Geek of the Week: Ahead of Super Bowl, data scientist Elijah Hall competes in NFL event to improve player safety

(Photo courtesy of Elijah Hall)

Plenty of football fans will analyze all sorts of scenarios and plays in Super Bowl LIV in hopes of better understanding the big game. Elijah Hall is crunching data around the sport in advance of Sunday’s matchup as part of an NFL competition around analytics and understanding player injuries.

Hall, a Seattle-area data science consultant for Accenture, is a finalist in the NFL’s 1st Future competition in Miami, an event around the Super Bowl that is designed to spur innovation in player health, safety and performance. The analytics category this year examines the effects that playing on synthetic turf versus natural turf can have on player movements and the factors that may contribute to lower extremity injuries. (Watch Hall in a livestream of the finals at 7:30 a.m. PT on Friday.)

Our latest Geek of the Week calls himself a moderate football fan who had been wanting to do a Kaggle data competition for a while. Hall found time around the holidays when the NFL competition was about to start — and he was playing fantasy football for the first time anyway.

“I hadn’t analyzed sports data before, I typically migrate to economics-related data for personal side projects,” Hall said, adding that his most interesting finding was that the average speed for players was actually slower on synthetic than natural playing surfaces. Read his proposal here.

Twelve of 31 NFL stadiums have fields with synthetic turf and recent investigations of lower limb injuries among players indicates significantly higher injury rates on synthetic turf compared with natural turf.

“I hope the NFL can use my findings to make effective change,” Hall said. “All data scientists hope that their work is significant enough to affect change through informing decisions.”

Hall, a husband and father who lives in Kirkland, Wash., spent seven years in the United States Marine Corps before going back to school to earn a bachelor’s in business finance with a minor in economics at the University of Washington. He was accepted into Columbia University’s Master of Science in Applied Analytics program. He graduated in 2018 and started in Accenture’s Applied Intelligence practice.

Beyond football data, Hall is interested in digging into the effect of information on a global scale and how it accelerates economic growth.

“There are quite a few concepts of economic growth that would be interesting to test with the rising connectivity of global economies,” he said. “The results, I hope, would be to build prescriptive steps to help developing economies get connected and merge with the global economy.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Elijah Hall:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I am a data scientist. I found a passion for data through economics which is my secret love. I am naturally a problem solver and get so much satisfaction when I can solve a complex problem. My strengths come when there isn’t a standard or set way to solve a given problem. I credit this to my experience in the Marine Corps which taught me to be flexible and adaptive.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Trust but verify.” A saying I carried over from my time in the Corps. It means you trust the source of the information, but you must verify that it is in fact true, or still true, before you rely on it. There are always assumptions made with data from how it behaves but you can quickly find yourself running into errors or unexpected behaviors due to some changed policy or failed cleaning process. Similarly when we are transforming data, there are times when we make multiple transformational steps at a single time and without validating the output we can end up dozens of lines further in our code before we encounter a sign that we made a mistake earlier, but we now have to debug the entire code since we didn’t validate each transformation.

Where do you find your inspiration? I find inspiration everywhere. I love looking at data science articles about cross industry and cross field applications. The hardest skill to learn or have as a data scientist is creativity. By staying active and following podcasts, reading, and learning new skills you help to build your creativity through mental flexibility.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My computer, I use it for everything. Work, communication, entertainment, hobbies, and planning. Without it I might have to invent something to use to write with or even on. I wonder what a chain email would look like using traditional mail, there won’t be anymore “reply all” plagues.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I don’t have a work space. As a consultant I travel and work in different spaces almost weekly.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Wake up early and get to work early. Most people are slow to get moving in the morning and take a while to get to that functioning state. Use that extra time to recap what you did yesterday, and organize your day before you get started. You should have one large task and two medium tasks that are on your to do list.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … start a data consulting company.

I once waited in line for … Nothing.

Your role models: Chuck Norris: He struggled through early life to find his place but found what he was passionate about and followed that relentlessly, leading to a strong faith in God.

Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller: He was one tough Marine who continuously overcame unbelievable obstacles that seemed insurmountable.

Greatest game in history: Seahawks vs Packers (NFC Championship, 2016).

Best gadget ever: Audiobooks.

First computer: Gateway 2000.

Favorite app: Podcast Addict.

Favorite Cause: Climate Change.

Most important technology of 2020: Carbon capture devices.

Most important technology of 2022: Carbon capture devices.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Just because you are not good at something doesn’t mean you can’t be.

Website: Elijahhall.net

LinkedIn: Elijah Hall

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