INFORMS Logo
 

Career Profiles in OR/MS: Steven Gould

Steven Gould

Lead Consultant, CGI

M.S. in Management Science and Operations Research
University of Warwick, England

B.S. in Computer Science
University of Warwick, England

Contact Information

steven.gould@cgiusa.com
www.cgiusa.com

"I tend to get involved in all aspects of software development, whether or not OR is involved. I particularly enjoy OR applications because of the extra value we can deliver to the customer."
>>>> NEW <<<< Steven answers reader emails. Reader Q&A
>>>> NOTICE <<<< As of July 1, 1999, DRT Systems has joined CGI, North America's fifth largest information technology services provider.
  1. How did you arrive at your current job as Lead Consultant for DRT Systems?

    I was born and raised in England, obtained a Bachelor of Science degree (first class honors - GPA 4.0 equivalent) in Computer Science and a Master of Science in Management Science and Operations Research (with Distinction), both from the University of Warwick.

    Following the completion of my thesis, I started work at the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in the UK working on Variance Reduction Techniques applied to large scale simulation models. I then went on to work for Dash Associates, a Mathematical Programming tool vendor and consulting company.

    After working in the UK for a couple of years, I moved to Tennessee in 1993 to work for a small start-up company selling software to the food/manufacturing industry. By 1995, I realized they were never really going to "start up" and make any money, so headed off to Dallas, Texas.

    I briefly worked for SABRE in Dallas/Fort Worth on a system determining the optimal location for rotable aircraft parts. This was a very interesting application but unfortunately the project was only short lived.

    I then joined Deloitte Consulting/DRT Systems (DRT) where I have been working as a consultant for the last 18 months. At DRT, I have worked on a variety of interesting projects in a variety of industries, in particular, telecom and the airline industries.

  2. How large is DRT Systems and what are the main products and services it provides?

    A technology unit of Deloitte Consulting, DRT Systems provides integration services and solutions focused on electronic commerce to public and private sector clients across a broad range of industries.

    The company serves its North American client base from 12 office locations, with headquarters in Toronto.

    Deloitte Consulting is one of the world's top management consulting firms, providing services to transform your entire enterprise -- your strategy, processes, information technology, and people.

    We offer our clients a very different approach, because our highly respectful, flexible, and collaborative working style gives us an unmatched ability to transfer knowledge and skills and generate employee buy-in. In addition, we focus on the realization that changing business processes is necessary to achieve the promised returns from strategy and technology. Our approach enables us to deliver very different results -- results clients can count on because they can trust their performance improvements will not unravel once we leave, results they can build on because these improvements make their organization more robust and adaptable to future shifts in the environment.

    Deloitte Consulting is an integral part of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a global leader in professional services, offering consulting, audit, tax, and related services to clients worldwide.

    Deloitte Consulting. A very different approach. For very different results.

  3. What are your main job responsibilities at DRT Systems? What are some of the OR/MS problems that you have worked on while employed there?

    I am a Lead Consultant at DRT Systems. I tend to get involved in all aspects of software development, whether or not OR is involved. I particularly enjoy OR applications because of the extra value we can deliver to the customer. Many applications simply cost the customer money to implement and may make operations run a little more smoothly. Some of the OR applications I have worked on can actually save the customer considerable amounts of money – usually many times more than the original cost of the project – by providing the customer with a better solution to their problems.

    As for application areas, these are very varied. That is one of the exciting things about this career – especially when you combine the software development skills from a Computer Science degree with the business and analytic skills from a MS/OR degree.

    In the 18 months I have been with DRT I have worked in the Telecom industry for 9 months developing AIN (Advanced Intelligent Networks) products. More recently I have been working with SABRE using optimization techniques to deliver solutions for scheduling pilots for recurrent training for two different airlines, and generating valid (legal) working schedules for reserve pilots for another airline. I also am involved with a project to optimize trip trading between pilots.

  4. What tools and OR/MS techniques did you use to solve these problems?

    Tools vary considerably. Application development is usually done in a team environment and usually uses a variety of tools for different parts of the application. I think the key here is flexibility and versatility. I prefer to choose the best tools for the job. This may involve developing GUI’s in Java applications for cross-platform support, or Visual BASIC or PowerBuilder if focused on the Windows environment.

    Personally, I usually get involved in developing a server-side component which implements an OR model. This is most often done in C++, frequently under some flavor of UNIX, but occasionally under Windows NT. I’ve used CPLEX under AIX for extending the functionality of an existing system. I’ve also used XPRESS-MP as both a modeling language and an optimizer. This allowed me to very rapidly develop prototypes and get the whole application implemented in a very short space of time. XPRESS-MP really is a great tool for rapid application development.

  5. Prior to your employment with the Deloitte Consulting, what are some of the past OR/MS projects that you found especially memorable and rewarding?

    One of my most memorable projects was, in fact, quite a short project that I did in the UK. At that time I was working for Dash Associates as a consultant, and I developed "IBOS" – an Investment and Benefit Optimization System. [I presented a demonstration of this at the INFORMS/CSTS Conference in Williamsburg, VA in January 1994.] This was a strategic planning application to help upper management in one of the UK’s regional water authorities plan their investments over the next 20 years. They had 19 different "investment areas" in which they could invest for all or part of the 20 years. Each investment area had various benefits associated with it measured in four different ways. The water authority had multiple objectives, and through the use of the application, they were able to change some of their assumptions and spending priorities and see what effect that would have on the optimal allocation of budget among the different investment areas.

    The application used Excel as the front-end and XPRESS-MP as the modeling language and MIP optimizer. The users could make a change and re-solve the problem in a matter of minutes (and this was in the days of the 386!).

    This was one of my first OR projects and one of the first times I really saw the potential of OR in practice. From there, I’ve worked on numerous other practical applications of OR, primarily in the food, telecom, and transportation industries and helped save companies millions of dollars annually through the use of OR.

  6. What are the most valuable technical skills that you believe are needed to be successful in the OR/MS industry?

    This depends on where you want to focus. Some people have made a successful career in the industry by focusing purely on the OR side of things. I, personally, really enjoy being able to see an application right through from start to finish, including getting involved with the development. So my computer science background has been a big help here.

    Technical flexibility is very important, so that you can choose and use the best tool for the job and are not limited by knowing just one or two platforms and/or languages. For example, much of the OR development I have done has been under different flavors of UNIX (SunOS, Solaris, AIX, IRIX, HP-UX, ULTRIX), some on PCs (under DOS, Windows and OS/2). I have also used a variety of development languages including C, C++, Java, Visual Basic, Visual FoxPro, FORTRAN and even Excel. Different projects have different needs, different priorities and different schedules. You need to be technically flexible.

    For example, I recently developed a prototype in 2 days using Excel and XPRESS-MP. This was a proof of concept and has been well received. The eventual application probably will be implemented under AIX using C++ and XPRESS-MP.

  7. What are some of the most valuable non-technical skills that you believe are needed to be successful in the OR/MS industry?

    People skills, definitely: You must be able to explain often complex and technical models to a less technical audience, whether this is the project manager or the customer. It is also important to be a good listener and ask plenty of questions to be able to draw the requirements out of the customer.

    In the February 22, 1999 issue of InfoWorld, Maggie Briggs wrote a very interesting opinion piece titled, "What are the signs of a stellar software developer?". Here, she lists her "Top 10" things that make a great software developer. Many, if not all, of these can equally be applied to an OR practitioner.

  8. In what ways do you continue to expand your knowledge of new technologies and techniques in OR/MS?

    I try to keep up with new developments by reading journals, industry newspapers and magazines. I also read a variety of books on some of the new technologies. I have tried to get more involved with INFORMS and am an Associate Editor of INFORMS On-Line.

    I continue to test myself by developing freeware and taking various certification exams, though these are more on the computer science side of the business rather than the OR side. I currently am a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer and a Sun Certified Java Developer.

    I’ve recently started writing technical articles, which has made me focus on a particular area and understand it well. For example, a couple of my recent articles cover cross-platform Java development:

    Gould, S. R. (1998), "How to avoid potential pitfalls in your Java application development", lead feature article in SunWorld, November 1998 issue. Available at:

    http://www.sunworld.com/swol-11-1998/swol-11-javaapps.html

    Gould, S.R., "Developing cross-platform applications in Java: Making 'Write Once, Run Anywhere' a reality", to be published in an upcoming issue of Java Developers Journal.

  9. What do you find most rewarding about your career in OR/MS?

    Variety: I enjoy the chance to work in almost any industry and on a wide variety of different, and frequently challenging, applications.

  10. What advice do you have for those just starting out in a career in OR/MS?

    If you’re interested in practicing OR, become proficient in the use of a computer. Learn how to program in a variety of languages and get a solid background in software development. In particular, adopt good "software engineering" practices – this will help you stand out from the crowd.

    Additionally, brush up on your business and interpersonal skills. Developing algorithms, in practice, only accounts for around 10% of your time – there’s much more to being a successful practitioner than simply applying OR.

  11. What do you predict the future has in store for the field of OR/MS and for OR/MS practitioners?

    This is a difficult one. I’ve heard much speculation about this. For OR to succeed as anything more than an academic discipline, it needs to take on a much more business-oriented front. I know there are people, like myself, in the industry practicing OR. However, it is regarded by many outside of OR as a highly mathematical and academic discipline, often somewhat removed from reality. Things are changing but, possibly, too slowly compared to other industries. Perhaps, in the future, different areas of OR will be incorporated into different disciplines.

  12. Do you wish to add something that was not asked?

Disclaimer: The ideas and thoughts expressed are my individual thoughts on the subject. They do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Career Profiles in OR/MS
Questions on membership, subscriptions and the like should go to INFORMS Customer Service. 
Questions/comments of a general nature about this Web site should go to Editor, IOL. 
Copyright Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences