After earning his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from UC Santa Barbara, Michael Hutchinson gained experience across a few different industries before finding himself in the political sector, working as a researcher for Congressional campaigns. While navigating his roles throughout those changing landscapes, he realized that he had a “giant blindspot” around data science, the practical applications it added to his own work and his approach to analyzing information. He was excited by what he saw as an opportunity to learn more about merging statistics with incredibly large data sets, and to extract meaning through that process.

Hutchinson says, “the size of the data, and the computing capacity, and how rapidly this was unlocking new mechanisms for discovering insights into a business, or an organization of any type, really drew me in. I saw that this was going to be a field that would really grow. It was the mix of technology and the ability to solve complex questions in a way that hadn’t been done previously. Whether that was forecasting an event, or it was more of an unsupervised learning approach to segmentation and clustering, I just saw this community growing and expanding with all of the new tools that were being introduced, and it looked like a very fun playground to be a part of.”

A California kid from the beginning, Michael “Hutch” Hutchinson, is a beneficiary of the considerable magnetism exerted by the iSchool’s elite educational opportunities in Syracuse, NY. Despite growing up on the west coast, and researching all of the data science programs available in the country, due-diligence proved to Hutchinson that the iSchool at Syracuse University was an outlier in its field. An in-person visit to the campus, a few meetings with the faculty, and the deal was sealed; he was ready to pack-up and move east for the next chapter of his educational journey.

Hutchinson graduated from the iSchool in 2016 with a master’s in information management and a CAS in data science. His first gig was a marketing internship with Virgin America. Then, fully embracing his professional pivot, he moved on to data science/analytics jobs with ROI-DNA, and TuneIn, before landing in the role as Head of Business Strategy and Analytics at Prime Gaming. After earning a quick promotion, he is now a leader of Data Science – Game Growth Business Intelligence for Amazon Games. Hutchinson says, “it’s been a non-traditional path, but really rewarding in terms of what I’ve learned and how I’ve managed to navigate to where I am in my career right now.”

Viewing his path as “non-traditional”, partially because he was nearly thirty when he enrolled in the MSIM program at the iSchool, but also because it was such a departure from his previous trajectory, Hutchinson found unintended purpose while latching onto and following personal curiosities throughout his early career. Those pursuits sent him in a totally different direction, put him on a path towards finding a career that he loves, and ultimately led to a deeper sense of professional fulfillment and satisfaction.

Interestingly, Hutchinson does not feel like he has lost opportunities to exercise the creative muscles he once used so regularly as a writer. He still finds creative outlets through the processes of understanding the business problems that his teams are facing. Whether they’re trying new approaches to problem-solving, or reframing questions to come up with fresh ways of tackling them, understanding the tools that are available and then finding “new” ways of applying those tools to current problems requires a lot of creative thinking. 

In his management role, he works closely with stakeholders and decision makers to thoroughly understand the challenges facing some of the strategic decisions being made. A lot of the work he performs is bridging the gap between the highly quantitative and the less-structured problems that businesses face in trying to determine their own strategies. Even in overseeing teams of analysts and data scientists, and collaborating to solve technical problems or create new tools with clients, Hutchinson leans into his creative urges to bring fresh solutions and perspectives to the problem-solving process. 

The true reward for the job, besides the thrill of helping a business make smart data-driven decisions, according to Hutchinson, is the genuine feeling of pride he experiences when he helps a junior analyst to realize his/her own goals, or when he is able to match the needs of a company with the intrinsic motivations of his team members. His sense of pride extends beyond his own impact and springs mostly from the individual and collective efforts of his team, and their own professional growth. Tapping into a team member’s intrinsic motivators is the straightest path to that individual’s best performance—a lesson still resonating from an iSchool class many moons ago. In his management role, Hutchinson frequently draws inspiration from his master’s degree coursework, saying, “I’m able to leverage what I learned there to prioritize making sure that people are working on things that are interesting to them and that they feel are valuable.” 

It is slightly unexpected that a leader of Data Science – Game Growth Business Intelligence for Amazon Games is not much of a “gamer” himself, but it should come as no surprise that he has been exhibiting signs of a slight statistics obsession, from an early age. As a youngster, he kept close track of all the stats of the players in his favorite baseball video game, by hand. And though this quirky obsession wore off, as did video gaming, the behavior did translate well into another kind of game.

Hutchinson had been an avid and relatively talented golfer through high school, but he took a long and unintentional hiatus from the game during the time he was in college and focused on developing and pivoting his career. When he finally started to make time for golf again, he had a different approach to playing, and to improving his scores. The love for the game had been re-ignited, fueled with a much broader understanding of analytical approaches to practice, and massive improvements and access to new training technologies. Over two short years he managed to lower his scoring handicap from a 10 to a 1. That little trick got Golf Digest’s attention, and they found Hutchinson’s commitment and approach to improving his game was just what their readers wanted to know about.

 “The time between when I’d essentially given the game up in high school, and returned to it later, this whole field of golf analytics had grown up. It was fascinating to me because when I played when I was younger, we only had traditional stats, and they didn’t correlate well with score or anything like that. So you didn’t have a strong sense of what to work on to improve. A lot of the myths around golf have been empirically disproven,” says Hutchinson. The knowledge around clubhead speed, ball speed and spin, launch angles, and so forth, has led to an entirely new depth of understanding about all of the individual variables that contribute to ball flight. It is now possible to address specific swing issues, rather than vaguely guessing or implementing imprecise swing modifications.

A note worth mentioning is that the goal is not exclusively about hitting better shots on every swing. In fact, with some of the newer technologies available to amateur golfers, it is possible to overlay a player’s normal shot distributions on top of a real golf course layout. The player can see where they can choose better targets, therefore playing to their own strengths rather than just to the shape of the specific hole. Even when it means aiming for the rough instead of the fairway when penalties are in play, or choosing more conservative and probabilistic targets into greens, these decisions can lead to better long-term scoring outcomes.

Whether through his education, golf, or rising to the next professional challenge, Hutchinson exhibits a fundamental commitment to striving for excellence. He credits the iSchool with opening up a whole new future for him through the data science track, which has taken him through digital marketing, music streaming, now video games, and potentially some work in golf. The ubiquity of the need for data and information professionals in all aspects of our economy, is what makes an iSchool education uniquely valuable in ways both countless and ever-expanding.