Alumnus spotlight: From an undergrad ocean tech experience to a successful IT career

Q and A with Paul Jones, UW Oceanography alumnus.

Interview by UW Oceanography undergraduate, Hannah Hartman, July 2019.

You earned your BS in Oceanography here at UW in the early 70’s. What have you been up to since then?

Immediately after earning my BS in Oceanography, I went on to earn my PhD in Geophysics from Oregon State University.  From there I began as a geophysicist in research and development for Union Oil Company. Through a series of rapid promotions, I quickly transitioned to become a general manager for science and technology software, where I made key decisions about the acquisition and deployment of computing resources for the Unocal Science and Technology Data Center.  For the following decade, I was the Chief Information Officer for Unocal, then the Chief Technical Officer for the Salk Institute and I recently retired from a position at Southern California Edison where I was a thought leader and strategist for IT strategy and planning. 

How did your time at UW lead you to your professional career?

My interest in the ocean motivated me to gain experience and skills working with computers and underwater sensors.  As an undergraduate student, I had the opportunity to work for both Clive Lister and Richard Sternberg. This work focused on developing in situ sensors that measured temperature, conductivity, and geophysical activity including sediment transport.  Going to work to design and build sensors was my favorite part of the day. These experiences and the associated technical and computing skills I developed were central to my success in graduate school and later in my professional career.  

How did you decide to come to UW to study Oceanography in the first place?

Growing up I had a deep interest in the sciences.  I always excelled in STEM classes and I enjoyed spending one summer working with a paleontologist.  It was my high school biology teacher’s passion for the ocean, though, that really inspired me to explore ocean related studies.  Once I decided on oceanography, the University of Washington was the obvious choice for me. I believed that UW Oceanography would provide me with the best opportunities, even though it was quite a distance from my home in New Jersey.  

What are some favorite memories from your time at UW Oceanography?

One of my favorite things about college was the wide variety of classes available.  I was (and still am) very passionate about learning. I couldn’t get enough of all the opportunities at the UW.  By the time graduation rolled around, I had accumulated 315 credits total, about seven years worth! I spent my weekdays working in the lab, studying in Suzzallo library, and attending classes.  I spent my weekends with my friends. One of my favorite spots on campus was the medicinal herb garden which is still in the same location near Rainier Vista.

What advice do you have for current and prospective oceanography students?

I suggest that students ask themselves if they have a true passion for learning about Oceanography.  One of the most important aspects of studying oceanography today is to have a focus on the well being of the environment.  It can be easy to become discouraged with the way humans treat the environment, and the dire climate projections for the future.  It is crucial to not let this dissuade you, but instead let it motivate you to make a positive difference. I also believe it is important for oceanographers (as well as all scientists) to have solid communication skills--otherwise sharing scientific findings with the world will be a challenge.