Engineering Inside:

2015 Issue 1
Sports

Meet Stephen Hammer!

February 2015

Stephen Hammer - tennis courtsStephen Hammer leads the IBM Interactive Experience Real-Time Events Practice. The Events Practice supports IBM’s live event projects which include 8 major golf, tennis and entertainment events.

In this role, he leads a team based in Atlanta, Georgia that develop and design the digital channels for these events including the website and mobile site as well as iPhone, iPad and Android apps. His team harnesses the power of mobile, social, analytics, and cloud technologies to build experiences for fans all over the world.

Over his 17 year career, Mr. Hammer has been exclusively focused on major event projects. He has worked on over 100 major event projects in various roles ranging from front end development, database design, system architecture, tennis and golf scoring systems, web analytics, live video architecture, high traffic web site architecture and subject matter expert.

Mr. Hammer holds a bachelor of science in Computer Science from Berry College and resides in the Atlanta area.

Q&A:

Q. How are you involved in engineering and technology related to sports?

A. As the leader of the IBM Interactive Experience’s Events Practice, my team and I work with many live sporting events around the world including the Australian and US Open Tennis Championships, the US Open Golf Championships, and Wimbledon, among others. For these events, IBM Interactive Experience uses technology to create excellent fan experiences for those who are onsite at the event or on the go. For example, we develop and design the mobile apps and website for the US Open tennis tournament so that fans anywhere can enjoy the action on court.

Q. What is your educational background and how did this prepare you for your work?

A. I studied Computer Science (CS) and Business at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. Entering school, I knew I wanted to study CS and didn’t deviate from this track. I began my technology career while still in school interning at Intellimedia Sports, which specialized in instructional sports digital video solutions at the time. When I graduated, I followed many of my former Intellimedia colleagues to IBM where I continued working on sports projects.

I have always been a huge sports fan. Combining what I studied in school and my love for sports into my career has made the work more enjoyable and interesting. When we’re working with sports clients, it’s really important to understand the business challenges they are facing so that we can figure out how to use technology to fix them. Studying CS helped me to understand the technical side of sports and studying business helped me understand the economics of the sports industry.

Q. What do you love about blending technology and sports?

A. In the past, sports used to be all about attending the physical event. Then came along television, which immensely expanded the size of the audience. These days, digital is also part of the equation with fans tuned in from computers and mobile devices. Between the various channels, fans can not only engage around the clock but they can share their experiences with friends, family and more by using social media. This means that technology is more ingrained in sports than ever before. The cool thing is that all of the technologies we use for sporting events can be used for businesses in any other industry – from hospitals, banks to retailers – so we learn from projects we do with different clients across sectors.

Q. Is there anything you don’t like about working in engineering or technology applications?

A. Not really. Most of the frustrations in my field come from gaps in what is possible with existing technology, but that’s a good thing as it introduces room for problem solving and innovation.

Stephen Hammer - command room at tennis tournamentQ. How have the development of computers and software impacted the sports related work you have done over the years?

A. Today’s fans aren’t just watching a sporting event live or on TV. They are watching on their smartphone, getting live scores from apps, sharing with friends and more. All of this is through technology on your smartphone, tablet, or computer – but what people often don’t think of is that we wouldn’t be able to do any of this if it weren’t for the computer systems and software behind those devices. It’s really important for me and my team to stay on top of the latest trends of how fans are watching, consuming and keeping up with sports, so that we can best counsel our clients when it comes to technology.

Q. Please describe a favorite project you have worked on that has impacted sports either from a player or audience vantage-point? 

A. We’ve done a lot of great work around some of the major tennis and golf tournaments. The US Open Tennis Championship is the largest attended annual event in the world. More than 700,000 people go to the United States Tennis Association’s National Tennis Center over the 2 week event. To put that into perspective, the Atlanta Falcons football stadium holds just over 71,000 people, which means than more than ten times the amount of people are going to the US Open. Countless more are watching on their phones, tablets or TVs around the world.

As I mentioned before, we develop mobile apps, the website and mobile site for the US Open. We also developed tools that use big data and analytics to help fans be their own personal tennis analyst. By knowing what happens in every point in every match, we can do interesting things with data. One feature, called Keys to the Match, analyzes more than 41 million data points from eight years of Grand Slam tennis match data to identify key performance indicators for each player. The keys are generated for each player taking into account who their opponent is, the court surface, style of play, recent trends, head to head results, etc. If a player is able to meet their keys, they are more likely to achieve success in the match.

Stephen Hammer - at Australian OpenQ. Whom do you admire and why?

A. Without question my parents. They grew up in a farming community in a much more difficult time. The sacrifices they made and successes they earned helped position me for college and beyond.

Q. Is there a particular sport that you think could benefit the most from engineering and technology advances in the next few years?

A. Olympic sports as a whole probably have the most progress to make from technology. Many of these sports don’t have professional athletes or the massive sponsorship and television investments seen in sports like baseball and golf. Some of these sports – think badminton, water polo, trampoline, etc. – just haven’t been popular enough to warrant collection of detailed in-game statistics. Without data to work with, using analytics to get valuable insight is impossible. As data and analytics become more commonplace and easier to collect, these sports will benefit greatly.

Q. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned through your work?

A. Show up. Mentally and physically. Be reliable. Seriously. Be on time for meetings and be there for your colleagues. Be there for them when they have an emergency come up and they will do the same for you. This is a trust that needs to be earned.

Q. What advice would you give to recent graduates interested in sports technology and engineering as a career?

A. Even though I was a huge sports fan, I didn’t start my career looking for a job in sports. I was looking for a good technology career and a positive work environment. As far as advice, it is most important to be interested in your work and make sure you enjoy working with your coworkers. Try to hook up with a group of people that you respect and enjoy being around. Stick with those people throughout your career.

Q. If you weren’t working in sports technology, what would you be doing?

A. Probably elsewhere in technology. Hopefully something fun and interesting.

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