Alumni Profile: Alan Edelman
Infinite Careers is a collaboration between Career Services (Career Advising & Professional Development) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.
Professor Edelman's latest passion is Julia, but his true love is linear algebra. He has been working in the areas of high performance computing systems, data, machine learning, networks, software, mathematics (pure and applied) and algorithms for 30 years. He introduced the graduate course at MIT in high performance computing in 1994 and has trained a generation of students (from computer science, engineering, and the natural sciences) who have now gone on to work at national labs, universities, and industry. He has won many prizes for his work including the prestigious Gordan Bell Prize and Fernbach award. He is the founder of Interactive Supercomputing, a company acquired by Microsoft in its fifth year employing nearly 50 people. He holds and has applied for patents in the area of high performance computing networks, algorithms, and software. He is widely recognized for his broad expertise in hardware, software, networks, algorithms, and applications. His current work on Julia is widely recognized for its performance, abstractions, and mostly because it allows people to work together. He has consulted for Pixar, Akamai, Microsoft, IBM, and many other companies.
What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?
When my first grade teacher said I was destined to be a mathematician, I suppose I was marked for life.
What influenced your choice of graduate program/programs? How has it/have they shaped your career choices and professional ability?
You know I wasn't going to go to graduate school, but my supervisor when I was working as a "predoc" at IBM convinced me that this is what I should do. I did apply to a few graduate schools, but MIT was the only one that let me defer a year, so I went to MIT and the rest is history I suppose.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently or more of while you were at MIT?
I wish I had taken the time to speak to even more professors and graduate students at the institute that were outside my main line of work.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Making a difference. As a professor you can strike off in directions that may not make sense to others, but nobody stops you (much). I can work on the Julia language, while everyone is stuck on Python or C++. People may not understand at first, until they try it at least, but as I said nobody stops you.
What motivates you to do the work that you do?
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
Have fun while you work and while you teach. If you are having fun, others around you will see that and will catch on too.
What career advice do you have for current MIT students, or those interested in entering your industry?
Don't be afraid to buck the trend if you believe (enough) in what you are doing.
What do you like to do outside of work for fun/relaxation/inspiration?
Play with and walk my little corgi who is featured on all the class videos in 18.06
and on this MIT news article: