Paul Karayan, B.A. 2006

Software Engineering (Director, Infrastructure and Information Security), LIT - San Francisco, CA

2006 Major: Chemistry

How has being a Chemistry graduate from Duke helped shape you personally and/or professionally?

"Duke Chemistry taught me a lot about discipline. Nothing came easy, but consistent hard work led to results (and better yet, understanding). I can't think of a class in any other department that did that for me. Chemistry provided a great background for my work as a software entrepreneur since it forces you to be able to express technical topics in a palatable way. More than just the learning itself was the learning of how to make a fact or topic learnable - often through metaphor. There was also the realization that certain topics that are not currently understood can be made useful, through a web of heuristics and experimentation. I come at problems differently then classically trained engineers who almost always use "bottom up" approaches that don't work well in messy problem domains. My background has made me uniquely capable of solving problems that matter. During my time at Duke, I admired people like Kathy Franz, Ross Widenhoefer, Jiyong Hong, and Jenny Roizen. They were some of the smartest people I'd ever met yet approachable, and they'd found something they were obsessed with to work on. So, it gave me this crazy idea that maybe I could achieve something like this with my life, too. It was the realization that it's possible to get lost in something fascinating and deep... in my case it just happened to be outside of chemistry, but that's okay. it was important that i knew it was out there and possible. Finally - I recall a long, drunken conversation with one of these folks (not naming names) that was life changing. i feel personally indebted to them and others in the program for how my life has turned out."

What advice would you give students in Duke's Chemistry programs? 

"Chemistry is in a privileged position - it sits at the confluence of many disciplines, and its students go on to impact the world as medical doctors, scientists, attorneys, consultants, engineers, and even hacker-types like me. Explore what you can leverage your studies in Chemistry to do, and think beyond med or graduate school. It's a unique chance to "play in someone else's backyard" (per Tukey). Take classes outside of Chemistry (surely the grade inflation will help your GPA) and think outside the lab."

Paul Karayan