What's Your StORy?

Ryan J. O'Neil

Ryan J ONeil

August 2016 What's Your StORy?
Head of Decision Engineering at Zoomer, Inc.

More questions for Ryan J. O'Neil?
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How often do people spell your last name with two “ls”?
I was at the ACP Summer School in Cork, Ireland a few weeks ago, where my missing "l" was unceremoniously returned to me on my name tag.


What prompted you to enter this field? Why?
I first heard of O.R. reading David Goldberg's classic book on genetic algorithms. He kept referring to this obscure field I didn't know about, which seemed to do all the things I wanted to do.

I was working as a programmer in a newsroom then, and George Mason University offers their graduate courses at night. I took deterministic models, taught by Karla Hoffman (now my advisor). The class was a revelation.
Learning the OR mindset for the first time is like year one at Hogwarts. I never looked back and am just as excited about it now.


If you were a Microsoft Office program, which one would you be?
My dark secret is that I'm quite challenged at using spreadsheets and other Office programs. If it doesn't involve a compiler, I'm more or less hopeless.

If I were an optimization library, however, I'd be Gecode. It's efficient; I like its style.


What is your favorite O.R. application?
Dynamic vehicle routing, of course! Recent trends in logistics-as-a-service combined with the sharing economy present fascinating new operational challenges.


What is something you learned in the last month?
I recently started managing other people, so right now I'm learning how unprepared all my training has left me. Even just preparing for a meeting can be a huge amount of work.


Which Seinfeld character do you relate to?
The question cannot be answered because it depends on assumptions, which are invalid.


What advice do you have for new students entering this field?
Become a good coder and learn to work with data. Be comfortable in a software engineering environment. The biggest handicap I see in new graduates is learned helplessness from never stepping outside of pristine data sets and convenient modeling languages. That's not where our field is going. Models must live in the real world to be useful.

O.R. is specialized stuff. There aren't a lot of people who understand it. Industry needs are growing, and we have to measure up to the opportunity. We need champions who are prepared to work hard and deliver awesome things.


If we were sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it's been for you, what would we be celebrating?
I'm very invested in the success of my team members. In a year, I plan to celebrate the results of their hard work building decision management systems and taking Zoomer to the next level of analytical sophistication.


How can you improve your cello skills using analytics?
It's the opposite for me. I learn experientially and through repetition. The discipline of musical training applies to mastering anything difficult.


What is your least favorite mode of transportation? Can you apply a routing problem to make it better?
I don't think arc routing and vehicle routing people are supposed to mingle.


Who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman?
Wonder Woman, obviously.