk about those in a second. Maybe we can talk about two or three before times up. But let’s talk about some, say what are some potential common issues that we might see across the board with different companies or even if now we are talking about the lab world maybe amongst different labs that somebody who like you zooms out and has context of all of the moving pieces. What are some potential things to look for? Some of those potential, you know, shipping is one, invoices being similar is another one. What comes to mind?

Anna: Yeah, those are two good ones for us. We actually have an annual customer relationship survey that we send out to understand how customers are feeling, get some feedbacks and you hit on two of the main ones that came out of that for us. One is the packaging side and so that’s our packaging can be a bit laborious for the customers that are having to received our products and shipping. Actually we ship more dry ice than any other company in San Diego.

Carlos: We are talking about the reusable, the actual reusable, what do we call these the reagents.

Anna: Reagents. Yeah, the cartridges are one part of it and not is that the plastic pieces I was referring to earlier.

Carlos: And the dry ice because I mean you would have put the machines on dry ice, that is the thing I was trying to clarify.

Anna: Got you. Yeah, there’s one time use consumables, there’s plastic cartridges shipped out on dry ice and people store them frozen because the reagents are pretty sensitive and so you want to make sure they are frozen until you have to use them, and those are shipped out on dry ice. And again, those are one time use, so every time you want to use one you have to have more on hand, so we ship this on dry ice and they are, as we know it is a pain for our customers and again thinking about sustainability, dry ice is profound upon and the Styrofoam that we send it all in. So we’ve been digging in into the different aspects of our packaging solutions since we have known this is a pain point for all of our customers for some time, and that is an area also it is always really interesting to understand how decisions are made for a product, and if we want to change something, all of the downstream effects. So as we look at evolving, in some cases we are moving from dry ice to gel packs.

Gel packs are not necessarily more sustainable, but the size of the gel packs are quite a bit smaller than what we have to use for dry ice. Once we make the decision to do that we have to think about how are we going to get this in manufacturing. We have shipments across the globes, so how do we make sure that we are able to source the same parts to all of our distribution centers. We have a lot of third party logistics companies that we use to help us deliver our products and they have a tendency to add additional dry ice so making sure they understand the changes that we are rolling out and the impact and then making sure that customers know the change. Sometimes we will make a change for instance dry ice to gel packs and not communicate that effectively to our customers, so they get a package, they open it up and they expect to see dry ice and they don’t see any and they assume the dry ice evaporated in transit and call us and makes a complain about it, when in fact it is on us because we didn’t communicate effectively the changes that we made to our product, which brings me to the other topic, you mentioned invoicing.

Communication in general is an another area that we have heard where we are trying to make more improvements to the frequency and the caliber of communications that we send to customers. Some of that is in the ordering process we have been focusing more on our e-comm, our ecommerce online purchasing platform and making sure that the experience that people have when they order online is similar when needed and better when it should be than calling our customer service team in placing an order over the phone. So that is where we are looking at things like when we notify people of shipment changes, if the date has to ship for one reason or another. Do we have the same communication path and the same type of message that we sent somebody who ordered online versus over the phone. So we are doing quite a bit of alignment on some of the communication areas like that to make sure that the message is consistent, not just between systems but also across the globe.

Carlos: So, as we are reaching the end of our interview here, what do you think has been the most fun part of the role? I’m curious because tying it back to motivating people back in to coming into this industry, it is not all you know the idea is not that is a dense industry, industry is not a dense working environment, we want it to be interesting as well. But what do you think has been the most fun part for you in this role and in this industry?

Anna: In general, working at Illumina has been absolutely amazing. We have this really strong mission statement about unlocking the power of the genome to improve human health, and that resonates in everything that we do. And we all give a hundred and ten percent here and we do it with smiles on our faces because we hear these stories of patient impact that we are able to make with our products. You know our CEO has historically been quoted as saying we could all be redesigning the like button but here we are doing things that are meaningful for society and are going to change the way that we treat some of the most common diseases that we face today, so I mean that is just.

Carlos: That is powerful, “We could all be designing the like button but we are doing this.” Wow.

Anna: Yeah, it is a great line and I hope I am not offending any of your listeners who work at Facebook or anything. But it really does make a difference, it makes it easier to get up in the morning. I mean the energy in the company I have been here for I just had my 8th year anniversary and the culture hasn’t shifted measurably. We have been able to continue to keep that positivity that energy. There’s just the vibe that I love in Illumina. And specifically about my role right now, the thing that I love is being able to reach out to more people in the company. You know again being here as long as I have, you have seen the company triple in size and the ability to know people in other departments, understand what people are doing. It is harder to do that but I have the luxury of being able to meet anybody and learn about the different roles, the different things that people do and how people make connections because it is hard to raise up and see who you need to talk to about certain things. So helping people bridge those gaps and expand their own networks and understand more about the, you know, the humans that we work with. I love it. I think just connecting with people has been an awesome part of this new job.

Carlos: Well, you know, for me, just kind of having the opportunity to talk to you and understand where you fit in the ecosystem. I see you as this pivot that is able to touch many parts of the company and kind of fine tune, if you think of it as an amplifier, you are able to move all this levers because you are able to see the big picture, so having not only these skill set that you have but I think there is this energy and this enthusiasm for it. I think it is essential. Thank you for basically talking to me about all this things.

Anna: Yeah, thank you so much, this has been a really wonderful experience.

Carlos: So Anna, two last questions for you, so one is do you have any resources, books, anything that you’ve might share with the audience? Anything that you value whether it is related to the industry or not? Anything that you can share with us?

Anna: Yeah, definitely, so the MIT Intro to Biology lectures and I will give you a link to that so you can post that. Those are just really great for anybody who wants to learn more about biology in an approachable way. Back when I was building the user experience team, the one book that was my absolute life line was Leah Buley’s UX Team of One; just a lot of really pragmatic workshops, ideas on how to get the message out and how to get buy-in and bolster support for the team. I found that on Jared Spool’s website. Jared is awesome at anything around with user experience and then more recently I’ve been listening to Jean Bliss has a podcast on the human duct tape show which walks through for anybody interested in customer experience, walks through some of the bigger industries, some of the people who are leading customer experience in everything, in banking, to Volkswagen to Google, how do you help people in this larger agencies put the customer or your user at the front of what they are doing and how do you identify the pain points that they are having an opportunity as a business to help your customers get their jobs done. So those have been awesome more recently for me as well.

Carlos: Alright and now the last question, probably the most important. How can people find you and find your work? And let’s say they want to get in touch or maybe have question or maybe they want to join the team in Illumina, how can they reach out?

Anna: Yeah, I’m in LinkedIn Anna Quackenbush. Feel free to reach out anybody that has questions any of those topics, hiring included so I am always happy to help make connections for anybody who is interested.

Carlos: Well, Anna once again I want to thank you so much for taking the time as I told you in our pre-interview for putting up with some of the rescheduling that we had to do for different reasons, and I think this interview turned out wonderful so thank you so much for taking the time in joining us here at Tech People.

Anna: Oh, my pleasure Carlos.

Building Credibility and Influence as a Leader: John Sadler with Agilent Technologies
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