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Duff Howell, Ph.D.

Advisor San Francisco Bay Area, US

Shoulders-Deep Applied Physicist / Systems Engineer. All about cutting the yabber yabber and making stuff solid, fast, accurate, usable.

Shoulders-Deep Applied Physicist / Systems Engineer. All about cutting the yabber yabber and making stuff solid, fast, accurate, usable.

5 vouches

Primary Skillsets

  • Other Engineering

Primary Cofounder Skillsets

  • • Other Engineering

Involved In


Complete Genomics Inc
Phase 2
Owens Design
ThermaWave Inc
McKinsey & Company
Nanometrics Inc
TRW - Space Electronics Group


Targeting Principal Engineer / Director role in Hardware R&D or Engineering Planning, Prototyping, and Evolving new Hardware Environments with Mindful Efficiency September 2014 - present
Proprietor DH Systems Science Consulting February 1995 - February 2016
Director of Hardware Development Complete Genomics Inc. April 2013 - December 2014
Senior Staff Engineer Complete Genomics Inc. November 2012 - April 2013
Sr. Instrumentation Engineer Complete Genomics Inc. January 2008 - June 2012
Sr. Member Tech Staff/ Sr. Proj. Mgr. KLA-Tencor June 2007 - October 2007
Sr. Member Tech Staff/ Sr. Proj. Mgr. Therma-Wave April 1995 - June 2007
Associate McKinsey & Company May 1993 - January 1995
Research Intern IBM May 1986 - September 1986
Sales & Marketing Rep Kamerman Labs June 1984 - August 1984


Stanford University Applied Physics 1986 - 1993
Harvey Mudd College Physics 1982 - 1986
Sunset High School College Prep 1979 - 1982

Interested In

Joining an Early Team
Markets of Interest
  • • 3D Printing
  • • Data & Analytics
  • • Education
  • • Green
  • • Hardware
  • • Robotics
  • • Small Businesses
  • • Smart Home
  • • Transportation
  • • Edutainment
  • • Lifelong Learning (outside of school)

You Should Know About Me

Key Strengths

Project management • Ip • Testing • Prototyping • Proof of concept • Coaching • Automation • Image processing • Optimization • Physics • Integration • Acoustics • Fiber Optics • Algorithm development • Laser • Optical Diagnostics • Throughput • Design of Experiment • Optical Alignment • Root Cause Analysis • Instrument Matching • Fiber Lasers • Kinematics • Sonochemistry • Distortion • Wafer Handling • Substrate Alignment • Optical Focusing

Key Accomplishments

Building microfabricated devices with sonochemistry, with other projects simmering.
Ground-up re-thinking of how automation was handled on several generations of semiconductor equipment (high value payloads) with huge improvements in build time, throughput, build and install reliability, and remote diagnostic capability.
Fourier-driven adaptive focusing system for early Optical Storage tech development.
Successful prototyping of a next-gen cool-roof / cool-building technology with broad potential applications in several areas of engineering.
Development of instrument matching methods that allowed systems with VGA cameras and cross-roller-bearing stages to detect, measure, and correct set-up calibration errors in wafer steppers.

How I like to work with people As a Cofounder

Weigh in and do in the areas that I'm valuable and delegate / co-load to others the things that I'm not passionate about (yes, I'll still take my turn plunging the balky toilets in the crappy first company building, but I will decline to be the full time plumber). Make decisions based on data, evidence, and verifiable resources. Be clear about the stakes for everyone, including exit strategies, past and present.

As an Advisor

I'm a big fan of polite to go with passionate, so if you're a boisterous yeller, make it clear up front so I can tell if you're happy or about to go ballistic. If there are parts of the technical plan that look like they're going to require miracles, criminal behavior, or re-writes of natural laws to accomplish, I'll tell you up front. (I'll also be happy to have you enlighten me if my first impression was lacking your secret sauce which is the point of your company )

I like numbers to have uncertainties with them, and that's my default for presenting them. I'm good with improv to use local materials to do proof of concept, bracketing of outcomes, and other lab/shop Pareto that gets most of the result for not much of the work and time.

Vouches Received

Vouches Given

Think Duff is awesome?
Vouch for them.

Alan Dow
We worked together  •  Vice President, Intellectual Property and Legal Affairs, Complete Genomics Inc.. Previously Partner, BioTechnology Law Group. Harvard grad.
Duff is bright, hard working, creative and pleasant to work with. He was a central player in our engineering team.
Kurt Werder
We worked together  •  Mechanical Engineer, Kurt Werder Consulting. Previously Senior Manager, TF/OCD Platforms, Nanometrics.
Duff is an exceptionally intelligent Systems Engineer and practical Physicist.
Daniel Abramovitch
They're my school  •  Principal Project Engineer, Agilent Labs and Principal Project Engineer, Agilent Technologies. Stanford grad. Stanford grad.
Duff is one of the best combinations of technical excellence and broad ranging interests I know. He looks at the whole of problems rather t ... han sticking to his comfort zone, and yet has the scientific depth to dig into specific issues. For a startup, I expect these qualities are essential, and hard to find.
David Aikens
We worked together  •  President and CEO, Savvy Optics. Previously Executive Director, Optics and Electro-Optics Standards Council.
Duff is very bright and practical. He knows a lot about Semiconductor Capital Equipment.
brian hauser
We worked together  •  Sr. Engineer, Complete Genomics Inc.. Previously Managing engineer robotics integration, hyseq.
I've known Duff for close to a decade now, and he never ceases to impress me. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on quite a few proj ... ects at CGI. I can tell you from experience that he’s a fantastic resource to have in your corner. He has deep knowledge in a surprisingly large number of areas, and the talent to apply that knowledge effectively. I’ve learned a lot of useful things from Duff over the years, everything from better ways of presenting data, to people management skills. I think that Duff genuinely enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience with other people. It’s one of the many things that makes him such a great guy to know and work with.

brian hauser
We worked together  •  Sr. Engineer, Complete Genomics Inc.. Previously Managing engineer robotics integration, hyseq.
Brian would be a great entrepreneur because: 1) He is one of the most naturally friendly, disarmingly pleasant, technically enthusiastic pe ... ople I've ever met in my life. He meets all the strangers in the room, and is memorable without leaving you feel sapped or singed. The ability to network and be remembered is vital to getting on a radar and staying on it. 2) Brian also is good about explaining technical details of things he's working on, and doing so in a way that he's regularly checking in with his listener(s) to make sure that they're following him. If the conversation is to above or below the listener, he adjusts gracefully, making sure people really understand without ever feeling like there were the less for not having known something. 3) Brian is an incredibly versatile, propeller-head creator, and he genuinely spans the hardware and code worlds. Proof of concept hardware, including controls, can likely emerge entirely from him, either as him doing it all, or him laying things out, sending the CAD drawings to machine shops, and detailing the control algorithms to other software engineers. I particularly like that avoids what i've seen as a common biochemist tendency to treat equipment as black boxes that do things in their manual, and more as collections of parts that probably can be improved upon. He'll know why one kind of pump, or bearing, is better suited for an application than another. 4) In a startup, you have to be able to work in close proximity with a handful of other people for a lot of hours. Brian is someone that'll be fully in the mix, but rarely in the way. I'd work with him pretty much anywhere.