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I'm trying to work out what aspects of software someone with a couple of years' of programming experience under their belt could decide to pivot towards.

What I know so far: 80,000 Hours' software engineering career review says

Much of the work in biosecurity is related to handling and processing large amounts of data, so knowledge of how to work with distributed systems is in demand. Expertise in adjacent fields such as data science could also be helpful.

There is also a big focus on security, particularly at organisations like SecureDNA.

Most code in biosecurity is written in Python.

And elsewhere they and others talk about the relevance of infosecurity to biorisk.

It would be nice to have an ordering of these.

Web development seems like a generically useful skill for almost any organisation, but perhaps I should expect good web developers to be easier to come by than other kinds of specialists?

I wonder if bioinformatics or computational biology would also be useful.




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Update: 80,000 Hours has now moved 'infosecurity' from a 'sometimes recommended' path to a 'recommended' one

I just wrote a relevant forum post on how simulation models / Agent-based models could be highly impactful for pandemic preparedness: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/2hTDF62hfHAPpJDvk/simulation-models-could-help-prepare-for-the-next-pandemic

A crucial aspect of this is better software tools for building large scale simulations, so I would say this is a large opportunity for someone who wants to work in software engineering. 

Even just working as a research engineer in an existing academic group building epidemiological models would be impactful in my opinion. The role of research engineer within academia is quite neglected because it tends to pay less than equivalent industry jobs. 

If you have a software engineering background but no particular expertise in biology or information security, then I would suggest trying to find some existing open-source software project which is helpful to biosecurity work and then help to make it more robust and user-friendly. I haven't worked in biosecurity myself, but I can tell you from experience in other areas of biology that there are many software packages written by scientists with no training in how to write robust and usable software, and so there is a lot of low-hanging fruit for someone who can configure automatic testing, use a debugger or profiler, or add a GUI or web front end.

I have mysterious answers to this which I can't say publicly but people may contact me privately

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I'd like to point out that often conversations like this in EA send people the wrong way:

Things that are "known" to be useful for certain domains are often misleading. 

A good example is the misconception that devs need ML experience to contribute to AI Safety (which is wrong). 

To avoid this kind of mistake, I recommend finding one or more concrete jobs that seem appealing to you (or companies and ask what they need, or something like that).

Much of the work in biosecurity is related to handling and processing large amounts of data, so knowledge of how to work with distributed systems is in demand.

Nowadays the amounts have to be extremely large before it is worth the effort of setting up a distributed system. You can fit 1 TB of RAM and several hundred TB of disk space in a commodity 4U server at a price equivalent to a couple of weeks of salary + overhead for someone with the skills to set up a high performance cluster, port your software to work on it, or debug the mysterious errors.

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