Growing up in Illinois, Sachin Suresh (BS, Statistics & Computer Science ’12), these formative years led him to a shared interest in Fighting Illinois athletics, as well as math and electrical engineering.
Watching both the basketball and soccer teams on TV makes up his sports fan base. And it was his father’s presence as an AutoCAD programmer that provided him with a seemingly endless supply of computer gear to tinker with around the house. Suresh said he loves taking the machines apart and putting them back together, learning the intricacies of each part in the process.
With that background, he was excited to enroll as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and eventually graduate from the statistics and computer science program, which he said perfectly encapsulated his interests.
To build a career that he could find truly inspiring and meaningful, perhaps there would be a future in the sports world as it continues to explore the use of data.
In this digital age, the perfect opportunity arose four years ago at FastModel Sports. The Chicago-based company’s mission states that it “seeks to bring innovation to every coach and player in the world” by “providing cutting-edge software solutions to basketball teams and coaches of all skill levels.”
Over the past four years, Suresh has climbed the ladder and became Chief Technology Officer about a year ago.
“I’ve always been a big fan of stats as I grew up around sports. So I figured maybe one day I could do more exercise because I’m interested in statistics. Although I was never very athletic and prone to injury, I always wanted to. And I wanted to find ways to stay involved,” Suresh said. “From that perspective, I think working at FastModel Sports is a dream job. I thought it would be a long journey, but now I do it every day – and I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.”
To get to this point, he naturally credits his father and family for sparking his interest in mathematics and computer science.
From then on, however, few have been more instrumental in his growth and development than some of his professors from the core CS courses he took through the Statistics & CS program.
In the early courses he particularly remembers Professors Lawrence Angrave and Cinda Heeren, the latter now an associate faculty at Illinois CS. And thinking back on courses like CS 125 (Introduction to Computer Science) and 225 (Data Structures), Suresh said he thoroughly learned the basics of what it takes to be successful in his computing field.
In addition, his group project from CS 411 had a tremendous impact as the practical experience gained from the project still provides Suresh with valuable knowledge today.
“For me, the professors were the best part of the undergraduate experience at Illinois CS,” said Suresh. “Of course they have a lot of responsibility. They lecture to more than 400 students, spend time doing research, develop PhDs, and more—and still care deeply about their students. Their doors were always open to me and they answered any type of question we had.”
The basic computer skills he acquired here led him to a position as a consultant at Microsoft.
For Microsoft, Suresh said he’s traveled extensively and learned even more. It was a pivotal experience in his growth and maturation in the technology industry. Through his consulting role, Surresh was given the opportunity to work together at Ford as part of a multi-year engagement that saw him combine his career with one of his passions for the first time.
“My experience as a consultant has been great and I love cars – so working with Ford has been fantastic,” said Suresh. “But after I got married I was looking for less travel and more stability. I wanted to work in Chicago and figured now was the time to work in something else that I’m passionate about, professional and collegiate sports.
“Also, I’d worked for larger companies before, so everything about working at FastModel Sports appealed to me, including the fact that it’s a smaller company.”
This smaller company has grown strategically over time, giving Suresh a unique opportunity to work in an influential way.
He started as an engineer and quickly rose to the role of CTO. He explained some of the moments that meant the most to him at FastModel Sports.
First, much of his work is on the client side, where he regularly works with basketball coaches to provide statistics, analysis, and data analysis through visualizations. He also collaborates with his product and sales teams on new features and data points.
To date, this includes innovative shot charts that offer insights from both an offensive and defensive perspective and the data can vary between splits such as home vs. away play or separately by conference vs. non-conference opponents. Additionally, Suresh and his team have provided valuable lineup stats to show who has the best two, three, four or five combinations of players on the pitch at the same time. Likewise, they do the same for the opponents.
Up to this point, FastModel Sports has primarily worked in basketball — including with Suresh’s alma mater — but the company is dipping further into hockey for the first time this season.
Overall, Suresh is excited about what’s on the horizon at FastModel and for him personally.
“It was important to be up to date and constantly look for flexibility in our product. Presenting complicated information in a way that makes sense to coaches and players has been a huge win for us. They can see their eyes light up when we present them with this information the way we do,” Suresh said. “A lot of what we’ve done, and a lot of what coaches have wanted for so long, is pre-game scouting and post-game analysis.
“But tomorrow and in the future we will see a big shift towards live in-game analytics.”