Vanessa Michelini

Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor in IBM


Be curious and open to learn what are the opportunities in STEM.

What do you do?

For the last 6 years, I have been leading Watson for Genomics. It is an application that uses Artificial Intelligence to analyze DNA of patients with cancer. It identifies which genetic alterations in the DNA are driving the patient cancer and looks for therapies that could help. It provides a report for oncologists, so they can define the best treatment for their patients. Watson for Genomics is part of a revolutionary approach in the healthcare industry also known as Precision Medicine.

Why did you choose this field?

When I took my first coding class in high school, I fell in love and decided that I wanted to be a software developer. My mom was one of the first, if not the first programmer in Brazil. When her company bought the first computer (IBM computer) in the early 60s, they need to train people to write the programs. She signed up for the test and although she was told that the positions were available only for men, they let her take the test. She passed the test in first, so they gave her the position. She always loved it. I only understood why when I wrote my first program. I love to apply cutting edge technologies to solve the most pressing challenges in the world!

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I was appointed Distinguished Engineer (DE) in 2013, the first Brazilian woman to achieve this prestigious position in IBM. DE is a technical executive position in IBM and one of the company’s highest technical honors. Only 1,300 DEs have been appointed in 26 years of the program. I am also a Master Inventor with over 30 patents and several pending.
Leading Watson for Genomics gave me the opportunity to work in a product that gives hope and saves lives. I met many cancer patients and heard their stories. I met countless number of oncologists, pathologists and other clinicians and I learned about their challenges and passion to help their patients and to advance the medical field throughout research. I traveled the world visiting a variety of institutions, from world-class to community centers and got energized by their dedication and contributions to patient care. I experienced first-hand how inspiring people to collaborate and applying innovations can change the world....I wish I could tell that to the younger me.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love innovations and working in STEM there are plenty of opportunities to innovate and be a pioneer. I love to apply technology and innovations to solve world's challenges.

Best advice for next generation?

Be curious and open to learn what are the opportunities in STEM. Talk to women that are in the STEM field. Read about the innovations and accomplishments driven by people in STEM. Everything around us, from automobiles to television, telephone, airplane, COVID-19 test, vaccines, DNA test and so on are innovations created by people in the STEM field!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"Vision without execution is just hallucination"

NOMINATE a woman in STEM

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