Cartolina Andres Redooc

(Math) coffee break with Andrés Hoyos-Gomez

Today we’re having our (math) coffee break with Andrés:

“I am Colombian, French, and I totally deserve an Italian passeport, after so many years going to Milan for work, so many cappuccinos, so much drinking Piemont and Tuscany wine, so much laughing with Italian colleagues and friends, and the occasional inevitable suffering for the nazionale*…

On my spare time, I am a Partner with McKinsey, opinions my own”

Your preferred course in high-school… it was not so much the courses rather than the teachers. The best teachers made me dream of puzzling equations, of battles won or lost, of mountains and rivers, they made me  realize that a map can tell the story of a full continent, and that electric coils can be stubborn and circuits full of contradictions

Math in high-school for you was… the fascination for algebra, the nightmare of calculus. I love modelling, the possibility to diagonalize a matrix / vector to extract the key drivers, unlock the actual structure of the world… I was not interested in the actual calculations, the numerical application; I always got some counting wrong, always forgot a number… and this later came back as data fatigue, the sweat and sometimes tears to retrieve and clean data for analysis; “Big data” is beautiful, but you do need the actual data… and that’s how I came to grow respect also for data, even if I still prefer that someone else does the calculations; I still care mostly for the actual results…

What comes to mind when thinking back to your math teachers… men wore beards, women all had long hair… what’s with hair and math skills? Hmm…

Today, math for you is… a discipline and wisdom of life, the scientific rigor, a respect for hypothesis but also for the facts, which applies in all areas. I often find myself telling my consulting teams: “guys, pay as much respect to word sas you (must) respect numbers. Surely you would never write ‘2 +    -33 (5) = 50’, right? And so this sentence here doesn’t mean… a thing… or, also, who cares about ‘90 + 0,999 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 0,15 + 1 + 1,001 + 0,85 + 1 -2 +2 = 100) when you can just write 90 + 10 = 100, right? And so, exit all these useless details, let’s focus on the 90, even if we do need to high-level tie with the 100…”

Last time you used math was… five seconds ago, I recounted the ‘1’ and other figures in the above sentence to check if indeed it adds up to 100, maybe I counted wrong…. did you check?

When did math surprise you …so many times… when I learnt about “irrational” (√2) and “imaginary” (a + ib) numbers. How can it be that a number, the most concrete and rational thing there can be on earth, could also be irrational or imaginary? It felt like going “down the rabbit hole”, and then my curiosity and fascination grew even more… Also when I realized that Eratosthenes estimated the circumference of the earth looking at the variations of shadows between Syene and Alexandria using Thales equations. We just need to look and watch around, math help us literally grasp the world.

When did math drive you mad… every time I have to submit my taxes, the numbers are what they are…

A math book to read…”A beautiful mind”, the bio of John Nash who basically invented game theory.  An inspiring personal journey, and very interesting link between math and human behavior

Any advice for high-school kids…  if you do not already love math, let it be… one day you’ll need to negotiate a mortgage, prepare and defend a budget in front of your boss, make a business plan for your own startup, or even better, one day your beautiful five-year old will look at you with bright eyes, and will tell you “mom, dad, this is the number three, right? three, like mom, dad, and me, we are three… when will we be four?” And maybe then it will hit you, math is everywhere…

* Nazionale: the Italian soccer team

Thank you Andres!