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In the Business of Data and Minecraft

Photo of Purdue alumnus and donor Francisco Rius with his wife and children.

With experience in software programming and coding, Francisco Rius (M’04, MBA’07) looked to grow his understanding of business and technology in college. After moving to the U.S. from Mexico City, Mexico, he enrolled at Purdue, where he adjusted to Indiana’s colder winters while earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“I didn’t pursue studies in computer science or anything along those lines,” says Rius, Microsoft’s head of data science and data engineering for Minecraft, the world’s top-selling video game. “Still, I love that my business degrees were fairly technical and gave me opportunities to test those skills. It truly is the intersection  of business and technology that has helped me perform well in my career.”

Rius lives in Redmond, Washington, with his wife, Kirsten, and children: Lucas, age 5, and Celeste, 2. He recently made
a gift to Purdue supporting a flagship data science building the university will create through a complete renovation of Schleman Hall. Here, students will prepare to lead in a data-driven world, collaborating with faculty on interdisciplinary projects across the sciences, engineering, and liberal arts to create, problem solve, and harness data for the greater good. 

“I’ve received a lot from Purdue that has shaped my career, so when I learned more about the data science building, I wanted to contribute,” Rius says. “Although it’s not a large gift, I hope it helps create opportunities like those I enjoyed as a student.”

At Microsoft, Rius and his team manage all data science functions related to Minecraft. This allows them to build player analytics, product analytics, predictions, and recommendations. Yet, this can prove challenging at times given the game’s 120 million monthly players representing every country. 

“We try to be as objective as possible, but we’re also dealing with human behavior—in particular gaming behaviors, which can be a lot more random than human behavior itself,” he says. “A large part of my role is ensuring that for every piece of information we create, user data is contextualized.”

To help prepare students for their own giant leaps, Rius has led several projects through Purdue’s Data Mine. This living, learning, research-based initiative introduces students across academic disciplines to data science concepts, equipping them to create solutions to real-world problems. For the past three years, a group has worked directly with Rius and his team. 

“It’s been eye opening to see what the Data Mine program is doing to create a talent pipeline that is going to change the world of data science,” Rius says. “What’s cool about Purdue is that you go to school for four years and are able to focus and explore your interests. Today, I see students who are so focused I know they’re going to be successful. I remember myself a few years ago, and I wasn’t even at that point yet, so I can only imagine what they will be able to create after they graduate.”

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