When Bob Santilli, a senior project manager at UPS, was invited in 2009 to his daughter’s fifth grade class on Career Day, he struggled with how to describe exactly what he did for a living.
Eventually, he decided he would show the class a travel optimization problem of the kind he worked on, and impress them with how fun and complex it was. The challenge was to choose the most efficient route among six different stops, in a typical suburban-errands itinerary. The class devised their respective routes, then began picking them over.
But one girl thought past the question of efficiency.
“She says, my mom would never go to the store and buy perishable things—she didn’t use the word perishable, I did—and leave it in the car the whole day at work,” Santilli tells me.