Veteran, YouTube-Taught Math Student, Physicist: Josh Carroll's Journey to Booz Allen

Mar 25, 2021 9:00 AM ET

In the 1997 movie “Good Will Hunting,” a genius janitor taught himself advanced mathematics from equations left on a professor’s chalkboard. Two decades later, Josh Carroll similarly pored over equations on YouTube—today's chalkboard—during shifts as a security guard.   

In Carroll’s case—the experience was transformative: making him a YouTube and media star in his own right. Highlights follow from Carroll’s journey from self-taught math scholar to Booz Allen physicist and technical support engineer.

Delaying a childhood dream to protect the nation

A lab coat, beakers, and a telescope. That’s what Carroll saw as a child when a teacher asked him to “draw yourself in the future.”

Then the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Carroll’s desire to serve his country transformed this image from scientist to soldier. Carroll enlisted in the Army, deployed to Iraq, and shifted his focus. “You devote a hundred percent of yourself to the mission that you’ve been tasked with, with your unit,” he said. “That’s your life.”

Working as a school janitor between deployments, however, he stumbled upon Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

“It retriggered my desire to know more about the universe and to understand how things worked,” he explained to the Society for Physics Students (SPS), an organization of the American Institute of Physics.

Catching up during downtime and under a deadline

After two more deployments, Carroll continued his math studies where he left off, with high school geometry. He attended community college by day and scoured YouTube at night between rounds as a security guard. Through Khan Academy, Patrick JMT (Just Math Tutorials), and other educational videos, he taught himself calculus.

When Carroll set his sights on Radford University and a physics degree, YouTube came to the rescue again: this time for trigonometry.

“I found out that I was missing the entire field … I didn’t know about it,” Carroll said in an interview with Forbes magazine. “And so when I went to apply, they were like, ‘Oh, you didn’t take trig, you won’t be able to do our physics program.”

With only three weeks to work with, Carroll mastered trigonometry, then two years later ended up near the top of his class with a bachelor's degree in physics. 

Problem-solving through a different lens

This degree led to a position with Booz Allen at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, where he works as a scientist and technical support engineer. He troubleshoots, researches technical components, and travels on site to make sure client computer systems and network servers interface with one another as intended.

“I was very much in the theoretical realm of physics, so landing an engineering gig was a bit different than what I had been exposed to through school,” Carroll said. “It all comes down to problem-solving in the end.”

His team at Booz Allen is equally impressed with his trajectory and ongoing learning quest.

“Josh has inspired us all with his unyielding passion for knowledge,” said Senior Lead Engineer and Carroll’s Career Manager Katherine Fleming. “He brings the same curiosity for scientific answers to everything he does, and is a valued teammate and problem-solver for the Air Force as they look to sustain and modernize their weapons systems,”

Skills—and curiosity—for life

Today, Carroll is working on his master's degree in Computational Science and Applied Mathematics at the University of Utah, aiming for a Spring 2022 graduation. When asked what’s motivated him throughout his eventful and unconventional journey?

“My desire to know more tomorrow, or today, than I did yesterday,” he said. “It’s the drive of being curious and wanting to contribute something to humanity that will live past me.”

Learn more about careers at Booz Allen.