From Small Communities To Big Innovations

Patrick Boyle started his career in synthetic biology just as the field was formally taking shape.  Now Head of Codebase at Ginkgo Bioworks, Patrick was one of the first generations of students to complete his entire graduate program in synbio — and he had the unique opportunity to study under the industry’s pioneers. Back then, the field was still a small community.

He’s no stranger to small communities – in fact, he learned to thrive in them. Raised in Alaska and the son of two educators who moved to the state to enhance academic opportunities for indigenous communities, Patrick experienced a uniquely austere lifestyle growing up, living in tiny villages dependent on monthly food shipments and local food like salmon and cranberries. It was like living on Mars, Patrick says.

“I originally wanted to study aerospace engineering, and be an astronaut,” he remembers. That plan quickly changed when he arrived at MIT as an undergraduate and saw what was possible with molecular biology. Those possibilities, he recalls, “blew his mind.”

When he arrived in Boston, Patrick faced an understandable degree of culture shock – from a tiny village to a college town, and from Yupik community culture to a metropolitan lifestyle, away from his family and Filipino roots and into a culturally diverse network of classmates and faculty.

“My history involved acquiring a different level of privilege every few years. I went to a public high school in Alaska and somehow made it to MIT for college, and Harvard for grad school,” Patrick says. “The second I arrived [at MIT], the opportunities I had access to changed. All of the opportunities I have today are so different from the ones I was born into – and it makes me really think about all of the people who didn’t stumble into MIT and Harvard, and earn the privilege that I did.”

Dr. Patrick Boyle

Patrick says he tries to always maintain awareness of that privilege and of his roots, because he believes privilege becomes invisible once a person benefits from the experience of it. He also carries that mindfulness into how he manages and leads within the organization, and particularly, into Ginkgo’s hiring and recruiting practices.

“When you’re bringing in brilliant people that are really amazing in different areas, from all over the world, it’s really humbling,” Patrick explains. “[Ginkgo Founder] Tom Knight taught me that if you always feel like you’re hiring people that are smarter than yourself you’ll never regret it, and that’s definitely what we strive to do here.”

Patrick credits Knight, who was formerly a MIT professor, with fostering a culture of collaboration with very little hierarchy. According to Patrick, Knight is always willing to be in the lab and helping others, where he encourages dialogue and learning.

Ultimately, Patrick believes that Ginkgo is a place where he’s been able to not only grow, but also put down strong community roots. And he’s committed to helping others do the same.

From Intern to Senior Scientist

Ramya Prathuri studied bioengineering at UC Berkeley the first year the university offered a synthetic biology track. At a conference she attended as an undergrad, Ramya happened to encounter Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly. The team was still in its early startup phase, with fewer than 20 employees, and its vision intrigued her.

Ramya applied for an internship right out of college. She remembers an informal process that involved an interview with [Ginkgo Co-Founder] Barry Canton. Ramya joined the team, and over the next two years she grew in her role as the company grew from a promising startup into a major synbio player.

Many of Ramya’s mentors encouraged her to pursue her PhD, as they had, since the valuable experience can help young scientists grow and learn quickly. Though Ramya started a PhD, she decided to master out of the program after some time.

“While I am happy to have gotten the opportunity to study among talented scientists in my PhD program, what I learned [from that experience] is that you really shouldn’t do a PhD for the name, but because you really have a passion for the science and experience” Ramya explains. “People warned me that without it, I may not be able to grow in my career or be limited to doing rote work, but as I started my doctoral lab rotations, I realized that wasn’t true based on my time at Ginkgo.”

Shortly after her master’s, Ramya returned to Ginkgo as a scientist, where she was welcomed back to her original team with open arms. Today she’s progressed to the role of senior scientist, and leads a subteam of the High Throughput Screen team within Ginkgo’s Foundries, working largely with enzyme assays.

Ramya Prathuri

“I’ve always gravitated towards enzymology [the study of enzymes], and I find that in working in Ginkgo’s Foundry, there is never a dull moment with the breadth of development work we take in,” she says of her current position.

As someone who has watched Ginkgo evolve from its earliest stages to being the publicly traded company it is today, and who has built relationships with its founding members over the years, Ramya says that she enjoys and values advocating for others, and aspires to lift their voices in the workplace.

Ginkgo’s culture is especially powerful, Ramya says, for two main reasons: “transparency from leadership all the way down, and that all employees are expected to share their opinions”

“This culture of communication means that we rely heavily on employee input to make big decisions on the direction of the company, and also to flag things that need to be fixed,” she adds.

At Ginkgo, Ramya sees a diversity of personalities treated with respect, regardless of their seniority, role, or educational background. Since her earliest days as an intern, she feels like her voice has been heard, and as a growing leader, she works diligently to make sure others feel heard, too.

The Business of Science at Ginkgo

Felipe Sarmiento

Felipe Sarmiento approaches the synbio field, and his career path, a bit differently than most. Felipe, who holds both a PhD in microbiology and an MBA, saw the potential to build a robust career in the business of science when finishing his doctoral program. His previous role was at a small enzyme development company, who he had known for years through a mutual Chilean connection.

“I worked at a small firm alongside Ginkgo as our partner on a particular bioengineering project, and I found that I just loved their mission,” Felipe says. “I also really liked their interactions, and how they were so open and connected with me, and with each other.”

After seeing Ginkgo’s mission and people in action, Felipe decided to join the company, even though it meant leaving a team he deeply appreciated and had worked with throughout his early career.

“The more I got to know the Ginkgo team and learn about the company’s technology and core culture, the more I realized that I just wanted to be one of them,” he recalls.

This realization led Felipe to pursue a role through his partnership colleagues, some of whom are still his teammates. Felipe now facilitates synbio business relationships as one of Ginkgo’s Directors of Commercial Operations and was part of Ginkgo’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee for about two years. He believes that the openness he experienced and the type of unique and diverse individuals that Ginkgo hires are key components of what gives the company its business superpowers.

“The thing I love the most here is this feeling of openness, and I want other innovators to be able to experience what I did.” Felipe explains. “To me, Ginkgo’s openness means you always find the information that you need, and you always find support and camaraderie in your colleagues. It happens at all levels, too – it’s very normal for any one of us to be able to work directly with members of leadership like [Ginkgo Bioworks Founders] Reshma, Tom, and Jason.”

It also helps that everyone at Ginkgo is a special Pokemon, he jokes, with the opportunity to evolve. “One of our company values is ‘whimsy’ and when you arrive at Gingko you’re informally assigned a Pokemon according to your hiring number in the company,” he explains, laughing. “Even though most people would probably prefer to be Pikachu or Charmander, at #139, I’m now assigned Omastar [similar to an ammonite fossil]. I used to be Mew [a rare Pokemon]…and that was MUCH cooler!”

Values like these, Felipe says, give people the space to have fun at work, and engage with a creative, connected culture that’s truly unlike other biotech and synbio firms. And having fun is important, he says, because while there’s plenty of hard work to be done as Ginkgo moves toward a bolder, more visionary future for science and humanity, it’s infinitely easier to make that happen in an uplifting environment.