student-stories

Portfolio Solution Architect at CUNA Mutual Finds Options Beyond IT with Data Science Degree

UW Extended Campus November 3, 2017
Professional headshot of Andrew Fuchs

Late on Monday night, you’ll find Andrew Fuchs at his desk at CUNA Mutual in Madison, Wisconsin. The portfolio solution architect is hard at work on one of two things: an IT project for his job or an assignment for a University of Wisconsin Data Science course.

“I like to stay late and study in the office, because I can really focus and get it done in one shot.” Having been at CUNA Mutual for the past 26 years, the office is a second home to Andrew.

It wasn’t until last spring that he decided a Master of Science in Data Science was something he wanted. Now, halfway through the online UW Data Science program, he stands at a fork in the road.

“Because of my data science master’s degree, I have options beyond IT,” Andrew says. “But no matter if I decide to stay in IT or move to a data science role, having data science skills will greatly benefit my career.”

Growing up alongside IT

It was 1980. Eight-inch floppy disks were considered hot technology. And a seventh-grade Andrew was selected to become part of a new computer research program. “They brought in the Atari 800. That moment decided my whole career. After that, I got into programming.”

In college, he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science from UW-Madison. He was hired shortly after graduation by CUNA Mutual, which provides insurance to credit unions and their members, and has been in the IT department ever since. For the past decade, Andrew has worked on backend databases that support marketing campaigns.

“It’s my job to understand the data and to build the databases and systems that support a line of business that deals with life, auto, and AD&D insurance. On a daily basis, I do a lot of data modeling, architecting, and some programming.”

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Data Science Degree: “I Want to Stay Current”

Right now, Andrew’s work supports the data science team at CUNA, but he isn’t directly involved in their projects. Andrew’s former manager was the first to suggest data science as a potential career path for him. “It’s clear to me that business is going in that direction. That’s why I became interested in data science.” 

After researching, he found out University of Wisconsin was developing a new, online data science master’s program. He connected with the administrators of the degree and—because of his in-depth work with data scientists—joined the committee of industry professionals that review the degree curriculum and ensure it reflects real-life data application. After this, he decided to sign up himself.

“I want to ensure that I stay current and not get left behind, because soon, I think data science knowledge is going to be necessary in my industry.”

Predictive Analytics and People

Andrew has been a UW Data Science student for more than a year. He takes one or two courses per semester; the flexibility of the online degree allows him to decide what he can handle on top of a demanding job. Many of the skills and tools he’s learning—Hadoop and Python, for example—have already come in handy in his current role.

At work, he often focuses on predictive analytics, a subject area that’s emphasized in the UW Data Science curriculum. “I am passionate about this part of data science, because it’s not about reporting on what happened but instead predicting what you think will happen and what action should be taken based on this information.”

He shares an example: The CUNA marketing department might want to know the likelihood of customer response to a potential marketing offer. Andrew would look at historical examples of people who have or have not responded to similar offers. He would gather data on age, location, and other demographic information, and he would determine the probability of response based on a demographic group.

Andrew loves getting his hands in the data, but he also likes the “people” aspect of his job. “I enjoy sitting down with businesspeople and understanding what they’re doing. Or, helping them write SQL or whatever they need. I like solving business problems.” This kind of work requires strong communication, ethics, and business leadership—skills that are also taught in Data Science courses.

Looking to the Future

This fall, Andrew is excited to take DS 740: Data Mining. With CUNA Mutual’s strong financial position (they serve 95 percent of credit unions in the US), he foresees many opportunities to apply his talent for data analytics.

Want to learn more about the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Data Science? Talk with an enrollment adviser by emailing learn@uwex.wisconsin.edu or calling 608-800-6762.

Editor’s note: Andrew graduated from the UW Data Science program in 2021.

Programs: Data Science