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People of SRP: Alex DeBoni

by SRP on August 19, 2023
Get to Know: Alex DeBoni, Persistent Problem Solver

Senior Software Engineer, Varian, A Siemens Healthineers Company

Since 2015, Alex DeBoni has been working as a software engineer at Varian, where he programs software to build machinery used in cancer treatment. And he’s got the bona fides. Not only does he have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in computer science and engineering from Santa Clara University, but he’s also been coding since he was nine years old. Perhaps this is the inevitable fate of a child who grew up in the Bay Area and among a family of programmers. In particular, his mom would teach him the basics of her work as a software engineer. Eventually, he began reading her programming books and teaching himself ever-more advanced skills.

But once conversation veers away from work and into Alex’s other interests, it’s apparent he’s, ultimately, an artist, a craftsman, a maker. In his off time, he enjoys brewing his own beer. He eschews the automated home brewing machines in favor of the more traditional process of keeping a watchful eye on the pot, frequently monitoring the stove’s temperature, and stirring the beer as needed to achieve perfection.

A few years ago, he picked up the hobby of designing analog and digital synthesizers from scratch—something he was able to do after teaching himself electrical engineering. He’s even lent his talents to make an audio-visual art installation for a past Burning Man. Next in the works for Burning Man is a “martian jukebox.” Picture a device with lights on it that move with the sound it plays. Meanwhile, an attached laser light box projects light that reacts to the music.

While his work at Varian is less building with his hands and more typing on a keyboard, it’s no less satisfying. He derives great meaning from knowing he plays a role in delivering life-saving care to cancer patients. He also has the great fortune of being able to share his daily commute with his wife, who works at HP around the corner from him in the Research Park. Alex and his wife are early birds, usually arriving to work by 6:45am. Not only can they avoid the traffic, but it leaves a little more evening time for Alex to tinker, build, and create whatever is capturing his interest most at a given moment.

We’re excited for you to get to know Alex DeBoni, yet another person who makes Stanford Research Park a unique and special place.

Alex's creation, the "martian jukebox," which will be part of an installation at an upcoming Burning Man
What inspired you to pursue your field of work?

From a young age, I was surrounded by software engineers. This allowed me to go into college already with so much exposure to and experience with software engineering. By the time I graduated, I felt really confident in my engineering skills. And it’s still a fun challenge. When you first make a program, it’s not going to work. It takes a lot of massaging to get it into a state where it runs really well. It feels really good to fix every bug. And it feels best once you release it and the people who use it are happy with it.

That I have been working in software engineering for so long is also what has inspired me to learn so many other things outside of work that push me outside of my comfort zone.

Every once in a while, people who were treated on our machines will come into the office and share their experiences. It’s great to hear our machines worked for them.

Alex DeBoni, Senior Software Engineer, Varian, A Siemens Healthineers Company

What is one of your most gratifying work experiences?

Making a device that’s helping treat cancer and save lives. Every once in a while, people who were treated on our machines will come into the office and share their experiences. It’s great to hear our machines worked for them. I’ve been able to help streamline a lot of our processes and make things run faster so we’re able to get more machines out to hospitals so they can in turn help more patients.

What was your first paying job?

My internship at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. They're working on a lot of stuff there, but I was at their National Ignition Facility, where they're trying to create a nuclear fusion reactor for a power plant. When they test their ignitions in this massive lead room, it creates a lot of radiation. There are a lot of sensors and cameras and other such monitoring devices inside the experiment rooms, and the devices eventually get damaged by the radiation. I worked on automating some of the testing of those devices to understand what caused the hardware failures, if we could predict the failures, if it was possible to swap out devices before they fail, and things like that.

What is your personal passion?

Making things work. Whenever anything in the house breaks or there’s an issue with my car or my wife’s car, I will try to learn how to fix it. It’s fun, and it’s satisfying to make things work. I will often keep at something until I figure it out, even if it takes months. There was an electrical circuit board that just kept not working, and I could not figure out why. I went through probably 40 iterations trying to fix it. Nearly a year later, I finally figured it out.

I have my limits. I won’t do something if I know I’ll be putting myself or my wife in danger. So I do have my cut offs. I know better than trying to upgrade our house’s electrical panel!

What is your favorite day-off activity?

I like to visit breweries in the Bay Area, and there are so many really good breweries around here. My wife comes along. She’s not as into it as I am. But we go on spa dates for her, to keep it balanced. Maybe one day we can combine the two, and find a spa that serves beer.


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