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Why did he have to leave academia to start a company if he has tenure?

Because there's no way to grow. He's been unable to secure grant funding for actual employees, and even had trouble getting money to keep the servers running.

He's looking for ways to make safe and open source software dominate. And there needs to be a lot of growth for that to happen.

As Stein explains in the slides: because he couldn't sustainably pay people to work with him on SAGE, and there is only so much you can do alone.

But you can be a professor and also start a company simultaneously

I have tried for a while now, and I thought I could do both. But... (1) It is difficult on a personal level--for example last month SageMathCloud got hit by a major DDOS attack 15 minutes before I had to teach a class. I have family and though I love to work, there are only so many hours in a day. (2) There I am at a big old state university, and there are many complicated byzantine conflict of interest and IP rules, which have been a pain to navigate, and our university commercialization office isn't the best. (3) Investors greatly prefer that the person/company they are investing in is not just a side project for the person running it. All that said, the mathematics department at University of Washington is full of supportive faculty; I'm doing what I'm doing more for the people I want to hire than just for myself.

Why not take a leave of absence to at least get the company started and acquire some funding? After that, you could just have a consulting role with the company.

I did during my 2014-2015 sabbatical. Building a successful company is vastly more difficult and demanding of attention than I could have imagined. Maybe I'm just not as good at doing multiple difficult things at once as other people.

But you can't be a professor and work full-time on another project, which is what he wants to do.

He has a higher risk tolerance than me. I would work on this 80% and do the 20% required stuff as a tenured professor, but what do I know. Maybe I am overly enamored with becoming a tenured professor. If he was already spending his time as a professor working on this, I don't understand the difference. Still, all the best and good luck to him.

The work of a tenured professor is more than 20% time. A normal teaching load is 4-5 classes a year, plus significant committee work, student advising, etc. It takes an enormous amount of time. And it can be awesome, fun, and many of my colleagues love doing it. But it doesn't result in creating a free open source alternative to Mathematica.

I think people underestimate how much work a professor does. Everybody in my department who started a company either did it before starting at the university or they did it while on sabbatical.

Good luck!

If you do the bare minimum work as a tenured professor you're going to get an awful lot of people extremely mad at you at all levels of the academic hierarchy.

If you do the bare minimum work and you're spending a lot of time on your own company, at my university, you will almost certainly get a pink slip. Doesn't matter if you have tenure. We are not allowed to work more than one day a week on such things, and that requires approval, which probably won't happen if we're not publishing, have terrible teaching evaluations, and aren't doing a full share of service and advising.

This is precisely correct. And even if I could get away with it, I would not feel that it is morally right (for me at least).

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