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Early to Bioinformatics, Early to Rise

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With an undergraduate degree in astrophysics and a PhD in ocean engineering, KENNETH JACOBSEN doesn’t seem exactly cut out for his new job as vice president of independent software programs at SGI. But this is another case of the early bird getting the worm. Jacobsen, who hits the office most days by 6 am, initiated SGI’s entry into bioinformatics and operations research back in 1993 and worked his way up the ranks. He now has responsibility for all partner programs and technical support, and horizontal applications marketing. He still oversees SGI’s three-person bioinformatics team ¯ JULI NASH, HARUNA COFER, and DMITRI MIKHAILOV ¯ but says bioinformatics occupies only about 4 percent of his time now: there are some 100 other employees in the ISV group. Before joining SGI, Jacobsen, Nash, and another current SGI employee, Jeff Fear, all worked at MasPar, a hardware provider that made massively parallel machines with 16,000 processors and had The Institute for Genomic Research as a client. The MasPar boxes “were ideally suited for genomics,” because they used a SIMDI (single instruction multiple data) architecture where all the processors perform the same function with different data. This is good for doing matches on protein strings, for example, but the machines were difficult to program and hence “not commercially viable,” Jacobsen says. Later, when he and his MasPar colleagues joined SGI, they adapted that technology onto RISC (reduced instruction set computer) processors as a way to avoid SIMDI’s limitations.

— Matthew Dougherty