Monthly Archives: November 2011

HackNY Fundraising event

Tomorrow night there is a fund raising gala for HackNY. The organization brings together students in computer science, data mining, math with the quickly evolving NYC technology sector. They have created a summer fellows program, host regular hackathons, and in all do a wonderful job. Sailthru, the company I currently work for, is one of the sponsors for the event and it should a blast. Tickets are on sale now.

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A response…

Yesterday I was happy to receive the following email from Ryan Croke at the Department of Mathematics, Colorado State University. He had read the article I wrote for the AMS notices regarding moving from the academic to the startup world and had similar views on a number of subjects, especially those related to the insularity of academia and its lack of acceptance of other options. I had stayed shy of delving into the full details of how I perceive the situation in the article itself. Below is an excerpt from Ryan’s email, which I thank him for allowing me to post, where he discusses some of these issues.

 I am graduating this year with a PhD in mathematics and my experiences have been eerily similar to yours.  I recently got a job with Raytheon, a defense contractor.  I was applying for postdocs, but once contacted by Raytheon I realized there are other opportunities out there.
What spoke to me about your article is the heretical nature of working in industry prevalent in academia.  I am at Colorado State University, a third tier research university.  Even here the idea of going to industry is blasphemous.  I routinely hear faculty, who have never worked outside of university, pan industry because it is “restrictive” and you “don’t have freedom.”  It’s incredible.

The biggest disservice is done to the grad students.  Every year I see students scratch and claw to go to universities they don’t really want to go without even considering working outside of academia.  Many of them have skill sets that would be very successful in business but they never give themselves the opportunity.    And, as you say in your article, we have a unique skill set that makes (most of us) very malleable and amenable to vastly different industries.

Between you and me, I find the whole system ridiculous.  My colleagues are writing letter after letter, competing with hundreds of other people for positions that pay little and may have to go to places they don’t want to.  The entire process with Raytheon took under four weeks.  It included 4 interviews, a background check, a bit of paperwork, and that’s it!  I was one of 45 that got jobs that began with around 1100 applicants.  According to Raytheon my strongest asset was my advanced degree in mathematics.  Most mathematicians do not realize the gift they have (or learned) to assimilate new information quickly and solve problems and how that is useful in other areas.

I find it very strange that I will be working on projects that put peoples lives on the line and the process was so streamlined and efficient, but, some of my colleagues that will be going to liberal arts universities “just to teach” are going through a hellish process.

Anyway, I found your article refreshing and enlightening.  I think that departments need to nurture and cultivate ties with industry and government.  A corollary to few people considering jobs outside academia is that academia is flooded with possibly under qualified and out of place people.  It’s crazy if you ask me.  But, what do I know?

Thanks for the article,
Ryan

New Career Path (excerpt)

An excerpt from an article to appear in the December AMS Notices issue, about moving from academia to startups. Since writing this article I have left the company that opened the startup door for me and have taken a position as the head  of the data science team at Sailthru. The reasons for the switch were a combination of the fact that I had nothing to do at the old company, found much of what was happening there nonsensical and, more importantly, the fact that the opportunity at hand was really exciting. My time at Sailithru has proven that and much, much more – it would take a number of independent posts to capture all that I enjoy about the job and the people.

My (New) Career Path
For some time now, Wall Street has been the beaten path for quantitative scientists looking to leave academia. However, before attempting this option, I did look into others. Consulting had left a sour taste in my mouth from an interview I randomly had during grad school, and none of my forays into educational policy or curriculum development were panning out. I knew a number of people who ended up with financial careers, and while I can’t say that any of them encouraged my pursuit, they were certainly helpful and very informative. Shortly after I started interviewing, I quickly realized that Wall Street wasn’t running around with blank checks looking for mathematicians without experience in the field. In addition, the interview process—with recruiters, silly puzzles, and long days—was for the most part rather unpleasant. I do have to admit that only a few of my Wall Street interviews were classically horrific, but it doesn’t take many to ruin your appetite. Soon I had an offer from a large bank that I turned down because morale there seemed incredibly low. Nevertheless, I learned quite a bit during this time and met a number of smart and interesting people (some of whom I am still in regular contact with). In any case, about two weeks after I officially resigned from UCLA, my search for a finance job was cut short by an email, rapidly followed by a phone call and an in-person interview which landed me in an industry I had never even considered. The thought of working in a startup did not cross my mind, simply because I was not aware the option existed. But when I was called and asked whether I would consider taking a role in data mining and analytics, my response was an unqualified yes. The interview process was so much faster and more agreeable than what I had seen in finance that I could only call it a relief. While the hiring process in financial firms tends to be long and drawn out, the situation here was completely different. After one phone call I was asked to come in the next day, had a pleasant, although intense, conversation with the head of the analytics group about the company and my interests, and with minimal delay received an offer. The whole thing felt like it fell out of the sky and landed right on my plate—seasoned, cooked, and garnished. The small group of mentors who were guiding me in the job search immediately endorsed the idea, and even the finance guys who were “promising” to bring me on board in the coming weeks wholeheartedly suggested I take the offer. I quickly accepted, and my job search was over.