Question 1: What programming languages should I learn?
"I'm a bit interested in what programs and programming languages you would recommend to learn? May seem like a silly question, but since we use a few different programs in university, I'd like to focus on the programming languages which are most widely used/accepted. Our main tool at the moment is R, with some Matlab thrown in for Econometrics and larger matrix calculations. Would you consider R a well used tool in OR or is it mainly used in academics but not in real life?"
I think it is not so important as to what language to learn, but to learn the basics of programming well, so that you can pick up any language easily in the future.
The reason I say that is because:
- The OR application and software world is very fragmented. There are many different applications, and they seem to like having their own proprietary languages. However, most of them are developing a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for non-programmers, since they are often aimed at business users (that's where the money is). That said, if you want to fully utilize a software's potential, especially in the case of simulation software, you'd better learn its own language, which is usually proprietary. This would require you to pick up a new language.
- Most of these proprietary languages are quite low level languages. Therefore, it is important to have a solid foundation in programming. It will help you understand the language and learn it fast.
VBA is the number one, since a lot of models are done in Excel. SAS is probably the most used in business and a required skill by many employers. Matlab is more for researchers, I believe. I haven't seen it used in any commercial setting so far. I do believe R is used in some commercial settings though.
Note: needless to say, these are only my thoughts on the topic. Please feel free to chime in.