What I Learned in 2014: Chris Marsh, Director of Technology Operations, AKQA

By Egotist / /

2014 was the year that I moved from AKQA’s London office to lead the Technology team in our SF office, so I’ve learned quite a bit.

I’ve learned that to deliver outstanding work, technologists need to be tightly integrated with creatives and strategists, not treated as a service provider late in the delivery process. We’ve now updated our process, embedding creative technologists and engineers in the early concepting phase of a project. This has given technologists the same ownership of the products we create as the other disciplines, and saved time in catching technical issues early.

I’ve learned that clients have less and less tolerance for long-winded exercises that produce nothing but a fancy presentation deck. Instead, we now often use a number of small, cross-discipline teams to concept and prototype working software in close collaboration with the client, over the course of a single week. We’re still refining the process, but so far it has generated a huge amount of value for clients. And provides a pretty dynamic work environment.

I’ve learned that my team is ambitious and wants to develop as they succeed. So, I’m putting a clear career development structure in place that allows everyone to understand what each role in the Technology team entails and what they need to do to move into it. I’ve also learned to listen to the team more than perhaps I have in the past, so this process is more evolutionary than I’d initially thought it would be.

I’ve learned that I need specializing generalists on my team. I want Java engineers to try their hand at Python, JavaScript engineers to have a crack at Ruby on Rails, and everyone to have an opinion on effective UX. We have a lab where we can play with our Oculus Rift, Kinect, the obligatory 3D printer, a small CNC machine, and drawers full of Arduinos – among other things. I’ve now tasked every single member of my team with producing something physical out of this lab over the next 12 months. I strongly believe that if you provide an environment where people are free to develop their ideas, it will generate value in the long term even if there’s no obvious client benefit in the short term.

Mostly, I’ve learned that I love what I do more this year than I did last year, so I’m a pretty lucky guy.