We’re kicking off 2018 right, with another Meet Your Developers interview! This edition comes from Erik Postma, Manager of the Mathematical Software Group.
To catch up on previous interviews, search the “meet-your-developers” tag.
Without further ado…
- What do you do at Maplesoft?
I’m the manager of the mathematical software group, a team of 7 mathematicians and computer scientists working on the mathematical algorithms in Maple (including myself). So my work comes in two flavours: I do the typical managerial things, involving meetings to plan new features and solve my team’s day to day problems, and in the remaining time I do my own development work.
- What did you study in school?
I studied at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. The first year, I took a combined program of mathematics and computer science; then for the rest of my undergrad, I studied mathematics. The program was called Applied Mathematics, but with the specialization I took it really wasn’t all that applied at all. Afterwards I continued in the PhD program at the same university, where my thesis was on a subject in abstract algebra (Lie algebras over finite fields).
- What area(s) of Maple are you currently focusing on in your development?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past two years making the facilities for working with units of measurement in Maple easier to use. There is a very powerful package for doing this that has been part of Maple for many years, but we keep hearing from our users it’s difficult to use. So I’ve worked on keeping the power of the package but making it easier to use.
- What’s the coolest feature of Maple that you’ve had a hand in developing?
This was actually working on a problem in a part of the code that existed long before I started with Maplesoft. We have a very clever algorithm for drawing random numbers according to a custom, user-specified probability distribution. I wrote about it on MaplePrimes in a series of four blog posts, here. I’ve talked at various workshops and the like about this algorithm and how it is implemented in Maple.
- What do you like most about working at Maplesoft? How long have you worked here?
I love working at the crossroads of mathematics and computer science; there aren’t many places in the world where you can do that as much as at Maplesoft. But the best thing is the people I work with: us mathematicians are all crazy in slightly different ways, and that makes for a very interesting working environment.
- Favourite hobby?
Ultimate frisbee. I captain a mixed (i.e., coed) team called The Clockwork. (We play in orange jerseys – it references the book/movie A Clockwork Orange.) We play in a couple of local leagues, and some of the other members also work here. We don’t win much – but we work hard and have fun!
- What do you like on your pizza?
Mushrooms. Mushrooms on everything!
- What’s your favourite movie?
Probably Black Book, a dark movie about the Dutch resistance in the second world war from 2006, directed by Paul Verhoeven. I think what I like best about it is that it highlights the moral shades of grey in even so morally elevated a group as the resistance.
- What skill would you love to learn? Why?
I’d love to learn to speak Russian! I’m trying, but I have a very hard time with it. It would allow me to communicate with my in-laws more easily; they speak Russian.
- Who’s your favourite mathematician?
Oh, so many to choose from! I’m torn between:
- Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), known as the first programmer.
- Felix Klein (1849-1925), driving force behind a lot of research into geometries and their underlying symmetry groups.
- Wilhelm Killing (1847-1923), a secondary school teacher who made big contributions to the theory of Lie algebras.
Or wait, can I choose my wife?