An Industrial Engineering degree from the best program in the world costs ~$20,000/yr. It is a curriculum centered around creating ‘well rounded individuals.’ I made sure to do industry research projects and plenty of contract work to ensure that I’d have some level of depth and exposure to industry level problems during my stay. In this post, I’d like to analyze the curriculum, and make a few suggestions. After graduating in December 2012, I reviewed everything I had learnt for 60 days straight by reviewing old text books and doing a ton of Object Oriented Programming in matlab and excel. I became a much stronger process engineer through independent study with online resources.
My solutions and suggestions will most likely be off the mark, but at the very least my analysis will include symptoms of current issues and problems with the program that can hopefully create a strong discussion.(ISyE= Industrial & Systems Engineering) It should be noted that this is not meant to be a criticism of the program, but at the very least a discussion of symptoms that might be healed. The administrators at GT are forward-thinking. When I evaluated the competency and legitimacy of the GT undergraduate program objectively, I found that there might be cheaper and much more effective options on the market to achieve the same results.
The GT ISyE undergraduate program is in some sense a hyped up applied math degree with a bit of engineering level applications attached. Industrial Engineering seems to be confused for Industrial Design(Mark Cuban has made this verbiage mistake on Shark Tank in an episode involving a water bottle designer) which is an altogether different field of study.
In too deep….
By the time, I realized that Industrial Engineering might not have been the optimal career for me, I was in too deep. A curriculum snapshot is below, which I’ll also deconstruct. I include my analysis followed by copy-pasted curriculum descriptions except for the ISyE classes for which I’ve jumped directly to analysis.
Math- 16 hours- ~12.5% of curriculum
You won’t use most of this stuff. In fact, if you approach most ISyE majors and ask them what they learned in each of these classes, you might be surprised at the answers, or lack thereof. Most of these classes have upwards of 100+ people with supplementary 1 hour long recitation sessions that people attend if they need help on the homework or more likely, want to receive their graded tests and quizzes or take a pop-quiz that the professor decides to distribute via recitations.
By their third and fourth year, most ISyE’s have forgotten how to do double integrals and how to differentiate properly. Graph theory is probably the most important concept I learned in Linear and Discrete mathematics. I later used it in an implementation of the Khernigan-Lin algorithm for a warehousing project for a Fortune 50 company. Some ISyE majors will mention that these classes tie together and are connected. I would agree to some extent, but for the most part, I felt Linear and Discrete Mathematics was the most fresh or new in terms of knowledge. Calculus 1, 2, and 3 could easily be studied with a greater level of efficacy and retention at a community college. Not to mention, the teacher at a community college will give you their time more sparingly.
- Calculus 1- Differential calculus and basic integral calculus including the fundamental theorem of calculus, including the underlying theory of limits for functions and sequences.
- Calculus 2- Concludes the treatment of single variable calculus, and begins linear algebra; the linear basis of the multivariable theory. The first 1/3 of this course covers some chapters of single variable calculus not treated in Math 1501. The remaining 2/3 is an introduction to linear algebra, the theory of linear equations in several variables.
- Calculus 3 - Multivariable calculus: Linear approximation and Taylor’s theorems, Lagrange multiples and constrained optimization, multiple integration and vector analysis including the theorems of Green, Gauss and Stokes.
- Linear and Discrete Mathematics- The basics of mathematical induction and recursively defined sequences; complexity and rates of growth; combinatorics, counting methods, and elementary probability; graph theory and graph algorithms; linear algebra; linear programming and the simplex method.
Physics- 8 hours- ~6% of curriculum
I wish I could say this was highly relevant to an ISyE degree, but in reality it doesn’t feel all that useful other than a few of the problem solving skills you obtain during this time. I worked with a particle accelerator company and the basic physics knowledge I had accumulated in high school was more than satisfactory for the design work I was doing. I was a bit rusty on coefficients of friction, but there’s plenty of online resources to bridge the gap. The lab sessions were for the most part, pointless. There’s an opportunity to make ISyE curriculum tie back to physics whether it be simulating a conveyor belt line and the way packages move or doing an analysis of energy and friction when evaluating and measuring sustainability.
I once worked with a mechanical engineer to calculate the amount of liquid nitrogen required to freeze a 1 cubic inch sized piece of rubber.
If you had a friendly TA, you were in good hands. I ‘heard’ stories of TA’s who were in the same fraternities as their pupils, which made the class much easier. I learned very little in college physics that I hadn’t already learned in advanced high school physics. Then again, my high school physics teacher was an exceptionally talented and well educated physicist with plenty of papers to his name.
As a simple exercise to disprove this claim, ask any ISyE to solve a basic physics problem related to force diagrams, and measure the amount of time it takes them to solve this. Then, repeat this same test with engineers from other disciplines.
- Physics 1- The goals of this course are to teach you to understand basic classical mechanics at the conceptual level, and to help you develop general problem-solving skills that will be useful in your future studies.
- Physics 2- Electromagnetics
Computer Science- 9 hours- ~7% of curriculum
The computer science portion of the ISyE curriculum was the most relevant, but the most lack luster. The ISyE students who can code should be more highly valued and the program should make CS a core element. I’ll give a simple example. While doing a warehousing pick-path optimization project, our team of ISyE’s ran into a 15 dimensional matrix. This is not uncommon or rare. The most effective and fastest way to solve this problem is through a brute force algorithm that uses the cloud. Unfortunately, the ISyE’s are ill-informed about such technologies.
Often times, when asked what do ISyE’s do, I would hear students tell their friends “We solve the traveling salesman problem and stuff.” This is mostly irrelevant in the sense that there are large computing systems that can be used to solve such problems with little ISyE labor involved. It would be a prudent step for the ISyE program to ensure that every graduate has 100-200 hours of R, Matlab, and minitab under their belts taking apart Big Data after completing their CS core curriclum.
Most of the time, the ‘group’ structure of class data projects ensures that the lonely coder builds it all while the non-technical ISyE’s do the power point. The curriculum has changed since I attended in terms of the CS4400 or CS2 (layman’s terms) being replaced by what seems to be a more programming intensive python class.
The major problem with the nature of this CS class is the large theory based portion of the class. The best way to learn CS is to practice and break things on purpose. I didn’t understand the idea of encapsulation until I tried building something that required it and control it with code that I had written in my free time. Great mastery comes only with a great number of hours of practice. I would measure the ISyE program’s efficacy toward CS competency by the number of hours ISyE students spend in the same room as a teacher or TA while writing and troubleshooting code to solve problems. This isn’t to say the CS program is lacking, but more point out that with a few tweaks to the ISyE program, there could be huge value gains for ISyE grads.
The kids who can code exceptionally well are rarities not commonalities. When I mention ‘exceptionally well’ I’m referring to basic coding competency and the ability to learn other programming languages to solve problems. The ability to write efficient algorithms is a completely different matter.
- CS 1- Python - To understand the basic concepts of computer programming in a high-level language.To be able to use and combine control flow constructs to form useful programs.To understand and become familiar with a number of simple data structures.To understand the process and skills necessary to effectively deal with problem solving in relation to writing programs.To be able to test and debug programs.To understand and employ functions and modularity. Through labs become comfortable with common software packages in use today.
- CS 2- Database Systems- Students will be able to program Python programs using subset of data types and using assignment, method calls, while loops, for loops, and conditionals.Students will learn how to use and manipulate several core data structures: Lists, Dictionaries, Tuples, and Strings.Students will be able to construct simple graphical user interfaces that drive their programs.Students will understand the process and skills necessary to effectively deal with problem solving in relation to writing programs.Students will be able to test and debug programs. Students will understand and employ objects, functions and modularity. Students will be able to read data from text files, and write formatted text files. Student programs will be able to interact with websites and load data from them (web scraping). Student programs will be able to read and write data to/from SQL databases. Students will be able to manipulate data from one format into another.
Lab Sciences- 8 hours- ~6%
The lab science portion of the ISyE curriclum usually consists of students hoping they can crack their way into the General Chemistry and EAS combo, the easiest science based classes. The education in both these classes feels overwhelmingly irrelevant to the types of problems ISyE’s will face in the field. I slept through both EAS and Gen Chem and finished both classes easily and without pain. The only reason people attend the lectures is for the attendance score. If I had a dollar for every time I saw students sign each other into and out of classes, I could potentially end hunger on the streets of Atlanta. You basically take 2 lab science courses from the following list. Unless you’re doing polymerization or trying to remove chromium from water and scale up the process, as an ISyE you won’t be using many of these at all.
- General Chemistry aka Gen. Chem.
- Physics 3
- Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Humanities, Social Science, and Wellness – 26 hours – ~20% of curriculum
26/128 of the hours a GT ISyE has to complete are a verifiable waste of time. I’ve even heard of students who outsourced their essays to foreign countries. During my 2nd year at Georgia Tech, I took an HPS class for my 2 hour mandatory state credit. During class, I was so bored, I pulled out my laptop and e-mailed congressman John Lewis. I invited him to attend a class to understand just how much time and money is being wasted in such courses.
Engineering Electives – 9 hours- ~7% of curriculum
It’s hard to argue these courses are remotely relevant to an Industrial Engineering education. Every engineer has to take 9 hours of discipline outside their major. Again, it’s centered around making an education that generates more holistically well-rounded Engineers. Most ISyE’s will opt in for an easy PTFE(Polymer Textile Fiber Engineering) class to satisfy these 9 credits. Occasionally an ISyE will take a Statics course to satisfy this requirement. I attempted to take a drafting/AutoCAD course and was denied by the bottle necked registration process. Most ISyE’s are given incentives to take easier courses as the pre-requisites to most of these courses are overly challenging. For example, I might have an interest in Digital Signal Processing(DSP), but I may not want to do it to the extent to which I’m trying to compete with Electrical Engineering majors who have undergone rigorous coding regimens before entering the course. Conversely, as a challenge, if you can find an Industrial Engineering who has purposely taken DSP as an engineering elective, I’d love to chat with them.
ISyE Required Courses and Electives- 38 hours – ~29%
I’ll cover these in more detail as they are the most important courses to becoming a solid- ISyE graduate.
Every ISyE regardless of their ‘thread’ or focus must take the following courses:
- Probability and Statistics 1 & 2 (ISyE 2027 & 2028) - These 2 courses are characterized by useful knowledge that most foreign students have taken before arriving at Georgia Tech. Their US counterparts are behind unless they have taken AP Statistics in high school. The main problem with the way they teach these courses is that they are irrelevant in the big scheme of things as they don’t improve students’ use of software which is what industry demands. One way to fix this is implement a goal of ensuring that every ISyE grad has played with large data sets and software packages for over 100 hours.
- Stochastics (ISyE 3232) – This class is taught well at Georgia Tech. In some sense, I wish it was taught with more applicability to the real world. This course could have been 2 courses taught in one with more depth. I’ve learned that more often than not, many of the systems we deal with in the real world are deterministic and finding large scale data sets can be daunting. Dr.Hayrire Ayhan did a great job of teaching it.
- Engineering Economy (ISyE 3025) – This class involves learning how to use formulas, then using them. I attended class once the entire semester and fell asleep. I attended only for the evening exam sessions. I heard stories of students taking exams for other students as the class size was large enough for such mischievousness.
- Simulations (ISyE 3044) - This class is probably the most useful in the real world, but the most irrelevant. A simple litmus test for the efficacy of this course is to ask students who have completed it to build a simple 2 worker simulation with error rates. Watch them struggle. The software costs upwards of $10K/ a license.
- Engineering Optimization (ISyE 3133) - This class was one of the few I enjoyed at Georgia Tech. Thanks Dr. Shabbir Ahmed. This class along with ISyE 3232 are well taught.
- Supply Chain Modeling- Manufacturing and Warehousing (ISyE 3104) - This class is useful in the sense that it provides exposure to the world of warehousing and order picking. The teacher is excellent, legendary, and funny. I’m just not sure the material is technically challenging or remotely applicable.
- Supply Chain Modeling- Logistics(ISyE 3103) - This class is useful in that it explores how regression is used in the supply chain to manage inventory levels. It’s a bit unrealistic in terms of the level of data transparency I’ve recently found in the world of logistics and large Fortune 50 companies. It seems that the problem of logistics is being solved but the greater more relevant issue in this realm is data integration.
Combining ISyE 3103 and 3104 to make a larger class called Network Optimization and Regression might be much more relevant in today’s world. Implementing and training students in the Google Maps Coordinate API would make a lot of sense as well in terms of increasing the students’ market value. Most of the other classes in ISyE are just extensions of these in more advanced forms.
Many ISyE’s are able to finagle their way out of quantitatively challenging upper level requisite classes as a symptom of the overwhelmingly bottle necked registration system which results in many ‘over-rides’ issued by administrators. While the Georgia Tech ISyE program is the number one in the country/world, it is also the one of the most clogged up programs in the University.
Attending Georgia Tech was a good decision. This does not mean it was the best decision. I met great people that I still keep in touch with today and many of them have the potential to be very successful in their respective fields. I didn’t meet as many entrepreneurs as I hoped I would. The ISyE education might be able improve outcomes by making it more well connected and fluid in terms of moving students from concept to another. Maybe, GT ISyE could benefit by taking notes from modern technology concepts like App Academy and Zipfian Academy.