Phil Kaminsky, Earl J. Isaac Professor in the Science and Analysis of Decision Making at Berkeley IEOR, has been on industrial leave at Amazon since July 2019. Phil has been working as a principal research scientist with the middle-mile logistics team which oversees the transportation of goods from a factory or warehouse to a distribution hub, giving Amazon additional control of its logistics operation from start to finish. In a recent conversation with the department, Phil shared his experience of working at Amazon.
After many years in academia, how is the experience of working in industry? What are the most exciting parts of your time at Amazon and what do you miss most about Berkeley IEOR?
I’m having a great time at Amazon. It’s exciting to work with so many smart people, and to build models and tools that have a direct and immediate impact on so many people's lives. I miss lots of things about Berkeley though. I miss the students, with their energy and enthusiasm. I miss my colleagues in IEOR, whom I’ve worked with for so many years. I miss wandering around the campus when I’m thinking hard about a problem or challenge. And I miss the chaos of life at Berkeley.
Please describe the work you are doing with Amazon’s middle-mile logistics team.
Amazon’s middle mile team is responsible for the transportation at Amazon that isn't last-mile. This includes all of the trucks, trains, and airplanes that are moving goods around the Amazon network. On the middle mile research team, we build algorithms, tools, and analysis that enables the network to run more efficiently.
How did your experience at Amazon connect with the research you have been doing at Berkeley IEOR?
For many years, I have been developing tools and approaches to make supply chains and logistics networks more efficient. It has been a lot of fun applying many of the same ideas and concepts that I have been working on at Berkeley to the huge Amazon logistics network, and learning about all of the complications that arise in the real world in a huge logistics network.
What are some of the exciting ways that IEOR can help to transform goods delivery in the coming years?
During my time at Amazon, I’ve been struck by the power of algorithms, data, and analytics to continually transform goods delivery. There is no question that some of the changes in the coming years will be driven by robotics, autonomous and electric vehicles, drones, and an increased focus on the introduction of environmentally sustainable technology into the supply chain. But effectively using these technologies will be impossible without algorithms that continually analyze data and optimize systems — which is exactly what we do in IEOR.