How a Software Developer became COO of a Biopharmaceutical Company

June 24, 2022

Andreas Diendorfer's insights into an exceptional career

Can you, please, share with us your career development until now? What stages in your life have had the greatest impact on you and why?

I have always had a drive to put ideas into reality. During my early education and at university, I worked as freelance software developer for clients or together with partners on various online projects. Some were more serious, some less, but they always presented an opportunity to learn. When I had to decide on an educational path, I chose my other passion – molecular biology – as I realized that software development can be done from my desk, while a biosafety lab might not be that easy to get access to. During my PhD studies, I worked on topics relating to process optimizations of biopharmaceuticals produced in animal cell culture. My two paths merged back together when I started as computational biologist at TAmiRNA. The university spin-off is developing RNA based biomarkers to diagnose and manage patients with age-related diseases. There I got involved in not only scientific work, but also gained experience in management, which I could further deepen with the start of my MBA at the WU Executive Academy. Recently, I joined the management team as Chief Operations Officer where I’m looking forward to the challenges of a fast growing established start-up.

Did you originally want to pursue a different career? If so, what made you change your plans?

I guess many people working in academia share the dream of staying and pursuing a career in academic science. But, options are very limited, and I soon learned that an entrepreneurial mindset might open up very similar options to work on scientific questions, but in a different and more flexible environment.

What was your biggest professional/personal success?

Finishing my PhD was for sure one of the toughest challenges. As it was a project partnering with an industrial company, we had to balance the requirements of an academic environment (where you follow the path nature and science gives you) with the more structured approach from industry. There, it often felt like the answers for scientific questions were already predefined in project proposals and options to follow up on alternative findings were limited. This was also the time where I learned to value the freedom for exploration.

What was your biggest challenge? What was your biggest professional mistake (from which you learned a lot)?

There were a few chances I did not take that might have played out well. A few chances I took definitely did not play out well. This was mostly limited to projects and ideas I did or did not follow up with. But, in the end, I guess there is no gain in looking back at failure or missed opportunities and trying to analyze every last bit out of it. “You miss every shot you don’t take” – putting yourself out there, in situations you feel uncomfortable and misplaced is the only way to grow. I appreciate any successful and failed project, as it is often not only success you can gain, but also personal growth.

Which 3 most important experiences in your life have led you to where you are right now?

I have the great fortune to have an older brother that has always been a role model for me. His approaches for his career path and life were and are something I look up to. In the end it was him who first did an MBA at the Executive Academy and put this idea into my head, that a scientific background could be a great combination with an executive education. Having him and his advice on my side is something I will always value.

On a professional level, there probably is not one moment to pinpoint on my path. It is the sum of lots of decisions, where others put trust in me and challenged me to tasks that I thought were out of my experience. But that is the point of it. Experience is something you gain from past events. To move forward, you have to be the unexperienced – the noob.

Last but not least, the recent SARS-CoV-2 pandemic showed what the scientific biotech community is capable of. Most of the work done is often far away from clinical application. It often takes years or even decades from the lab to the patient. With all the tragic and pain this pandemic brought upon us, it also showed how capable and adaptive we are. Seeing that in a very short timeframe, almost all my colleagues and friends in the biotech community started working on these issues, brought a very different perspective on how I value the work I did and do.

When you think of the most talented high potential in your company, what 3 pieces of advice would you give him to live a successful and fulfilling life?

Well, I am not sure if I am in a position yet to give advice on how to live a fulfilling life. But as a very general concept, I would encourage everybody to fail. Not aiming for it, but accepting that it is an option and one that is a valid outcome of any task. There is no better way to learn than from experience and there is little chance of getting experience if you expect to succeed at everything. My three pieces of advice would thus be: fail, accept, analyze. Moreover, try not to do the same mistakes repeatedly.

Using just 5 words, how would your team describe you as a leader?

Driven, ambitious, open minded, analytically, realistic.

At least these are some of the attributes I try to follow and hope to be seen by my coworkers.

What has changed in your career because of your MBA degree? How did the program support you in reaching your career goals? What concrete career opportunities have opened up for you?

The MBA program for sure changed my perspective on career options and paths. The exchange with my fellow students is something I highly value. It gives me the chance to see and learn about career opportunities I would not have known prior the MBA.

Going back to university, just two years after I finished my PhD also is something I very much enjoyed. In contrast to other courses and professional education one can participate in, the environment in an academic setting is always something different. Everybody is here to learn - including the lecturers, which allows for very open and authentic discussions.

My ambitions to pursue an MBA also strengthened my dedication towards a more strategic career path. It surely helped to show that I want and can perform in a management position.

As far as the workload is concerned, how did you manage an MBA next to a demanding job and your family life?

To put it with the book title of the famous manager Michael G. Scott: “Somehow I manage”.

The workload surely is demanding, but the modules are also well structured and prepared. Seeing that fellow students with much tighter schedules also manage to fulfill their assignments, is a good motivator to push through. In the end the program does not feel like a burden, but I’m very happy to be able to participate and do it in my available time.

What do you consider a “great luxury”?

Doing something again but better. As a struggling perfectionist I always value a chance to redo something that is in a workable condition but could be much better. This is true for my professional but also personal life, where we often reach a point where a solution gets the job done, but we know exactly that it could be better. But in many cases the gain is not worth the additional work, so we settle with the solution at hand.

Having the time and resources to bring something to perfection is a great luxury, as in most situations, it is not economical. It is what often draws the line between a product and art.  

What was the last book/movie you really enjoyed?

I probably spend way too little time reading – I have plenty of books on my reading list, that are waiting for the right time. But as I have a rather new reader in my family now, and the question is about what book I enjoyed (and not what I would recommend…), I will go for “The very hungry caterpillar”, as it is one of the favorite books of my one-year-old and I enjoy every chance I get to read it with him.

If you could change places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

This is a tough question, but without picking somebody specific, I would choose somebody from my grandparents’ generation. Not because of any certain circumstances, but because life and experience gives you perspective. As long as I look back to the previous year and realize that I would do things different now, I feel like I’m on a path of learning and change. Getting an opportunity to make a big jump and look back on a life much longer lived, would be something I would be very much interested in.


I can laugh about:
My own failures and shortcomings when I learned something from them.
Shortcomings I am most likely willing to overlook:
Unfounded optimism
My funniest/most exciting travel experience was:
Being almost alone in the British Museum in London as it was first evacuated because of a (false) fire alarm and later opened back again for the remaining hour of the day.
I could not live without this app on my cell phone:
The camera app.
You can always find this in my fridge:
Ice for water and drinks
I would spend my last money on:
Ten years ago, I thought:
Things would come naturally and with time.
Today, I know:
Time comes, but things and opportunity must be strived towards.

Read more interesting career stories of our students and graduates here.

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