What do some our alumni say about their education at HMC?
Joseph Thywissen (’94)
Mike Leung (’78)
… it has been my experience that the physics background is extremely well suited to the ebbs and flows and constant changes in industry. Perhaps you can use that as a selling point to attract more majors. What I have found with myself and other PhD physicists at Northrop (former TRW), is that we are the most versatile of the many technical disciplines at work. I'll mention a few skills that the physics major imparts that perhaps aren't as strong in many engineering majors:
- the physicists seem to have better critical thinking skills and quantitative skills
- the physicists who were experimentalists in graduate school (or perhaps even during senior research) have a very broad knowledge and can step easily into several disciplines (e.g. I count myself very familiar with materials, vacuum techniques, cryogenic techniques, and influence of measurement equipment on experiments). This broad background is also a key advantage when it comes to troubleshooting and other problem solving
- they seem to remember their college subject matters better; believe it or not it comes in handy sometimes. Maybe this comes from the grad school courses, I don't know
I first entered HMC intending to major in engineering. I switched to Physics because I found the subject matter and approach to teaching much more appealing.
Randy Spangler (’92)
I graduated in 1992 and made a short move to Caltech to study Computation and Neural Systems, a multidisciplinary degree which covers everything from information theory to computer graphics to neural networks to measuring the behavior of individual neurons in rats. The core curriculum of Mudd was great preparation for this, giving me a broad enough background to do well across all of that. I finished my Ph.D. in 1999, with a thesis titled “Real-Time Rule-Based Analysis and Generation of Music” — which also leveraged the music courses I took at Scripps.
I then moved up to Silicon Valley and worked for 6 years at Foveon, an image sensor / digital camera startup, where I wrote software and firmware for digital cameras. With a physics degree, I understood not only the software, but also the semiconductor physics and optics that happen before the image is captured, and I was comfortable enough with an oscilloscope to do hardware debugging as well. That flexibility is particularly important at a startup, where there are few enough engineers that everyone need to be good at several things.
After Foveon, I worked a year and a half at Carrier IQ, a startup which does cell phone-based diagnostics and analysis of Sprint's mobile phone network. All those E&M courses helped me understand how CDMA and GSM work, so I could determine what types of information would be most useful to read from phones.
In 2007 I started at Google, where I've now been for 5 years. I’ve worked on Google Earth, written Python-based build systems, and for the last 3 years I’ve been the firmware lead for Chrome OS, Google’s new open-source browser-based operating system. And yes, I still have an oscilloscope at my desk.
In the 20 years since graduating with a physics degree from Mudd, I’ve been unemployed, well, never. I’ve also never had a job title of “physicist” or “scientist” — but every physics course I took at Mudd has been useful at one time or another.