Defying Reality: Looking Towards the Future With Our Director of Product & Technology

Defying Reality: Looking Towards the Future With Our Director of Product & Technology

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By: 321

August 29, 2018

Defying Reality: Looking Towards the Future With Our Director of Product & Technology 
Our social media specialist, Nico Bryan, recently sat down with 321’s Director of Product & Technology, Tyler Nichol, to pick his brain on his new role, the future of technology, and the intersection of tech and marketing.  
NB: Tell us a little bit about what you do here at 321.
TN: I am the Director of Product and Technology, which encompasses a lot, because we are shifting our focus from being the average cookie-cutter digital creative agency to building technology, including SaaS products and business integrations, that push our work to the next level. 
Growing our tech business while supporting current clients is the nucleus of what I do. Staying hyper-focused on that balance has show us how to strategically utilize resources, which has created extremely promising growth — within just 6 months of launching our tech department.
NB: Describe what a typical day is like for you. 
TN: In a typical day here at 321, I am onboarding new clients, doing research on client needs through developing new functionalities, and doing backend research to determine the length of project needs in order to give better quotes on proposals. 
Beyond that, I deal with everyday troubleshooting, whether that involves issues with a website we already built, or helping our developers work through a problem. I also plan out phases in the different development arenas to make sure that we stay on schedule.
NB: How do you keep yourself inspired within the tech industry? Especially since the tech industry can sometimes come across as mundane, how do you propel 321 and yourself forward?
TN: I would actually have to disagree with you. I don’t think the tech industry is mundane in the slightest because it’s always changing. It is very common to find tech dinosaurs that enjoy the technology they are using, only to find their skills irrelevant 10 years down the road. We are constantly having to stay up-to-date on the newest trends and newest technologies. 
It’s a constant battle, especially at my level in management because there is so much going on in my day-to-day operations that to find time to discover the newest technologies and find ways to get 321 involved with them — on top of troubleshooting and researching within that facet — is difficult. There are a lot of after-hours spent reading up and learning about these things because there just isn’t enough time in the day. The industry is always changing and evolving.  
NB: So if the tech industry is so dynamic and shifting, how does 321 stay ahead of the curve?
TN: It has actually been really easy for us because we have been blessed with clients who look to us as the innovators. Some agencies and software developers struggle because they are working with clients who do not fully trust them or aren’t looking for innovative solutions.  
Because our clients expect us to be forward-thinkers, we can make suggestions, such as building a new part of an application that does something fresh, or utilizing part of a technology they haven’t used before. We have been afforded the opportunities to make suggestions and clients have signed onto them, allowing us to innovate with little boundaries.
NB: In our blog last week, “AR, VR, and AI: How This Alphabet Soup of Technical Acronyms is Revolutionizing Marketing” we discussed how the marketing sphere is utilizing these technologies. What do you think of these technologies and where do you see them going?
TN: I think all three are very cool technologies. My biggest issue is with their application. With AR, there is a very social aspect – you are doing interesting things with snapchat and facebook filters. VR is essentially the same thing, especially with Oculus Rift. I think it is very in the moment now, but I have a hard time seeing the masses going home and putting on a VR headset every day. 
All three of these technologies are very trendy right now. We see futuristic shows like Black Mirror, that paint this picture of everyone living through these VR headsets. I think there is always going to be an aspect to humanity where there is a hunger and a thirst for actual human interaction. I personally do not think we will ever get to a fully-functioning VR world. I think some of these technologies are going to end up phasing out. 
As for AI, again it is all about application. It is a trend where everyone hears AI and wants to do AI because it is very popular but what are you really using it for? Are you really using it to gather the data you need? Is it changing your application processes? Is it taking the place of people in the workforce so you can save bottomline? I think there are a lot of industry buzzwords around AR, VR, and AI but there is only a handful of companies that are actually using it for actual good and using it for something that is notable.
NB: Are we utilizing any of these technologies here at 321 for our clients?
TN: At 321, we are currently looking to AI for things like, determining effective tone and voice in ad copy. We are actually using AI to tell us what ad copy is most effective based on content type. So that is a perfect example of how we are using AI for powerful and effective means but you have people who just want to use AI to say they use AI. 
We also have some plans to utilize AR with the launches app that we created that will allow users to take a picture and put a spaceman helmet on and other interactive elements like that. We are looking at doing 360 videos through the launches app where someone can put on a VR headset and feel like they are actually sitting at a launch and able to look around and see the spacecraft take off. We are very particular about how we use it, we do not just throw it in, we want to make sure that we are using it for a particular application to better serve our clients. 
NB: You mentioned technological buzzwords earlier – how do you think these are hurting the industry? 
TN: I think that every company should should look inside and see what these technologies could do for them. Everyone should do some discovery and research to find out, is this what we are about? Is this our identity? If not, there are so many avenues to explore. They should be forward thinkers and doing their own thing. 
There is going to be something else after AI, VR, and AR — what is that? I think companies and agencies should be the ones to jump ahead of these trends instead of being the ones on the bandwagon. Especially when it doesn’t make sense to their identity. 
NB: How do you bridge the gap between Product + Technology and the other departments? 
TN: I think all of our departments have a dependency on each other. Whether it is creative going to design a website or application and they’re not fully aware of what we are capable of technologically so they can show us a design and we can say you know what would be cool? We could animate this. 
The same goes for the Digital department because all of the stuff they are doing with ad placements and the way they gather data and analytics from a website, there are technologies that we can use to extract that data and sometimes they are not aware of those things. 
Can we work siloed from one another? Absolutely. But we are not always going to get the best results that way. In order for us to remain forward thinkers and cutting edge, it is going to take all of the teams working together and pulling out the best in one another. 
NB: How do you inspire your team? What do you look for when you piece together your department?
TN: It goes back to always evolving as a developer. I want them to learn. I try to give them ample time during the week when they are not working on project stuff to go on or read their favorite blogs and start their own dev projects, to always be pushing forward because I look to them to do that. 
Especially with me being in management, I cannot always see the full spectrum of everything that is going on. They’re coming across things that I do not see, so I encourage them to bring stuff to me and push for us to be doing these things. 
There is no ego here. I love to get feedback from my team because they are in the trenches, they’re doing it daily. They’re a lot younger so they have more influence coming in from different areas, which I absolutely love.  
NB: What song or artist paints the backdrop of your typical workday?

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