Justin Jewett VP/Director of Technology, BKWLD

TRUST philosophizes with BKWLD VP/Director of Technology Justin Jewett about the importance of a good challenge, what’s going on in digital, and having fun at SXSW.

What are some of your favorite projects to have worked on?

Look, I’m not trying to be difficult and go out of my way to not answer your question, but don’t you think it’s funny how our definition of ‘favorite’ changes over time? DURING a project, one is inclined to extra-like the cases where things go smoothly. The engagements that aren’t necessarily not difficult, but proceed in a predictable and straightforward fashion from end-to-end. It’s those same projects that immediately fall out of your head. Or—put another way—those are the projects that immediately fall out of my head.

The projects that jump the shark and put you in harm’s way—er, ME in harm’s way—are the ones that I remember. And the ones that I come to think of as my ‘favorites.’ Because they’re really the ones I learn from…the ones that push me. I think I call them ‘Triage Projects.’

My favorite project that I’ve worked on in the past couple years involved building an intranet portal for a worldwide agency group. [The project] had been going for a year without my involvement and I was brought in for the final three months to try and mitigate some growing concerns—on both sides of the checkbook, as it were—about staying on schedule and under budget. As it turned out, there was no problem with the thinking that had been done prior to my arrival, nor was there any problem with the plan for moving forward and executing the remainder of the work. The only thing that was missing was someone who would suspend disbelief on the conference calls long enough to crack some jokes and make people feel like people. It was a party with no clown. Until I got there.

What are some other companies both in and out of advertising that you think are doing some interesting work with tech?

I’ve been talking all day about Evernote’s cross-promotion with Post-It. They developed an in-app camera that not only OCR-converts a photo of a post-it note into live, searchable text, but that also detects the branded Post-It paper color and allows you to assign actions based on that. So, like, if I decided to create a business rule for my life that said grocery lists go on lime Post-Its and to-dos go on magenta, Evernote could end up managing that situation for me. I thought it was earth-shattering until I just typed it out. Still pretty novel.

Granted, it’s one in the morning, but I’m either proud or dismayed to find that I’m not very interested in advertising, tech, or how the two cross paths. I think email is the lightbulb of our generation. I think the transcoding wars between Netflix, Amazon, and Google are really the most/best/longest-lasting thing that’s going on digitally these days, but it’s so unsexy to say so. I’d say I’m just waiting for Atari to make a fully javascripted version of Gauntlet, but a) I’m sure it already exists, and b) I’m sure I wouldn’t play it anywhere nearly as much as I’d like to think, so I’ll just stick with ‘email’.

What are the most essential skills for your job?  What software is most essential?

The most essential skill I possess is—and forever will be—communication. To that end, all I really know how to do is think and talk and write. Incidentally, those would also be skills requisite of a pancake batter salesman or a fighter pilot or a crook. It just so happens that I work with computers, so I suppose it also bodes well for me that I can type 95 words per minute and can SORT of visualize arrays.

Really—truly—I believe that everything else is anecdotal and project-specific. I very much believe that if you train yourself to be a hammer, you will—quite quickly—start to notice how nail-like all your problems look. I really do strive to be something more like a toolbox: I know there will be problems, and I know that when I need to solve them, I can pick up what I need and then set it back down.

The single most important piece of software I have at my disposal is Donald Fierros, our Director of Production…he’s my killer app. Distant trailers are things like mail.app (I am ridiculed daily for not using email in-browser), iCal, Evernote, and Pages. I can use Omnigraffle the way a gorilla might use a coffee mug, and I’m actually quite good at leveraging the Creative Suite but I feel like it will be funnier to talk about a pony pushing a shopping cart.

What were some specific challenges or anecdotes from your experience running the gif booth at this year’s SXSW?

The most challenging part of that project—by far—was developing a workflow for getting photos off of this great little camera onto/into this black box server we had there, and doing it in such a way to where 20-year-old brand ambassadors with little or no training could do it while they talked to folks about the weather.

Weirdly, the tech of everything came together pretty stably: we quickly landed upon a solution for creating animated gifs. We rapidly identified the value-add of including 9 different projection backgrounds. We developed our mechanism for pushing images from our local network out to the internet (to be shared) ahead of schedule. But making all of this work from the back of a camera with no mouse or keyboard accessible or in sight was tough!

Anecdotally, it was one of the funnest trips I’ve been on in a long time, and most of that has to do with our CTO, Robert Reinhard. We spent quite a bit of time together at night, but during the day, we set up a makeshift HQ at a hotel down the street while on call for the experience. Watching him sit quietly in a strange armchair with his laptop plugged into the base of a lamp and proceed to produce thousands of lines of code as if he were on his home turf was quite the sight. At one point, we went to some showcase—it was very #SouthBy, you know—that consisted of picnic tables, bands, free beer, and just about every shirtless, white-sunglassed dude in Texas. Robert proceeded to find a plug, sit down for 90 minutes, and develop a feature for a website that we thought was going to take a week!

Most evenings were spent touring Austin’s burgeoning arcade scene and trying as many different kinds of food we could find. On the final night, we were lucky enough to get to see Prince with A Tribe Called Quest as openers…it was pretty incredible. Very near worth the time away from our families.

What are your favorite apps that you use in your day-to-day life?

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