If you have passion, purpose and the courage to walk down the path less trodden, the internet gives you ways to the live the life of your dreams, make a lot of money and get the intellectual kick that you crave. This life affirming piece from the New Yorker shows what is possible in today’s world – as Ingfei Chen says this in this luminous piece “online, a math Olympian has found a way to nurture prodigies from around the world”. The person of interest in this piece is Richard Rusczyk.
“Rusczyk, who lives near San Diego, founded Art of Problem Solving—or AoPS—eighteen years ago as a resource for budding math prodigies. Exceptionally gifted young math students often find classroom math unbearably easy and tedious; their parents can have difficulty obtaining sufficiently stimulating lessons. By offering online instruction in math that’s more complex than what’s in standard gifted-and-talented programs, AoPS has become a lifeline for math whizzes. Its free online forums also serve as a vital social network, allowing math prodigies to connect with kindred spirits every day.”
The piece then describes Richard’s path from being a maths whiz in school to becoming a bond trader on Wall Street and then his 20-year journey after quitting his job in DE Shaw to building a life and a business around maths coaching for gifted kids around the world. Whilst some of the fruits of this success are monetary, a big part of Richard’s success lies in the fact that he is now celebrity amongst gifted kids: “Kristen Chandler, a former math teacher who is the executive director of MathCounts, a nonprofit that runs a popular middle-school math contest series, told me that Rusczyk is “a rock star at our competitions.”…Pre-pandemic, Rusczyk attended the MathCounts national finals each May as an invited speaker; Chandler recalled how contestants and parents flocked to get his autograph and take selfies with him. One competitor asked Rusczyk to sign his forehead with a marker.”
This remarkable story begins from a nondescript town in America: “Rusczyk was born in Idaho Falls. He and his younger sister attended elementary schools in half a dozen states as their father, a U.S. naval officer and nuclear engineer, moved from one base to the next. Small but naturally athletic, Rusczyk played basketball and spouted pro baseball statistics—these “got him into numbers,” his mother, Claire, a former grade-school teacher, told me. In 1983, Claire read a newspaper article about the launch of the MathCounts program. Rusczyk, who was in seventh grade, signed up and did well; he loved being surrounded by dozens of teens who got a kick out of wrestling with numbers. Two years later, after the family had settled in Decatur, Alabama, he placed twenty-fourth at the MathCounts national finals.
Rusczyk became the star of his high school’s math team, which travelled to competitions around the Southeast. He also participated individually in the American Mathematics Competitions, a rigorous series organized by the Mathematical Association of America (M.A.A.). The contests built up to the U.S.A. Mathematical Olympiad, which back then was a five-question, three-and-a-half-hour examination. Rusczyk played tennis and ran cross-country, but he relished math and the company of his math buddies even more. His bookshelves were filled with math-contest ribbons and trophies. “I was definitely a trophy hunter,” he said. He spent hours practicing with old math-contest problems in his bedroom.”
That childhood obsession with maths was honed through school, college and his Wall Street years. Now 50, Richard and his wife, Vanessa, run a business, Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), which has three parts to it which are focused on making money – books, online learning and brick & mortar maths schools – and one part which is not for profit: “For years, AoPS grew gradually. It released print textbooks, Math Olympiad-prep materials, and an accredited online curriculum, including a free adaptive learning system containing thousands of hard math problems. In 2012, it began rolling out Beast Academy, an elementary-school curriculum in which advanced mathematical concepts are communicated to young math geeks by wisecracking comic-book monsters. It also opened ten brick-and-mortar learning centers across the country. By 2019, about thirty-six thousand math students from around the world were using its paid online curriculum or in-person courses, and tens of thousands more were consulting its textbooks for independent study.
In the spring of 2020, when schools shuttered, the company’s Web site traffic jumped five- to six-fold, and enrollments doubled. AoPS’s hundred employees began telecommuting, except for Rusczyk and four warehouse workers. On nights or weekends, Rusczyk and his wife, Vanessa, would go into the empty company headquarters—a two-story office building in the suburb of Rancho Bernardo—to help fill book orders.”
Read the full New Yorker story to understand how a maths whiz worked with his wife from their house in the forest to build a successful business with no external funding.

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