Geoff Swartz, Media Director at Patriot Software, talks about how he went from code writing to cutting-edge media production for Patriot Software, and offers advice for those who want to use more of their personal passions in their present work environment.
Q: Geoff, you’re the Media Director for Patriot Software, but that role is a little different here than similar roles in other companies. Can you tell us about what you’re doing right now?
A: Well, a lot of things. I do a mix of graphics, programming, web design, sound editing, and video. I’m sure there are some other things I’m leaving out, but, over all, I do more graphics, film and video production. Although, not too long ago I was doing somewhere around 80-90% code.
From Digital Media Passion to Digital Media Production
Q: Did you come to Patriot doing all of this media production?
A: No, I came in expecting to do 50/50 code and design. Now I’m transitioning into mostly graphics, video, and other multimedia production. Of course, I still have my hands in code. Top Echelon [a subsidiary of Patriot Software] has a network build form for Top Echelon Network customers where, when a customer in our network wants to build a new hiring website, they fill out the “build form.” The form goes through a whole process we have here in-house.
The problem is, because we moved over to a new Linux server to run our WordPress website, and because our old build form is located on older Windows server, we now have to pull the build form into our new website through an I-frame. I’m updating that so the form lives on our WordPress site, but with having to use PHP, and PHP not being one of my strong points, it’s a bit of a challenge—but also fun.
Q: Interesting that you’re still that invested into the coding process. Most Patriot employees know the director/producer version of you. Does this wide range of diverse responsibilities ever frustrate you?
A: Yes and no. When I first got started in coding, that was as interesting to me as video and 3-D graphics/animation presently are. But, over time, I did so much of it that I was starting to get a little burned out. And, as often happens in a longer career, my interests and desires started to shift. I got more interested in video, 3-D graphical elements, and digital media production. There wasn’t a lot of need for that here at first, so I had nurtured it outside of work.
Now, I was lucky because I work for a company where I can be transparent about my passion at work. So I let management know that I was still able to do coding— which is where everyone who knows how to do coding gets pushed since demand is so high for programming skills— but I also had this other work passion I wanted to explore. They took note of it, but it didn’t really concretize in their minds until they had a need for those skills. That’s the rub, right? You can have skills in something that you really like but the company just doesn’t have a business need for the skills at the moment.
Balance Between Coding and Creative Intelligence
Q: Many graphic designers now have some cursory coding skills when they get hired to do graphic design, but once they reveal they have coding skills—regardless of how minimal—there is a push for them to take on more code. How do you balance your desire to be creative with a software company’s desire for you to code all the time?
A: Honestly, I do what needs to be done. I think all employees do, especially in small businesses. But that’s the double-edged nature of a small business, right? In a small business, you have to do everything. But, you also get a chance to do everything.
Believe me, I see both sides of this issue. A lot of it comes down to your employee-boss relationship, understanding the company’s needs, and looking for opportunities to showcase what [skills] you have.
I think having a constant, open line of communication with your higher-ups, wherein you can talk about what your present passions are, helps put your new skills on their radar. And that’s a thing you’ll experience in any facet of business development; not just with management-employee relations. I’ve got friends who head off to big conferences to learn new skills and, when they come back, their management isn’t receptive to the newest trends because they’re locked into business as usual. We’re rarely ever “business as usual” here at Patriot. I know that, even when I have to do what the company needs today, there is always the chance I will break out and do something I’m passionate about tomorrow.
Q: How did you show management you had other skills?
A: That’s a good question. I found myself doing so much coding here that I didn’t feel like I had as many opportunities to pursue my passion at work. That led to me pursuing more of my passion on the side—networking with people, following related leads. I went to meet-up groups and made new friends. In one instance, I got a chance to work with a friend who owned an artificial turf company. He installs artificial turf on sports surfaces and stuff. We came up with the idea to scan install areas such as sports stadiums, schools, etc., so we could show potential customers what their venues would look like with turf. Via a laser scan of the venue, we could do a 3-D rendering that put the turf on the field or stadium. Although that particular project didn’t end up coming to fruition, it sparked ideas in his head which lead to quite a bit of other 3-D rendering work for his company. Such are the benefits of networking.
The cool thing about these types of outside jobs is that they gave me quite a bit more experience. So, when opportunities came up within Patriot to utilize the digital media production skills, I was much more prepared to demonstrate my passion at work. Soon they started thinking of ways that they can make use of it [the skills], even in a business like online accounting and payroll. Recently, our CEO wanted to put a new sign out in front of the building. Instead of going to an architect, he comes to me, asks me to scan the front of the building and render in some 3-D graphics of a sign. I never once forced the issue that I could do that, but they knew I could and when the opportunity arose, they came to me.
Q: Your penchant for continuous learning has allowed you to do a lot of things here. Have you ever felt the other side of that—since people know you can do so many things, they expect you to do everything?
A: You’ll have that as well. But I find that I often go through cycles here. I’ll get a big coding project and I’ll be excited about plowing into it, but, right about the time I start feeling burned out, you know, the management will come to me and ask me to do some sort of digital media production, like a video project for some new marketing videos, or some new radio ads.
That’s the other part of this that I think people may not understand. Continuous learning allows you to do some fresh, monotony-breaking things, even if they’re in short stints away from your regular job. That helps with employee engagement, which is key. I mean, when I first got hired in here, I expected to do 50/50 coding. Then that became 90% coding. Then I go home and start following my passion and one day, the boss wants to know if anyone had any experience with video—which I was doing on the side already. I’m the only one that raises a hand. Fast-forward a few years, and I’m making videos that are being used in multi-million dollar marketing campaigns. How cool is that?