Degree Program: Computer Engineering, Ph.D.
Graduate Institution: San Jose State and UC Santa Cruz
Undergraduate Institution: UCLA
Department: Computer Science and Engineering
Hometown: Los Altos, CA
David Patmore received his Ph.D. in computer engineering from UCSC in 1997, the same year the Baskin School of Engineering was officially formed as a professional school. He worked partly under the direction of Patrick Mantey, who would become the founding dean of Baskin Engineering. David currently works as a Senior Director of Firmware at Kioxia America (formally Toshiba Memory America).
Why did you choose to pursue your Ph.D. in computer engineering at UCSC?
In the early ’90s, I received a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at San Jose State. I studied Digital Signal Processing, and my adviser was R. Benjamin Knapp. I also worked for my advisor’s startup company, BioControl Systems. My job was to write some digital signal processing (DSP) code for filtering bioelectrical signals, and also to write programs for displaying the signals, and make them into music.
At the time, I wanted to find a way to keep doing what I was doing… I don’t remember the exact deal, but my adviser was looking for a way to have Ph.D. students working for him, and just over the hill at UCSC, Pat Mantey was looking to justify the creation of an Electrical Engineering department. The original proposal was to create a joint EE Ph.D. program between SJSU and UCSC. In the long run Pat did succeed in opening up an EE department, but they never got the joint-Ph.D. program running, and I graduated with a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from UCSC.
What did you like about studying at UCSC?
UCSC was great: To start with, the campus is so beautiful, and everyone is so nice, that it’s a constant joy to be there. The Computer Engineering program was small (compared with my undergraduate, UCLA), and I was really impressed by the great relationship between the undergrads, professors, and graduate students… I remember my mind being blown by an advanced probability class taught by David Haussler. There were other great professors – Kevin Karplus, Anujan Varma, and Martine Schlag come to mind.
What was it like working with Pat Mantey?
Pat Mantey was my advisor through all this. I wasn’t big on asking for advice… but his iron will helped me finish my thesis. His push mattered most towards the end when my eldest son was born and I was basically ready to run screaming from my research subject altogether. The most vivid memory I have of Pat is visiting him at his home, up in the Santa Cruz mountains. I learned that his hobby is building fine furniture, which is a really cool thing to do, and takes a lot of attention to detail. I’d like to learn fine woodworking someday, too.
What was your Ph.D. research on?
My research area was using bio-electrical signals for computer control. My adviser at San Jose State had created a tool that was intended as a musical performance device. It would measure bio-signals (muscle, brain, eye pointing) and use them as inputs for a music synthesizer (i.e. MIDI). My research at UCSC used brainwaves to determine where someone was looking on a computer screen. This was really a DSP task, because it involved screening a 10Hz signal out of a lot of noise and estimating the magnitude of the signal.
A highlight of my time at UCSC was when I worked with my sister-in-law — a dancer — to create a dance. She danced with instrumentation on her arms and legs that measured muscle tension. As she moved, it caused different sounds to play over the audio system. It was fun to do something so artistic.
Where do you work now, and how did the Ph.D. prepare you for your current career?
After my Ph.D., I worked full-time [for a series of tech companies before] I moved over to Toshiba Memory America (which became Kioxia America in 2019). Over the whole time, I progressed from Engineer to Manager to Senior Director. Today I manage an organization of roughly 150 employees and contractors, writing software for storage devices. I love to participate in solving engineering problems, and I would say that as I have risen in the organization, I do less and less of that. I spend a lot of time communicating about the program I am responsible for, and making sure it’s on track.
So how did UCSC (and SJSU) set me up in industry? The Ph.D. experience allowed me to mature as a person. I learned to function in an environment where I had to figure out the parameters myself. I came out of UCSC with self confidence and the ability to figure out a solution and explain it to an audience. I also learned some cool DSP and probability things that have allowed me to understand work by colleagues that would otherwise be magic.
What is next for you?
I do hope that someday I will get the chance to take some of my life experiences and return to an academic setting as a teacher.
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