Tom 4

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17 years, 338 days

My title is Chief Evangelist for Maplesoft. I interpret that as “the guy who’s been around forever”. I started my professional Maplesoft career in 1989 as a contractor trying to earn money to feed my grad student habits, like eating and visiting my parents. Before that I was introduced to what was then referred to as the Maple programming language and to my surprise, Maple immediately helped me figure things out in my courses and more importantly it made me look smarter in front of potential grad supervisors. That’s how the love affair began.

Since then I’ve held various senior positions including Vice President of Marketing and Market Development. I’ve witnessed the transformation of this company from a start-up doing something strange called “computer algebra” to a well-recognized, leading solutions company with a growing and ever diversifying user community. I’m even more thrilled at the fact that so much of our new achievements are in the world of engineering modeling and simulation which was my specialization in University.

I did my degrees at the University of Waterloo. My Bachelor and Master’s degrees were in Systems Design Engineering and my PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in surface modeling for CAD systems. Along the way, I dabbled in control systems, physical systems modeling, and computer-assisted education. I still stay connected to the academic world through my position as Adjunct Professor in Systems Design Engineering, University of Waterloo, and as a member of the Board of Governors, Renison College affiliated with the University of Waterloo.

I was born in Seoul South Korea but raised in Toronto, Canada. I moved to Waterloo, Canada to attend university and never left. I tell the Maplesoft people that it’s because of the company but it’s because I met my wonderful wife Dr. Sharon here :-)

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My son Eric began high school this year (grade 9) and a marvelous thing happened. In my previous posts, I lamented that I was generally unable to spark in him an interest in math but something changed this year. The first sign was his first math test given within the first two weeks of the new year. It was an assessment of sorts to see who knows what, and he scored 90%. Although it was a review of basic arithmetic with complicated fractions, order of operations, and such, this was the first time he had ever ranked within the top few of his class in math. Fast forward a few days. He came up to me with a large grin and said “Dad, you’re in my math text book!” Actually it wasn’t me but there was an indirect reference to Maple in one of the later chapters of the book that he was perusing out of curiosity (another good sign). “This is your stuff isn’t it?” With tears welling up inside, I proudly answered “yes.”

Green is definitely the color of the 21st century. Recently, I was attending the annual conference of the Society of Instrumentation and Control Engineers. The keynote was delivered by Dr. Tariq Samad of Honeywell and the President of the IEEE Control Systems Society.  The talk was on various dimensions in advanced control – past, present, and future, and in particular Dr. Samad summarized some fascinating work being done in the natural resources industry on advanced control.  Through his very interesting and engaging talk, my generally conservative brain went into green mode.

Dr. Samad gave a couple of examples of massive engineering undertakings that deployed highly sophisticated control strategies at unprecedented levels of innovation and complexity. The Olympic Dam mining operation in Australia is the largest PC-based deployment of digital control techniques in history, with over 500,000 I/O points. There are major applications of model-predictive control (control strategies where the controller has inherent knowledge of plant dynamics) in traditional coal power plants that will immediately reduce the harm from these plants and set the stage for the introduction to alternate power generation.

Sometime in 1992 I was offered the title of “Applications Engineer” at Maplesoft. I was the company’s very first employee to hold this title and it was my first real job.  I was thrilled! Imagine, if you will, an impoverished student who had been living on the most pitiful of incomes for almost ten years, all of a sudden being offered a great salary and the chance to travel and meet interesting people around the world! And for the most part, all I had to do was show people how great this thing called Maple was.

Through the landmark book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig introduced generations of engineers to formal metaphysics. This engaging story chronicles the journey of a man and his teenage son on a single motorcycle through America. Through their encounters with challenges of all sorts, the man explores and wrestles with the notion of “quality”, in both the mechanical sense – the quality of his machine, and the human sense – the quality of a person or a relationship. I’m a big fan of interdisciplinary education and I was always thrilled to find out that this book is actually mandatory reading at many engineering universities. Today, I think I have a much better sense of where this thrill comes from.

“Keep Austin weird” is probably the best civic slogan I have ever encountered. Austin, Texas is one of the most charming cities in the US. It’s the capital of the state of Texas and also the self-professed live music capital of the world. In addition, the University of Texas at Austin is the largest university in the US, and its influence on the technology sector has spun off a very vibrant high technology business center as well. This mix of government, the arts, academia, and technology is the quintessential recipe for a very dynamic, vibrant, and yes, weird (in a good way) community.

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