Since I have started my undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan as an Industrial and Operations engineer (IOE), there had been many occasions where I had to explain my field of study to a curious bunch around me. Sometimes people would ask about IOE to compare it with other engineering fields and sometimes they would ask just out of curiosity.
However, in order to understand industrial engineers, it is necessary to get the jargon down first. For introduction, here are the two most crucial and commonly used words in the field:
Efficiency: The extent to which time, effort or cost is well used for the intended task or purpose.
Optimization: Originated from its Latin root optimus (best), optimization is making the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource). It is the selection of a best element (with regard to some criteria) from some set of available alternatives. 
In a nutshell, I would always explain myself as an industry doctor that makes healthy, healthier with the least amount of cost and maximum return! After almost four years of rigorous course work, examinations and many hours spent in group projects, I can confidently say that I have implemented the IOE way of thinking to my life. It is not about looking, it really is all about seeing the opportunity that lies in already well-operating systems.
What separates IOE from other engineering fields are the culture and the people that find peace in following the path of constant challenge for improvement. From lean manufacturing to ergonomics, IOE always aims to tackle current systems, trying to identify their flaws or opportunities for improvement to unleash their true potential. While doing so, ironically enough, IOE first creates standards to follow in order to reach non-standard, unique improvements for various systems.
In today’s low profit margin competitive landscape, companies ranging from online micro loan issuers to heavy duty truck manufacturers, from hedge funds to university hospitals, are looking for ways to reduce costs. At this point they turn to industrial engineers.
The toolset available for an IOE are also optimized. As an example, a very strong and world renown set of tools and techniques available for industrial engineers is six-sigma. DMAIC approach under six-sigma works as a framework for solving problems/improving processes. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. This framework allows engineers to systematically approach and solve critical problems.
This idea of non-stop improvement and effective problem solving offer many like-minded individuals to constantly challenge themselves and have real impact on projects, companies and even life itself. This is one of the reasons why many industrial engineers choose consulting firms. Consulting offers a dynamic job that requires out of the box solutions to complicated problems. As individuals educated to bridge the gap between the qualitative and quantitative realm, IOE’s are out in the field making what’s best even better.
It is now an entertaining practice for me when I meet a friend at a newly renovated bar and first thing that strikes me about the place is how much they have increased the efficiency of their operations, utilization of their bartenders and the total throughput by rearranging the seating area to accommodate more customers standing at the bar area. Or when facing a list of duties to carry out, how to most efficiently order those to spend optimum amount of time and get the most effective outcome, I can’t help but look from a pure IOE perspective.
It is not just a bunch of applied mathematics formulas, algorithms, lists, methods… It is the culture, the way of thinking that wouldn’t stop until finding that one little opportunity to take it to the next level. IOE perspective is the mindset shaped through demanding education and the constant voice in one’s head that asks “How can I make this system even better?”
References “Efficiency.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 17 November 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.  “Optimization.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 3 December 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.