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Skinner, James

James Skinner, MSIS '12
James Skinner

Technical Program Manager

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 film school), so I was never taught the theory behind data analysis," said Skinner, a technical program manager at Twitter, who completed his MSIS degree at Santa Clara in 2012.

"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 at Microsoft that developed AT&T’s U-Verse television system.

He joined Cisco while pursuing his degree in 2010, partly because he liked the Cisco people he met at Santa Clara. "The students at Santa Clara are good, down-to-earth people who are really smart and like to work," he said. Now at Twitter, Skinner is working for the company he did his capstone project on.

The project established a new approach to analyzing the sentiment of Twitter messages. Skinner’s thesis, “Twitter Brand Sentiment Analysis: A hybrid system using n-gram analysis and dynamic artificial neural network,” was published in the journal Expert Systems with Applications. It also served as a chapter in a textbook on neural networks. It was so well received that he was invited to chair the Sentiment Analysis Innovation conference in San Francisco the following year, where he described the approach to an audience of data scientists and industry experts.

Skinner says about his rise from humble film student to noted data scientist, “I attribute a huge amount of my success in the last five years to the subjects I studied at Santa Clara, the teachers that guided me, and the discipline that the Jesuit approach instilled in me. I was astoundingly lucky to have co-authored a paper with Manoochehr Ghiassi, one of the fathers of Dynamic Neural Networks. You simply don’t get opportunities like that anywhere else.”

 — Sandy Burnett