Today we are delighted to honor all the good work from Michael Cruz, one of the stellar developers on the North Star Marketing team, as he celebrates his four-year workiversary with us. We caught up with him recently to hear more about his highlights from the last year and get a sneak preview of what’s on the horizon.
Michael, first of all, we’re so grateful for all you’re doing behind the scenes for us and our clients. From all of us: thank you! Secondly, It would take a whole series of interviews for me to really understand all you do to keep Via (our project management platform) running smoothly and improving, but what can you tell us about your past year at NSM?
Michael: Well, one of the biggest things is that we’ve continued to fundamentally shift how we’re thinking about Via and what it does. We built it from the ground up as a project management system that would align with the goals and needs that are specific to marketing firms and departments. But these days, Via has become more of an agency operating system, and that’s impacted the kind of features we’ve been working on.
Can you give us an example of what that change in scope looks like?
Michael: One of the major things is how we’re investing in the value of campaign thinking. What happens for so many teams is that you end up doing an endless series of one marketing project after another … just the way we’ve mostly been trained to do. Do you need more sales leads? Launch another project like your last one to drum up new business. One of the downsides in that thinking is that there’s no connection between how those projects are doing. They are fundamentally disconnected.
But a campaign forces you to define your goals up front. Let’s say you’re a school. Your goal might be to increase enrollment by “X” percent. Instead of cranking up an ad campaign “because it’s what we’ve done in the past,” you start reconsidering. You start taking a hard look at things like “What kinds of projects will position us in front of people who want to hear about school options in their area? What can we do to make sure they are checking us out?” and coordinating those efforts to strategically increase enrollment.
I know that’s not an easy transition for every team and it might challenge their old routines or ways of thinking about their work and processes. What are the big challenges for you in your work, Michael?
Michael: The biggest challenge I consistently face as a developer is how to keep something simple and intuitive to use while expanding the scope of the app to do something that is inherently complex … run an agency. It’s so hard to keep the UI simple and intuitive when by nature it’s not! That’s always one of our priority goals though: keep it simple for the end-user.
What is it you like most about your work?
Michael: [laughs] It turns out, the thing I like the most is also the most challenging thing — what we were just talking about. I really do enjoy taking complex things and trying to make them simple. I mean on the UI side of things and also on the code level. When you’re creating so many features, the codebase can easily become a mess. You can fall into that trap of just building out what you need for this particular project without doing the work to connect it to everything else and maintain the order of the whole.
Developers don’t just write for machines to understand. We write for people to understand. I mean our future selves and anyone else who will have to maintain what we’ve built. You want your meaning and intentions to be very clear so they can step in to confidently make changes. That requires establishing good conventions and consistent attention to them as you’re working.
When you look ahead, what’s something you’re excited about in the year to come?
Michael: I think a big focus going forward will be helping our clients get to a place where they are really making that shift in thinking — from a series of projects to connected, strategic campaigns. We’ll be walking them through a methodology we’ve developed and grooved internally with our team. Ultimately, the app and features I’m working to refine aren’t just tools for staying organized or on schedule with any single project. They help us think through things at a much deeper level. They get those ideas out of our heads and connected in a plan for pursuing big goals.
On the personal side I know this has been a big year for your family, especially with your recent news …
Michael: Yes, May was a huge month. We welcomed our son, Stellan Shepherd, on May 18th. Amy and I also celebrated ten years of marriage on the 22nd. So yeah, a wonderful and busy month!
And hear talk around the office about a delicious hobby you have that is also near and dear to my heart. What have you been up to?
Michael: I’ve always loved cooking, and have been drawn to low-and-slow methods. There’s something very satisfying about taking a tough, fatty piece of meat and turning into something tasty that just falls off the bone over the course of eight hours or more. This year, I’ve added smoking meats to that passion. Besides adding the smoky flavor that I’ve always loved, it helps turn this hobby of slow-cooking meats into a year-round activity.
Most of the other slow-cooking methods always seem to fit better in the cold months to me. There’s something about pulling a chuck roast with cabbage and potatoes out of a dutch oven that just warms you up in the cold months, but loses some of its appeal when it’s 85 degrees outside. But a smoked pork shoulder or brisket is delicious no matter the season.