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Creative Technology

Hi, my name is Steve...and I was an English major.

I joke (half-joke) about the bashfulness I have for my liberal arts background. In reality I can't help but announce it every chance I get. I'm proud I've gone as far as I have in app development when considering the path I chose. In fact, I think it defines the essence of Big Swing, for Rick and me personally, and hopefully to everyone we have or will work with: creative technology.

A little background: I've always been a geek, gravitating towards Star Wars, D&D and the Apple IIe as soon as they were available to me. I had actually considered pursuing a computer science degree, until I struggled and faltered against college-level calculus and physics. It was then I found that I could weave my own magic in the written word, abandoning code for the foreseeable future.

But the path of the English major, unless you remain in academia, is fraught with twists and turns. With a lucky job reference, I landed a gig as a proposal writer at a dot-com era tech company, and that evolved into tech writing, voice-over scripts and even game design (Dukes of Hazzard FTW!).

After splitting off from that company with a small group to form a digital agency, the concept of programming once again reared its ugly head. The proposals had slowed, and I found myself with some unexpected and very noticeable downtime. So I did what countless others began to do around the same time: I taught myself Flash. Er, twice (the first time didn't take).

Flash gets a bad wrap today because of so many crappy banner ads and Adobe's public struggles with mobile Web and Steve Jobs.  Back in the day, however, to a right-brained guy like me, it was sorcery.  There I was, abandoning the safe comforts of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and navigating my way through functions, arrays and classes.

Turns out I could code, and do it damn quickly, and I became a go-to programmer. But it wasn't always pretty (my code, that is). In fact, my colleagues, the "proper" programmers, did everything they could to stay away from my code. We were all using the same language, but let's just say my dialect was a little unorthodox.

However, unorthodox can be a good thing. If a project needed a little extra imagination, whether copy, code or concept, I could get it done. Like everyone, I paid my dues on a fair amount of dry projects, but I did my best work on the projects that needed some creative flair.

As I evolved, so did the agency around me (I was there for 12 years!). In time, my job morphed into something called "Creative Technology Director." I had many titles in those 12 years, but that was the one I loved the most, primarily because it included the two aspects I had been balancing for my adult life.

It started as a title, but it really defined what I could bring to the table, and frankly, what I could not. To be brutally honest, as geeky as I am, I could never be a truly successful Director of Technology. I think I'm a pretty smart guy, but I pale in comparison to so many of my techie friends.

On the other end of it, I've always considered myself a creative soul, but could I be a Creative Director? I don't know. They're generally entrenched in the design world, or have strong agency experience with branding and marketing. Again, I know some great creative directors and don't see myself as being cut from the same cloth.

But combine those two and you can come up with pretty cool ideas with fantastic real-world impacts. If I may be so bold, it aligns with Steve Jobs' "appreciation of the humanities with an understanding of science" and it's really the secret of doing great work in this 21st century world.

Fast-forward a few years and I'm programming in iOS. Self-taught (twice again, I'm afraid) and loving it. Cocoa and UIKit are great because they tend to force you into the right way of thinking for a lot of things.  Native iOS programming is a lot different (i.e., harder) than Flash, but I've finally warmed to it.

Throughout the first year of Big Swing, we came across bugs and issues as programmers always do, and I was struck by the difference in which we tackled those issues.

Being a Computer Science guy, when Rick comes across an issue, he studies it. He finds posts and documentation about it online. He genuinely wants to understand it, needs to understand it, in order to fully fix the problem and devise the most perfect solution possible. He'll even come up with a solution that other people can use.

When I come across an issue, I'll find the quickest solution. Sure, I'll consult online sources, but when I find a potential solution, I'll try it out. If it doesn't work, I'll find another solution. If it does, I'll save, commit, and move on. Comprehension of the problem, though important, is secondary to me.

A couple months ago, when we were collaborating on a problem together, by which I mean I had an issue I just couldn't figure it out, so I threw it at Rick. When he presented me with a flurry of potential solutions a short time later, most of which worked, I sighed and mentioned the differences in our backgrounds and in our approaches.

During this revelation, Rick surprised me by responding, "I know how you feel." What the what? Turns out he feels a gap between himself and a full-fledged software engineer. I think Rick's a little closer to that than he does, but most importantly he identifies himself just as multi-disciplinary as I do, which is probably a good reason we partnered up in the first place.

For me, the takeaway is this: for better or worse, Big Swing is a good fit for projects that need some creative implementation as well as technical execution. On the other hand, you could probably find an agency that is a better fit for your next Big Data app or corporate web portal. Turns out we're artists, not engineers, and we wouldn't change it for the world.