Daily Archives: January 13, 2011

are we failing to educate the next generation of operations researchers?

I had a chance to meet Bill Hart at the INFORMS Computing Society Conference to talk about blogging.  Bill Hart is an OR person with a computer science (CS) background.  Part of his interest in blogging stems from his CS background.  CS tends to rely on a more oral tradition, since the specific tools change even quicker than they do in OR.  There are also certain types of publications that focus on specific implementation issues rather than high-level model and algorithmic issues.  However, many such journals are no longer in press, leading to knowledge not being passed to the next generation of computer scientist. One example that Bill Hart mentioned is the journal Dr. Dobbs (a list of now defunct CS journals is maintained here).  In order to get a sense of what these journals offer, you can read about the history of Dr. Dobbs here, and you can read a programmer’s lament about its demise, where he writes:

A conventional magazine or newspaper instead “pushes” information into a reader’s hands.  I flip through every page, or at least look hard at the table of contents, of every magazine. Serendipity reigns; facts and ideas I wasn’t looking for come leaping off the page. I rip out articles of interest to read during down times, on the plane or waiting in a lobby somewhere.

Hopefully, Bill will blog more about this soon—I am doing my best.  Instead of writing more about CS, I can write about OR.

The publications that Bill Hart mentioned are aimed as using specific tools and software for solving problems.  We tend to teach the methods and theory in class, but the software comes and goes.  Students and practitioners often need to solve problems using software that isn’t documented nearly as well as their simulation or integer programming textbooks.  Google is somewhat helpful for finding documentation and help, but as I’ve learned lately with Gurobi, google is not enough.  Those of you who follow my twitter feed know that I installed Gurobi on my work computer and laptop with some success, but I had trouble finding the exact commands that I needed.  Twitter users and the Gurobi discussion group on google were necessary.

What information needs to be passed on between the generations of OR analysts?  More specifically, what are we not doing a good job of passing on? To be honest, I am not sure if I am old enough to answer those questions.

As I write these thoughts on a blog post, I am not suggesting that blogs should necessarily play a central role in educating the next generation (indeed, they are all too easy to ignore).  While blogs are good at creating content, they are not really appropriate for all types of content creation.  Twitter isn’t a better alternative.  I have used twitter to occasionally find solutions to my software problems, but I didn’t then use twitter to educate the masses with my newly-found answers. With the wealth of tools available online, I wonder if there are new opportunities to educate the next generation of operations researchers if we are creative.  What do you think?