Make Amazon work Better

… if you are qualified, that is.

I don’t normally post job ads on the blog:  there are other outlets for that.   But I have a few reasons for posting this one:

  • I have always been interested in the operations research issues that Amazon faces.  How can they get so much stuff to me in one day?  And when I order twice in one day, why don’t they combine the orders into one box?
  • The person asking is Shivi Shankaran who is a Tepper School MBA alum, and I love pointing out to my MBA students how operations research skills are a real competitive advantage for them.  Other schools may have their students read war stories of the rich and trendy, but we teach real skills here!  We might even get to Benders decomposition in a class this year.
  • I love looking at job descriptions that require experience in XPRESS, CPLEX, and SAS (though they should add Gurobi too).
  • It is my blog, and what is the use of having a blog if you can’t be arbitrary sometimes!

So, if you are PhD in operations research, or highly skilled in the area, here is some information on what they are looking for.  But please check the date of the blog entry (February 3, 2010):  if you come across this entry months from now, the job will be taken!

The Transportation Platform group is looking for a passionate, talented and inventive Operations Research Scientist to join the team. Trans Platform is responsible for optimizing the transportation network for  The group owns the strategic planning and project management for initiatives involved with the transportation network including long-term forecasting, optimization, and process improvement.  The Operations Research Scientists in the group provide business analysis using mathematical modeling tools to answer important questions for Transportation. You will partner closely with many groups such as operations, IT, retail, and finance teams to support various business initiatives.

– Familiarity with Transportation/Logistics concepts – forecasting, planning, optimization, and logistics – gained through work experience or graduate level education.

– Technical aptitude and familiarity with the design and use of complex logistics software systems.

– Experience working effectively with software engineering teams and the ability to develop system prototypes.

– Ability to code in Java, C++ or another object oriented language and exposure to scripting languages, relational databases and Linux.

– Experience with mathematical libraries like CPLEX, XPRESS, and SAS.

– Excellent written and verbal communication skills.  The role requires effective communication with senior management as well as with colleagues from computer science, operations research and business backgrounds.

– A graduate degree in operations research, statistics, engineering, mathematics or computer science is requirement, PhDs highly desired.

The job is based in Seattle and we pay competitively. Please have them get in touch directly with me at

Operations Research: Growth Industry!

NPR has a nice graphic for where job growth will occur in the next decade based on US Bureau of Labor Statistics data (the NPR site is much cooler than the graphic above). Now, operations research is a little small to appear as a dot on its own, but if you look at that little dot far to the right, showing the most job growth? That is “Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services”. And what field is all of “management, scientific and technical”? Operations Research, of course! The projection is for 82.8% growth.

There are some other interesting dots that might guide those in our field. Note the big dot second from the top. That is Manufacturing, with a 9% loss in jobs. Some of that might be due to efficiencies from our field, but I suspect most is due simply to a shrinkage in importance of manufacturing to the US economy. Some of the big growth areas? Education, health care and construction with growth in the 15-25% range. This suggests that applying operations research in the service industries is going to be a big driver of growth in our field (unless we miss the boat and let another field do operations research there under a different name).

Thanks to the INFORMS Facebook Page for the pointer!

Operations Research as a path to academic administration

For most young researchers, administration is a word filled with horror.  Why would anyone want to be an academic administrator when you could spend your days exploring the wonder of operations research?  And many days, I (a not so young researcher) agree with them.  There is almost nothing better than spending time thinking, writing code, teaching, and doing all the wonderful things that make up the academic life.  However, after a decade or two, for some there comes a wish to have a broader effect.  Will yet one more paper on a better cutting plane or another game-theoretic analysis of a supply chain really affect very much?  Or perhaps after sitting through yet another unproductive, useless meeting, the thought comes “I can do better than these jackasses!”.  And the administrative path begins.

Some of the people I admire most in our field have done significant academic administration.  For instance, Patrick Harker was the editor of Operations Research when he was picked to be Dean of Wharton, one of the most important business school deanships around.  He is now President of the University of Delaware.

I think operations research is actually pretty good training for administration.  In OR, you learn to make decisions based on facts and data, rather than biases and preconceptions.  Within the business school, we often get to know many of the faculty as our methods can be used broadly (and are often considered “honest brokers” in conflicts between the bigger areas of finance and marketing).

This trend has grown strong enough that there is even a “Dean’s Meeting” at INFORMS.  From the excellent conference daily news:

Operations research trains a professional to become a better thinker, problem solver, and educator. As more and more members of INFORMS are discovering, the field also trains you to become a better university administrator.

Dozens of operations researchers across the country are becoming deans and provosts – and even presidents – of universities large and small, in the U.S. and throughout the world. Some examples: Prof. Arjang Assad, formerly of the Robert H. Smith School at the University of Maryland just became the dean of the University of Buffalo School of Management. Also this year, James Bean, the former president of INFORMS, became Senior Vice President and Provost of the University of Oregon.

I hadn’t realized that Jim Bean had moved up to Provost at Oregon.  Congratulations Jim!

Who Knows Where Operations Research Will Lead You?

One of the nice aspects of working in operations research is that you can end up working in practically any field. I know a lot about the United States Postal Service, Major League Baseball, auction design, voting systems, and many other areas because that is where my research and reading in operations research took me.

Compared to Ronald Johnson, however, I am hopelessly narrow in my skills and interests. Major General Johnson was, until recently, the number two engineer in the US Army, as reported in the New York Times (thanks to Barry List from INFORMS for the pointer). His responsibilities were described as follows:

Before retiring from the military, Johnson was the deputy commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, the second-highest-ranking engineer in the Army. He supervised $18 billion of reconstruction projects in Iraq from 2003 to 2004 and commanded the 130th Combat Engineer Brigade in Bosnia from 1996 to 1998.

Now, however, he has a new job: he was hired by the National Basketball Association to be in charge of their referees.

While Johnson readily acknowledges that he does not know anything about refereeing, he knows quite a bit about difficult rebuilding efforts.

Why was he able to make this sort of career change?

N.B.A. officials are highlighting Johnson’s management and analytical skills.

And where did he get those analytical skills? Operations research, of course.

Unquestionably, Johnson did not take the typical career path to the N.B.A.’s executive suites. The commissioner’s office has generally been populated by lawyers and basketball people. Johnson, a 1976 graduate of West Point, studied mathematics and mechanical engineering. He later earned a master’s degree in operations research and systems analysis from Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial Engineering, and a master’s degree in strategy from the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies.

This is a great example of the flexibility analytical skills provide in one’s career.

Faculty Positions Down Under

Natashia Boland recently noted that I was the “very first to publicise” the fact that she was leaving the University of Melbourne to take up a Professorship at the University of Newcastle in Australia. I think that phrasing is her polite way of saying I jumped the gun in posting that she was leaving. To make up for that faux pas, let me do my part to make sure everyone knows she is hiring  faculty for her group. From the announcement:

The University of Newcastle (Australia) is embarking on an ambitious
programme of building research strengths in applied and computational
mathematics, including a particular focus on operations research/
optimization. Under the leadership of two new professors, Prof. Natashia
Boland and Visiting Prof. Jon Borwein, the University intends to create a
world-leading research activity. The University is now undertaking a
world-wide search for faculty to join the team.

I have not been to Newcastle, but it sounds like an interesting city:

The main campus is located in the city of Newcastle, on the coast about
two hours drive north from Sydney. The School of Mathematical and Physical
Sciences provides a stimulating and supportive environment for research
and teaching, with ample opportunities for collaborative research
partnerships both within the university and with industry. Although well
known for its beautiful beaches and pleasant climate, Newcastle is also
home to a significant port, and Australia’s largest coal-handling
terminal. Newcastle is also at the gateway of one of Australia’s largest
wine-growing regions, the Hunter valley. It is also home to top-class
medical and medical research facilities, affiliated with the University,
which is ranked 63 in the world for biomedical research. Thus
opportunities for research in shipping, transportation, mineral resources,
agriculture, health and medicine abound.

Interested? Check it out:

Applications received before Monday 28th April 2008 will receive full
consideration. To apply, please follow the instructions available at

Look for position numbers 923 (Senior Lecturer) and 924 (Lecturer), as

Professor Natashia Boland
The University of Newcastle
Callaghan, NSW 2308
(currently best contacted at for enquiries)

As I pointed out in my original post on Natashia, I think she chooses very good problems to work on, and I think she would make a great colleague to work with.

NSF Program Director Position Open

Stephen Nash’s term as Program Director for Operations Research at the National Science Foundation is coming to an end. The position is announced here, with a target date of looking at applications of April 1. The “Engineering Design” position is also open. I think this position is a very interesting one. The responsibilities (from the position announcement):

[Program Directors] solicit, receive and review research and education proposals, make funding recommendations and administer awards. They are also responsible for interaction with other Federal agencies, forming and guiding interagency collaborations, and for service to Foundation-wide activities.

I spent a number of years running Tepper’s Carnegie Bosch Institute, where we provided support for research on international issues in business. Even though the area was not my core interest, I found it a very rewarding period. So, in the interest of disclosure, I may throw my name in the hat for this NSF position (the main drawback is too much time away from my four-year-old son). I definitely encourage those interested to consider the position: we need as strong a voice for OR as we can get in this role.

Robert Sloan in computer science has a nice article on the joys of being an NSF Program Director.

Slashdot discussion on “High Paying Jobs in Math and Science”

Slashdot is having a very active discussion (naturally degenerating into nonsense at times, but generally pretty good) about high paying jobs for those will a college degree in math or science. Operations research gets a good plug or two among the discussants. One response (from “MoneyCityManiac”):

Applied math is a good bet. Operations Research (“OR”), as Wikipedia defines it, is “an interdisciplinary science which uses scientific methods like mathematical modeling, statistics, and algorithms to decision making in complex real-world problems which are concerned with coordination and execution of the operations within an organization.” It’s a mixture of math, stats, CS, and engineering.

There’s OR applications in areas such as health-care, environmental management, forestry management, transportation, and much more. Environmental management, in particular, is something that operations research is going to play a huge role as government and industry focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And because there’s such a practical role towards it, there’s plenty of support from government and industry, not just in terms of jobs at the end but also scholarships, fellowships, etc. Ask around a math, CS, or engineering department! I’m sure it won’t be hard to find someone who can point you in the right direction.

Operations Research Job Prospects

Money Magazine and have a ranking of 166 job titles, based on salary and job prospects. I was happy to see “College Professor” as the second best job (good salary, good growth, lots of freedom). Having Operations Research Analyst mired in roughly 120th place (out of 166) was less fun to see. The salary for the field is good, but job growth was relatively low. Still, OR Analyst beat out mathematician, economist, physicist, librarian and many other seemingly appealing fields.

Operations Research and CIOs

United Airlines now has a CIO who is also responsible for operations research and other activities. This seems a natural, if somewhat unusual move (OR is often under manufacturing, operations or some other structure). OR is all about using information, and as firms realize the value of information (and CIOs) is in their ability to extract knowledge from information, more OR may be in the hands of the CIO.

PhD salaries

Forbes magazine has an article about the lack of mathematically trained US workers. Most of the article is about outsourcing, but the issue of starting salaries came up:

A person fresh from graduate school with a Ph.D. in operations research can make $90,000 at SAS Institute–far less than the $150,000-plus salaries top MBAs can command. “Yes, fine, we need to pay more,” Steve Odland, CEO of Office Depot admitted.

Well, kinda… First, a fresh MBA rarely makes $150,000: the average Tepper MBA graduate is closer to $90,000. Second, the lifestyle of those who make the high amounts in terms of stress, travel, and so on is pretty rotten, at least by my standards. Finally, there are lots of fresh Ph.D.s in OR making more than $90,000, often teaching those same MBAs!

Not to say that Ph.D.s should make lots of money (I am one of them myself!), but that doesn’t seem the most dire aspect: it is really the lack of supply of interesting jobs that allow the true use of an OR Ph.D.