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Being an innovation technologist at AstraZeneca: using emerging technologies to improve patients' lives

Josh uses the latest emerging technologies such as augmented reality, chatbots, blockchain and AI to make a difference to patients' quality of life.
We are always chasing the cutting edge of new technology releases.

The pharmaceuticals sector is often overlooked by graduates interested in technology careers, but it’s one I’d strongly recommend for individuals passionate about solving big problems. The insights gleaned from healthcare data are transformational in the field of genomics and, with a focus on big data and machine learning, pharmaceuticals can offer complex problems at a scale that I don’t think other industries can match. In fact, it’s a unique industry that pairs intellectual challenges with personal fulfilment. The work you do – no matter how far down the supply chain you are from providing a patient with medication – has the aim of improving someone’s quality of life.

One of the main reasons I wanted to work for AstraZeneca was its values. When I researched the company, I found that AstraZeneca had earned its reputation for doing the right thing by patients.

Acquiring a problem-solving mindset

One of the most beneficial things I did during my degree was to take part in an entrepreneurship project sponsored by my university that aims to turn university projects into start-ups; many universities run similar schemes. We worked in teams to take a business problem and solve it. We created some early prototypes for a smart watch to track missing people or to help parents locate their children. It gave me a fresh view on how to solve problems outside of my area of expertise and insights into working with people from different disciplines. It’s helped to give me a problem-solving mindset that has been extremely useful in the workplace.

Innovating for a living

The focus of my current role is to bring emerging technology such as augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain, IoT (the Internet of Things) and AI into AstraZeneca and use it to solve business problems and optimise existing processes. The business problems could be accelerating cutting-edge drug discovery, predicting potential operational failures before they happen or optimising commercial sales strategies.

I work closely with companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon – alongside venture capitalists and start-up companies – to evaluate their emerging technology products to see whether their work could benefit ours. We are always chasing the cutting edge of new technology releases, investigating developing trends and connecting with people at the forefront of their discipline. There are about 20 people in my wider team and four in my core team; we have a wide range of people with different skillsets, ranging from those with strong technical ability to those with an understanding and experience of the business operating models.

Reflecting on the graduate scheme

In my opinion, a role that helps you to build a diverse skills set and provides a variety of opportunities will always open doors. During my IT leadership development scheme, I rotated around different areas of the business. I started in finance IT, where I worked both on a major finance transformation project and in competitive intelligence, analysing competitors’ activities in the market. My next rotation involved several technical projects, including looking at how we could use facial emotion recognition, chatbots and virtual assistants to better understand our patients. For my final role, however, I decided to explore something out of my comfort zone; I worked in a non-technology role in the supply chain organisation. I redesigned some of the processes that ensure that drugs are correctly and efficiently transported to our patients.

Within AstraZeneca there was loads of training; we had leadership development modules that mostly focused on soft skills and we were also allocated a budget for role-specific training. I can still access lots of the training now and particularly like the self-service tools, which suit my learning style. It was also great having a community of other recent graduates for support; you soon learn that your mistakes aren’t unique to you and, if you relocate to a new area, it is great to have a ready-made network. I was fortunate to be able to relocate three times during the programme, which isn’t the case for everyone. Each move was based on a clear business case as well as my development, and AstraZeneca were very helpful and supportive (both personally and financially) throughout the process.

Taking part in a hackathon

One of my favourite experiences at AstraZeneca was when I took part in a digital patient hackathon. We worked with The Christie Hospital to build an app in 48 hours. It was for cancer patients and would enable them to have better access to and control of their data. It was amazing to see our work have an impact on real people and it has since been reworked into a larger project. That’s what I love about working in this sector: what you do is meaningful.

Josh Mesout
Job title: 
Senior innovation technologist

2012–2015 Studied for, and graduated with, a BSc in business computing from Bournemouth University.
2013–2014 Completed a sandwich-year placement at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company.
2014–2015 Joined an entrepreneurship programme at university, which led to a position at J.P. Morgan Chase as a business analyst.
2015–2017 Completed AstraZeneca's future IT leadership development scheme.
2017 Appointed to current role as senior innovation technologist at AstraZeneca Technology Innovation Lab.

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