Riffyn Spotlights with Scientist Joe Walker

Embriette Hyde

At Riffyn, we are proud that our customers see us as scientific partners. That’s because our mission is to help solve their deepest process and data challenges, and to deliver transformative long-term value. That commitment starts with people who care.

In our “Riffyn Spotlights” blog series, we’re giving you the chance to get to know the people of Riffyn that make our mission real. Today, we talk with Joe Walker about his experience in the winemaking business, the self-confidence he’s gained working at Riffyn, and how different the world could be if everyone just had a little more empathy. Please note that answers have been edited for clarity.

Q: What is your greatest success story for helping a Riffyn customer?

A: My first project at Riffyn last year was to create a downstream purification process demo. I created a series of processes that are linked together that mimic a pharmaceutical manufacturing environment based on my experience from one of my previous positions. I didn’t expect how impactful it would be, but it's constantly used when we're working with clients. It’s had a really huge impact.

Q: What is your background -- what did you do before joining Riffyn?

A: I graduated from UC Davis with a degree in biotechnology with an emphasis in microbiology and fermentation sciences. I then took some winemaking classes at the suggestion of some friends. After graduating I went straight to work at Robert Mondavi winery in Napa Valley, working in the lab for the 2009 harvest. After that I worked the wine harvest in New Zealand and then came back to California to work the harvest at a few different wineries here.

I really enjoyed wine making, but I missed city living, so I moved back to the Bay Area and got into wine sales. I hated it, so after a month I completely pivoted — I got a job at Genentech, where I got to use my biotechnology skills and experience. I worked the graveyard shift in downstream purification, and it was a really cool experience.

I then moved to a smaller biotech company making all sorts of different high value molecules from yeast, and worked in the high throughput screening group there. While there I started coding quite a bit to help with the statistical analysis I was doing. I took a series of courses from UC Berkeley Extension to get my certificate in data science.

Q: Why did you decide to join Riffyn?

A: It was during my last position when I began seeing myself going down the analytical path in my career. I connected with Loren Perelman [VP of Science at Riffyn] who I knew from one of my previous positions in biotech, and he told me about a position available at Riffyn that he thought I’d be a good fit for. We got lunch together, I interviewed at Riffyn a couple of weeks later, and the rest is history.

Q: Describe Riffyn in three words.

A: Transformational. Ambitious. Fun

Q: What personal values do you get to fulfill through your work?

A: Working at Riffyn has really allowed me to grow in terms of working with different groups and different people from different scientific backgrounds. I've really had to evolve as a person. I’m very passive, calm, cool, and collected, but this role requires confidence and leading by example and at times really pushing, and that hasn’t always come naturally to me. The personal growth has been really valuable.

Q: What does “a day in the life of Joe” look like?

A: My role encompasses being a scientist, thinking about science abstractly, running experiments, and designing processes since we're not actually in a lab, but working with clients and seeing what they do firsthand. I step into their shoes and think about how I can use my past experiences to translate what they’re doing into what that process or workflow looks like. I’m a consultant, scientist, thinker, and engineer all at the same time.

My typical day looks like this: I’ll wake up, review pertinent emails from clients or things I need to follow up on, and then I’ll attend meetings with clients or customers. I may have two or three hours of working sessions during the day with clients, answering questions or doing live training on building processes. Or I might test new features or set up demos. I do a lot of analytical scripting, so writing data analysis scripts in whatever language or flavor a certain client is using, whether that’s Python or R or something else.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A: My main hobby for the last six to seven years has been climbing, and since the climbing gyms are closed I’ve started to climb outside a lot more. I also love to cook, so whenever I get a chance to be creative and make a nice meal, I like to do that. Also, I grew up playing the piano and have been wanting to get back into it. I recently got more space so I bought a piano. That’s my COVID life crisis.

Q: If you could solve one major problem, what would it be and why?

A: I would introduce more empathy into the world. If I could just flip a switch or figure out some way to make people more empathetic towards each other, towards the environment, towards their general outlook in life, I think that would be huge. I’d like to see more people able to step inside somebody else's shoes or see somebody from a different perspective. For example, if somebody cuts you off in traffic, give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they have somewhere important to be or something's happening and they have to get somewhere. It’s so easy to be self centered and think, “things are happening to me, I'm the victim here,” as opposed to looking at things from all sides. There would be a profound impact if we were all a little bit more empathetic.

If you're interested in joining a dynamic group of people passionate about helping scientists discover more, please visit our Careers page or send a letter of inquiry to join@riffyn.com.