When I started doing Math at Work Monday interviews, I thought of it as a little experiment. Would people I talk to actually recognize the math they do? Would they feel confident in their math skills? Would the the math they need to succeed in their careers get in the way? I had a theory: Most people don’t realize that they’re doing much of the math they need for an average day.
Now that I’ve got about a year of Math at Work Monday interviews under my belt, it’s a great time to take a closer look. Did my hypothesis stand up? Reading through these interviews again, I’ve noticed five interesting themes.
1. Everyone does math in their jobs. Okay, that’s a duh conclusion, right? But when you consider the number of school kids who ask, “When will I ever use this stuff?” it’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion. In other words, if kids think that by avoiding science, they’ll avoid math in their careers, they should think again.
Kiki Weingarten, a NYC-based executive, corporate and career coach uses math to help her clients understand the financial implications of a career change. Criminal profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole looked for patterns and used statistical analysis to help solve crimes.
2. Many folks don’t know that they’re doing so much math — until someone asks them about it. This has come up over and over again. I’ll ask someone to do a Math at Work Monday interview with me, and they’ll say, “Why would you want to talk to me? I don’t use math in my job.” But once they think about it — even a little — many of them are surprised by the sheer number of numbers in their jobs. From managing their business to practicing their passion, math is everywhere.
Painter Samantha Hand said that she didn’t realize how much math she uses, until we talked about it — then she started making big connections, including using proportions to help paint to scale. When I asked my sister, Melissa Zacharias to participate, she first said that she didn’t really use math. She soon discovered plenty of places that math is useful in her job as a speech therapist who works with adults.
3. Math is particularly prevalent in the visual arts. So much for the myth that people are either artistic or mathematically minded! In fact, math is required in a variety of different aspects of art, from working with materials to managing sales to envisioning the final design. That’s one of the reasons that I devoted an entire month to math in the arts. (And we didn’t even scratch the surface!)
From noted jewelry artist Shana Kroiz to glass artists Ursula Marcum and Beth Perkins, it became clear that the connection between math and art is undeniable. Even museum curator Ann Shafer uses math.
4. Using math tools is fine, but many people depend on their brains. I expected people to tell me that they depended heavily on computers or calculators to do the math they needed. But most folks admitted that they do a heck of a lot of mental math — from basic addition to finding percents.
Kim Hooper uses a calculator to check some figures, but as a copywriter, she also does “margin math,” a grownup version of showing her work. Executive vice president, Gina Foringer uses mental math to quote labor percents for new contracting jobs.
5. People generally like the math they do at work. Of course they don’t always think of the math they do as math (see #2), but the folks I interview feel confident in the skills they need to perform their jobs well. This includes those who say they didn’t do well in school math classes or that they feel like they’ve never really “gotten it.”
Costume designer, Katie Curry says that she doesn’t feel comfortable with math outside of the calculations she needs to draft a creative design (though she can balance her checkbook, of course). When hair stylist Nikki Verdecchia opened her salon a few years ago, she worried that the math would get in her way, but she quickly became comfortable with the calculations she needs to make her business work.
So there you have it — the unscientific results of my unscientific experiment. As I suspected, people don’t mind doing the math in their jobs, and that’s because they don’t even realize that they’re doing math. We’ll see if that trend continues in the upcoming year of Math at Work Monday interviews.
What about you? Do you like the math that you do at work? Are you now realizing that there’s more math than you originally thought? Share your ideas in the comments section.