Top of the Class

#32 From Failing Math to the Best Selling Author of Advanced Calculus Explored

February 06, 2021 Crimson Education Season 1 Episode 32
Top of the Class
#32 From Failing Math to the Best Selling Author of Advanced Calculus Explored
Top of the Class
#32 From Failing Math to the Best Selling Author of Advanced Calculus Explored
Feb 06, 2021 Season 1 Episode 32
Crimson Education

Hamza Alsamraee has only just finished high school and is already being called 'Iraq's Einstein'. He is the author of two math books including a #1 Amazon Best Seller and he manages the Daily Math Instagram account with more than 100,000 followers.

It's certainly been a journey for Hamza since he once struggled with math at school. In the podcast, Hamza describes what motivated him to improve, how he wrote two math books and how other students can find a passion for a subject by learning beyond the classroom.

Interested in STEM? Download the Ultimate Resource Bank for Science Students with the favourite resources from young scientists featured on the Top of the Class.

Show Notes Transcript

Hamza Alsamraee has only just finished high school and is already being called 'Iraq's Einstein'. He is the author of two math books including a #1 Amazon Best Seller and he manages the Daily Math Instagram account with more than 100,000 followers.

It's certainly been a journey for Hamza since he once struggled with math at school. In the podcast, Hamza describes what motivated him to improve, how he wrote two math books and how other students can find a passion for a subject by learning beyond the classroom.

Interested in STEM? Download the Ultimate Resource Bank for Science Students with the favourite resources from young scientists featured on the Top of the Class.

Podcast Host  00:00

Hello, and welcome to the Top of the Class podcast. I'm your host Alex Kwok. And in this episode, I chat with Hamza Alsamraee, we chat about how he went from failing at maths to writing an Amazon bestseller about advanced calculus, how he built one of the largest online math communities and what you can do now to develop a love for any subject outside of the classroom. Let's chat with Hamza Alsamraee. Hamza, welcome to the Top of the Class podcast. It's awesome to have you on. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hamza Alsamraee  00:46

Sure. Thank you for having me on. So I'm Hamza Alsamraee. I'm a gap year student mainly interested in math and communication and math education as well. I run daily math, it's the biggest, I think, math page on Instagram. And I'm also the author of two books, Paradoxes. And Advanced Calculus Explored, both of which sold combined, there are 5000 copies. They're both in math.

Podcast Host  01:10

Yeah, so maths is the real passion of yours. And you're also known as Iraq's Einstein as well!

Hamza Alsamraee  01:17

I didn't pick that title. So it just happened behind the scenes. So a TV channel reached out to me, I'm originally from Iraq. So that's my birth country. And a TV channel just happened to reach out to me, they wanted to do a documentary about kind of how I had my first book, I published it, and kind of my journey and discovering my passion for math. And really, it was, it was a beautiful thing to do. It was lovely. Even though it's a bit tiring, at times shooting whole documentary, it took about three days to fully shoot, but eventually came out November. And that was the title that they came up with the rock science side. And I'm really proud of it.

Podcast Host  01:53

It is obviously like a pretty high bar that they've set for you. And I guess like when you start putting that in a documentary and start putting that further and further out, I guess people's expectations of you potentially go up as well. So what's it been like to kind of have that documentary come out? And then I guess people's perceptions of you know, what you've been able to do in the last, you know, couple of years of high school and writing these books and these kinds of things? Do you feel like it's a high bar that you're happy to have? And you're able to keep striving towards?

Hamza Alsamraee  02:21

Definitely. I mean, I'm the type of person who sets high bars, even if I know, they're practically impossible to achieve. I played football in high school, American football, and my coach had this one quote that really stuck with me. Aim for perfection. So you can be excellent on the way there, right? So you'll never get to being perfect. You'll never get to being maybe the best of the world at something right? I sign maybe was the best at math and physics, mathematical physics. And maybe you'll never get there. Right? But just aiming for that goal could be in and of itself, something that's very meaningful to you and could be what keeps you going, what keeps you doing what you do?

Podcast Host  02:56

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, let's go back a little bit. So take us back all that way to when you first started feeling that connection to maths and who helped you cultivate that love of maths and how did it start playing out in different ways for you? 

Hamza Alsamraee  03:10

Yeah, so I didn't you always know that I liked math when I was good at school. But you know, nothing extraordinary in elementary school, even you know, when I went to middle school was nothing that set me apart, I was always interested in patterns. And that's what really brought me into math is kind of pattern finding and solving for patterns, just discovering patterns all around me. So I soon discovered that that passion for patterns was math. And eventually, I moved to the US around six years ago. So I would have been in seventh grade. And when I first came to the US six years ago, I went to a school in Inner City, Philadelphia, which was severely under resourced. And eventually I moved out of that school when I went to a charter school that was much more academically rigorous in Michigan. When I went there. We were learning stuff about linear equations and solving them. So right now pretty simple stuff. But back then, when I was in middle school, it was very, very hard for me. And first quiz that I got, I basically just failed it. I think, you know, I got I got I got an app, right. And from there, I just was determined to never be behind. I hated being behind in class and being lost. That was the feeling that I dreaded the most is just going into class and not knowing a word of what the teacher said. And that was how I fell back then. So we had this website called Excel. It was kind of a Khan Academy of its day. Cow Academy was still there, but it wasn't as developed as it is right now. So I Excel was our homework website. We basically do around 30 minutes of homework a week, very modest requirement, but then I really started liking what it had to offer. And I just started practicing as much as I can. And it really introduced me to a lot of topics that I didn't know even existed. So I was mainly studying you know, linear equations, and just y equals mx plus v just getting that down in class, but then introduce me to stuff in geometry, you know, introduce me to stuff, that's an algebra two. And slowly through that website, I got to learn a lot of math that I wasn't exposed to before. And it slowly just kind of became an addiction, to learn more and discover more. And I just felt it wasn't really a drive to do good in class, because at that point, I was beyond the scope of the class. It was just a drive to explore something that I deem very interesting. And I feel like, you know, I was lucky to discover that very early on, and it doesn't have to be math for everyone. You know, whatever it may be, if you find it, I feel like just falling in love with the process of learning it is the best catalyst. Like being motivated to pursue a great is one thing, but me being motivated just for the sake of exploration is a whole nother ballgame.

Podcast Host  05:51

Yeah, but I know that a lot of students and this is probably going back to when I was a student in math class, I remember I, I put my hand up one time, I think we're all learning, you know, circuito, or whatever it might have been, or tangents and whatnot. And I put up my hand and I said to the teacher, I said, Ms Salvitti, when are we ever going to use this?

Hamza Alsamraee  06:13

Classic question, right? 

Podcast Host  06:15

And her answer was like, Well, if you want to be a math teacher, you'll need to know it. And I'm like, I'm not gonna be a math teacher. Right? So for me, and I think a lot of other math students, they see that like, maths is rather theoretical, but don't necessarily see the real world application. When you were going through in learning all these kinds of things. What was your driving motivation? beyond just learning things? Were you able to see a real world application? Or were you just literally enjoying the learning process? And getting answers? Right? 

Hamza Alsamraee  06:42

To be honest, back then, I would say I was more interested in physics. And maybe So now, I'm interested more in applying math to the real world applied mathematics. So definitely saw a lot of applications back then. I mean, my both of my parents are civil engineers. So they told me all types of stories, you know, maybe they don't do the math with their hands, you know, nobody really does anymore. But they told me all types of stories about how you know, you they use it, maybe as in their programs, right, whatever software they may be using, right, and measurements and architectural drawings, right. And that was kind of my first exposure to saying, hey, math isn't just this abstract mess, can actually be applied. You know, I never really saw my dad solve an integral, but he didn't need to, because that was already worked out for him maybe 50 years ago, because someone just worked out a simple software program to do it for him. So I think that that was my first exposure, but I got to go more theoretical, and even in the applications. So I was really interested in quantum physics, relativity. And obviously, those fields are just riddled with math. And once I began seeing how fascinating the world can be at the extreme, so relativity is really all about extremes of speed, when you go really fast, you know, time changes, every year mass changes, you know, everything looks different, and quantum physics all about when you go really small, you know, how how does the world happen? How does the world operate at a very small scale. So that's really the two fields that drove me to learn a lot of math in the first place, is wanting to understand the core essence of what I deemed to be reality, you know, the universe that was kind of a motivator behind, you know, like, wasn't really something that I realized was motivating me. But it was definitely what drove me in retrospect.

Podcast Host  08:30

I love that explanation of quantum physics is really small. relativity is really fast. I mean, I, as I said, not a mathematician myself. But that's like the most simple explanation I've ever heard of that. So I actually finally know, a kind of at least the introduction of what quantum physics or what relativity is actually all about. So thank you very much for that. But that's really awesome. Yeah, I think like having civil engineers as parents would definitely make a difference, right? Because they're just showing you that maths is not theoretical in and of itself, like it has so many real world applications. And I think that must have been a pretty good aspiration for you, or be able to kind of say, what matters and just, you know, numbers on a page, you can help build buildings, you can help do this cetera, et cetera. But one thing that I am interested in is that I know maths is very much like building blocks, right? And I'm sure you you write about this in your book as well. That if you don't have a particular thing down, Pat, everything above it starts to crumble a little bit, or you can never quite get there. You said you were struggling at maths in school. Did you find through that process of going on I Excel that you had kind of that missing building blocks along the way? And if so, like, what did you feel was, you know, some of the things that were potentially holding you back from being a success in maths and were you able to address it? Yeah, I mean, to be honest, the first thing that I started with before I grinded on IXL was I asked my parents, they helped me a lot. And you know, there's tutoring sessions could have been like, yeah, they were very long. Sometimes they're very tiring, but eventually Got to learn kind of the basics that led me to be good at IXL, right and kind of IXL, like IXL, IXL. They're basically for each chapter, they had a little homework assignment to do. And I just complete as many of those as I can. And I think that really the idea that you if you don't have a solid base, you can like fail, that's overplayed a lot. I think that if you were to just go exploring, knowing what you're missing isn't going to be that hard. So let's say you're doing a geometry problem or something, and you don't know how to solve this one certain linear equation. So you directly know what you have to learn. So you can always go back, it never hurts unless you're in a class. That's a whole different thing, right? where it's like, you can fail a class if you don't have the right basics, but doing exploration in and of itself, you know, watching more advanced videos, why, you know, reading about more advanced math theories never hurts, right? As long as you can understand a little bit of it, you know, it will only give you more content to munch on, if you don't know it fully. So to anyone that that wants to learn more advanced math content, but feels like they don't have the right preparation. Just go for it. Especially people like Three Blue One Brown, these math YouTubers, they make really advanced stuff seem really simple. And because they love to explain things, and they do it in such a beautiful manner. Yeah, I think it's an interesting concept of like, how far maths teaching has come and obviously, like you've been getting into that now with daily math and also your books. That, you know, I think maths teaching in and of itself, like we, by the way, in Australia, we call it maths plural. Yeah, as opposed to math there in the US. But it's really interesting, I think, to see how far math has gone as a classroom subject. Where do you think it's gone wrong in the past that has, you know, why turned off so many students from maths like, there's, there's a significant drop, at least here in Australia. And I know, in some parts of the world as well, from students doing advanced maths, they kind of get to that level where you can do the intermediate level, and they're like, yeah, that's fine. I'll just stick with that type of thing. So where do you think teaching is gone? Perhaps a little bit, or missteps in the teaching of kids in school?

Hamza Alsamraee  12:14

I definitely think so. There's two types of maths or math in the world. There's the math that propel society propel civilization builds buildings, you know, comes up with new exciting theories about physics, chemistry, medicine. Now, whatever it may be, you know, the basis of our civilization. And there's the math that people complain about, and is the drag of so many students. And it's something that is never going to be applied in real life. And I feel like the main difference between those two types of maths is, let's look at how math is applied in the real world. Right now. Nobody's jotting down integrals and solving them in a, you know, like just on on a piece of paper, you know, they're plugging them in into Python or something, nobody is, like, a really tedious method that you would learn calculus class, like Newton's method, right? Were back then Nuland would probably have to work it out by hand. But right now, you don't need to have that because a computer, your calculator does it for you, or your computer does it for you. And I think the biggest disconnect is people have to do these things by hand. And that's where it's truly never going to be applied in real life. You You need to understand how to do the mechanisms behind these things. But you also need to understand how to apply them through tools. So I think one thing is just lessening the amount of computation each student has to do, because they will never be better at doing these advanced computations than a computer, we'll be right our computers are much more advanced. So just cutting down on that. And really bringing math back to what I think is original meanings was is just a new way of seeing the world quantitatively. And a rigorous way to test any hypothesis related to numbers, you know, that's going to be statistics and data science. So I think that's number one. Number two is really, I think this is missing from all of education, as well as just active project oriented learning, where the student doesn't feel like they're being lectured at. But the student feels actively involved in their learning process. And I can understand why that doesn't happen. It takes a lot of resources. And it takes very high organizational complexity within the school system. And that makes a lot of sense why it's not implemented. But if we really want to move forward in terms of education, we have to make students more involved within their own education, whether it's like in math class, have, you know, like, every quarter, you'll have a project applying, you know, if even if it's calculus, there's a lot of ways to apply calculus. I remember one project that I had was I used to be really into football. So I looked into projectile motion and what the best way to throw a football was, you know, why was this angle the best? And it's something that we know intuitively, maybe from just throwing a ball, but there's actually fascinating math by Find it and you can compute an actual best angle. And it turned out to be, I think, right around 30 to 35 degrees to throw like an American football. So stuff like that tying other subjects into your passion. 

Podcast Host  15:12

Right, I think we do that a lot, maybe with the humanities where you have like eight different types of papers, you know, tying in maybe your passion for art, or your passion for math with history, your passion for science with history. But we don't do that nearly enough with STEM subjects. Because we feel like we're not at that stage yet. But you can do interesting explorations at every level of your academic upbringing. Because they just look at real world problems, like, you know, it can be history and looking at the, you know, what happened in different wars and going back and having a bit of a discovery through that. And I think maths is just, I, when I go through my mess learning at school, it was just literally learning content for a test, we didn't get a good score, you felt like a straight up failure. And I think there's a lot of students who get turned off from maths because they have too many failures. Whereas they probably have one area of maths, they could really love and apply it to a particular area that they really love and are really interested in. So for students who are interested in doing that kind of investigation outside of class, where do you think they should start?

Hamza Alsamraee  16:13

In terms of learning? I think that I mean, online is the best way to start, I want to recommend you hop on any books before you hop and learn stuff online. I mean, contrary to popular opinion, I think Wikipedia is a great resource. So for a general look up, right, let's say you're interested about this one specific concept. And general look up on Wikipedia can tell you quite a lot. For more in depth explorations. I think the site is amazing. Obviously, Khan Academy, other types of math sites, I'm working right now at a tech startup called mastodon, so kind of a shout out to them, you know, of self promo, but has great content, very interactive. And there's quite a lot of websites that start and once you kind of get to learning a lot of that type of stuff, it's time to get involved, whether that is through a school project, you know, a science fair project, you know, forming a math community somewhere or plant, you know, just joining an existing one, I know a brilliant they have like a big math community, or problem solving as a big math community, wherever you can find people who share your passion, that's going to be an accelerator for your own growth. And obviously, like the usual math competitions, we have them at school camera, applying them there. But really, it's a very vast field and how you can apply it, you can look at various fields and how they intersect with math, or you can look at just like the pure mathematics, recreational mathematics. And what I like about math is I think it's one of the most versatile subjects, you can apply math to linguistics, and you can apply math to history, and you can apply math or physics. So whatever interests you aftermath, right, or whatever your primary interest is, find ways to apply it with math, whether it be through projects, competitions, you know, starting your own thing, and I wouldn't get discouraged from wild ideas, like having a math page on Instagram wasn't the most popular idea, right. But a lot of people try not to like it. So don't be afraid to try something that's new, and combine different passions in new ways, because sometimes they can work and they can work wonderfully. 

Podcast Host  18:16

Yeah, I think that's a that's a very, very good point. And thank you for those resources, we'll put a couple of those in the show notes as well, in terms of your books, let's go back to that. Because you've written two books, you're a young guy, you must have had a fair bit of time sunk into those two books. And I guess it's probably not, you know, quote, unquote, the sexiest thing to be doing is writing books on calculus when you're in high school. But you know, you went out and did that, which is awesome. So take us through that process, like, how did the idea come about? And when you have the idea, what did you do for next steps.

Hamza Alsamraee  18:48

So for my first book, honestly came out of the lack of resources that I experienced. So a lot of upper math books on upper math textbooks are very inaccessible in their language, they're very heavily pretreated. And hey, that's a good thing if you're a grad student, or trying to learn that, but for me, I was just honestly there to explore. And I felt like a big barrier between high school level math where there was a lot, there was plenty of resources to learn it, right, from Khan Academy to mapping on brilliant when you go to advanced level stuff, right? It's just suddenly a desert of textbooks. And when textbooks come along, right, even good textbooks, they would always be either very expensive, and accessible. So I want it to be the change I wanted to see in the world. And I decided, hey, why not write a book, but I was probably like, 13 back then. So who qualifies me to write a book about, you know, advanced topic, I ended up writing maybe like, you know, five pages, you know, every week, maybe every month and it was very on and off. wasn't until about my junior year that my friend saw me typing away at a document called book. I was like, What is this? It's like, Oh, I'm writing a book. I've been doing this for like three, four. yours now, like, wait, really, and I just, you know, we had a conversation, he's like, you should really publish this thing I was like it was at that point, it was nowhere near publishable. It was just a bunch of different equations and solutions, and exercises and explanations, it was just all over the place. But once I got that advice from him, I started working on you know, actually making a publish publishable textbook. And I saw it kind of like a traditional publishing contract at first. But then I realized why I was doing this in the first place. And it's because to make it more accessible. And if I were to go publish with an academic publisher like Springer, or I don't know, Oxford or Cambridge, they would charge me the same no matter how much if I even if I gave up completely on royalties, which were barely anything for Academic Publishers, they'd still charge very high amounts. And I basically have no power or control over the content, they'll just have to mold it to their liking. So I decided to self publish it, I wanted to do it before my 17th birthday. So I can say I'd been at 16. So I did it two days before my 17th birthday. And I mean, it was a beautiful feeling to press that Publish button. And eventually I self published through Amazon. And it worked out great, you know, not only can I set my own prices, which are pretty low compared to other textbooks, but you know, I have full control over what I can put in it. And in general, just, I was really surprised to see so many people, you know, kind of being interested in it. And the funniest story that I had was I don't know if this is real or not, but on my daily math, email, someone emailed me. And he was like, I think it was like, Oh, I'm emailing you. Like I just, I was in prison for seven years. And I wanted help on your book, chapter two, exercise seven or something. And I don't know how my book made it to prison. But if someone read it in prison, hey, like props to him? Yeah, so that was the wildest story. A lot of story I've had with the book, but I was really surprised to see it reach so many people, I mean, only, it's, I think sold around 4000 copies by now. But for an advanced calculus book, that's a huge number. You know, very nice, nice textbook.

Podcast Host  22:13

If I was asked to write a advanced calculus textbook, firstly, I would say you're asking the wrong person. But if I did have that kind of level of knowledge, right, I would also write a whole lot of equations and solutions and put a couple of explanations in there. But then it would be still I feel a long way from looking like a textbook. So what was the biggest challenge for you in bringing all that three or four years of content? That sounds like a massive headache? What was your approach to try and format it in a way that was accessible for students? So

Hamza Alsamraee  22:43

yeah, I mean, since I self published it, right, so with an academic publisher, so you have a dedicated editor, you have a dedicated, maybe team of like, people, beta readers, so I didn't have those institutional resources. So I leverage the power of the daily math community, I brought an editor from outside, you know, that I knew from, you know, a teacher, a teacher recommended her, and she worked with me. And you know, I had a connection with someone that wrote a similar book that would give that gave me feedback on your kind of the general structure of the book. So don't be afraid to use resources. And if anything, you have to use outside resources, especially if you're a high schooler trying to publish, you know, more niche textbooks, especially something that's nonfiction where you have to have authoritative sources, authoritarian voice throughout the book. So what I did Besides, you know, getting that editor and getting that Professor to help is I would actually just hop on my daily math page and kind of advertise like, Hey, does anyone want to read kind of like a beta version of the book so they can give feedback on it. And I made sure that I selected people from all types of backgrounds. So I selected high school students, I selected undergrads, I selected graduate students. So I would get feedback at all levels, because hey, if I picked only graduate students, and mathematics, they would have very high level feedback. And it will probably not serve like the targeted audience, which was an early undergraduate student that is vaguely interested in math and as applications. So I made sure to kind of get like a beta team of readers and beta reader team. And they read through it for like a month or two, and they gave me their feedback. And that's how it got to be polished up, you know, it's not the most refined textbook out there. But you know, with the resources that you have, you know, you have to make the best use of them. And eventually, after all the help from these people, it got to a very refined product, where you can publish this and say, Hey, I'm proud of this, and it matches the quality of the market, let's say.

Podcast Host  24:46

Yeah, yeah. 100%. That's a good explanation. I'm interested in how many doors does writing a book open for you? Because I think there's a lot of different ways that students can share their interest and share their knowledge. With the world, they could start a podcast, for instance, or they could start an Instagram or they could start a YouTube channel, or you know, they could write a book. But I've always thought that writing a book is kind of that Everest of authority in a field, right? If you if you publish a book, if you get a book out there, that's basically saying to everybody, I know my stuff. Right? And it's a very kind of bold statement that you are the authority in this particular area. And yeah, I'd be interested to hear from you as to if you felt that at all, like when you published advanced calculus, did you feel like you were being treated as an authority in the area? Because you published a book?

Hamza Alsamraee  25:36

I would say, like yes and no, in some respects, so I was definitely treated as someone that is, since this book is not quite researched level yet. It's not something that is at the frontier of knowledge. I was currently right. So this is I didn't discover new equations in this book. I'm just teaching stuff that's already in other textbooks in a more accessible and presentable way, you know, especially to people that don't really have the most access to resources. But in terms of like authority figures, I was definitely I felt like given more of an authority in circles of math, education and math communication. Now I got to work I got to talk to some pretty cool people, probably the biggest name that I got to talk to Steven Strogatz. So Steven Strogatz is a New York Times best selling author, he writes books, too. And I won a prize in his name. And we got to me, we got to chit chat a lot. I was part of this initiative. Like back in the summer, we've invited him to be on kind of like a panel, and I got to meet with three blue one Brown. So you definitely get a lot of like verification for being who you are like, hey, let's say you want to establish yourself as an educator or a communicator in a specific field, a book will definitely help you. Like my main goal with this book was just to like help out people, I was originally going to make it free. But then publishing costs, I need to pay for those. So yeah, yeah. And also, like, on that aspect of it, like I noticed that free books don't actually get a lot of reads, when people can get something free. They don't put as much effort into reading it. Yeah. So it was, it was a paradox in terms of, oh, you make a hire more people actually read it. So I think that in terms of writing a book to become an authority figure, that's one way, that's one reason to write a book. And if that is your goal, I would try to make the book more on the side of being lengthy and being more authoritative than being catchy and readable. Because if you want to establish your name, you know, you're gonna have to write a tap more technical, more grandiose, more very general book than, let's say something like paradox is my second book was more of like a recreational math type. You know, it just talks about the history of paradoxes, some of their applications, when nothing like an academic textbook, like my first one was, yeah, no,

Podcast Host  28:04

well, it's good to say that you've got ins with the math community, and particularly the math educators, math communicators. That's where I was thinking that you'd probably have a lot of into, there's actually a quite a famous mathematician or math teacher here in Australia. And he's created a YouTube channel called Blue tube. And his name is Eddie Wu. And, and,

Hamza Alsamraee  28:22

of course, anyway, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I haven't met him, but I know.

Podcast Host  28:25

Yeah, yeah. Okay. Well, he, you know, is like a celebrated maths teacher here in Australia, and does some fantastic videos on YouTube. And is there any kind of thought, obviously, like, your charismatic guy? Is there any thought of taking your content on to other platforms, I mean, we'll talk about daily math in a moment. But YouTube, those kinds of things as well as ever thought,

Hamza Alsamraee  28:45

definitely, to be honest, I've been slacking on that for about a year now. Always wanted to start a YouTube channel, but it's like, I always delay it in my head, like, Oh, I'm busy this week. Let me start next week. I'm busy this month, let me start next month. So my goal is to definitely have a YouTube channel by the summer, right? That was like my very strict goal for myself, like habit before I started college, and if someone wants to build, so this going more into like social media and kind of the whole, you know, there's a lot of debate on social media platforms, and which is the best one. But really, whatever one you feel most comfortable building an audience in, like, Instagram is very visual. So if you're a visual person, Instagram, obviously YouTube takes the most effort, you have to edit videos, animate them, maybe record videos, it's gonna take a lot of tries. But hey, if you think you want to try it out, try it out. It's very hard to get started. But yeah, whatever the platform may be, I think that you know, if you want to share truly build an audience or build, you know, a community around what you like, I think social media is a great way to start and it's a very underexplored medium. I feel like right now, especially with the COVID era, you can you know, math clubs are hard to make, but you can make a virtual math club on it. Instagram or on YouTube or on Twitter, whatever it may be.

Podcast Host  30:03

Yeah, well, you've been doing exactly that with daily math. What was the goal of that community? And what were you trying to convey to your audience in that I know, we discussed earlier that perhaps starting an Instagram math channel, you might think who's going to follow that, but you've got over 100,000 followers, and that's off the back of about 400 or so posts. So it's growing quite quickly. What are you kind of noticing from that community? And what was the content that really kind of generates the most likes and the most kind of excitement from your your community that

Hamza Alsamraee  30:36

in terms of why I started the community, to be honest, was twofold. One, I, we didn't have a math club at school, and there wasn't even enough interest for one. So I figured, hey, let me start my own math club. And let me make it on Instagram. And second, mainly to kind of I thought that, hey, maybe even if I get 1000 followers, I started this in June of 2019. Maybe if I get 1000 followers in like five months, which was when I plan to publish my book, maybe, you know, like, 10, people are gonna read it. Now, that was like, I was very modest. Like, I didn't know that many people like math on Instagram. But I was wrong. And I'm glad I was wrong. So the reason it blew up, I feel like I had a strategy. That was in retrospect, I didn't realize that was my strategy. But now I say it is basically just our very niche, like, start with a very narrow audience, you want to target that very narrow audience. And after you get that very loyal following, start expanding your content. So in the beginning, I focus primarily on integral calculus, like that's a very niche area of math. But now I focus on pretty much all types of math, right? Whether it's recreational, you know, it's just cool. Or whether it's like serious research math, or geometry, algebra, whatever it may be, you know, I try to have it on Well, if it's interesting, and the content that really gets the most views is the content that piques people's imaginations and interests them the most, right, and that can take a wide variety of forms. So, you know, it can be an very interesting math problem. But it can also be a really cool math animation, it can be a math concept that seems very obscure, that is well explained. I know, there's this very obscure, like, not totally obscure, but very hard to formulate, theoretically, it's called notaires theorem. And it's this mathematical physics law that talks about how symmetry and conservation laws are actually one in the same thing. So right here, if you move it, this will be symmetry and movement, like linear movement, if you move something, an object, that's an inherent property of the universe, right? If you move like, I don't know, like a phone case, right, from left to right, nothing changes, you can move it just fine. And the same laws of physics apply. So that's, you know, you can prove through that theorem, that that is the reason that, you know, conservation of momentum exists, you know, all these conservation laws, conservation of energy, conservation of mass, have an underlying symmetry, you know, just like how we think of symmetry, yeah. And the universe, whether it be through time symmetry through time symmetry, motion. And it's a very cool concept. But the math behind it looks so complicated. And just the fact that you can simplify it, and a short caption Instagram caption and make people feel like they learn something new. People love that, you know, learning something new is an amazing thing. As long as you make it very catchy and very immersing, you have to make it an immersive experience. You can't let the other person feel like they're lecture that you have to make them feel like they're involved within the journey of exploration.

Podcast Host  33:41

Well, that's tough to do in a caption, but what you're going through, yeah, yeah, it that's the real art form of it, right? Like it's making something that is accessible, which I guess in some terms might mean basic, but also technical enough that your community will appreciate it. Can I just ask why integral calculus to start with?

Hamza Alsamraee  34:03

It's a really interesting chain of events. So Brilliant. So I told you about the platform, Brilliant that I was really involved in. So Brilliant used to have a lot of that type of stuff, very interesting integrals with lovely results, right? So you can have like an integral that appears in like quantum physics, and somehow pi appears in there. You know, it's like fascinating, those links in math, right. And it was a really, really popular form of problem on brilliant a lot of people were posting these types of problems. And the real the real reason behind that is brilliant, had a big Indian demographic, and the most influential Indian mathematician was Rama, Nugent. And Rama. NuGen had a very deep interest in their roles and he was known as being a crazy integrator, he would do very crazy integrals and somehow, they all turned out right even when he doesn't show a lot of his work. So the reason And that that happened is somehow he borrowed a textbook that had a lot of those that had a little section on, like integrals and very fancy integrals, that just somehow inspired him to do more work in that area. And that just domino effect from a little textbook that he picked up when he was a kid that made him a very popular mathematician that eventually, you know, got brilliant to be filled with these made me really like integrals. And also my book had a lot of them. So it's kind of like a marketing pot for that as well. So yeah, it was you don't have to start with integral calculus, it just has to be something that's very nice, whether, let's say you're into history, start with European history, you know, and maybe even more specific European history means, right? Some person is going to like them, right? Some person is going to be really into that type of stuff. And you can slowly expand to just history in general. Right? And obviously, history is a huge niche, you know, it's very hard to cover all of history, but you don't have to cover all of history. Right? You know, every day, you know, it's a new post, you can post something new. And it's just something that's interesting, whether it be about, you know, ancient Chinese history, or modern Middle Eastern history, whatever it may be, yeah, interests you, you can build a community around it, you know, and that's a very powerful belief. And it's something that I didn't believe initially, especially about math, right. which seemed like a topic that turned off a lot of people. But hey, if you like it, there's probably other people that like it, too.

Podcast Host  36:25

Yeah, yeah. Well, one thing that I'm interested in as well Hamza, is that you've referenced a couple, I guess, quote, unquote, math heroes feels like an important thing for you to kind of like have these maths heroes in a way right? Feels like from talking to you that knowing these people and what they've achieved in maths help you expand your frame of reference of what's possible in the area of maths as well. And I think that's a, like when I'm thinking to students today, a lot of the time their frame of reference is very small, it might just be like, the content of the exam. And it might just be like, the best mathematician they might know is their math teacher. So how important was it for you to think to kind of expand that out and to look at these, like, amazing mathematicians, like almost magicians within their field right now really breaking into new ground and trying new things? Was that inspiring for you?

Hamza Alsamraee  37:15

Yeah, I mean, I, so I'll tell you a little story. So I was born in Iraq. So I was specifically in Baghdad, the capital, Baghdad, had a very, very cool street called and within the streets, within Abbey was this poet from 1000 years ago. And he was this really influential Iraqi poet. And that street is basically the cultural center of Iraq. It has the biggest bookstore, maybe in the middle waves, the highest concentration of bookstores, in the Middle East. And it was just a lovely place to chat about all types of things. You know, every day, you'll have like, the city's most intellectual, you know, most well known intellectuals come in talking about all types of things. And my grandpa was actually a history professor. Right? So he'd go there a lot, and he'd bring me with him. And obviously, my parents are engineers, so they like math. And they used to bring me books from that street when I was really, really young. Right. So there are a lot of children's books. But they basically described a lot of the rich mathematical history of Baghdad. So from people like, you know, to see who discovered the SOHCAHTOA stuff, right? from people like me, who discovered algebra, they kind of just reading about that and feeling like, I am part of my city's legacy, right. And even at large at a larger scale, I'm part of humanity's legacy, right? Like the things that I'm thinking about right now or thought about before me, that's a beautiful thing to realize that this is just a never ending cycle of human exploration, to understand our place in the world, and you know, kind of who we are as a human species. That's a beautiful thing to think about being connected to these types of people, whether it's like, I had the luck of being born in a city with a rich history. But even if you were born in I don't know, very, like the middle of Canada or the middle of Australia, right, where maybe there's not a lot of ancient mathematicians. That doesn't mean that you're not connected to the very rich history of math throughout the world. Throughout humanity's history and looking up to people like Rama NuGen, like Steven Strogatz, you know, even current people, I feel like that can provide you with a source of inspiration, and a deeper level of meaning to what you do that's outside, like a simple exam grade, because getting good grades getting so good college, like, that's a very cool thing to do. But there's a reason you want to do that stuff. And you got to discover that reason, like, do you just want to be, you know, world class researcher, do you want to really change the world? You know, do you just want to learn, like, there's a reason underlying all of that, and knowing your reason, right, you can definitely tie that in to very influential figures, right. And knowing and I don't have only math role models, you know, I think role models in general, you know, having a lot of those role models in your life. I think that's a very important thing. And it doesn't have to be this great mathematician, it can be someone like your dad, it can be someone like an influential adult in your life. Just the character really is what makes those mathematicians great. I don't like Rama, Nugent, because of his math. I like Ramanujan because of the story. And I feel like that Trumps any mathematical equation.

Podcast Host  40:22

Yeah, I love that story. Man also speaks to probably why you're writing books, and prioritize that over starting a YouTube channel, because you went with the granddad to that straight with his full of books all the time, right? So it must be very near and dear to your heart. But something like a really special moment when you press publish on that book, and you're like, hey, yeah, that's my contribution to this kind of legacy that continues on. And hopefully you're kind of helping other people to explore more in that area of maths or whatever it might be. But in terms of the future, where do you think maths is going as a field in general, obviously, like, data science, and that kind of stuff is really, you know, Ai, and machine learning, etc? It really is bringing a whole new kind of possibility to the world of maths. Is that something that you're interested in? Or is that something that you see that, you know, could really bring a more students back to a higher level maths?

Hamza Alsamraee  41:15

I think so. I mean, we're moving towards a more technical economy, like right now, more and more jobs are being dedicated to very high level technical fields, and a lot of those require a lot of math. So there's gonna, there's gonna have to be some change. So educational shift, and I feel like, the reason is going to come is because of pressure from other countries. In a lot of ways, the US responds best, when there's an outside threat to the US being like the best at what it does. Yep. So right now, you know, we, we are the mathematical center of the world when you produce the most mathematical output. But if let's say the UK Trumps us, or Japan, Trump's us, or China, Trump says, right, and AI output or math output, that's going to put the Department of Education in a really tight hole where they have to change the math curriculum to reflect the ever changing needs of humanity and the economy. So I definitely think that the things we talked about things like getting rid of so much computation, and actually using computers, instead of deeming them as a cheating device, using a computer isn't cheating, using a computer is just what you do in real life. Yeah. Right. So if a mathematical problem can be solved with the computer, then it's not a math problem. Right? If you can solve it, you know, with a calculator, it's not a math problem. Unless you're talking about like very young students, like in elementary school, like I want them to do arithmetic. Don't get me wrong. Yeah, once you get to high school level, you know, your arithmetic, you can add, you can multiply just fine. You can do fractions. So now it's more about analytical thinking and applying mathematical problem solving to actual problems, right. So you see that all the time in computer science and AI, so it has to really reflect in the education system. And I think that more and more countries are moving towards it. And eventually, you know, the big population centers like India, China, and the US, they're going to move towards that as well. 

Podcast Host  43:06

Yeah, well, I'm actually reading AI superpowers at the moment, which is a fantastic book that was gifted to me by my co host, Jamie, and I'm sure Jamie would have loved to have chatted with you, by the way, he did applied maths and economics at Harvard. So he's all Yeah, yeah, he's all about maths. I mean, it's interesting from a Crimson perspective, that, you know, as far as I know, we're one of the first kind of college consulting organizations to really bring in a lot of data points. Because Jamie's like a really big believer in the power of data, he loves, you know, stock investing, and that kind of thing, data is one of those things that he just kind of locked on to so we've been collecting just hates your data to try and predict, you know, if a student was to get X amount in their SAT, and they were to, you know, be from this background in this country, and whatever, whatever they asked for this much financial aid, what is their chances are getting into, you know, one of the eight Ivy League's, or whatever it might be, right. And it kind of makes those decisions around, which is usually based on experience of like, Oh, I think the student will get into X number of universities kind of starts backing it up with a little bit more data and those kinds of things. So yeah, from from, it really is a, I think that data side of things is really going to bring in a whole new era for maths and what's possible with it, which is really awesome. And you as you said, they a lot of jobs, and a lot of them are pretty highly paid too. So not a bad place to end up. I think they're speaking of which, you know, in colleges, where are you getting into college for your summer?

Hamza Alsamraee  44:33

So yeah, for for my college, so it's a bit complicated. So I applied last year, and I committed to a school so I committed to Northwestern, but then what happened is I realized that there's a little financial aid policy that's not really that works out the best for my situation. So I reapply to a few schools this year, who have a little bit better financial policy, so I'm not really sure where I'm gonna end up Northwestern is still my likely option, but if I get into a better school, like with terms of like, you know, better financial aid Probably just going to go there. So yeah, pretty much undecided right now.

Podcast Host  45:03

Yeah. Well, Northwestern still a great choice. But yeah, there are, yeah, financial aid, obviously, you know, can make or break a decision really like it. I mean, 1000s and 1000s of dollars. So completely understand that. And what are you looking to study there?

Hamza Alsamraee  45:15

Definitely math, definitely physics, so double major in that. And for my minor if I have time, computer science minor, really, I'm interested in the field of quantum computing. So math, physics, and computer science is like the Holy Trinity for quantum computing, math for the algorithm aspect of it, computer science for how to program it and Physics for how to make it happen. So that's where I want to be. That's the feel I want to be in the future. And I think that trio would really prepare me for it.

Podcast Host  45:43

Yeah. And if you got any companies in mind that you would love to work for or like, you might want to start your own I guess.

Hamza Alsamraee  45:48

Yeah, I mean, I'm not really sure I don't have my eyes on a lot of stuff. I mean, obviously, Google, IBM, Microsoft, they have a lot of cool stuff regularly. They have cool stuff, too. But yeah, there's a lot of companies in the quantum ecosystem right now. But I might just have, you know, a revolution, that's the goal is to have something that's revolutionary, that will make be able to start my own startup in the field.

Podcast Host  46:11

Yeah, well, I think that'd be a pretty cool thing. I think it's an interesting, you know, conversation around those kind of futures of careers. Because I know that a lot of traditional pathways are a lot more kind of obvious to students, when they're going through high schools, like, you know, if you're smart do medicine or law type of thing, and particularly here in Australia, like, it's not really the dumb thing to go into computer science yet. Whereas in the US, like, electrical engineering, computer science is, you know, pretty hot property over there. But yeah, it's interesting to kind of look at the future of maths and where that might take students. So hopefully, they can kind of follow along with your journey. And speaking of which, if they wanted to follow your journey, what would be the best way to get in contact with you?

Hamza Alsamraee  46:53

Yeah, so um, just email me, or you can DM me on daily math, I try to respond to a lot of people there. So those are the best ways to get in touch with me. I post a lot of cool stuff on daily map. So if you're into Bab, go follow me there. And definitely, if you want to reach out even about, you know, like stuff other than math, if you want to ask about anything, I'm down to be reached daily math.

Podcast Host  47:14

Yeah. Well, the show notes are going to be packed with links. I can tell you that much. But man, it's been fantastic chat. And thank you so much. Actually, before you go, what would be your final parting advice? 

Hamza Alsamraee

Yeah, I think my biggest takeaway from high school is like a lot of people try to be good at everything. But you just have to be good at one certain thing to really provide value to the world. It's cool to be active in a lot of different areas. But really finding your one single thing, that's the best thing you can do for yourself. And hey, if you can't find that out, that's totally fine, too. And I guess my second biggest takeaway from high school is, it's not what you do inside that matters in the long run, right? Like good grades, obviously, count being involved in clubs, sports, like those are obviously good data points, you know, for your future. But really, what matters is what you explore outside, kind of have to make your own path. And you can't really follow anyone else's, because they're different people with different interests with different abilities with different circumstances. So it's scary. And it sounded scary to me to have to do a lot of stuff like for the first time, like, not a lot of Instagram math pages I can reach out to especially people who are starting out when they were very young. Not a lot of young people who wrote books. So sometimes it's like, a dark journey, right? But hey, if you're really passionate about something, I'd really recommend, just do whatever is in mind, and find new ways to bring value to the world, whether it's, you know, through outreach and education, or through innovation and starting something new or whatever it may be. Just think about the big picture and just go at it. 

Podcast Host

Perfect. Well, thanks so much, Hamza. It's been awesome chatting. I hope students take advantage of those links in the show notes. And yeah, look forward to sharing this episode far and wide. 

Hamza Alsamraee

Great. Yeah. Thank you for having me. I love the conversation.