Episode 5 features Katherine Aiken, the Director of Technology Services and Performance Technology for University at Buffalo Athletics. Kathy talks about how she became involved in sports technology, the importance of providing data and technology that is the right fit, and finding a your niche.
(bouncy electronic music) - This is "Buffalo State Data Talk", the podcast where we introduce
you to how data is used and explore careers that involve data. Hello data fans and welcome
back to our pregame roundup.
- And I'm Brian. Our next episode of
"Buffalo State Data Talk" welcomes Katherine Aiken, the Director of Technology Services and Performance Technology
for the University at
Buffalo athletics division to the field. What highlights can we expect? - Well Brian, Kathy will be telling us about what technologies
sports teams are utilizing
to maximize their performance, and how she came to the
position she's in today. - Let's hear what's
happening on the field. (bouncy electronic music) - Hello, and welcome
back to another episode
of "Buffalo State Data Talk". I'm your host, Heather Campbell, and we appreciate you
joining us for episode five. Today, we will be talking
to Katherine Aiken, the Director of Technology Service
and Performance Technology for the University at Buffalo athletics located in Buffalo, New York. Thanks for joining us today, Kathy. - Thank you for having me.
- So why don't you start off
by telling us a bit in general about what kind of work that the Division of Athletics
Technology Services does. - The office supports anything
that basically has a plug for the athletic department.
We work specifically for
the athletic department not the rest of the campus, but we work in cooperation with the campus on anything technology related. It could be telephones,
networking, computer, anything
computers, webpage design, anything you could think of that a computer would use,
software, cell phones, televisions, audio-video,
pretty much anything. So we support every sport
and every staff member
that supports the sports
in helping them achieve a winning record and championships. So a lot of it also includes working with student athletes as well, helping them maximize their performance
as best that they can. - That definitely sounds like you cover a lot of different areas. - We wear many hats on
many different days. - So as the director
what are your main job responsibilities? - Project management's the
number one thing that I do. Putting out fires or deciding which fire we're gonna fight today
and put off for tomorrow. Making relationships is a big one.
Finding those people across campus who we can constantly
depend upon and rely upon. Looking for new technologies
is another big one that we look at regularly. What's trending, where will
this fit into a coach's toolbox,
as we call it? Will it help them be more
efficient with their time? And are we on the forefront of making sure that our mobile- We're a very, very
mobile department, right?
We're always on the
road, always traveling. Can they get their job done from anywhere? Which obviously with COVID, we were ahead of the curve on that one because we had already
come up with solutions
for people to be able to do the work from anywhere in the world. - Oh, that's great. I bet you had a lot of
people coming to you to answer all of their
questions and everyone remote.
So you said a lot of what
you do is project management. Do you have any official training or something you learned jobs? - We don't do traditional
project management with the Gantt charts and all of that.
We pretty much use Microsoft Teams. We use the planner, the to-dos, and we put our tasks in there. So project planning, I've done a couple seminars on it,
done the, through the years, and all of the ideas are perfect. And I think everybody
should attend some kind of project training. Do you need to do the certification?
Not necessarily. I know when I look at
jobs online and think, okay, someday maybe I'll
do something different. Certification and project
management's there. I think the experience in
the project management's
more important than actually
having the training. But sometimes if you can go to seminar and learn one new thing, then go to the seminar and
learn that one new thing. I've actually done presentations
on how to manage projects
when it comes to programming and writing software. And a user says, "I need this," and they don't understand
it's a year, not a week. There is no easy button in technology.
And how do you educate the requester that this is a big deal? This isn't a simple thing. You have to understand
the stages of a project. And that probably to me is
the most important thing
is being able to educate the
person requesting the project on why it's not so easy. Why there's so many steps, why it's so hard and so
expensive (laughing). - Yeah, I've heard that
from some other people
that they didn't necessarily realize that so much of their job was gonna be educating others around them. So that's definitely something people might want to consider
if they're going into this area. - I do think educating
and user understanding is the key part of my job, because I'll have one of my staff members, very high-level technicals,
one of the smartest people in our office, it's definitely not me, it's my staff. But I need to take what they're saying and translate it into simpler terms. And when he'll type an email up
and it's seven paragraphs long, I tell him, "Stop, just
give 'em three bullets. This is all they need. They don't need to
understand the back end. You need to pare down the information
you're giving that person." But at the same time, you need to understand
their sense of urgency and you're not putting them
down or saying no to them. You're just trying to put it in context
that they can understand. - So you work with a team in the Division of Athletics
Technology Services. What are the responsibilities
of the other team members that you work with?
- Well, we're down to
just two team members now with no student assistants. So it's very different than it used to be when we had student assistants
and we had a full group. I have a network
administrator who is in charge
of anything where our files are stored, how the network talks to us,
to the campus, to the world. He comes from a football background where he was a video
coordinator in football, so he's our number one guy
when it comes to dealing
with some of the video editing systems and a lot of the needs that
come from our largest program. And he understands a coach's
mentality, which is great. Because when you work with coaches they're a little different
than business people,
different than secretaries. So it's great to have
that kind of understanding in our office. And then I have what we
call our help desk support, user support person.
He's what we call our front line. You know, you have a
problem, call him first. He has tremendous customer support and customer service
experience coming from retail, which is funny that people are like,
"You have someone who came from retail?" I'm like, "Absolutely." Because where are the
most difficult customers? In retail. So if you can deal with retail,
you can deal with users.
And he just has that personality that if somebody is upset and screaming, he understands, he gets it, and he makes them feel
safer using that technology or that it'll get fixed.
So having somebody people trust, like, and rely upon is really important. But he's, I call him our front light, you know firefighter, like you go first. And then we always tell people,
"If I have to show up it's
probably not a good thing. Something's really broken." Or, you know, if we get to that level. - So I'm gonna switch it up a little bit. Could you tell me about your background
and how you ended up in the
position that you are now? - I come from an
absolutely non-traditional technology background. I have a history degree, and health and human services degree.
And then I went on and got a master's in health and human services, actually from Buffalo State, while I was working at UB
in a business department. And as that business
department embraced technology
I became the person
that would be in charge of that technology for the office. I was able to get a
different position on campus as an assistant to the chairman. And one part of my job was to
be in charge of the college's
student lab for their
computers that they had for all the social sciences. So I got more experience in that, and I was overseeing a person who was much more technical than I,
how he was managing the lab, letting students get in and
out, access, things like that. From there, my business side,
I had to develop databases. I had to develop budget reports. So I learned how to do a
lot of Microsoft Access,
Microsoft Excel, formulas,
things like that, while also at the same time
doing computer replacements, printing, managing all the resources. If you notice a lot of organizations, the technology departments
report to the business
or the Chief Financial Officer, 'cause we cost a lot of money. But a lot of it is
because the business needs outweigh some of the other needs. So is it getting reports,
where's the data, where's
the analytics, you know, things like that from
financial standpoint. How many students? Where are students coming from? What zip code do they live in, right?
That's all analyzing data
that business people need. That was what I was spending
a lot of my time doing. At the same time the athletics department was looking to build a department because they had a lot of needs.
Not just to manage just the
computer day-to-day stuff, but the financial side of things. How to get budget reports out on time so coaches knew how much money they had when they were on the
road, things like that.
And so they asked me to
oversee their search. The search failed three times. They couldn't find a qualified
candidate who had the skills that they needed. So they asked if I would
come over for a couple years
and build a department. And then I could return
back to the business world. That was over 20 years ago that I had said I was returning
back to the business world and I'd go back to doing HR
things and financial stuff.
Technology changes every day
and every day is a new day. So every day is kind of exciting. It's not just everyday looking
at spreadsheets and numbers. So it really came from a
non-traditional background. - So it sounds like you left your job
and you ended up in this new position and you stayed here for 20 years? So obviously it seems you found a place that you really enjoy. So what is your favorite part of your job?
- The favorite part of my job
is no day is the same day. That's one of those situations where you wake up in the morning and you think you're gonna do A, B, and C and there's a whole new
alphabet that just appeared
on your desk. And it could be for me, I'm
on my sixth athletic director. So it's not just a day-to-day thing, it's an organizational shift. And it's like working in a
new company every few years
when you get a new athletic director. What's his direction?
Where's his priorities? What's gonna be different? Or a new coaching staff comes in. One coach leaves, gets
a better opportunity.
A whole new coaching staff comes in. I will admit some days
it's like "Groundhog Day" where I'm repeating what I just repeated to the previous coach who
was here three years ago. But now it's another new coach.
But I would say what I love the most is that it's never the same. - Can you talk a little bit more about other examples of
technologies that you used such as analyzing those
videos and how it was used
to improve the athletics of
the students in the program? - Sure, so some sports have
established technology already. Basketball programs and football programs are always gonna use
video for game analysis. They're also gonna use data.
You know, if you ever saw the movie
"Moneyball" for baseball, softball can do the same thing. What's the pitcher tendencies? What, you know, football what's
the quarterback tendencies?
How many three point
shots can a player make on a basketball court? That's always gonna be there. Those technologies follow those sports. New technologies enter for other sports.
I mentioned tennis. There's actually software out there that can do shot analysis. How long will somebody stick in a rally before they start to make mistakes?
Whose ground strokes are strong
and whose net play is weak? So analyzing your competitor that you're gonna go up against. Same with wrestling. You can analyze video.
They don't have software
though, that goes along with it. So that's still probably
an emerging technology of which moves is
somebody's going to do when? Now it's pretty much through video. We've also instituted,
for when we had a baseball
program and softball, we instituted swing analysis. We attached little device at the bottom, it's called a Zepp, at
the bottom of their bats. And it would follow the bat path.
And it would go back to an
iPad where you could then say you're dropping your hands, not dropping your hands, your bat speed, the ball exit speed, all of those type of things
so that you can improve
down to the little, your hands are wrong, you're snapping late, like small little physical changes are done through the technology. I'm trying to think some of
the other things we've done.
Some of the cool stuff we've done using a software called
Dartfish is trajectories, taking ball analysis. I'm sure you've seen baseball
where you see the ball and the ball path as it's
getting pitched and it curves.
Same kind of thing can
be done with a football. Where's the peak that the punter
has to have it at the top? Why follow shots are best taken from here? Your three points aren't very good here. Here's what you need to do. You
need to increase the physics
of the ball trajectory for that. We've done some of that. Being able to take a good performance and overlay it on top of
an Olympic performance, for example.
So we have two videos and you can put them on top of each other, has been really good. We don't have a ski team, but that would be something
that like skiers would use.
Why does somebody beat me down
to the bottom of the hill? So for track and field we use it though, where they take their iPad
out and they will videotape, why did somebody beat me on this turn? What was I doing?
And you can see where
you could have improved, make the turn a little
faster, cut in sooner. So a lot of it's probably video based now, and a lot more data. And what we find is we
outsource some of the data
because the amount of work that
goes into grabbing the data can actually be very hard. If you think of a softball coach trying to coach a game and input
information onto their iPad and they get that information
and export the reports
and then analyze the reports. Is that the best use of
the head coach's time or can we get somebody else to come in who knows the sport of softball, knows how to, we call it mark
the pitch or mark the play,
that wasn't in error. That's an out, that was a dropped ball, that was a curve ball,
that was a rise ball. And then look, and then
give the coach something. That's important to have that multi-skill.
Yes, you know the data,
you can analyze the data, but do you know the sport? Softball actually was very
lucky to have somebody who recently just left to go to Iowa State who had that background and could do both.
I would say heart rate monitors
has been a big game changer for basketball programs
and for volleyball. I know watching when we
first introduced them to the volleyball team, I could tell when a player
was gonna miss the serve
because her heart rate was too hard when she went back to serve. She had a little bit of anxiety. So then you can insert
the sports psychologist and say, "We need to get her
to take two deep breaths,"
or things like that. But it also gave the
coach a tool to know when they were pushing too
hard and needed to change what they thought they were
gonna do today in practice. Everybody is more fatigued,
they need a little more rest, and hopefully that will
decrease our injuries. That all comes out of
a heart rate monitor. So, and again it could
be a heart rate monitor that you strap on and you
pay a lot of money for,
or it could be your Apple watch. You know, like what's it gonna be, what's your budget, and who's gonna do it? And to the credit of our
sports medicine department, they have a phenomenal
leader in that department,
Brian Bratta, who is
embracing whatever it takes to help our athletes stay healthy and help them perform better. So the athletic trainers
under his supervision are embracing the technology
of heart rate monitors
and the, we call it
sports performance guys, strength and conditioning
guys, same thing. We've done some sleep analysis. Are you getting the rest you need after a hard game and who's analyzing it?
So it's not the technologists. Like we talked about sport technologists, and some people would say,
"I'm a sport technologist." Those people have more science background. They're exercise science majors.
They understand the
bio-mechanical information that they're getting
through different things. So do you have a team
of a technology person? My job is to get you the
technology and make sure it works, make sure it's consistent,
make sure the reports are coming out, make sure the reports
are formulated properly. And then I'm done (laughing). Like, honestly, that's kind of cool. And then at the same time
that sometimes it bothers me
that I'm missing that next step. But if the technology doesn't
work easily for somebody, they're not gonna use it. - It's really fascinating
the amount of information that you can get.
I think a lot of people don't even realize how much technology is
being used in sports. So thanks for explaining a little bit more about everything that's going on. I know that you said
you weren't necessarily
directly involved in the analysis there, but could you maybe
speak a little bit about, I'm sure that you know, maybe a little bit about the people who are analyzing that data?
Do you know, is there
specific software for sports that they're using to analyze this data? Or maybe they're using things that are a little bit more
generic to analyze this? Do you know?
- Well it kind of depends on if you're going with
a consumer-level product or if you're going with some
pro-level product, right? So what's the price tag
of what you're using? So let's say we have a very small budget
and we can only afford a
consumer heart rate monitor and distance monitor. And that's the best we can
do to figure out the speed and figure out their heart
rate and go from there. But that's at an individual level.
How are we going to get
that data somewhere else? You need to create your own spreadsheet. So what we've done is we've collaborated with our exercise science
department on campus. And some of the graduate students there
created spreadsheets for us, for those sports that we
can't afford the big boy that comes with a backend software that does all the analysis for us. And transpose, translate the information
into these things that
look usable for a coach. So, you know, who's gonna do that? What do these number mean? What does an average heart rate mean? What does max heart rate mean?
What does acceleration speed mean? Deceleration speed? Who's doing that? That's where once it's in a spreadsheet, now it leaves a technology person.
And even then, that's what I'm saying, the exercise science kids, they have some technology
'cause they have to understand how this works, how the formula works. But they need to know that the numbers,
well, how do you interpret them? And then that's where that middle person, be it, the strength and conditioning coach or the athletic trainer, translates that information to the coach.
We've had one coach in the past who was a masters in statistics. So there wasn't a lot of translation that was needed for him. He actually took the numbers
and he was able to see what they meant. And he was able to manipulate them himself because of his masters in statistics. That's rare. But to me that shows the power
of having a statistical background on having that educational
experience of statistics, that you can look at the
numbers, know what they mean, and then translate them into
applied real world answers. For the other software-
So for example, for football, there's two big software
packages out there, DVSport and EXOS. They take all the video,
you put it in there, and then there's a team of guys,
three or four video editor type of guys, one head guy, a couple students probably. And they mark all the plays. So was it an offensive play,
a defensive play is the basic. And then what kind of offensive play?
What kind of defensive play? And then what was the result of that? Somebody's coding all of
that into the software. And then the software itself
will give you the tables, the statistical graphs,
whatever it is you need.
There's been companies
that have been popping up throughout the last 10 years, I would say, as video, as computers got more powerful, faster and smaller, right? iPad, smaller, smaller, smaller,
where you upload your video
and then somebody else somewhere in the world
breaks it down for you. And all you need to do is look at the online
results of your game. And then what's great about it is
you can then click on that stat. So let's say Jimmy Smith only
made 30% of his free-throws. You click on that, and then it pulls up all
of his free throws video so you can watch and say,
"Okay, here's what the numbers
show, what physically," and now the coach has to be a coach, what's the coaches eye show. For instant feedback, one of the key things that
I'm big on is feedback,
and that goes back to
information overload. So are you showing them,
or are you telling them? How does this athlete need
to get their feedback? How do they want to get the information? I am part of the International
Sport Technology Association
group that if somebody was
interested in getting into the technology of sports, there's where all the
sport technologists are. How technology and sports intertwine. This is a group of people
where we want to make sure
that somebody who wants to
become the sport technologist for the Olympic ski team,
how would I do that? I have a computer science background, or I have an exercise science background. What skills do I need to
be able to do that job?
Because I don't think people
understand how many people are behind the people you see, right? In an Olympic setting or a World Series. How many people are
behind that baseball game? - Yeah, I think there's-
- You need stats.
- Yeah, I think there's a lot of positions that you've mentioned that
maybe a lot of our listeners wouldn't have even known existed. - Right, and I think that's where, how do you get into this job?
It's the applied, what
experience you have. If you've ever been coached or coaching, I'm sure you've used technology somehow. How do you take it to that next level? And how do you support somebody else
in using that technology? I think it's a whole different thing, because again, technology's gotten easier. So find that app that does something. I know with, for baseball and softball,
just putting the score book
into your phone or your tablet will give you your stats right
away at the end of the game. So a Little League baseball
coach can produce stats. Now, if they're eight year olds, I'm not sure they're
going to read the stats.
But if they're 16 year olds, they probably will read the stats and wanna know what's my batting average? Well, where does that come from? And then in this day and age
everybody wants to see the video
that goes with those stats. So you can volunteer, you can work, you can get a part-time job as a, something that uses technology. But being able to apply
it is the key to me.
Just knowing it's not enough. You have to be able to apply
it. So there's a lot of, like I said, getting back
to your original question, so many software companies
are inventing something every other day.
I went to Boston and saw on hockey players GPS devices on their jerseys that measured not only their GPS movement, but also was hooked up to
their heart rate monitors. So as the hockey player
was accelerating on the ice
and the moves they were making, what was their heart rate doing, and where are they
accelerating or decelerating, or are they getting tired?
Get them off. So I can guarantee you when
you watch an NHL hockey game
there is somebody on the
sidelines with some monitor telling you it's time to switch shifts. Or this hockey player
needs another shift off. He's getting fatigued. He's ready to go back in.
We had it, UB, we had a basketball player who never started the game, but he was a phenomenal basketball player. He just didn't have the stamina. So giving him the first
five minutes off in a game
meant that he was stronger
for the last five minutes when we needed him. And that was all the science behind it that came from the technology that was coming to the sidelines.
- That's all super interesting. There's so much going on that I think a lot of people
definitely didn't even realize. And there's careers that
people could go into after listening to this
and learning about them
that it's really gonna
open a lot of new doors. So one of my last questions is just how did you end up in Buffalo, New York? And why did you choose
to live and work here? - Buffalo, I'm a Bills
fan, I'm a Bulls fan.
You know, we joke about bleed blue. I went to UB and never left. My daughter's at UB right now. So it's, Buffalo feels like
home, it's home for us. And it just it's that same community.
And the opportunities are
here at the multiple schools. You know, I was able to go to Buff State. I was able to teach classes
at Bryant and Stratton. Like it's, there's a lot of
opportunities in Buffalo. You just have to find them.
- Yeah, more opportunities
than somebody might expect if they hadn't heard of Buffalo before. Well, Kathy, thank you so
much for joining us today. And to all of our listeners,
if you've not already, check out our previous podcasts
available wherever you listen to podcasts. For more information
about starting your career in data science, go to
dataanalytics.buffalostate.edu. And don't forget to subscribe so that you get a notification
each time we release a new episode. (bouncy electronic music)
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