School of Mathematics and Statistics Maths & Statistics Careers

Andrew Conway

Chairman and Founder, Silicon Genetics
Graduated 2000

With a Ph.D. in mathematics and a second in Electrical Engineering, I decided to go into biochemistry, working at the Stanford DNA Sequencing and Technology Centre where I was in charge of bioinformatics (software for use in biochemistry). In 1998 I started a company, Silicon Genetics, making specialized software for biochemists to help them interpret huge quantities of data. The company is now the leader in its particular domain with over fifty employees. In January 2003 I gave up the CEO position so that I could spend more time on technical matters which I enjoy.

I have two roles now. From my business side, it is my job as chairman of the company to generally supervise the management team and in conjunction with others to decide on company direction. On a technical side, it is my job to come up with new or improved product ideas. This generally involves identifying unmet problems in the biochemical community, working out how they could be solved, and making a useful prototype.I spend maybe ten percent of my time thinking about solutions to problems in pattern discovery. These are often really statistical tests, where as usual the main issue is working out exactly what the question is and devising some statistic that can be calculated and interpreted. Many times this has required me to sit down and learn more statistics. In many of these and other problems such as algorithm design, a strong mathematical and statistical background is necessary to even start thinking about the problem in a clear manner.

In some sense my job is to have good new technical ideas. The creative process for this is very similar to the creative process for coming up with mathematical proofs. This skill tends to be stressed earlier in mathematics education than in most other sciences.

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