Chance Smith is an Innovation Strategist at Sodium Halogen, a web design firm based out of theCO, whose focuses range from web development to team building and organizational strategy. Below is the extended version of a conversation we had with Chance that appeared in the Jackson Sun's business section earlier this month.
Can you talk a little about how you got to where you are today? After high school I started a computer business. I had grown up helping my grandmother a lot with that sort of thing and it always felt fun and natural, and even when I would be reprimanded for messing up my parents’ computer it was always fun trying to fix the problem I had created. (Laughing) I started the computer business to help clients with either the network at their business or to reverse the effects of viruses on home computers of friends, and I needed a way to market my business in a cheap way.
So I created a website for it, and that’s where things started to take off a little. I realized that I could also use the website as a service – I was not only learning the marketing aspects needed to promote effectively but also the technological piece along with that. I was working at a local restaurant on the side at the time and was helping them with their marketing, and as I led that team I became more fascinated with the strategy of the business and the development of team’s culture. Both aspects, strategy and team culture, soon became primary interests of mine. With the marketing piece I was solving problems for the franchise that corporate had not tackled yet. Whether it was a customer loyalty system or developing a more efficient usage of paper, I recognized that the problems occurring had solutions founded in coding. From there I built a lot of projects and saw practice as my key to getting better with solving those problems.
A lot of trial-by-error. Yeah, exactly. Having that laboratory to experiment without the pressure of anything going badly, or at least drastically badly, was helpful.
Totally. You’re at Sodium Halogen now, right? Yep. I was building a lot projects for the franchise and for my customers, trying to piece together what was going on with food and code, and didn’t really know where that was going. Around that time I had heard about Meetup.com, and through one of the meet-ups in Jackson I met William [Donnell, Founder & CEO of Sodium Halogen] and we hit it off well. He didn’t know exactly how he was going to use me at the time but he needed the knowledge of code, and not having much formal training at the time he really liked my background in business strategy. It’s caused for an interesting fit, where I’m more like him and not just another developer.
How has the company, and maybe more specifically your experience, changed or shifted since moving to theCO? When we were working out of his house there weren’t many collisions with other people, unless you’re including email exchanges or video chats. Having that social interaction is nice where you can collaborate with another person next to you or just have a conversation with them. It’s nice to be in the position to be able to work from home, but having the flexibility that’s available with theCO–being able to work with and around other people–has been a good thing.
Do you think that being apart of creative community is important? Definitely. If you’re wanting to innovate then you’re obviously going to look outside of yourself. At the kitchen table you’re going to be searching the internet to satisfy that, but you don’t have that social element that allows you to throw around ideas quickly. As a creative resource, no matter what your work is, having people around you is very important. And it’s nice that you can not only have your team close by but also other teams close by to collaborate with.
Can you tell us more about the creative aspects of your job and how you sustain that sense of innovation or ingenuity from week-to-week, or even day-to-day? Yeah! Part of the reason for the team culture that is in Sodium Halogen is centered on customer experience; how can we innovate in a way that creates value and a memorable experience for the customer so that they will want to return or interact with you more often? We use animated gifs a lot at work when emailing back and forth with customers, which allows for a small opportunity to integrate a little more of personality into that relationship. So that’s one way of being more creative with what we do on a day-to-day basis.
We look at other sources and businesses that are already executing in app and website development, which requires an eye for what a good experience for customers looks like. We’re constantly thinking through what they need and how we can combine other methods to give them something memorable. It’s testing, a lot of testing.
Back to trial and error. Yeah. If you’re not failing then you’re not moving forward. You’re not trying anything new.
You said in high school that you constantly experimented with your family’s computer and learned to troubleshoot your way out of any messes that came out of that. Did you think then that you would be in the tech industry or using that skillset formally as an adult? No. I knew my interests were business related, but I didn’t see working on computers as a way to generate income, and I definitely didn’t see coding as a way to do that. I guess MySpace was my first experience with code (laughing) – dealing with HTML, formulating hexadecimal colors, and that sort of a thing. I never saw coding as a formal way to get income, but I knew I’d be involved in business. That’s how my brain has always worked.
Are there any other areas of interest or specific projects that you would like to explore more? Having a team that I work closely with is something that I’d like to have again. Whether that’s within Sodium Halogen or with a project of my own, I have no idea. But I know that’s a looming desire.
iOS development, at least within the scope of a career, is something I’ve been dabbling with in the last few months. There’s been a huge uptick in Java Script because of the different frameworks becoming more main-stream, and the integration of live data that’s accommodated in those programs is really interesting to me.
It seems like most people who work in web design or development are listening to music more times than not when they’re working. Is that the case for you? Are there any particular artists or albums that are in your heavy rotation right now? I definitely listen to a lot of music whenever I’m trying to focus.
I want to know about any guilty pleasures, too (laughing). (Laughing) I’d say Ellie Goulding has been a guilty pleasure as of late; the dubstep remixes of her music are always “interesting” to me. Anything with a steady beat is something that I can get really into when working. Sylvan Esso’s self-titled record has been one that I’ve loved – “Coffee” is one of my go-to tracks.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your field? I would say to find something that interests you and drive them home. I’m not sure if I have any hobbies, because my work is my hobby. I don’t need a vacation because my work is my vacation. In my free-time I’m working on the same things that I do at work. If I’m not innovating outside of work then I don’t feel like I’m able to add anything to my work. I guess it’s all about finding what it is you like, and then feeding that desire, so that you’re not thinking about what you’re doing but actually loving it.
Interview and transcription by Joseph Smith.