Santa Clara University

James Skinner

Technical Leader, Emerging Technologies, Cisco MSIS Candidate 2011

Jim Skinner says that after almost two decades as a software engineer, he still felt like he didn't know enough about the software business.  Though he worked on many high profile web sites (from the Netflix instant watch site to the Blockbuster movies on demand site) he always harbored a desire to learn the "right way" to do things.

"I was trained in film-making (at USC's prestigious film school), so I was never taught the theory behind data analysis," said Skinner, a technical leader in the emerging technologies group at Cisco, who expects to complete his MSIS degree at Santa Clara in 2011.

"There's just no way to pick up the advanced knowledge you need on your own," he explained.  "After working with the faculty here at Santa Clara, I feel like I've really developed the theoretical background needed to be a good programmer. My work is so much better as a result of the MSIS program."

Skinner, who worked his way through college with programming jobs, grew up in Redmond, Washington, where he recalls that "everyone's dad worked at Microsoft." By the time he graduated, the film industry was in a slump and he headed back to Redmond, eventually joining Microsoft's media and entertainment practice. There, he implemented a television streaming system still used in South Korea.  Skinner later became a key member of the team that developed AT&T?s U-Verse television system.

He joined Cisco in 2010, partly because he liked the Cisco people he met at Santa Clara.

"The students here are good, down-to-earth people who are really smart and like to work," he said, adding that the school's Jesuit emphasis on empathy has turned out to be an unexpected benefit. He's working on a documentary about the stresses foreign students experience due to visa restrictions on work and opportunities. The film will be screened by the Information Systems Connection, of which Skinner is vice president. He also maintains a website for cinema techies at

Skinner was drawn to the MSIS program by the tech aspect, but admits he was concerned about the business classes. However, he's enjoyed them so much he's toyed with the idea of becoming a business owner. Now, as he completes his capstone project, he's managed to combine business, technology and the movies into his topic -- using neural network algorithms to estimate box office receipts.