Joyce Garden

Joyce tell us about her career path after completing the BSc in Mathematical Physics.

Joyce Garden

Why did you decide to study at the University of Edinburgh?

The subjects I did best at in secondary school were maths and physics and enjoyed the problem solving aspect, applying the correct techniques to find the answers. I did a wide range of subjects, including history, art and French as well as maths, physics and chemistry and this gave a good balance. I liked the fact that we can use the language of mathematics to explain the world around us. Solving a technical problem gives me a real buzz and I still enjoy this feeling when I resolve a complex problem in my current job.

How did you get where you are?

Initially, I started a joint Mathematics and Physics degree as I couldn’t decide which I liked best, and switched to a BSc Mathematical Physics degree where I realised I was more interested in the applied aspect of maths. After my degree, I considered applying for an MSc in Computer Science at Edinburgh as I had enjoyed the computing aspect of my degree, however it was hard to get funding. My academic advisor Brian Pendleton, then suggested a PhD in Theoretical Particle Physics at Edinburgh studying Lattice QCD, which came with funding and an opportunity to use my computational skills. The PhD gave me a lot of the transferable skills and experiences that were required for my future career, from being self-reliant to getting the task done, working with others to achieve the, and developing  communication skills both written and verbal.

When I completed my PhD, I did consider a post-doc but was concerned that this meant a lot of moving to different universities with no guarantee of a permanent position, and I needed to remind myself why I did the PhD in the first place – to get computational software experience. I then found a programming job with a small start-up in Livingston where we were contracted by Cisco to write software to control routers remotely. One of the co-founders of the company had nearly completed a PhD and was ready to take a chance that my PhD would give me the necessary skills to quickly learn to program in a professional environment, and he was right!

I worked for this company around the time of the dot com boom and of course it went bust, which meant that we lost the Cisco contract. The company was trying to find a new contract, but September 11th 2001 happened and within a month the company was no more. I was able to find a new job at Cadence Design Systems soon after – they develop software to design electronic chips – and I have been there ever since! I had friends from university as well as a younger sister who were in the business of designing electronic chips, so I had some idea of the industry. I have grown from a graduate level software developer to a software architect and software director managing a team of 12 people over the time I have been employed at Cadence.

As part of my job, I get to work with people all over the world, from the US, India, France, and Taiwan, to work together on Virtuoso, software tool to design analogue chips. As chips become ever smaller, and process nodes get down to 2nm, we continually need to develop new features to assist the manual process of physically designing the layout of the chip so that it can be fabricated. I assist my team to develop their software and problem solving skills – I can be investigating bugs reported by customers and resolving them, to thinking of new features that could be implemented to assist the users, which could be patentable. I learn something new every day and I really enjoy working with the team, solving problems together and developing quality software that is used to help design the next generation of technology.

What did you gain from your time at the University? Were there any experiences during your time at University which particularly helped prepare you for life after graduation?

Doing a PhD you learn to be able to talk to everyone, from undergraduate students to professors, and to be able to ask questions and to express your opinions – it has made me more independent and proactive in what I do at my job. During my undergraduate degree, I participated in the Shell Technology Enterprise program, where I worked for a small company (with 1 person!) to develop a physics based software application, and present my results to the others in the program. This gave me my first experience of a software job, learning a new language and developing the project from scratch, and delivering a product based on requirements. The following year, I worked over the summer for the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology bring two software programs together to model the life cycle of growing tropical trees above crops.  I had to familiarize myself with existing software, upgrade to a new compiler and then modify the code to achieve the goal. These are skills I still use today in my current job. 

Do you have any highlights of your time in Edinburgh?

So many to mention, but I enjoyed working on problems together with some other students in “May’s” cafe in JCMB, and Mathematical Physics tutorials in Brian’s office with some of the best students in the year group. For my PhD, it was great getting to know all the other PhD students in the group as well as the lecturers, particularly as we helped to organise the Lattice 99 conference and we got to work together to host participants from around the world. Finally – I also got to meet my future husband Zbys who was also doing a PhD, so what can be a better highlight than that!

What do you wish you had known as a student?

That the skills I’ve learned as a physics student are perfectly transferable to a wide range of careers and that you don’t need to do a computer science degree to get a career developing software.