SPORTS SERIES – This April, we’re casting a spotlight on T. Howard Foundation (THF) alumni who are working and/or pursuing careers in Sports. Each week we will highlight an alumnus who will share their experience(s) working in the industry, how they got started and advice for others interested in pursuing a career in sports.
Victor Li (THF ’16)
Please describe your role.
I’m going into my fourth season as an Advanced Analytics Developer for the Jacksonville Jaguars, where I leverage data to enhance strategy, processes, and decision-making across both the business and football sides of the organization. It’s a do-it-all kind of role involving data science, data engineering, machine learning, statistical analysis, data visualization, business strategy, market research…the list goes could go on forever.
What do you enjoy most about your company?
Sports staffs are smaller than people think, which leads to a close-knit and diverse group of talent from all across the country gathering in an environment similar to a startup: constant innovation, well-educated risk-taking, and lots of cross-departmental collaboration.
In what way did this type of work interest you and how did you get started?
Like all of my colleagues, I grew up an avid sports fan – but when I realized (very young) that I was too injury-prone/unathletic to become a professional athlete, I looked for another way stick around the games I love. I always had an affinity for numbers and probabilities: from keeping track of my own stats in pickup basketball to voraciously studying poker during my free time in college, I always looked for a way to improve using data. I studied Statistics as an undergraduate at Brown University, where I was involved with Brown Athletics in addition to reviving the Brown Sports Analytics Club. During my college summers I interned at UCLA Men’s Basketball and Paramount Pictures (shout-out to THF!) where I gained invaluable experience as a data scientist in the sports/entertainment landscape.
How has your affiliation with the T. Howard Foundation influenced your career?
If it weren’t for the T. Howard Foundation, I would’ve never had the opportunity my junior year to attend an invite-only career panel hosted by Paramount. There, I met my future manager that offered me an internship that following summer at the studio, building machine learning models to predict box office performance. When I was hired by the Jaguars, they specifically cited my summer as a data scientist at Paramount as a defining experience displaying entertainment business acumen with plenty of relevant crossover into sports.
What personal attributes have been essential to your career success?
Be prepared: The best advice I’ve ever received was that everyone who gets into this industry got lucky at some point – the ones who actually got in were ready for the moment when they did get lucky. I made sure to build out the skill-set, project portfolio, and research experiences throughout my undergraduate years to ensure that when I got an opportunity to interview, I was putting myself in the best position possible to land the opportunity.
Curiosity: In college, my wall was filled with post-its. On each one was a research idea, inspired by daydreams and too much time spent watching sports. “Play calling tendencies in adverse weather” or “fantasy football draft inefficiencies”, they were all over the place but it gave me plenty of topics to research and build out a portfolio to display my work. I’ve brought this habit (although digitized now) into my professional life, keeping a log of dozens of research ideas to look into for (potentially) the next big innovation for the team.
If you were entering this career today, how would you prepare to facilitate entry?
Research what others in the field have done before you – learn from their experiences but also don’t be afraid to question methodologies. Challenge existing norms and reflect on past shortcomings to proactively find future improvements. And never stop improving yourself by identifying what you don’t know yet and then learning new skills to fill those gaps.
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
A total night owl, which isn’t the greatest for normal business hours. Lots of effort has been put into good sleep hygiene as I adjusted to working life.
How do you re-charge at work?
Two ten minute walks a day: one to split up the morning before lunch, and another to split up the afternoon.
Using one sentence, please describe what work/life balance means to you.
When we look back at all of this, the time we spent with the people we love is what we’ll treasure the most.