Most business problems in the real world can be formulated into mathematical models that help in making optimal decisions for the business.

Rwitam Jana, our next pathbreaker, Operations Research Analyst at Tata Steel, applies mathematical constructs on route optimisation, scheduling, knapsack problems aimed at maximising capacity and resource efficiency while minimising costs.

Rwitam talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his transition from theoretical research in mathematics to applied research in order to solve a wide range of industrial problems.

For students, if you enjoy mathematics, there isn’t a better time to kickstart your career in the incredibly fascinating but challenging field of operations research !

Rwitam, what can you tell us about your background?

Hi, I grew up in a small town of Jalpaiguri district, called Falakata, West Bengal. My ancestral home town is in Contai, Purba Medinipur district of West Bengal. I am from an academic family background. My father retired as an Associate Professor from West Bengal government-aided Degree College and my mother is a homemaker. 

My subject of interest has been Mathematics since my childhood. I always enjoyed the logical aspects of mathematics, and one one can do anything with the help of mathematical logic. Everyone wants to know their future, think about the arithmetic problems that we solved in 6-7 grades. For example, “If 2 persons can do this work in 3 hours, how much time it will take to complete this work with 3 persons?” 

Is it not something related to predicting the future?  Think about it!!!  

Apart from studies, I like travelling and exploring different places and quizzing.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I followed an unconventional path after 12th. I got admission in Jadavpur University with Mathematics (Hons), Statistics and Computer Science combination. I did my post-graduation in Mathematics with Operations Research as specialization from the same university. I got my PhD in Mathematical Optimization from Jadavpur University (My research work has been carried out through SQC & OR (Statistical Quality Control and Operations Research Division) Unit, Indian Statistical Institute). After completing my doctoral thesis, I worked as a post-doctoral fellow at SQC & OR Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata Centre. 

What were some of the factors that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Honestly, I did not think about the future when I took the admission at the bachelor’s level. Generally, since my childhood, I have always done what I liked to do. This was one of the reasons to choose Mathematics as a subject. I love doing Mathematics. I loved playing with this subject. This was the main factor. Apart from this, my parents supported me throughout my education. During the initial stages, I used to like doing algebra and number theory. But after a few days, my interest in optimization began to build.  I would like to mention a movie name in this regard, “A Beautiful Mind”, based on the life of the American mathematician John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and Abel Prize winner. Later, I studied the history of game theory and linear programming. I always tried to find the actual applications of mathematics in real-world scenarios and I found that, in 1939, Soviet mathematician and economist Leonid Kantorovich proposed a mathematical programming method to plan expenditures and returns to reduce costs of the army and to increase losses imposed on the enemy during World War II. During 1946–1947, George B. Dantzig independently developed this formulation to use for planning problems in the US Air Force. Today, these types of problems are known as Linear Programming. Fortunately, I did my doctoral thesis on the Linear Complementarity Problem, a special case in the mathematical programming literature.

Tell us about your career path

My PhD topic was based on a linear complementarity problem, a special case of mathematical optimization. My thesis title is “A Contribution to the Solution Approaches in Optimization Theory ”. The dissertation highlights a contribution towards the computational approach of some optimization problems. The motivation for the dissertation was due to the role of Karush-Kuhn-Tucker condition, König-Egerváry theorem and fixed point theorem for finding solution in optimization theory and a survey paper entitled “Economic and Engineering Applications of Complementarity Problems” by Ferris and Pang. I was a post-doctoral fellow at Indian Statistical Institute, I did some teaching assignments over there though my main work was to publish good articles by doing research. 

My plan was to do something based on which I could apply my knowledge anywhere across the country.  Also, I focused on honing my skills to ensure I was marketable and unique. This gives me an extra edge to apply my knowledge anywhere. As we say, in optimization, if we increase the feasible search space, it is easy to get a good solution. This is my way of thinking.

How did you get your first break? 

I got my first break through campus with the help of my faculty. I would like to mention my PhD supervisor Professor Arup Kumar Das, SQC & OR Unit, Indian Statistical Institute. As I studied operations research from scratch, I tried to find a job related to operations research. My love for the formulation of real-world problems into a mathematical programming problem gave me the first break at TATA Steel. Also I briefly did a teaching job at a university level due to my interest in theoretical research. 

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

After I did my PhD, I am presently employed in the Analytics Dept. of TATA Steel Limited. I am an operations research analyst at Tata Steel. I am responsible for making optimal decisions for the business through mathematical modeling. I have worked on the formulation and implementation of Operations Research tools in steel industry. During this period, I have successfully worked on several mathematical problems like route optimization, scheduling problems to maximize resource utilization, knapsack problems to maximize capacity and cutting stock problems to reduce yield loss while cutting coils. I am experienced using core data science tools such as Python and core OR tools such as IBM ILOG CpleX, Python with Linear Programming/ Integer Programming/Mixed-integer Programming. 

My role requires passion and love for the work Iam doing. Anybody with analytical skills, can fit in this role. As an OR Analyst, one needs to develop knowledge in Operations Research.

How does your work benefit society?

By providing improved visibility of stocks so that my organization can serve you better. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Personally, I have a favorite article what I published during my research days. We consider a class of transportation problems which arises in sample surveys and other areas of statistics. The associated cost matrices to these transportation problems are of special structure. There are many rules for solving these types of mathematical programming problems. The conventional methods require two steps to get the optimal solution. In this article, we propose a new technique to solve the transportation problem in one step. I am sharing the link of this paper.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Believe in yourself more than the government believes in you. Build your own skills and show your potential. If you have an individual special skill, you can get any job you love.

Future Plans?

To do something so that I can create a big job space for the coming generation. Also I would love to take some teaching assignments in future.