The value of math is at the margins
I used to work at a Bitcoin startup.
It ended up being a waste of my time,
but I was lured there with promises of working on interesting mathy problems
in the cryptography space.
What actually happened
was that the interesting mathy work didn’t materialize.
Instead, we rushed to launch a product,
a mobile app,
deal with customer feedback,
and promote it.
I spent almost all of my time on those things,
and almost no time on anything mathematical.
In hindsight, this was all too obvious.
Startups need a thousand basic things
before they need anything close to mathematical sophistication.
Google doesn’t seem to be too much different,
at least in my position.
I work on optimization pipelines
that automate the planning of Google’s data centers.
It sounds cool,
but once the basic system is in place
almost all of the work is decidedly unmathematical.
Data is dirty,
documentation is missing,
and alignment and communication are hard.
Not to mention that
mathematical deliberation is slower than hacking.
If you take too long,
organizational pressures will mean someone else
comes up with a patchwork solution
that becomes the established normal
leaving your work fighting against a general fear of change.
Add to that the all-too-common organizational shock,
like a re-org,
important engineers leaving,
or a global pandemic,
nuanced mathy work can get deprioritized until death.
That’s software and business working as intended,
as my managers remind me.