College, 2012—Internship recruiting season. “What are you looking for in your internship?” the recruiter asks. “I’d like to solve hard technical problems,” I reply. I end up at Jane Street writing software to calculate numeric integrals of a function that is costly to evaluate. (They don’t tell me what the function is—it’s too secret for interns.)
After two weeks, I come up with some of my own tweaks that make the algorithm work a bit better. I happily add “built a state-of-the-art library for numerical integration, with novel improvements on the best techniques in the academic literature” to my resume.
Back to campus—time to declare a major. I’m falling asleep in all my lectures, except the math ones, which use enough jargon that I am confused instead of bored. Guess it’s math then. After declaring, I finally get assigned an adviser who doesn’t tell me to take easier courses.
Real world, 2014—Math classes haven’t saved me from getting bored of college. I decide to take senior year off to work for a sexy machine learning startup. I spend months reading papers and optimizing our models. Our company doesn’t grow because we can’t close sales. (We have three engineers and no sales person.)