Tyler Hutcherson Innovates E-commerce with Skafos

Connor Masterson
August 18, 2020

Tyler HutchersonAs an engineer at Skafos, Tyler Hutcherson (MSDS ’17) makes use of his data science degree daily. He appreciates another critical element from his time at UVA: the ability to work with a diverse group of people from varied backgrounds to bring about a better result.

Tyler Hutcherson graduated from the University of Virginia with his MS in Data Science in 2017 – when the School of Data Science was the Data Science Institute.

“[We at Skafos] are really working to try to help revolutionize the next generation of shopping experiences online."

Hutcherson began working at Skafos in July 2017. Skafos is a machine learning company focused on reinventing the online shopping process.

“[We at Skafos] are really working to revolutionize the next generation of online shopping experiences,” Hutcherson said of his employer.

The Skafos team understands that humans are visual creatures, drawn to what they see in front of them. Our behavior influences how we shop.

A typical consumer, when shopping in person, will consider item by item as they come across them. They do not exist individually. Online shopping differs because a person can search, filter, and find an individual item with less interference.

Skafos wants to bring that in-person experience, centered on interaction and exploration, online. They anticipate that this will be the future of e-commerce.

“I started at Skafos about three years ago, and actually, our company had a different name at the time, and we were doing something totally different.” That’s a part of the start-up culture, Hutcherson believes. The company experimented in a couple of different areas before committing to e-commerce.

What does Hutcherson do as a Senior Machine Learning Engineer? "My role involves collecting and processing customer data and engineering algorithms that feed our front-end product," Hutcherson said. “I work with data, a lot of data.” Hutcherson builds machine-learning systems to be used by online retailers.

Developing skills inside and outside of the classroom at UVA Data Science

“I’m playing with data pretty much all day long, writing product personalization algorithms to engage the online shopper.”

“The skill and the knowledge that’s transferred [from] person to person was just as valuable as sitting in the classroom and learning from some of the best professors that are out there.”

Hutcherson capitalizes on the skills he sharpened at the Data Science Institute in his everyday work. But he learned even more outside of lectures.

“My cohort and the classmates I had along the way all brought different experiences with them…we all came together during this program, and we learned from each other,” Hutcherson said. “The skill and the knowledge that’s transferred [from] person to person was just as valuable as sitting in the classroom and learning from some of the best professors that are out there.”

Now at Skafos, Hutcherson’s team is smaller than his MSDS cohort, but the same idea applies.

Two different parts make up Skafos’ operations – the business side and the engineering side – but it’s imperative the two work together. While each team member has their function, the group collaborates frequently, often gathered around the community whiteboard.

The whiteboard is a space for different members of a project to plan out what needs to get done down to the technical details. The Skafos team asks each other the most relevant questions. What are they trying to build? What is the purpose of that thing? And most importantly, does it align with what a client is asking of them?

“Multiple people will have different ways they might see something, and they might have different input, different experiences in their own careers, or in their own projects that can help,” Hutcherson said.

Just like with his peers in the master’s program, Hutcherson understands that everyone has something to bring to the table.

Working together to get ahead

Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall is an opportune location for an office. It’s even better for Hutcherson, who lives at an apartment just a couple doors down from Skafos.

“My cohort and the classmates I had along the way all brought different experiences with them…we all came together during this program, and we learned from each other.”

When you step into the office as Hutcherson does every morning, you can’t help but notice the office’s open floorplan. The kitchenette area blends into desks that sit next to the team’s conference table and whiteboard. It’s seamless to move between each of these spaces.

To start his day, Hutcherson goes through his email and Slack and reviews old notes to plan. Once everyone has settled into their mornings, the team will hold their daily stand-up meeting.

The meeting itself is relatively standard, but one feature stands apart. The team will toss around a plush pineapple when it’s someone’s turn to talk. The pineapple is Skafos’ version of a talking stick.

“‘Pineapple’ has always been a term at this company,” Hutcherson explained. The word is a friendly warning that a conversation might be straying too far away from its essential core. A team member can politely utter, ‘pineapple,’ to keep the conversation on track.

Skafos’ workweek concludes similarly to how each day begins. On Friday afternoons, the team will gather around the conference table, this time sitting with the pineapple resting in the middle. Each team member will project their work onto the monitor and describe what they’ve accomplished during the week.

“It’s kind of like a big show-and-tell situation,” Hutcherson said. “Everyone gets to share what they worked on that week and have something to kind of be proud and stand behind.”

The collaborative nature of Skafos’ workplace echoes the MSDS residential cohort. Hutcherson and his team capitalize on their shared experiences, and each member brings something new to the table so that the whole group can benefit.