Thursday, March 29, 2012

Learn the Languages of the Internet, Solve Problems, and Communicate

Having returned from a two week stint at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, I was surrounded by different languages, most, notably, Swedish (but also Turkish, Farsi, Hindi, and even Greek).

While there as a Visiting Professor of Operations Management (an appointment over two years), I had numerous amazing discussions with my new colleagues as well as the students and postdocs from many different countries.

I have always loved different languages and am fluent in English, Ukrainian, and Russian, and also quite versatile in Spanish and German.

I also love problem solving, especially problems associated with networks (from transportation and logistics to finance and even electric power).

The problems that fascinate me are large-scale since I am interested in systems -- if I get another paper to review on a "multitiered supply chain consisting of a single manufacturer and a single retailer," I will scream. When does such a supply chain structure exist in reality?

I believe in rigor in terms of math modeling (this is critical and a highly creative and satisfying endeavor) but without the right algorithms, and these must be implemented in code, there is no problem resolution / solution.

Frankly, I wonder whether some of the papers that have been sent my way are by authors who have not had the opportunity to learn the joys of computer programming, an essential skill that I have written about.

The New York Times has a great article by Jenna Wortham entitled, "A Surge in Learning the Language of the Internet," which notes how more people are being drawn to learn computer languages in the Internet age, especially given the importance of web design. Clearly web design has both scientific aspects to it but also aesthetic aspects and when it comes to problem solving and web design you can really unleash your creativity.

Going back now to my recent experiences in Sweden -- one of my colleagues there brought up a story (yes, we were discussing languages and some of the jobs we had held) that, when he was a child back in 1981 and summering on an island in Sweden, a nuclear Russian submarine landed and the news even made CNN! I had told him that this incident and it was a very dangerous incident that almost brought peace-loving Sweden to the brink of war, reminded me of the movie, "The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming," which is even a favorite among my Russian expat friends. He even saw some of the submariners exiting the sub. He shared the link on this major event with me.

I told my colleague that my first job out of college (equipped with two degrees from Brown University -- one in Applied Math (with operations research in my toolbox and one in Russian Languages and Literature), my first job in industry in gorgeous Newport, Rhode Island, was coding in AN-UYK assembly language to design software for the safe transiting of US submarines (yes, so that they would not get detected by guess whom?). Even then, it was always about networking and transportation for me and implementing algorithms in code.

Learn as many languages as you can, including computer languages, and use them. These are skills that will get you far professionally and personally.