It is an honor to be invited to contribute to this volume. Indeed, I am somewhat overawed when I look at the list of other academics who are contributing. There can be no question that my career path has been different from theirs. I did not get my PhD from a top school, and my research has tended to be influenced as much by practitioners as by other academics. My research strategy (and life philosophy) may therefore be an outlier, but I hope it will nevertheless be of interest to readers.
My undergraduate degree was in math at Cambridge University in England. The Mathematical Tripos lasted three years. The courses in the first two years (Parts IA and IB of the Tripos) were compulsory. In the third year (Part II of the Tripos), students specialized in pure or applied math. I chose pure math simply because I enjoyed it. At the time I made this choice, I had no firm ideas about a future career. (Of course, applied math would have been somewhat more useful given the way my career actually developed.)