By Kaine Korzekwa
Philip Wells’ PhD allows him to have the best of both worlds. He gets to work in his favorite city — Madison, Wisconsin — for one of the most successful companies in the world — Google.
After earning his PhD in computer sciences from UW–Madison in 2008, Wells decided against an academic career. Thanks to connections he made at the university, he was able to land a job at Google’s regional office in Madison.
“I knew almost everybody in this office already and was thrilled to be able to stay in Madison and work for a company like Google,” says Wells, who is a software engineer and manager at the company. “I like the quality of life I have here in Madison. I can work hard but Google encourages us to have a good work/life balance.”
At Google, Wells works on advanced development for the company’s technical infrastructure group. Also, while not in a teaching position he adds that he gets to participate in talks and outreach at universities and high schools, even publishing academic papers when he has time.
As a regional office, he and his team utilize their unique expertise to help the entire company. For example, he doesn’t help directly write software for programs like Gmail but will work on the storage systems that make those programs functional. He and his team do a lot of forward thinking, so instead of focusing on the day-to-day improvements they are thinking of the next big product.
“The breadth of knowledge we gained in computer sciences at UW also allows us to communicate with multiple areas of the company. We can communicate with people on both the front end and the back end and bridge that gap.”
It’s a combination of finding creative problems to work on and then finding creative solutions to those problems that keeps Wells motivated. He explains how the process of selling an idea is very similar to those skills learned in graduate school. Successful individuals must be able to communication, present, and document the goals they want to reach.
“One thing you learn in a PhD is how to market or sell your ideas,” he says. “A good idea isn’t also obvious to everybody else. You really have to sell your idea to people. If the idea is so obvious that you don’t need to sell it, someone has probably already done it.”