Saturday, August 9, 2008

OR Career Path Talk by Jason Goto

Jason Goto came to the University of British Columbia and gave an informal talk & Q&A on career path in Operations Research as part of the INFORMS UBC Student Chapter event series. It was a very open dialogue appreciated by the audience. Here are some highlights from this talk.

Job Market:
Work opportunities in operations research locally in Vancouver is rather limited. It includes
  • The big health authorities: Fraser Health Authorities, Coastal Health Authorities, BC Cancer Agency, etc.
  • and maybe some engineering firms, such as Sandwell Engineering
Particularly, if an OR professional is looking for good job opportunities, one should consider relocation to the east coast or the States. However, we live in Vancouver because of a lifestyle choice, so if that's clear, prepare to sacrifice in pay and business opportunities. 

Jason stressed on the importance of critical mass of OR group to sustain an OR operation and presence within an organization. If an organization has only a few OR professionals working, they may not be able to achieve enough to show the importance of OR; and if someone leaves or goes on vacation, things grind to a halt and will take a long time to get back on track.

OR Consulting:
If an OR professional is thinking of going into consultancy by joining a consulting agency, then those companies will value the consulting/business/soft skills much more than they do about your technical OR skills. However, an OR professional should possess the following skill set:
  • data skills
  • consulting & communication skills (written & verbal)
  • change management
  • empathy - put yourself in other's shoes to help them understand your view
There are quite a few very small OR consulting companies with 1 to 3 people. Mostly they are academics doing consulting on the side. These small outfits don't tend to grow, because it is simply easier to do the work with only a few people, especially if you want the work to be done well, without much administration and supervision.

Jason's operations research consulting company, AnalysisWorks, incorporated in 2000, has been growing 25% a year. He has groomed it to an 8 person outfit - a steady, unaggressive growth since the start.

Starting a consulting company, the first year is the hardest. Everyone is against you if you have no credentials or portfolios to show. It is difficult to get the consulting projects because of that. Especially if you look too young (if you are starting out early), people don't take you seriously. You wonder if you are getting your market value. However, on the other hand, if you start the company when you are older, there are elements pressing against you as well: family, dog, house, pension, etc.  Some people may choose to start a company in groups. This requires careful consideration and an early agreement on who does what, just like in a marriage. If one partner is good at selling and the other good at doing, the two must agree on how they will operate together and the compensation scheme. Otherwise, break-ups could be very bad - again, just like marriages.

In general, it is difficult to get the OR consulting projects. If 10 companies are contacted, 1 may come back with some interest. Most people think the work is good, but do not think it absolutely necessary. The good clients are the ones that really, really need your help, because otherwise their jobs and the company's survival is on the line.

Over-delivery is a consultant's own loss. Clients may have been more than happy with the less than perfect solution, compared to a perfect solution which could have taken hours of the consultant's time - exhausting the budget that way.

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