INSTITUTE OF MATHEMATICS AND ITS APPLICATIONS
Name: A John Rowland AFIMA
Current Job Title : IT Officer
Organisation: Independent Age
Number of years in current position: 3 years
Personal Mathematics Tutor
Director of IT, Titmuss Sainer Dechert (6 years)
Head of IT, Barlow Lyde and Gilbert (6 years)
Divisional Manager & Management Scientist, Exxon (21 years)
BSc (Hons) Mathematics, University of Manchester, 1969
A Model-Management Framework
for Mathematical Programming;
Kenneth H. Palmer, David M. Smith, N. Kenneth Boudwin,
A. John Rowland,
Helen A. Patton, Jeremy D. Sammes
From an early age I was interested in "how things work" possibly inspired by my father's eagerness to fix anything that had broken. However, the true beginning of my life-long passion for anything mathematical was at school where I was fortunate to have an inspirational teacher of Mathematics. I was also lucky that the A level group taking Further Maths was small so that we had the opportunity to look beyond the curriculum and see "more than the numbers". In fact, until relatively recently when I started tutoring Mathematics, my ability to recall the times tables was embarrassingly poor.
What stimulated your interest in maths, and when?
The school had a Mathematics and Scientific Society to whose members we were asked to present a topic selected at random from a list drawn up by the Head of Mathematics. I drew Topology, a subject which up to then I had never even heard of. I remember taking a jumper off without taking my jacket off to demonstrate that the jumper was not "inside" the jacket at all. Perhaps this was the beginning of my desire "to make Maths fun" by sharing my enthusiasm for the subject.
Once I was introduced to the language of Mathematics, Algebra, and the concept of proof and the application of Mathematics to problem solving I was hooked. I particularly like this quote I came across recently: "Mathematicians are interested not only in what happens when you adopt a particular set of rules, but also in what happens when you change the rules." I took up a Mathematics degree at the University of Manchester qualifying in 1969 with a BSc (Hons).
What influenced your career choice?
In 1969 it was common practice to go straight into employment after University and in the "milk round" I was seen by a number of companies. I considered actuarial work, working for ICL (The British computer manufacturer with whom I had spent a summer working on Highway Perspective Drawings from road grid references) and various manufacturing companies.
Finally I chose to work in London with Esso Europe Inc. as a member of the team developing models for the optimisation of refinery and logistic operations. In this field very large matrices are used to model the process flows - which was a direct application of my mathematical training (although interestingly I had not taken the Linear Programming Course at University!) In 1984 Exxon published a monograph on the resulting Model-Management Framework on "how to solve problems in data management and program design, so that users are free to focus on modelling the business problem at hand".
The data management and reporting aspects of this job inevitably led to a good deal of experience in IT databases and systems which led to the development of my career in the IT field over the following 20 years or so.
Could you describe the other organisations you have worked for?
I have held positions of increasing management responsibility in the IT field. In all of these positions, I am thankful for my mathematical background which I trust I brought to bear through some skill in analysis, problem solving and numerical reasoning. You need to be able to communicate results as well – particularly in the Legal IT market!
As Director of IT I was responsible for strategic IT management, development and operations for a major City law firm ensuring the effective delivery of business-critical IT services. Such a role requires close monitoring of operations performance, revenues and budgets, Service Level Agreements and other metrics. The figures matter and you must become well versed in presenting and interpreting them as well as holding a tight grip on day to day project progress. This is a diplomatic task requiring man management skills at least equal to the formal analytical skills honed as a Mathematician. I sometimes think that diplomacy is the skill of disagreeing amicably!
Although in this period there was little direct application of mathematical theory, I channelled my active interest in Mathematics into the development of a Mathematical Puzzles web site www.MyMathematicsTutor.com. I am particularly keen on simply stated problems which disguise a deeper mathematical concept. Some of these ideas have subsequently proved useful in my tutoring activities. More recently I have added a Facebook page which I plan to develop along similar lines and this was incidentally where I discovered that the IMA were looking for profiles of IMA members.
About 6 years ago the legal firm I was working for merged with a practice based in the USA and, along with several other senior managers based in the UK, my position was declared redundant.
Eventually I decided to try for a formal teaching qualification at the University of Oxford Department of Education and was accepted on the Mathematics PGCE course. Although I chose not to complete the course – instead taking up my current IT Officer's role at the charity Independent Age, I found the experience of studying the teaching of Mathematics fascinating. I put the beauty of this experience (for good maths is truly beautiful) down both to my fellow students, the pupils we taught and most importantly to the quality of the staff at the Department. A good teacher can be an inspiration. Indeed, although I now work full time in an IT role, I tutor Mathematics privately at many levels at least three times a week in the academic year.
Which skills do you consider to be essential in these jobs?
I looked up "mathematical skills in the workplace" and came across the following extract from a report in 2002 by the Institute of Education, University of London to the Science, Technology and Mathematics Council:
"Mathematical literacy can contribute to business success in an increasingly competitive and technological based world-wide economy. There is an inter-dependency of mathematical literacy and the use of IT in the workplace but that this is not always appreciated. The findings have implications for adopting a more systematic approach to business success in terms of appreciating the critical part played by employee's mathematical skills and knowledge."
I agree that mathematical literacy and the use of IT are closely related. In the workplace there is a need for analytic and problem solving skills combined with the ability to communicate analytical information and for good people and project management skills combined with forecasting and budgeting skills.
There is also the question of gaining a good reputation in the market place. My own view is that the "proof is in the pudding" to misquote the phrase that means "to fully test something you need to experience it yourself". This doctrine applies to IT management as much as it does to mathematical proof and requires that you be prepared to do yourself what you ask others to do.
Is there any advice you may have for other individuals considering your career path?
In the first 20 years of my career the mathematical content of my job was high because of the skills required to develop models of process flows. This was a traditional Operational Research role which satisfied my problem solving mentality. In IT management, as in any profession, problem solving skills are of paramount importance although these may frequently be of a different type. As a career progresses, project and people management skills become increasingly important. Here again the rigour of a mathematical background and a passion for analysis will serve you well.
If you want a deeper mathematical content throughout a career in a major industry, you will need to stay on the "technical ladder" where the rewards in strict financial terms may not be so great. This is a balance you will have to strike as you progress in the work place.
As a Mathematics Tutor, what is your approach to the teaching of Mathematics?
Because I am mathematically trained and have more than 30 years' practical experience of the application of Mathematics in business, I am able to design my tuition so that students develop an understanding for mathematical concepts and an appreciation of the application of Mathematics to problem solving. Using this approach my students gain confidence in handling all aspects of the syllabus enabling them to realise their full potential.
It is possible to instil a sense of achievement both in those who initially say "I can't do Maths" and want to get the inevitable examination out of the way as soon as possible as well as in the high flying A grade student. By drawing equally on my own experience of Mathematics in the real world and on those completely abstract ideas that I find interesting and puzzling, I like to think that I can share my enthusiasm and encourage others to enjoy Mathematics beyond the curriculum as I have done ever since my own school days.
What are your future plans?
I plan to remain in my current position until retirement. In this role as IT Officer I expect to have increasing influence over the use of technology to aid decision making, for example through the application of web based (Intranet) applications to present management information from centralised well ordered databases.
I plan to continue tutoring Mathematics at all levels from GCSE to A level and beyond. I may even find time to learn my times tables.