18 Months and a Pivot

Doing things on the web has been what my career has been about for a little over a decade. This is a good thing and a bad thing. While this allows me an immense amount of trust and understanding in my position, I run the risk of forever being branded as “The Web Guy.” So that’s going to change.

Pivot - Ross

I love what I do.

I really do. For the past 3 years, I have been doing web things that I am good at for a company I really enjoy working at in an industry that’s fun.

Earlier this year, I got to help launch a project that I’ve been working on for a long time at AMC — a complete redesign of our company’s website.

I hope there are AMC fans out there that have noticed the difference. If you have, you might be wondering, But WHY is he talking about this now? Sorry, but I’ve spent the last couple months exhaling…taking deep breaths and convincing myself that it’s really completed (and squashing bugs).

Coming off of a project that has been pretty much your sole focus for 18 months is a weird thing. I’ve got plenty of other responsibilities at AMC, but none of them was more important to me than improving the user experience to our guests and visitors to AMCTheatres.com.

A year ago, we completed a rewrite of our entire architecture, installing a new content management system and creating a whole bunch of new dynamic services to power a site that gets its information from sources across the United States. That was an accomplishment in itself and provided us with a platform to do what we did.

And then we redesigned it

I had the great pleasure to work with Greg Storey’s team at Happy Cog on the UX part of the project and that was a pleasure in and of itself. I’ve long been a fan of the Cog’s work and I’ve now worked with them on two separate projects at two separate companies. In the past, I didn’t get to see the project through to completion. I was determined not to let that happen.

It’s a strange experience when you become a client of a group of professionals whose work you have admired. Getting mired in the processes and the day-to-day can wear some of that internet shine off a little, but ultimately, I am extremely proud of the work that we’ve accomplished together. We provided AMC with a beautifully responsive web platform and design system that can now be built upon and extended. Thanks to the great concepting by Kevin Sharon and the technical execution by the talented Ryan Irelan and Stephen Caver, AMC now has a modern, functional site that can take us into the next several years.

I’m so proud of this work. After an 18-month engagement, it feels good to have something to finally show for it.

And now, a Pivot

Doing things on the web has been what my career has been about for a little over a decade. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because I’m at the top of my game, a subject-matter-expert. I feel good about what I’ve accomplished and I have a good idea about what’s happening on the web and where it’s headed (#humblebrag). This is bad because I’ve pigeonholed myself into being only about one thing. While this allows me an immense amount of trust and understanding in my position, I run the risk of forever being branded as “The Web Guy.”

So that’s going to change.

As soon as I have the chance to update my email signature and my LinkedIn profile, it will really be official: effective immediately, I will be AMC’s new Loyalty Marketing Manager.

Not sure what a Loyalty Marketing Manager does? I’m glad you asked. Essentially, I’ll be leading one of AMC’s most important programs – AMC Stubs. I’m extremely excited about the next phase of my career. I’m expanding my worldview to include an important aspect of marketing and I get to work on making an already solid program even better. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be transitioning away from my existing responsibilities and getting up to speed on AMC’s loyalty program and all of its many moving parts.

I’m somewhat sad about putting aside my web life, but I’m so happy to start this new phase of my career. It’s going to make me a more well-rounded marketer and I get to take on yet another huge project.

So there it is. What do you think? (Feel free to share your ideas about AMC Stubs in the comments. I’ll be sure to implement ALL* of them.)

* probably not all of them

Working with professional idols

The first years of my career came right around the burst of the dot-com bubble. I started working at Perceptive Software as a Marketing Communications Specialist, a writer tasked with serving also as a marketing generalist for a growing software company (during the 6 1/2 years I worked there, the company grew from 18 employees to over 300).

It was obvious at that time that the web was a big deal, but people still didn’t know really what to do with it. I certainly didn’t have a clue what I was doing. While I was in school, the web was still relatively new and while I tested it out (using such scourged softwares as Microsoft FrontPage), I had no idea that I would end up focusing solely on the web as my profession. I was a writer.

My marketing position expanded and contracted several times over the course of my employment at Perceptive Software, but I realized that whenever I spent time building things on the web that I had a lot of fun. I also was beginning to love graphic design, another discipline that intrigued me, but I knew nothing about.

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It was during this time that I discovered my mentor group in the form of the good folks from Happy Cog Studios. Founder Jeffrey Zeldman wrote one of the most important books about the web ever, Designing With Web Standards, which I am holding in the picture above.

Zeldman’s treatise on the adoption of web standards is such an important book that anytime someone asks me how to start “learning web stuff”, Z’s book is where I send them. If you can’t get through his excellently scribed why and how of web standards, you may not want to really “learn web stuff.” Zeldman started as a copywriter, but quickly realized that the web was where it was at.

From Zeldman, I moved onto Cederholm and Meyer and the other important authors who helped to shape the web standards movement of the 2000’s. I read their blogs. I read the blogs they linked to, which exposed me to Santa Maria, Storey, Marcotte, Davidson, Shea and so many others that it became difficult to keep up. But I kept up.

These were the people out there making things happen on the web. Davidson’s redesign of the ESPN website to a standards-based layout saved the company a gajillion dollars in bandwidth expenses (or something like that). Doug Bowman helped Google pick out a color of blue (or not pick one) and now is the creative director at Twitter. These were (and still are) the heavy hitters. Talented designers, thought-leaders and great writers, all of them. I wanted to be like them.

I’m not.

But that’s OK. I’ve spent over a decade working for brands now and those brands need websites. When I worked at Cerner, the company decided to enter into its first major redesign effort in over 5 years and I was a part of it. I remember sitting in the office with my boss and her boss, the Director of Marketing, who asked, “Who should we reach out to for our web project?”

I said, “I don’t know if they’ll do it, but I’d like to reach out to Happy Cog.”

The funny thing about people who don’t know the web all that well…they don’t really know Zeldman and they certainly don’t know Happy Cog. So I had to explain all the stuff I’ve already laid out for you in this long diatribe of a post. Their importance to the industry. How they literally wrote the book on web standards. And so on…

It is a rare occurrence to have the opportunity to work with the people who helped shape your career, especially when those people were internet denizens — people who I looked to and read and studied and who helped form me into the online professional that I am today. But I got that opportunity for a short while at Cerner, working with Greg Storey and his fantastic team out at Happy Cog West. While my time with the team was brief (a few months into the project, the AMC opportunity opened up for me), I learned a lot about what it is to work with your professional idols. It’s an amazing learning experience, but also one where you see that there’s actual hard work behind the scenes to those amazing finished products I had seen and studied over the years. And it isn’t all puppy dogs and cupcakes. Sometimes there are missteps and hardships and crazy things you can’t predict.

But as with any experience, you learn and you move on. I was fortunate enough to make friends with Greg and others from the team and we still keep in touch. We got to hang out at SXSW. We might even work together again if the opportunity arises.

One thing is certain: I would not be in the position that I’m in now without Jeffrey Zeldman and his merry band of Happy Coggers. Their leadership on the web has inspired me and continues to encourage me over the years. They contribute a great deal to the community that is the web and not just because it serves their own interests or sells books (although it certainly does that); they do it because it is good for the web. They push it forward and they make it better.

Whether any of them will actually read this post is uncertain. It doesn’t matter to me. My hope is that some kid who is looking into where to start when it comes to “learning web stuff” will stumble upon my site and take my recommendation to start with Zeldman. (Although, if he’s younger than me, there’s no way that the kid makes it this far in the post.)

And kid, if you did make it all the way through this post and you’re looking for where to go from there, let me know, I’ve got more suggestions.

WordPress 2.5 is coming

I’m looking forward to installing the newest version of the best blogging software in the world. One huge area that I’m looking forward to seeing is the new Happy Cog-redesigned administrative view. The preliminary screenshots I’ve seen look great and I’ve always felt that this was a place that WordPress could really improve.

I imagine that upgrading could potentially break my theme, so I’ll wait until I have some time to troubleshoot, but it will be fun to play around with. What may end up happening is if I have enough fun with it, I’ll end up rocking another re-design of this blog. But work will have to calm down, both 8-5 and 7-11.

You’ll just have to wait and see…