Solve real world problems, every day

As a mathematician and Ph.D., my work involves projects for the Department of Defense. The work is rewarding and interesting, and provides variety each day. As a bonus I also get to mentor upcoming graduates who are fresh with excitement about their field of interest, and are evaluating all the opportunities before them with eager anticipation of what their future holds. These soon-to-be-graduates always want to know why I chose the path I’m on, rather than the other opportunities that presented themselves. Their questions typically include, “What is it that attracted me to this position?” “Why am I still here after almost 9 years?” “Why didn’t I choose to stay in academia or go do exciting work for one of those three-letter agencies?”

There are obviously many facets of such a decision and I won’t go into them all here, but there was and is a key driving factor for me: The diversity of real world problems to solve — for real end users — that impact average citizens like you and me. That is truly what life is all about here at DeUmbra, so let’s unpack that a bit.

I never get bored in this line of work! Each of us iwork on several projects at a time, and the set of objectives we are addressing changes about every 6-12 months. The problems I’m brainstorming and aspects of the objectives I’m addressing change monthly, if not weekly. So indeed, I said “good-bye” to teaching Calculus semester after semester (to the point of having memorized the questions and their pages numbers). I grew tired of cramming in cutting-edge research in the off hours, causing me to work on proving some deep and complex mathematical theorem for months …and months. Our R&D group, however, is continually challenged to discover a solution to a new problem, as well as stay abreast of the latest techniques coming out of academia. As we apply our learnings to the problems our customer gives us we add our own innovation and continue to conduct rigorous experiments to test and validate our work. We are also regularly publishing articles, presenting our work at academic conferences, and submitting patent applications.

Future blog posts will touch on some of the exciting work we’re doing, but for now I’ll simply mention that we have provided mature software solutions for applications as diverse as determining the optimal packing arrangement in transportation platforms and munitions in their warehouses (also known as igloos), to analyzing interactions among entities of interest in order to recognize any suspicious activity or nefarious relationships. For someone who loves to learn and loves new challenges, the diversity of interesting research problems make this an ideal line of work!

The problems we address have real and immediate applications. No more waiting a couple of years to see if anyone actually reads the journal in which your paper was published. Here there is a clear need stated by our customers to which we are able to provide an innovative solution that will have an impact on people’s lives — from safety and security to better stewardship of taxpayer dollars. This is also comforting to me in that the application wasn’t simply to find a way to make more money (as is the case at some other companies with whom I could have sought employment), it’s actually to help catch the bad guys harming our families and wasting taxpayer dollars. Unlike in some of my graduate math classes, the questions asked here are not theoretical or simply fun intellectual exercises but rather real and immediate needs. More importantly, the solutions to these questions impact more people than a group of academics who happen to be deep enough in the same niche area to comprehend the details of my mathematical paper and all its — ahem — intrinsic beauty.

There are actual people who are using the tools we provide and who are grateful to have them. There is something quite gratifying about seeing the fruits of your labor ease someone else’s struggles, to make their lives more manageable, and their mission more successful. In my role as Director of R&D, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to demonstrate our software to the Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Soldiers who will be handling the tools. It’s a humbling privilege to assist in equipping them to better serve our Nation.

Our work is important, and each day brings with it another opportunity for us to reward curiosity and apply technology in new and innovative ways.


Laura is Director of Research & Development at DeUmbra where she has been conducting research in the areas of cryptography, data mining, anomaly detection, pattern recognition, predictive analytics, human behavior modeling, and social network analysis on various types of network activity. She earned a B.S. in Mathematics from Samford University and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin, and held a post-doctoral position at the Claude Shannon Institute in Dublin, Ireland. She has worked, among other places, at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Office of Naval Intelligence.
Laura enjoys training for marathons and spending quality time with her two children.

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