As we welcome our new Director of Technology Aaron Smith into the Sweden family, we were looking for a way for people to understand his approach to technology and ecommerce. So we thought what better way to get that out of him than an interview with his opposite : our creative director, Tom.
An interesting (and often obscure) conversation via Slack worth reading as Aaron imparts some of his vast knowledge around the topics of modern ecommerce and of course, a perspective on Web 3.0.
Tom 1:55 PM
In response to your line
“But I think they underestimate how weird we can make this interview lol”
I got the vibe from you – pretty much as soon as we met, that you like weird, Or at least, you’re ok with it. I’ve always found it easier to get on with people of that mindset. Like – not much is out of bounds.
Are you a mushroom advocate?
does that feel to ‘interview-y” ??
Aaron Smith 1:56 PM
I don’t think so?
Because tbh I would respond with:
I’ve been an advocate of mushrooms since before I could speak
Tom 1:57 PM
haha. A true gamer. You don’t look old enough for that
I mean, to have that when you were a kid
If someone banished you to an island with just one DVD (and player) or a game for company, what would you take?
Aaron Smith 1:59 PM
Depends on the situation. If I wanted to rewatch something without end I would take “Empire Strikes Back” (in no way shocking) but if I wanted something that would last longer than my lifetime I would take an Elder Scrolls game. I have still never had the will to actually finish one.
Tom 2:02 PM
Everyone seems to love Empire Strikes Back, but I still like A New Hope best. Same with LOTR – I like the first, but each to their own. I think i’ve heard of Elder scrolls, but we can’t veer too far into geekdom, I’ll quickly get lost.
so what’s this I hear about you once being a designer? I think you mentioned it to me. How ‘serious’ were you ?
Aaron Smith 2:03 PM
Serious as a jammed production printer honestly.
Tom 2:03 PM
FYI. I am actually laughing too.
Aaron Smith 2:04 PM
I actually started as a real print designer doing mailers and collateral for (large telecom name redacted). I had a corner office that they converted to a print shop so I was pushing out 40-50k pieces a month
Tom 2:05 PM
Jeez. thats pretty serious then. So what made you ‘change teams’ so to speak?
Can we say “jeez”?
Aaron Smith 2:05 PM
Have you ever done EXCLUSIVELY print materials? That’s reason enough lol
There’s only so many ways I can make an NFL package seem worth 200$ a month
Tom 2:07 PM
No I’ve not actually. I’ve done a lot of print, but its scary cause once you hit print. thats it.
Oh, that doesn’t sound like much fun. Did you do any packaging etc?
Aaron Smith 2:09 PM
Not outside of coursework in school. I graduated with Graphic Design and Advertising degrees which helped get my foot in the door at agencies but really limited my options for my first dev jobs.
But I’ve been building computers and doing development work since I was about 13 so I wasn’t completely without the necessary skillset.
Tom 2:11 PM
so can we blame designing boring sales literature for you hanging up the paintbrush and replacing it for code…
Aaron Smith 2:13 PM
I wouldn’t call it blame as much as thank. The trajectory I was on would have had me firmly placed in sales and marketing long term and less in development and ecommerce. I feel like my clients over the years have appreciated the switch
Also could you imagine the lack of work that would get done if I was actually on your team? Every call would be derailed
Tom 2:16 PM
haha, we’d probably have a decent collection of half-baked app ideas in a year, but yes…
Without blowing your trumpet for you, I love how you seemingly still keep your ear to the ground on new stuff and clearly also understand trends in coding, a lot of people once they move out of day to day coding and into managerial, they loose track of that stuff
Aaron Smith 2:20 PM
I think something that always struck me early in my career was that all of my Directors were Project Managers or some other position that got promoted, and generally they didn’t understand the day to day. I always promised myself I would never be that way. Part of the reason I have my ear to the ground so to speak is because I always want to be able to jump in and help if necessary, whether from an architecture/documentation perspective or actual development.
This week for example, to speed up the Sprint 0 aspect of development at Sweden, I’ve been creating a new build tooling kit with the team to create a sort of “Sweden Base”
Tom 2:24 PM
oh wow, thats so good. And it’s also fun right? To get back in and make stuff. I don’t think I could just oversee people’s work and not do it myself. I suppose thats why I’m still designing at 45, while others just direct teams. I think it proves that we still love it and have ideas ourselves. You’re obviously similar.
How long have you been a Shopify advocate?
Aaron Smith 2:26 PM
It’s what makes the job worth doing for me. It makes me actually love my job and not just like it, which is a really hard thing to come by these days>
It’s been about 4 years now I would think since I was firmly an advocate. I was working at a Magento agency at the time and actually convinced them to add Shopify as an offering. I built the team, hired the devs, and had a hand in almost all of the projects they put out. After that I was pretty much hooked.
Tom 2:28 PM
cool – here’s a thing – you think that’s it now? I mean, Shopify was once considered not serious for bigger businesses, that you had to have Magneto or Sales Force etc but is that generally not true anymore? Does e-commerce have to be so ruddy “scary” with these enterprise platforms and instead just be easy to use and more user friendly?
Aaron Smith 2:32 PM
For 90% of online sellers, Shopify is a perfect platform. The CMS is robust, products and collections are easy to setup and maintain, and the reporting aspects are top tier. They have a strong set of API’s that allow for easy integrations with third parties, and most of what the platform can’t do is covered in the App Marketplace. I think a lot of the areas that Shopify fell short in previously have been addressed in the last 12 months or so, creating a much more robust platform that works for merchants big and small
To answer more succinctly, I think Shopify has become not just the starting ground for small businesses but also the place to expand into something greater.
Tom 2:38 PM
Glad to hear it. I mean one of our clients that is MASSIVE is going on Shopify, which I think is so cool and should go some way to promote it as a platform suitable for bigger corps that previously expect to have to use these enterprise systems which just are eyewateringly expensive and I often used to wonder, is it really necessary?
I could have used some better punctuation there.
Aaron Smith 2:46 PM
RE: The Platform
I’ve spun up sites for some of the largest makeup brands in the world, one of which was valued at a billion dollars and doing over $150 Million annually through the store. The time for it being the “mom and pop” online shop is over.
Tom 3:04 PM
What are your thoughts on as we evolve and more and more stuff becomes automated (The no code movement) what will developers be doing in 5 years time – or even three?? Do you think designers will be able to press a button in Figma and their designs are turned into full fledged custom stores? I know you can already do that to some extent, but from what I’ve seen its not great.
Aaron Smith 3:26 PM
I think something that has been proven time and time again in my career is that no matter how “simple” something becomes, people always want more. Integrations and custom features will always be something that cannot be seen. Unless Figma’s R&D team has some sort of crystal ball or an all seeing eye?
Tuesday, August 2nd
yeah, so apologies for my tardiness on our ‘interview’, but as before, I’d like to venture into this whole web3 thing. Which, when I say it like that, really makes me seem like an old b*****d, but I am, so… if I can explain:
I’ve been involved almost since the beginning of what we might call the web’s ‘formative’ years, (I designed my first website in about 1998) and throughout that period I’ve learned to trust my gut. I saw something in the web when few people did (I quit my job in accounting firm to go take a punt on it!) and since 99, I’ve seen all the various evolutions where things advanced significantly (the birth and death of flash, WCAG, WAP, mobile, video, web 2, social media) and also ‘hype’ which caused a stir, but never really came to much (beacons, WAP and countless other flash in the pan trends).
I’m far from a wizard, or a wannabe Nostradamus, but like I say, I feel I’ve learned to trust my gut when something is worth investigating and when it’s not. I’ve dipped my toes in the water of web 3, to try and understand all these various facets (AR, AI, Crypto, Metaverse) that seem to make up what’s referred to as ‘Web 3’ and I still feel I have some way to go to fully understand it, but one thing i CAN say, is that I’m getting that same ‘spidey sense’ tinging that I got in those early days of ‘The Internet’. I’m quite excited by this concept that the Metaverse will be effectively, what real life would have been like if Creative’s were allowed to make all the decisions as opposed to politicians and big businesses.
So my question to you is, what’s your favourite kind of burger relish?
What do you feel about it in general and perhaps more importantly, which areas do you think will have the greatest impact on brands ? (ie. the industry we work in) – less, how influencers will be making money and how Kanye West will be dropping his new records, I’m talking about every day businesses that depend on it to exist – what should they be looking to spend time and money in researching?
Aaron Smith 1:28 PM
I’ve been in multiple camps over the last year or so when it comes to web3 actually.
Phase 1: Fanboy
Any time you talk about “decentralization,” no matter the avenue, people tend to have full blown panic attacks. Distributed ownership sounds a bit like “Web Communism” but Web 3.0 kind of lands on that. These large tech companies would own a piece of it all the same as you and I would, as opposed to the current structure where we pay for the privilege of being in their cities. We would own all that we create and purchase through NFT’s, and no one would have the power to take it away from us. To that end, no one would own our online data either. It would live on the blockchain with everything else, and when we decide to leave a platform or service, we take it with us. We, much like Prince Adam/He-Man, have the power.
Phase 2: Skeptic
There is a huge issue with the cost and learning curve. Because of the nature and complexity of these ideas, the infrastructure could only be set up in wealthier nations and parts of the world, and basically no one before Millennials would probably be able to operate it properly, having been ingrained with the web from a young age. There is also this idea around deregulation and a lack of gatekeeping, people believing that they will have a greater freedom of speech. The opposite side of that coin is equally true. With no regulation or moderation, people are truly free to do as they wish on the internet, something that has proven in many cases to be quite dangerous.
Phase 3: Realist
Right now, the entirety of Web 3 is reliant on a centralized framework of systems to make it work, inherently destroying its fundamental idea of decentralization. It requires having a set up wallet on one of far too many available blockchains that don’t properly communicate with each other, requiring people to sign up for many or risk being gated from a service or platform. It is not the open and inviting system that it promises to be, and we still have years to go until the world catches up to the idea. It took almost 15 years for the web to even become a user generated content hub, which was a significantly easier feat. Since this idea really started popping up in the mid 10’s, I would say it won’t be a reality for at least 5-10 more years unless something significant happens in hardware/software in the next 2-4 years to make it easily accessible to the masses.
I dont think that was quite as cohesive as I wanted it to be but you get it 😂
Tom 1:38 PM
Let’s hope the readers do 😉
Aaron Smith 1:38 PM
I thought I made it pretty non technical ha
Tom 1:38 PM
No, thats great though. Good structure to it
Wednesday, August 3rd
Tom 7:46 AM
I just read that again with fresh eyes and its probably the best summary of what it will mean to most people… nice. Maybe you should be a tech writer 😉
Coming back to my original point – how do you think it’ll impact brands and businesses in the short term? I mean, for example, will your average clothing or make up brand have to start producing 3D renders of everything to stick on models in space as opposed to shooting them on white backgrounds? Will they be making digital versions of their clothing to wear in the metaverse as people will be as interested in looking good in there as they will in real life?
Aaron Smith 4:05 PM
I honestly don’t believe it will affect brands more than it already has. The advent of virtual try on, AR viewers, and payment through crypto are already the top tier of current market utilization. I think it will be another year or 2 before you see a true shift into the supposed “metaverse” and people market and sell for it directly. If Second Life and the Sims have taught us anything, it’s that people can only spend so much time and money on a virtual world before the next gimmick is needed.
Thursday, August 4th
Aaron Smith 7:01 PM
I think my lack of hoity-toity professionalism is what makes me so successful lol
You’re still Jenny from the block
Aaron Smith 7:05 PM
“Used to have a little now I have a lot”
Tom 7:06 PM
…. “of ice cream” !
Aaron Smith 7:07 PM
More like of sushi
Went real high end last night lol
Tom 7:08 PM
“someone’s doing well”
Oh – your wife’s Bday?
Happy birthday to her !
Aaron Smith 7:10 PM