“Maybe math is not love-at-first-sight for you, but it pays to flirt with it a little,” says Udo Sglavo. As a principal analytical consultant in the operations research R&D group at SAS, he’s not your typical mathematician. Udo arrived at his career with a gentle tug from family members and philosophers. But now he’s here to stay – and forecasting nothing but good things for students who pursue careers in mathematics. Read the entertaining story of this "information engineer with quantitative skills." Then be sure to read the rest of the SAS Loves Math series and the SAS STEM webpage for fresh takes on math.
What do you do at SAS?
I am currently the R&D lead for integration of forecasting and time series analytics into solutions and visualization products.
What’s your educational background?
I received my mathematics diploma from the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany in 1996. I have to admit that pursuing a career in mathematics was not originally something top of mind. In fact, I was planning a career as a rock star (or anything other than a mathematician) when the ancient Greek saying "Know thyself" began to ring true. At the same time, the support of friends and family taught me to appreciate my own skill set. I am particularly grateful to my wife for guiding me in the right direction. I guess you can say that I am not your typical mathematician. I like to think of myself as an information engineer with quantitative skills, who is not handy with tools.
How do you use math in your job?
It comes as a surprise to many people that while I am working in research and development for SAS advanced analytics, I am not a developer who writes C code or implements new algorithms. However, my math education does helps me to understand and decipher these codes and algorithms – and to make them more accessible to the right people who need to understand them, but don’t have the time or need to get too caught up in the details. In a way, I’m working as a filter, which reduces multi-dimensional complexities to the bare minimum. Simplifying – but not oversimplifying – is a fine line as you can imagine.
What about math appeals to you?
You can almost hear the passion in their voices as mathematicians praise the logic and structure of their domain. What appeals the most to me, though, is the fact that math provides you with an incredible tool set to take on the most extraordinary challenges. In my particular case, it’s predicting the future without disrespecting that certain degree of uncertainty involved. Math provides the compelling framework that prevents me from claiming outrageous things.
Can you comment on the importance of math in education?
Math continues to be a hard sell for those students who make the assumption they will hate it before they ever give it a fair chance. To me, math is more than equations and numbers. It is an important way to understand the world which surrounds us. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said “Enlightenment is the liberation of man from his self-imposed immaturity.” In my humble opinion, the first step to enlightenment is a proper mathematical education. As with many things in life, it is a conscious choice you will need to make. Maybe math is not love-at-first-sight for you, but it pays to flirt with it a little.
What advice would you give to students studying math today?
I recently wrote an article for SAS Voices based on a talk I gave to a group of engineering students at Duke University. It sums up my thoughts on that very question. Check it out in a convenient moment at Good question: Wish I had known back then …
Do you have a funny or interesting story to share about math?
You can look like a geek, be challenged with everyday activities such as remembering birthdays, and behave oddly in public. People will understand – after all, you are a mathematician.
Do you have a favorite math blog or journal?
A site I would recommend checking out is Foresight: International Journal of Applied Forecasting. Published by the International Institute of Forecasters, it offers insights from practitioners in the field and research from top academics
Do you have a favorite mathematician?
As a native of Germany who likes applied math, I have to mention Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss. However, I once read that Gauss corrected his father's arithmetic before the age of three – which sounds spooky to me. I would also like to mention Alan Turing and John von Neumann for their contributions to computer science. They both influenced the industry I am working in quite a bit, perhaps without even realizing it.
Are there any other hobbies or interests you’d like to share?
To the dismay of our neighbors, I’m still passionate about music. I am not ashamed to say that I still get goose bumps when I watch large crowds singing songs from their favorite artists.
Dylan Sweetwood also contributed to this post.