What do some our alumni say about their education at HMC?

Ralph Castain (’76)

Eaton Corporation
Probably the most useful part of my education has been its broad nature, and that's where HMC has contributed the most. I have to pull in a wide variety of areas, and am continually surprised at the lack of breadth I find in those educated at the larger state universities. I guess HMC provides a wider education than you realize as you go through it.
Jan. 1, 1997

George Conner (’74)

It turns out that Physics was a great intro for my particular job. I started as a digital electronics design engineer and the electronics part could be handled with the few courses HMC offered. The tough part was understanding the complex interrelationships of the functional blocks of the system. My physics background helped in this area although I did spend some intensive time reading electronics books. As time progressed, my job became more of an architectural endeavour and that was where physics really started to help: architecture involves understanding the big picture, not just the details of electronics but mechanical, thermal, software etc. At one time or another I have used almost every branch of technology. Only physics gives you enough understanding of theory to let you jump in and start swinging no matter where you land.
Jan. 1, 1997

Joe Shanks (’79)

Photon Research Associates
My point is that the baseline skills for success in industry (I believe) are common sense, good communication skills, a reasonably broad background in science and decent computer skills. There will always be a market for bright people who satisfy these criteria, and a physics degree is a big plus for the applied science shops.
Jan. 1, 1997

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.

Sept. 1, 2012