San Diego, CA, May 6, 2011 -- For Jim Napier, the Jacobs School of Engineering is his alma mater, a past employer, and a place to find future Google engineers. (See his Google job posting on the Jacobs School Career Network.)
Napier – currently a Senior Test Engineerat Google – came to UC San Diego as a computer science (EECS) student in 1983. His studies and student work led to twelve years of full-time work at UCSD from 1988 to 2000. He contributed to the transition for UCSD engineering from text-based terminals connected to large central systems to distributed networks of GUI-based computer systems and services. Napier went on to manage a team of programmers with oversight of the Jacobs School’s technology infrastructure during the fast and furious years of growth during the late 80s and 90s.
In 2000, Napier left UCSD to join Urchin Software, a Jacobs School startup that Google acquired in 2005.
From Urey Hall to Google
Any synopsis of Napier’s career trajectory is not complete without highlighting the coincidence of how he first came to work at UCSD.
Cutting through the basement of Urey Hall one day his freshman year, Napier saw a familiar site – someone in a machine shop working on a milling machine. (For a decade after high school, Napier worked as machinist.) Napier approached the shop foreman, and when the foreman realized that Napier was an experienced machinist willing work for student wages Napier had a job on the spot.
The machine shop job in the AMES department (which later split into the MAE and bioengineering departments) positioned Napier for a big break at UCSD. When AMES received a grant from Sun Microsystems to install a state of the art system of networked UNIX workstations to support research, they needed programmers to turn the grant into a functioning computer network. By that time, Napier had migrated from the machine shop to doing computer support for the standalone IBM PCs and Apple Macintoshes that were just coming into use. He landed one of the two first programmer positions in AMES.
At about the same time, Paul Muret, an electrical engineering student at UC San Diego began tinkering with Web development and new Web analytics tools. This work eventually led to Urchin Software Corporation, the Jacobs School spin-out.
Urchin’s flagship Web analytics product served as the foundation for Google Analytics, the ubiquitous, free, Web-based tool used to understand website traffic and to gain insights on marketing campaigns.
According to Napier, when the commercial Web was still young, Muret realized that people needed website traffic analysis. “[Muret] looked around and saw an untapped market and built a web analysis tool, and called the software Urchin.”
Equipped with a diverse background in systems and network administration, Napier joined Urchin in 2000 as a software test engineer, a role that was brand new to him. When Google acquired Urchin in 2005, Muret, Napier and others on the Urchin Software team from the Jacobs School landed at Google. The other UCSD alumni who were key contributors both to Urchin Software and Google Analytics include Rolf Schreiber (’85 B.A. in EECS), Jonathon Vance (’00 M.S. in EE), Doug Silver (’94 BS in EE), and Nathan Moon (BS in Biology).
Back to the Jacobs School
Napier is now looking to fellow Jacobs School of Engineering alumni to work as software test engineers at Google. In particular, he is looking for talented computer scientists from the Jacobs School with a few years of work experience. (See the Jacobs School Career Network).
“We release products as frequently as weekly. Products can go from conception to release in just a few months, so we need to be testing in near real time. A really good testing regimen is key to delivering high quality software,” said Napier. “The competition for good people is great. Everyone is scrambling to find the best engineers.”
And that’s why Napier is looking to Jacobs School alumni.
Looking to UCSD has served Napier well in other ways as well. His wife worked in purchasing at UCSD for almost 15 years. They held their wedding on campus, at the La Jolla Project sculpture, a piece in the UCSD Stuart Collection that students call “Stonehenge”.
“We used the main arch as the backdrop for our vows and the large horizontal slab near it as a banquet table,” said Napier.