Why We’re Not Hiring Creative Technologists

In the digital, interactive and social media-focused agency world, it’s easy to talk a big game, but for disciplines that require true, deep knowledge of the subject for success, there’s a fine line between “understanding” and “expertise”. Our Creative Technology Director Igor Clark explains why ideas aren’t enough, below the jump.

By Igor Clark, Creative Technology Director

I’ve pretty much had it with the term “Creative Technology”. I’m a “Creative Technology Director” myself, and even I’m over it: already it seems clichéd at best, and at worst, bordering on the meaningless. Here’s why.

Not so long ago, the rise and rise of “digital” meant agencies having to come up with increasing amounts of interactive work. They didn’t know how to do it, so their developers got screwed, and the work suffered. Horribly.

Few outside the tech teams grasped what was involved in building the software needed for digital campaigns. Crazy deadlines, unrealistic expectations, ill-considered and even ill-advised requirements led to ever-more “inventive” technical solutions. Then, when the last-minute hack they had to cobble together failed to stand up to the traffic they never promised it would, developers were cursed and vilified.

But this wasn’t the really bad part. Software folk who found their way into agency-land either loved it, and stayed – or they didn’t, and left. For the ones who stuck around, and who felt the pain most acutely, the really bad part wasn’t the pressure or the deadlines: it was that their work wasn’t understood, so it wasn’t properly recognized.

Their work wasn’t purely science or technology; though grounded in both, it was far from the simple application of formulae or solving of equations. Developers knew that you couldn’t take a creative brief as a set of instructions and just “translate” it into software. You have to interpret it, and that takes an extra spark. A creative spark. They saw this was a fundamental part of the overall interactive creative process, and yet a parallel, creative process of its own. The naming perpetuated the misunderstanding, and so it had to change.

At the same time, people across agencies were recognizing that their existing creative model just wasn’t working out for “interactive”. Crews outside the fortress walls were doing innovative and engaging work, not only through using new and different technologies to do it (openFrameworks, Processing, robots and Arduino, computer vision & Kinect, projection mapping, the list goes on), but also by trying out different approaches and processes. Namely: the technology was the creative.

Photo by maveric2003, licensed under the Creative Commons

In this way, “creative technology” was born: partly to assuage the accumulating angst of downtrodden developers; partly to enable those developers willing to step up to the creative plate also to step outside the conventional development toolkit; and partly – perhaps most importantly – to spread awareness across the board that where interactive work is concerned, creating involves making; making interactive stuff involves technology; and people can be creative in a range of disciplines, not only blue-sky ideation.

At its inception, this was A Good Thing, and it happened for Good Reasons. So what happened? Why do I now find myself wondering whether Creative Technology, as a label and a discipline, is effectively bankrupt?

As in any new, burgeoning and (to many) incomprehensible field, most people have neither the background nor the time to get under the surface and really understand what it’s all about. So they need people to help do that.

Unfortunately, in any field requiring background and time to get beneath the surface, the ninja dust is easy to throw in the faces of the uninitiated, disguising the underlying truth – which is, all too frequently, only a surface-level familiarity with the necessary materials.

University and training courses spring up, servicing the new market of people wanting to get educated in the new field. Courses need funding; funding requires admissions; admissions policies get broadened; broad admissions policies welcome novices and amateurs. Ergo, disciplines become ill-disciplined, specialization becomes flabby and watered-down to the point of meaninglessness.

Outcome: “creative technologists” who think that their daily use of social media, “passion for digital” and pile of half-baked ideas about QR codes, mobile integration and Facebook apps constitute an entitlement to have those ideas brought to life by the still-downtrodden developers, still languishing in the dungeons of overworked production companies and in-house development teams.

Photo by Igor Clark

As a result, “Creative Technology” has become watered down to the point where people fresh out of “creative tech” courses need only sprinkle some of that digital ninja-dust on their resumés, and those without the requisite background, know-how and experience to sort the wheat from the chaff are none the wiser.

The talent drifts off. The ninjas plan and conceive the work, and analyse its success, using metrics no-one else understands. Bad work proliferates, becomes accepted and normalized within the industry; the really good people get further alienated, more dust is thrown to disguise others taking their places, and round and round it goes, until no-one knows who’s a ninja and who’s not. Except for the best people, who’ve left the agency scene in the dust – and the audience, of course, who are left unmoved. Or, worse, switched off.

Is this pattern inevitable? Can we, as agency-land technologists, do anything about it?

Clearly many non-technical factors are involved, but there is one simple and concrete thing we can do: stop hiring “creative technologists”. Hire coders. Reject compromise on this front, and resist pressure to give in to it. Only hire people to work at the crossover of creative and technology if they have strong, practical, current coding skills.

Don’t fall for the illusion that a candidate is creatively strong enough to compensate for the weak code. Spending a year or two on a training course gaining a passing acquaintance with a couple of trending technologies isn’t good enough. They need to live and breathe this stuff, and to use the appropriate languages and tools fluently and transparently, without stopping to think about it. So if a person puts “creative technologist” on their resumé, but doesn’t know how to code, can’t show you things they’ve made, and can’t prove they made them by explaining why they wrote the code the way they did, don’t hire them. Simple as that.

Think this sounds elitist? Well, it is – and there’s a reason.

Photo by Igor Clark

Agencies don’t hire writers just because they know the rules of grammar. We hire them because they’re eloquent, lucid, imaginative wordsmiths. We hire them because of their practised ability to lovingly craft words into things that work. Things that make people feel.

There are people who engineer excellent software. There are people who come up with amazing ideas. The interactive space by definition requires the fusion of the two, and technology at the heart of creation. At the point of intersection, you’re going to need people who understand both, and who have one foot on either side. As Forrester’s Mike Gualtieri recently wrote in a fresh piece about how to create great software, that means “renaissance developers who have passion, creativity, discipline, domain knowledge, and user empathy”.

This is difficult territory for creative agencies. Maybe you don’t know how to hire these people yet. Maybe it doesn’t fit with your structures. Tough, isn’t it? But you’re going to have to deal with it, and fix it.

Ultimately, to do that you need to provide an environment that’s as appealing and satisfying for extraordinary, creative software people as the one you already provide is for traditional creative folks. But it also needs to be as appealing to this new breed as their potential alternate settings at Google, Facebook, Tech Startup X. Fortunately, you have the potential to make it even more so for genuine creative coders – because they’re not looking for pure engineering any more than you are.

While you don’t need to become an engineering company, you face some of their challenges. You need to understand, accept and embrace some of the nuts and bolts of software development, and take on board the work dedicated shops are doing on its processes. You need such a strong streak of code running through the atmosphere that coders want to come to you, and everyone else gets code spilling over them.

But “digital” is a hybrid realm, and you need to provide a balance. Fortunately, you’re in a perfect position to counterpoint the engineering-first environment that others have so successfully developed, leading so successfully to technically excellent, efficient, and often creatively uninspiring work. You have the creative angle covered (right?), so to get to the hybrid middle-ground, you have to allow developers the flexibility, the leeway and the time to engineer solid work – and you have to welcome the hybrid creative coders into the heart of what you do, to make a hybrid place where they feel at home, and where they can help ensure that what gets sold makes sense, and that it can be made without actually killing a team of engineers in the attempt.

Photo by Igor Clark

Don’t get me wrong, this is hard, and it’ll take time. It’s not just procedural, but cultural, so a big part of doing it comes down to who you hire and how you let them do their thing. But that’s exactly the point. That’s why it’s most important, way before you get all that fixed, and as the first major step on that road: just don’t hire “creative technologists” who aren’t strong coders.

Bottom line, these people need to make stuff, fast. They need to prove or disprove concepts, in ways that non-technologists understand, fast. So they need to know how to code efficiently, economically and effectively. They need to understand the appropriate technology stack from top to bottom, know which tools are right for the job – and most of all, they must be prepared to crack their knuckles, roll up their sleeves and get their fingers into the code. Up to the elbows.

You’re probably thinking, “OK, those people are few and far between; we still need people to bridge the gap between them and the rest of the agency”. You’re not wrong; you’ve put your finger straight on the really interesting corollary, and the exact reason why creative agencies could be the most inspiring environment for creative coders, which is simply this: we have to be.

With integrated interactive work ever more critical, creative agencies need to change drastically, in ways that suit perfectly those people we most need to attract. We need to adapt and evolve to survive. The serious talent is doing it for itself; going to small shops, shooting solo. To reach the very best people, we need to change in ways that make them want to come to us; to allow and even help them to change us, and to help us shape our evolution.

Photo by Igor Clark

This is more than “building a digital team”, or “covering digital bases”. The agency as a whole has to step up to the tectonic plate and realize that not only are digital, social, interactive, gaming all here to stay, but they already permeate the entire landscape of what consumers are doing. We need to change our processes, structures and approach to how we create in order to accommodate this stuff, and open our arms to the people who make it happen.

Start off by refusing to believe people who tell you that hiring them to do the understanding for you means you can carry on as you were. Instead, hire the right people in the right places, and make the changes necessary to let them do what they do. Creative people who can code up a storm, and, critically, experienced people who can properly assess the code they’re shown. These are the people who will help us flourish – if we can help them to do the same.

At W+K we’re always looking to meet good technology people, and we want to read your code. Developers, engineers, creative coders. If that’s you, if you’ve got the endurance to make it this far, and if you’re interested in applying your creativity through code with us in Portland, then why not get in touch?

Find Igor on Twitter at @IgorClark.

159 thoughts on “Why We’re Not Hiring Creative Technologists

  1. Nate Davis

    Hey Igor,
    it’s been alternately interesting and disquieting watching the rapid evolution of the business over the past few years, as more and more emphasis gets placed on digital and the phrase “ahh, nobody reads on the internet” gets bandied about with increasing frequency. I’ve often wondered whether I should be devoting some of the time I spend trying to become a better writer and thinker to learning to code instead, so I can be hip, be more marketable, be someplace like The Barbarian Group or R/GA.
    But thanks for reminding me why I’m in this business, and for inspiring me with a great summary of what I want to accomplish: “Agencies don’t hire writers just because they know the rules of grammar. We hire them because they’re eloquent, lucid, imaginative wordsmiths. We hire them because of their practised ability to lovingly craft words into things that work. Things that make people feel.”

    copywriter, code-ignorant

    Hey Igor,    it’s been alternately interesting and disquieting watching the rapid evolution of the business over the past few years, as more and more emphasis gets placed on digital and the phrase “ahh, nobody reads on the internet” gets bandied about with increasing frequency. I’ve often wondered whether I should be devoting some of the time I spend trying to become a better writer and thinker to learning to code instead, so I can be hip, be more marketable, be someplace like The Barbarian Group or R/GA.    But thanks for reminding me why I’m in this business, and for inspiring me with a great summary of what I want to accomplish: “Agencies don’t hire writers just because they know the rules of grammar. We hire them because they’re eloquent, lucid, imaginative wordsmiths. We hire them because of their practised ability to lovingly craft words into things that work. Things that make people feel.”Natecopywriter & naught else

  2. Patrick Kent

    isn’t the inherent value of a  creative technologist really a frankenstein of developers, creatives, and strategists…working together?

    1. Anonymous

      More or less, it varies from one agency to another; honestly, I have yet to find a truly suitable job description for such a title because it often ends up in a person just talking/advising without any tangible output.

  3. Subjective-C

    I agree with you for the most part. The schools popping up offering “creative technology” courses which crate a misled and further in debt group of “creative technologists”. Ninja-Dust – spot on, great description of the deception!

    What I don’t agree with is that you need to hire strong developers instead of creative thinkers who can work with strong developers. Science Fiction writers make the best futurists because they create stories that aren’t shackled by reality. Just like creative minds come up with the best ideas because they have the perspective, exposure, and experience of marketing which developers do not. A developer might think they know whats best idea for an app, site, feature, etc. Instead it’s the creative minds who live and breathe the brands they work for who know the target audience and what might make for a great “digital” (starting to hate that word) campaign.

    In today’s world there are a million ways to develop (insert list of trendy digital/social terms), and an agency shouldn’t be held hostage by their interactive team. Strong developers are worth their weight in gold, and aren’t being paid to come up with creative ideas. They are being paid to execute in the most efficient way possible to help ensure that the vision that started the idea is carried over into the execution. Sometimes it happens, other times it has to be guided (most time by the development team) into what is even possible, based on the idea.

    Your post whines a little with your stories of deadlines, unrealistic goals, and impossible ideas. You cast the role of the developer as misunderstood and constantly on the defense. That sounds like either a talent issue, or a management issue, with lack of accountability if everything rolls downhill onto the development team who then becomes “vilified”. It’s up to the person who works (as you mentioned) at the corner of creativity and technology to prevent situations like that from happening in the first place. Not left up to the developers to piss and moan once the deal has been signed, and the client is expecting the impossible which was sold in to them. “Hey we want a kiosk that will download songs onto a customers ipod!” lol

    Lets face it, clients are clients, and crazy deadlines will never go away, unless the client takes their business elsewhere. We’re all in the business of providing solutions you just have to make sure your team (on the creative/idea side) make sense in their positions.

    1. Imranbehlim

      I think you are talking about an ‘ideal world’ where blue skies thinking could be realised without time, budget and client understanding constraints. In reality we digital folk pull off miracles in little time and with typically 1/4 of the budget an ad agency will use to produce assets for print/video campaigns. And for some reason digital people are always consulted AFTER the fact or a creative idea has been sold into the client. Only really skilled, methodical and creative coders can dig you out of these holes!

      It’s easy to talk about an idea – everyone thinks they have the right to be a creative in ad agencies – but the harsh reality is that ideas need to be deliverable AND consumable by the user.

      From a ‘Talented’ Digital Producer (NOT PM!)

  4. Marcus Kirsch

    Not quite sure what to think mainly because the text is way too long to make a point. Bottomline for me would be that: if you have people who already understand the shit and are creative, then get some specialist hardcore coders who are versatile, ok. But then again you have to keep them up to date like noone else. Thats the second shit it comes down to, You either have a team that is fucking good at what they are doing and open to even the weirdest things critically, great. But thats heavy investment and agile to the max. If you are lucky enough to find those even in the ‘coder’ or ‘hacker’ world, good for you, gold dust there. The fact is call them CT or hackers, there are a lot of bad ones out there and a few who keep on checking the bigger picture whilst staying up to date (read, read shit, look at shit) but they are rare in any profession not especially in adland. (Trust me I am new there)
    The more specialist you hire the more production you might look like or unused time you might have for them if you are not a specialist company. Essence: Good people are hard to find, maybe educate more. And if you find the right balance of ‘good for more than a year’ people and still push boundaries, you will be close to legend(=rare). (words=dust&smoke)

  5. Brian Lane Winfield Moore

    I’m curious what you think of a sort of copywriter/AD combo, but on a digital execution side— consider, perhaps a coder/creative combo that cross each other’s lines (a creative that can code a bit, and a coder that has creative ideas).

    I’ve been in advertising for a short amount of time (it wasn’t something I planned on doing), but the projects I had done before this tended to work that way—a friend of mine who was a master coder and a bit creative and me, more creative, with a bit of coding experience.

    I see that you’d most likely prefer all coders that have a creative blood in them, but this model has worked for me pre-advertising.

  6. steve poppe

    I’m sure this was an awesome post and I tracked it for the first couple of paras but then have to admit, I lost steam.  Technologists, creatives and teachers agree brevity is a virtue. Steve at WhatsTheIdea

  7. Dustin Currie

    @879332fee7f25c888d41d83de302e184:disqus You can’t separate ideas from engineering on any non-trivial project. Doesn’t work.

    Software is an inherently different beast than anything else agencies do, and non-trivial digital work often crosses into honest-to-God software development. You can’t partition out software development. All roles in the software development process – business, engineering, creative, however you want to assign roles – need to interact regularly from start to finish.

    As an outsider with some inside experience in the agency world, I’ve seen that the departmental and silo’d nature of production is the single biggest factor in digital projects ending up polished turds. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that even differentiating between a role as “creative” or “developer” or “producer” is inherently poisonous to the software development process.

    1. Subjective-C

      Who suggested that development be separated from ideation? It is critical that someone who understands development/execution help guide/ground the creative ideas that come out of agency meetings. I agree that silo’d execution is a dead, old, dusty, early 2000’s way “digital agencies” used to operate. I feel that has more to do with efficiency than anything (unless you have say 600 developers)

      Your response oozes desktop software developer/engineer, which is why I can’t blame you for your opinion. In true software development there isn’t anyone in the world better suited for planning out a product than a developer themselves .

      On the other hand, in agency-land as some call it you’re dealing with more consumer/customer facing products and services (save for iPhone/Android apps) which don’t require a developer to plan out and asses feasibility (i’m talking websites/applications, “facebook apps”, “Tweetering” etc 😉 ). There are many shapes and sizes of “producers” and “digital producers” but the one you’re looking for is the one that can help during the creative process but manages and is held accountable for the development team, the work they are brought, and the work that is produced.

      Going back to my original point: developers are paid to do what they do best. I don’t expect their precious time to be wasted in start up meetings or brainstorms unless its something REALLY out there, or a very specialized project involving multiple systems talking to each other over multiple protocols for example.

      1. Dustin Currie

        I have a much more radical perspective on software development.

        I see agency producer role as inherently conflicted and the idea of holding producers accountable for development teams is stupid. Not just wrong. Not just a bad idea. But much worse. Stupid.

        And fwiw, I’ve never developed a native application, desktop or mobile. And I have as much interest in native mobile as I ever did in native desktop.

        1. Subjective-C

          My apologies, I did imply that a “producer” be held accountable for a development team. That wasn’t the goal of that thought. What I meant was someone who has worked in capacity of both worlds. Nothing will ever replace the role of a senior developer and the development team. At the same time you cannot expect a senior developer to sit in creative meetings unless the circumstances call for his/her involvement that early int he process. Otherwise, that is where this “crossover” person (going back to the wretched term creative technologist) comes into play.

      2. Havlentia

        On the other hand, in agency-land as some call it you’re dealing with
        more consumer/customer facing products and services (save for
        iPhone/Android apps) which don’t require a developer to plan out and
        asses feasibility (i’m talking websites/applications, “facebook apps”,
        “Tweetering” etc 😉 ).

        1. Havlentia

          Ouch, Disqus has a weird interface.  Anyway, I dropped by to tell you that you definately do need a developer to help out with facebook apps and campaigns because there are technical issues, such as facebook’s constantly shifting sands and insistence on end-to-end SSL.  Know what your traffic is going to be?  No you don’t.  Know why the application is failing?  Good luck unless you have someone with the relevant knowledge.

          The blue sky thinking that some people get into during the planning stages (it’s an API, it’ll be easy) fails to take into consideration the blinding moment you figure out that something has gone wrong, and that previously five minute task stretches to a day or more of research.  Sure, developers can be difficult to get on with, and you might not see the inherent value of someone that isn’t ‘creative’, but go take a look at any of the victorian era bridges and tell me that someone can’t engineer something beautiful, up to the task and above all suitable for purpose.

          The bunfight between people that know and people who think they know is an age-old conundrum that is best settled by discussing the problems with an aim to moving forward rather than a battle between two disparate sides, which it all too often falls into.  Failing to plan is planning to fail.

          I will say that ‘ninja-dust’ made me chuckle.  I’ve seen more than one resume with the word ‘ninja’ on it, and anything less than four years commercial experience in anything (not academic) wouldn’t warrant a title.

  8. Mike Newell

    Good article, I agree for the most part that agencies should hire coders, not ‘gadget geeks’ and theorists. However, you mention that creative technologists need to make things – fast. I have run into several issues already where making something fast hasn’t been the impressive/polished thing advertising folks are used to…it proved the concept, but wasn’t glamorous.

    Any advice for bridging the gap between rapid prototyping and visually appealing concepts that isn’t hype?

    It’s also a bit hard to do by yourself…if you’re going to hire one, hire two – at least.

    PS – I like the macro shot of the book, talk to the people who could tell you immediately that’s a picture of a c++ manual.

    1. Guest

      Actually the book is “The C Programming Language” by Kernighan and Ritchie (aka “K&R”). 

      I also like the screenshots of mediocre PHP that’s building SQL via string concatenation.

    2. Igor Clark

      Hi Mike. I think the key point for me is that prototyping is most often about shaking out functionality rather than form. It doesn’t have to be production quality code and it doesn’t have to look beautiful. Getting buy-in for a visual treatment or look seems to be part of a separate process.

      BTW glad you like the pic. It’s K&R. White bible innit.

      1. Mike Newell

        Shit, should have kept my mouth shut about the book…Thanks, separating form from function is helpful in managing expectations. However, I’m finding pitches to be whole different ballgame – they tend to need form + function (theatrical at least). 

  9. Oscar Trelles

    @879332fee7f25c888d41d83de302e184:disqus Anybody can be creative or not, it doesn’t matter what is their profession. “Creative” is not a profession, it is a quality that designers, copywriters, project managers and yes, coders, can have or lack.

    1. Subjective-C

      I agree. But creative != creative for all of the professions you listed.

      A creative designer can design the most beautiful layout, but it takes a creative coder to put it together efficiently with the highest compatibility across all browsers and devices.

      Meanwhile it takes someone who understands both worlds to tell the designer not design with scrolling divs if the site is to be mostly viewed on mobile/tablet devices.

        1. Subjective-C

          I couldn’t agree more. As I mentioned i’m not saying that we need to keep developers out of the meetings. These jobs can be handled, planned and executed in collaboration just fine with out the close supervision and scrutiny from the hardest of developers. Creativity is stifled sometimes as a result. (We’ve had a nay-sayer developer stifle creativity before because he couldn’t see past his own abilities, not that of his team)

  10. Chris Harrison

    I left advertising because I just got tired of people who think that being “creative” is purely the domain of artists and writers. Meanwhile, developers are thrown into a dark corner of the office to slave away on terribly conceived facebook pages and horrible banner ads.

    I’m willing to bet that most agencies (the ones with developers) can’t see the talent they already have. Spend more money  training the developers how to work in advertising rather than the other way round, give your developers a creative outlet and you might find yourself surprised.

  11. Richard

    Bit surprised that you imply that Creative Technology is a newish term, we were called that 20 years ago and were hard coders crossed with fine artists. Your description of the Creative Technologists in agencies is also surprising. Perhaps W+K have had a terrible misguided hiring policy, certainly most agency Creative technologists I meet here in London are very tech savvy and usually good coders. Trad coders in agencies need to change their attitudes if they wish to be treated as creative.

    1. Subjective-C

      Richard, are you talking about this kind of creative technologist from 20 years ago?


      This reinforces my thought that the term “Creative Technologist” has many many different meanings if none at all.

  12. John McClaire III

    I agree with parts of this post. The thing to remember is that it takes a team to develop a concept from start to finish. It is impossible for one person to come up with a good concept and also code it completely and quickly. The keyword being quickly. A CT should definitely be able to understand and write code, but what it comes down to is being able to prototype/show a proof of concept. A CT is needed because they think completely differently than a developer. They understand both worlds. A developer does not have the expertise, for the most part, to come up with a strong brand concept. They think purely about executions. To your point, why hire art directors when you can just get graphic designers who will work for less pay? Also, art directors don’t produce every idea they have because there is someone who specializes in the execution: a producer. Again, because there is not enough time for one person to come up with a solid concept and produce an amazing execution. Personally, I call myself a CT because I code, prototype, concept, and execute, but never all by myself.- Face/John (Leo Burnett Creative Technologist/VCU Brandcenter alumni)

    1. Anon

      In the end you’re still just trying to get people to buy stuff they don’t need.

  13. Pingback: Why We�re Not Hiring Creative Technologists | Understanding code | Scoop.it

  14. Gordon

    Established “traditional” agencies have too much vested interest in perpetuating the status quo for these changes to happen. Account and creative staff are terrified of new ways of working, and will fight tooth and claw to prevent them for disrupting their cozy niches. 

    For this to work there has to be a proper dialogue between all the affected disciplines, and my experience is that too many heads are stuck in the sand. If you want a cliche borrowed from the world of science, old theories don’t go away, their proponents just die after a while.You can lead a dinosaur to water, but you can’t make it drink.

    1. Igor Clark

      Hi Gordon, yep, understand exactly where you’re coming from. I do question though whether agencies – or anyone – will be able to perpetuate the status quo; the change is real, and it’s happening, so in my mind it’s not an issue of whether agencies might stifle it to protect their vested interests, but rather whether they will be able to adapt to it in order to survive. Thanks for the input.

  15. Blake

    So you are saying agencies, who started hiring developers simply because the world was evolving faster than they could keep up with, is inherently not going to work out well?

    What does every other REAL development shop do?  Easy, it is IT first, creative second.  All of these problems stem from the fact that agencies have that backwards.  Hire a CTO with a strong development background, use digital project managers (do not try to recycle the people you already have, because they are going to be terrible at managing an IT project with no experience), then make creatives and account your whipping boy.  Problem solved.  Its really not a hard problem to solve, agencies are just very resistant to change.  Especially when it involves a changing of the guard.

    1. Igor Clark

      Hi Blake,

      I think we’re largely in agreement – and in particular I absolutely agree that it’s all about the people involved and their skills. I’m saying that I think in order to work out well, agencies are going to have to adapt, and that technology and software development is going to have to become a core part of their structure and capabilities, rather than an addendum or appendage which is seen as a necessary inconvenience, rather than fundamental to the work and the business.

    2. Geoff Gaudreault

      I’d have to say it’s wrong-headed to put technology before creative, or the other way around. They need to be collaborative and work together as peers. No one is another’s whipping boy.

      Certainly, form follows function, but in interactive development, that function needs to be defined by UX and validated by tech. Then, work out a spec. and give the draft to developers and creative. Get feedback and then lock it down.

      If you start big, define the Why, work out the How, then the What will spring naturally from that.

  16. Chick Foxgrover

    Well we’ve certainly been arguing this it seems a long time over on the linkedin group and I support Igor’s position and definition of what it SHOULD mean. Real technologists, coders and engineers of many stripes who work in a creative industry. 

    The “creative” part is important tho because in the end, working in an agency as a developer IS different than doing app dev at a financial company or in the CRM department at a manufacturer, etc. And agencies want deeper relationships with their clients and technology is moving forward in ALL business from it’s past primarily business and decision support role. So creative technologists who have those skills can be the bridge between and agency and deeply engagement with creating business value for clients. 

    I actually had the title of VP of Creative Technology in 1996 when what it meant was  the management of technology for digital prepress, digital video and CD-Rom and other HyperCard and Director work. Some of you may remember this stuff. With the advent of the web and now social, mobile and the internet of things we all live through and with all kinds of technology all the time. I prefer to think of agencies primarily now woking in experience design, the interactive arts and responsible to a greater or lesser degree for the design, prototyping and end-to-end execution and maintenance of experience systems.

    I think there is some value in the term but only if it helps and like Igor, I have experienced it becoming a weasel word for any of the “super users” we have out there today. 

    I’m sorry though. Some years ago I was an early member of the IxDA, the interaction design association, and I think some folks over there are STILL arguing over what an interaction designer is and what skills, experience and training they should have. But it hasn’t stopped them from becoming a vibrant and really interesting community that produces real insight on our craft(s) and concepts.

    I think we need that community if only to provide a counterweight to the gravity that the old star system and the cult of “the big idea” has in our industry to this day. To lead conversations about the cultural changes Igor talks about and all businesses today, not just ad agencies, are facing. But there is no need to keep a title alive to do this. If we can another way to help focus our efforts of leading this change I’d like to be a part of it.

    1. Igor Clark

      Hi Chick, “weasel word for ‘super users'” is right on the button. There’s obviously a place in the world and in agencies for smart people with Internet super-user status. Just not in roles that need people who can make software.

  17. Luis Antezana (luckylou)

    I think you make some great points in the article, specifically about seeing through the ninja dust in search of real coding talent, as well as your thoughts about re-aligning “digital’s” position within the agency.

    I also like Subjective-C’s rebuttal and John McClaire’s expansion, and sadly believe Gordon makes a realistic point as well.

    My opinion is that your take on a Creative Technologist seems to come purely from the standpoint of a developer, and in this context you are spot-on. However, a true Creative technologist is not a developer, otherwise they’d call themselves developers.

    CTs need to be firmly grounded in strategy, marketing, and branding as much as they understand technology. This isn’t a case of knowing a piddly amount of everything but more of one of being able to effectively bridge these two worlds.

    Good CTs work effectively with the appropriate talent in all related fields at the appropriate times. We love and rely on great developers, we inform and challenge traditional creatives, and we’re often the ones who connect with the clients, the ones who synthesize a technical realization of what they’re really seeking.

    Marginalizing CTs as pedantic dabblers trivializes the important work of a lot of intrepid and earnestly contributing people. Wannabes and charlatans will always perpetrate every field of work, but those of us who actually do the work and put in the time over the years can distinguish ourselves. We don’t need to dump the title.

  18. Jamie Kosoy

    I agree there are issues with taxonomy in describing the role of what we do… but I have more issues with the term “coder” than I do “technologist”. Coder implies one who is good at coding. Technologist sounds much more ridiculous, but at least implies one who is good at technology. The requirements of the job are the same – to be proficient when programming, eloquent when discussing feasibility or creative challenges and passionate about the future of the the craft.

    There are a lot more issues with the words we use to describe the things we do these days beyond this post, though. Wieden + Kennedy calls itself a “Full Service Integrated Advertising Agency”. Think about that. Three of those words (“Full Service Integrated”) are the same level of hocus-pocus you just described in your blog post and the other two (“Advertising Agency”) are a self-imposed glass ceiling on your capabilities. It’s the equivalent of Apple calling itself a hardware company.In fact, having the word “creative” in a title is the most absurd thing of all. That implies other people aren’t creative. If the company is in the business of making creative things for people, there shouldn’t be any question that everyone there is creative. It should be in the very DNA of the company.

    If there’s a better word to describe the job I’m all for it. But the issue isn’t the name – it’s the challenging of identifying talented people (especially fresh out of school) vs people good at throwing “ninja-dust”. That’s not a problem local to technology/programming, nor is it the fault of academia. It’s simply hard to find good talent. But there is an effective solution: Teach. For a couple of hours a week investment you’ll meet more bright, inspired students hungry to show what they can do… and infuse your passion to the next generation of ninjas.

  19. Ed Flynn

    I call shenanigans on the idea that the definition of a creative technologist is solely attributed to the development side of the fence. That’s my beef with this post.

    I don’t understand why there is such a fierce need to equate creative technologists simply as creative developers. I mean if understand correctly you are saying don’t hire a creative technologist unless they are a really good developer. When did the root definition of creative technologist equate to one that spends all day coding.
    I’ve seen this argument soooo many times “CT’s” have to code and know code inside and out. Which if you define a CT as a creative developer then yeah I guess so. But when did that become the defacto definition?

    I would argue that there is an alternate universe where the evil twin CT resides. This is the one that knows creative inside out and makes all day but what they make are UI patterns, flow documents, interaction states based on beauty and logic, arguments on user psychology vs marketing objectives, mental models, icon systems based on workflow patterns and cognitive recognition, ect… 

    They understand logic and patterns. They understand technology driven use cases and can read and understand a requirements doc. And yeah they can code a bit if needed, but more importantly than that they understand the fundamentals of code. Functions, arrays, operators, callbacks, conditional loops. They don’t need to know that tls.connect() will return a CryptoStream object in Node.js 

    However I do agree that it’s all about the agency really understanding what their needs are and what type of team they are trying to build. 

    If you think you got your creative bases covered and all you need are some code poets then go ahead and rock it out that way. However, you may already have some code poets. What you really need is a creative person that can think multilaterally and be a creative connective tissue across the many specialists that make good digital work hard and look beautiful.

    1. Mary Toves

      Agreed, 100%.

      I’ve interviewed at several shops where “Creative Technologist” has been more loosely defined as “Developer I Can Hire for Less”. And conversely, I’ve had offers from tech/production companies who know my development history, who have looked at my code & seen my work, offering positions that pay REALLY REALLY well, but have little to no interfacing with the creative side of this business.

      I’m sorry, but the incentive isn’t there for me to let you hire me (on a dime) as a coder you say you’re going to let play with creative (every now and again). If I’m going to do that, I’m going to focus on my own ideas and leave your agency’s tech back in 1998 with Java.  
      My big beef with this post is that if you call someone a coder, certain attributes are automatically ascribed to them. And current agency models put these folks in a dark corner, by production & accounting. Too often “Yeah, totally! You’ll be there in the concepting sesh!” = “Yeah, we’ll let you build our ideas.” And then another branded YouTube/Twitter/Facebook mashup hits the web. 

      Zzzzzzzzzz …

      1. Igor Clark

        Hi Mary. What I’m talking about is changing exactly that perception, as a part of changing the overall culture and central to the interactive creative process. Code has to be at the core of that culture. This is certainly not about paying developers less. It’s about using that cultural change to create an environment which attracts the very best, and as I said elsewhere, yes, the very best are few and far between – but if we didn’t aim high then we may as well not bother.

  20. Jobless CT

    Very well put, Igor. The part about people thinking that simply being able to drop the names of some hot new technologies entitles them to “expert technology guy” positions, whose sole purpose is to come up with cool ideas and hand them off the the code-monkeys, is so true.I graduated this spring with a master’s degree from a program (whose name I will withold) with a ‘creative technology’ type track. It is now almost November, and I am horribly unemployed and looking to food service and dish washing jobs for employment. No joke. Readers will just have to trust me on this one and believe me when I say it’s not because I’m blowing interviews or any other elementary mistakes.The cold hard truth is, if you are a so-called technologist, that means you not only need ideation skills, and good design skills, but YOU NEED TO HAVE EXPERT-LEVEL WORKING KNOWLEDGE TO *BUILD* WHAT YOU DESIGN. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to make up for the lack of said development skills, and convince you that they somehow deserve a high-paying job.Allow me to ask a question of any objectors. Why should a company hire you when your only skills are “coming up with cool ideas” and maybe drawing a couple of wireframes? What is your unique output in terms of the end-product? Bad news, folks… ANYONE can draw boxes and come up with ideas. The successful (and employed) people have the skills to build them.Over the past two years working toward my degree, I made the mistake of allowing myself to be won over by lofty talk from professors – and, oddly enough, some industry professionals as well – that made it seem so certain that my technologist compatriots and I were practically guaranteed sweet jobs, easily close to six figures starting, simply for “being good at technology.” I should have suspected something was up when I noticed only four or five (myself included) of a class numbering around 30 were capable of even the most basic things like hand-coding in HTML, or knowing what ‘CMS’ stands for. On top of that, we only had a small handful of workshops, and a half-semester’s worth of one class learning any development-type skills at all. While we were spending two years learning to be good “idea guys,” people elsewhere were advancing their development talents in addition to their ideation skills. Guess who’s going to get the jobs?No one told us that we would get out into the world and hit a steel wall on the very first step, when companies expected us to not only be good ideators, information architects, user experience experts, and web & UI designers, but expert front-end (and even back-end) developers as well. Sure enough, that’s what has happened. A very unhealthy number of my aforementioned class are still unemployed, or got removed from the jobs they managed to get, and the rest somehow managed to get “technologist” positions that somehow don’t entail any development work whatsoever. It’s anyone’s guess as to how stable those positions will end up being.

    I happen to have the skills to make it as a front-end developer, thankfully enough, but the lack of experience and training has definitely been an enormous hindrance and barrier to entry for me. If I can’t get a job, how are people who can’t even write a JQuery function supposed to? I would advise anyone training to be a “creative technologist” to learn some development skills, and learn them f*cking quickly. Otherwise, you’ll find life isn’t so fun when you’re applying for those nice $21,000/yr warehouse jobs with your shiny degree in bullsh*tting.

    1. Jobless CT

      Nice of it not to recognize 75% of my paragraph breaks. Please forgive the horrid formatting.

    2. Igor Clark

      Hi Jobless, thanks for the post, and I’m afraid you’ve not only put your finger on but also been at the sharp end of exactly what I’m talking about. Too much of that stuff out there. One of the main thrusts of my argument is that the interactive creative process is different; the production is part of the creation, through prototyping, building, iterating, reworking, and the only really successful interactive ideas are ones that are makeable. Wish you very well with the development and hope that the experience helps you get where you want to over time.

      1. Joel Kitzmiller

        Just wanted to jump in there to add a little more on top of this equation.

        I am a recent MA graduate as well where I focused on attempting to learn *some* of this technology, mostly just as a means to throw myself in and learn about the process.  There is no way I would ever attempt to pitch myself to a potential employer as someone who was an expert in the technologies mentioned in this post (processing, arduino, c++/openframeworks, etc); Even after fiddling around with them for two years. I barley touched the surface.

        My background is more marketing-based than coding-based and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish that I had done a comp sci degree as an undergrad. But then, had I done that, would I have necessary had the experience to thread together the forward-facing stuff now? 

        I think Jamie’s made a pretty good point in his post above. There are many interested in this field but very (very) few wizards that can do it all. Good on Jamie for spreading that knowledge around, but for most to be proficient in all of the jobs a Creative Technologist has laid out before him/her in this pos/comment thread, he/she would need to be a master of quite a few different backgrounds (much more than just a coder). That is more than rare and shouldn’t really be expected.

        It should be up to the agency to brief new applicants on the requirements of the job and to wade through the smoke screens the so-called social media creative technologists and the like are throwing at them—the agencies are forming the teams necessary for them.

         @60bbabeb321991bc857970791675227c:disqus  I agree on the fact that you need an expert level of knowledge to build the contraptions you dream up, but you only need a working knowledge to dream up what can be built. 

  21. Cheech

    You got me at “The serious talent is doing it for itself; going to small shops, shooting solo. To reach the very best people, we need to change in ways that make them want to come to us; to allow and even help them to change us, and to help us shape our evolution.”
    Agencies do attract great talent but talent realizes all the red tape, uber-specialized departments and unappreciating timelines, which makes them leave within weeks. Sad.. Sad..

    (Project Manager aka Partypooper)

  22. Anne Hjortshoj

    It seems like this blog post could be summarized as “hire good programmers.” Which seems like a non-radical position to have.

    The position that engineers should be able to communicate well is also a non-radical position. Everyone in technology prefers to hire engineers who can communicate with non-engineers. It’s a basic job requirement for any programmer who is more than moderately skilled.

    I think that the real issue is that the ad world has a single standard for the application of the world “creative.” “Creatives” tend to be the people who generate ideas, visuals, and pitches. I’ve always found this odd; to me, “creative” means anyone who can think through issues and come up with solutions, whether it be development challenges, information architecture challenges, or whatever. Creativity goes way beyond just generating an idea for a commercial or a website.

    This is a nagging structural issue in the ad world that necessarily places the messy back-end programming way far away from the center of the ad world universe. I think it’s part of the reason that traditional software practices seem to be news to a lot of the people doing “digital” (ugh) in the ad world. It’s simply not a focus. Nobody gets a Cannes Lion for great code (which is a damn shame). The ad world offers no rewards for amazing development work. It’s invisible.

    So of course the assumption that “creative technologists” must speak exactly the same “creative” language as, say, a creative director is ridiculous. A fascination with social media should be the last thing on the list of considerations when making a development hiring decision. Hire people who can be creative with code, versus people who can high-five the latest social media platform (news flash: it’s not that hard for reasonably good developers to make stuff that interacts with social media APIs).

    The fact that this point even needs to be made is a symptom of a greater problem.

    So yeah, I vociferously agree with your blog post.  

  23. chris hough

    outstanding thread + commentary.  all I have to add is….the people you are now looking to hire are called entrepreneurs.  these new tech entrepreneurs can program creatively, not just outline solutions, and they are pretty good at branding too.  just my 2 pennies tossed in the fountain.  

  24. 44thfloor Collective

    As we watch the world transform, or at least attempt to transform, every possible analog thing to digital we continually wage the same war of vocabulary at the beginning of each industrial shift. The beginning of the internet brought about such job titles as webmaster, internet specialist and interactive guru, which was “ninja dust” code speech for, in your new position, we will not be providing you with the correct personnel to get the job done, you are now the strategist, designer, coder, user experience, backend and whatever else this shift throws at us. At the start of my career I was more than willing to accept the challenge and I am grateful that the opportunity was available for me to explore and develop skills and expertise across multiple disciplines. It laid my foundation and qualifications that would make me a valuable asset to any agency team, even as the titles continue to change.

    Your post touches upon one of the key factors and point of frustrations facing many digital teams today, time. Shortage of time and tight deadlines aren’t exclusive to technology teams, it literally affects every person in the agency. Knowing this, we can use the classic time management processes that exist in business culture like, the delegation of tasks to the correct individual, constant, open and truthful communication, and yes teamwork, helping out on task that you have the skills needed to efficiently complete, including coding. Above all remains, the ability to realistically plan projects for the time, team and resources you have and not for the dream team we wish we had. Sure, let’s suspend reality for a moment and say we have the optimal conditions, the top engineers from Google, designers and user experience team from Apple and a product that has scale like Facebook, would that make a bad idea any better? Of course not, it may postpone the failure long enough so a pivot may be made if the core idea has substance. Can agencies sell a startup fail fast mentality to clients? I don’t know however, it does point out the need for creative ideas to maintain their elevated status of importance in digital and throughout the agency.

    Creative ideas and the proficiency to leverage those ideas across all media channels that makes sense for our client’s will continue to be the USP for agencies. Simply spreading an idea across every channel is nothing new; the revolution is in technology and the consumers use and motivations for use of the technology. We need ideas that can stimulate a consumer as well as provide roadmaps for engagement once the consumer decides to interact with our nonlinear integrated campaigns. Technology allows the consumer many touch points, be it, a spot they saw on TV, tweet from a friend, the actual use of the product or the many other gateways available to them when they are stimulated to engage with a brand. Our role as creative technologist, digital strategist or whatever label works for now, is to find the connections between consumer trends, motivations and technology then draw from personal and outside source expertise to create or recognize a good idea. What’s key to the position is making the connections that lead to insights and solutions, job title set aside.

    While doing research I examine numerous digital projects that fail due to a whole list of complications including: user experience problems related to the user interface, social components that lack, what I call “Social GEL”, it’s the concept that social projects need to facilitate an environment where consumers can “Get/Give, Entertain or Learn” preferable all three, the ignorance of choice architecture and the role it plays, or use case plans that don’t represent real user behavior, just to name a few. It may all sound like “ninja dust” nonetheless, it can be the difference between reaching project goals and failure.

    You should have seen the smile on my face while reading your comments on coders. I’ve been advocating that position for a while. This summer I wrote a post that garnered much feedback when I stated, “I believe, it’s almost impossible to be an innovative digital strategist without a deep understanding of the tech, it puts you in a situation where you are either waiting for examples of successful use of the technology or wasting time with ideas that when implemented fail because the tech doesn’t support the vision.” Our positions somewhat differs on whose time would be best spent coding, the engineer or the creative technologist, however, being able to get behind the scenes and write actual code is encompassing in the phrase, “having a deep understanding of the technology.”

    I recently spoke with Porsha Monroe from W+K, Portland and gave her my resume, although it doesn’t highlight my ability to code, a portion of the projects listed include extensive coding on my part. If you would like to connect, I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss how I believe I could become a valuable team member at W+K. (twitter:@44thfloor – blog:http://44thfloor.tumblr.com – phone:619-929-0339)

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  26. Lindsay Reene

    Brilliant. Reminds me of a similar conversation of the threat of “strategists”: http://www.digitaltonto.com/2011/the-failure-of-strategy-and-strategists/#utm_source=feed&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feed

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  28. Peeta

    People who code hate to hear this but programming is one of the most commoditized skills in the world right now.  Sure, talent is talent but, as a category, being able to code your ideas doesn’t fill the huge void that most agencies have in front of them in creating compelling digital work that actually provides value that is unique to digital media.  Creativity with technology and knowing how to bring a creative digital idea to life is the real skill and people with experience doing that, regardless of whether or not they can code, are the real asset that most agencies are lacking.  Unfortunately, agencies, especially creative shops run by guys who are far from being digital natives, tend to focus on hiring the areas they know the least about.  This is why the focus went from web developers to UX to creative technologists now, with little regard with how those roles can most effectively be applied to the creative process.  More often than not, the talent is there to produce good work but the agency doesn’t know how to leverage it.  The problem is that creative leadership at these agencies is behind the curve in regards to what actually produces results in digital and the best UX/CT teams in the world can’t save a bad concept that only works in TV.  This is why use of the word “integrated” can so often be an early warning sign for bad digital work tacked on to a traditional media campaign.  A creative digital thinker with experience bringing ideas to life, regardless of whether or not they can write a line of code, should be moved as close to the beginning of the creative concepting process as possible if this industry really wants to evolve with the people they’re trying to target.  This will help agencies move beyond just churning out disposable digital assets and start building things that people actually use.  I don’t think the key to that is more coders.  If only mechanics could design cars, we’d all be driving tanks.

    1. Blake

      I have yet to meet a programmer who did not think his trade is commoditized.  I believe what grinds most coders gears, is management’s inability to quantify their work, which leads to a failure of recognition.  Which, of course, kills ones spirit leading to rants.  Your argument is tantamount to picking the scab, ignoring the infection deep below.  It always boils down to the same problem: no digital management.

    2. Igor Clark

      Hi Peeta, thanks for your input! I agree, if agencies are to survive and flourish in interactive, great big swathes of structure, processes and approach to creativity have to change, as I said in the post. My view is that one of the core areas that need to change is that the people at the centre of the interactive creative process need to be strong, experienced coders, and not just familiar with trends in the technology landscape, so that they can be a supporting pillar throughout that process of change.

  29. Alyssa Reese

    Hi Igor,

    Thanks for the well thought out post. I agree with a lot of your points. 

    My one line of contention is that you do not account for how these true coding masters will come to be. You cite university courses as being ineffective and claim agencies should only hire truly experienced coders which doesn’t leave much space for education & training. I find this to be a constant problem in the tech industry. Everyone wants to hire badass programmers but no one wants to invest in educating & mentoring talent. We all recognize that the university system is inefficient and outdated when it comes to tech education but very few people in our community are working to solve this problem. Thus every tech company is constantly thirsty for talent and people with half the skills they need end up creating a huge percentage of our technology.

    I’d love to see another article from you on how you see people acquiring these skills in the most effective way and how we as a tech community can support the training and education of those new technologists.

    1. Blake

      That is because truly great coders cannot be taught, rather nurtured.  It is a state of mind, you would have just as hard of a time teaching someone ambition.

      The phrase “RTFM (read the f*cking manual) is not a blow off phrase, and harbors no negative context.  It is simply trying to condition your mind to actually think and apply.

    2. Igor Clark

      Hi Alyssa, you make a good point. I don’t believe the university system is inefficient in all circumstances by any means. I just think that a course in any reasonably complex discipline giving people the impression that they’ll be wizards after a couple of years covering bases is not going to be turning out people at the level I’m talking about – and I’m happy to say pretty firmly that right now, agencies need to be hiring at that level, if they’re to have a hope of surviving in competition with smaller and dedicated shops.

      Corollary of that is that right now a lot of agencies aren’t in a position to be mentoring. They need to be pulling in the top talent in order not only to make the necessary transition and best work, but also to kick off that more developmental process, which as you rightly say, is going to be instrumental in ensuring the survival of the agencies in the interactive space.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  30. zedia.net

    I really think that there is a need for Creative Technologist and that his role is to be one the same level as the Creative Director in all of the top level meetings and decisions. To me, it feels like Agencies are stuck in the Mad Men era where CD where the rock stars and all there was to produce was either print or video. As for the hiring process, can you hire a creative director right out of school? No, he needs a shit load of experience. The same goes for a creative technologist. Should a creative technologist be coding, I am not sure about that, I really like it when creative directors get their hand dirty in Photoshop, but I don’t think it is a requirment. 

  31. Anonymous

    the issue is that everyone wants credit for the ideas. and in advertising, that credit always goes to the creatives. ‘creative technologist’ is a term with rights pointing back to miami ad school. 

  32. Fred

    I think it is funny how everyone has glossed over the real issue at hand and post blame on a title or job description.The real problem is that it has become acceptable in this industry to under pay and over work. If you read through all the comments in this article they all make it sound like these timelines & budgets are acceptable and aren’t the thing that should change.If budgets/timelines were what they should be we could afford to have the proper two people for this job just like how an Art Director and Copy Writer work together. But this is not the case so we hire as many so so people as possible to get job done by the set timeline. Oh and we forget about quality because that is not as important as getting done now. I mean a 5mp picture from my phone is super cool because I can take it in real time and post to Facebook instead of an amazing 21mp picture from my 5D that I have to wait an hour to send.The real question should be “Can this industry maintain the course it is currently on”.

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  35. John Yau

    Thanks for the article. (though I’m one of those who felt the pain most acutely) 

    But really thanks, and I agree many of your points.

  36. Tom Danvers

    I think its such a shame that this job title has developed such a stigma. I’ve thought of myself as a creative technologist for the past 5 years (in fact that was my first job title as a flash dev). I got advised by a recruiter to change the tag line on my portfolio site because it was ‘misleading’. So i did because I don’t want to be contacted by a million lazy linked in recruiters and ad men with access to Google search!

    Maybe the worst thing about ‘creative technologist’ as a job title is the implication that there is another sort of ‘uncreative technologist’ which, as you’ll agree, is insane.

  37. mrjonandrews

    You call yourself what you want Danvers old boy!

    Me, I’m losing count of how many threads I’ve read on this subject in the last fews months – can’t believe I’m actually getting sucked in to replying to another one 😉

    Surely we don’t hire anyone because of their job title, but for the abilities they possess.

    Recently when I’ve been trying to hire for a creative technologist position I’ve been on the look out for coders definitely, but if they don’t have any creative skills then I move on.

    Coding isn’t enough for the guys I look for, just as creatives without any coding skills won’t cut it either.

    But each to their own!

  38. Michael Edge

    All good points, but it’s time to get controversial and think about the bigger picture for a minute…

    Anyone who actually CAN build interesting things should probably forget agency world altogether and go build something of value themselves, instead of banging their heads against the brick walls in these outdated institutions. 
    Developing interesting/useful technology is rarely possible within the framework of marketing deadlines/budgets anyway. It will for sure always be painful and mostly futile. Oh and did you really spend all those years honing your coding skills to help sell a few more cans of Old fucking Spice? No didn’t think so. 

    If you’re not capable of creating anything of value then sure, become a ‘creative technologist’ (or whatever latest fancy bullshit title you can get), take the money, moan that no one ‘gets it’, and take solace in drinks down the pub and meaningless awards. 

    If you ARE good and can DO (not just talk) then wake up and go do something useful. You’re a technologist, a problem solver. Guess what? The world has a lot of problems that need solving right now! And guess what? This doesn’t include selling more fucking cans of coke! 

    You have the power to make the world a better place, so stop wasting your lives debating job titles and get on with it.


  39. raymosley

    For months, no years, I have struggled with identifying my role for my agency. I came from a smaller “web shop” type company to a real creative agency that did work for massive clients. I started life as a graphic designer at uni, working on print and flyers etc. I had an introduction to HTML during my sound engineering course and taught myself a huge amount of development over the last 12 years. I work predominantly in PHP and HTML but have experience of flash, have worked with massive .Net projects and various frameworks, CMS systems and other enterprise level systems.

    I have worked on sites that attract massive traffic and understood about scaling, distrubuted server technologies and writing code for performance as much as simply making it work. I have built the full backend to huge sites on my own as well as part of a team. I spend a lot of my spare time dedicated to learning newer innovations, reading around subjects and working on side projects so I can try out new technologies for real and find the limits or problems with working with them.

    This helps me then in my agency life where I have to sit in meetings or pitches with clients and extract their needs (creatively) against the best technologies for purpose and compose technical specification documents and work on the ux of creative ideas (wireframe, IA type roles) to take the project forward.

    I don’t call myself a developer because I have met so many top end devs who specialise in only one code or language who have a real passion for the minute details of their languages. I don’t call myself a designer, because I only really touch photoshop to cut up designs and build out projects even if simply a starting point for other devs in our team.

    So I read your post, your description of a creative technologist and I though “that’s what I do, that’s my skill”. Because while I can code to a high level using OOP, understanding testing and deployments as part of my role in shipping projects and administrating servers for smaller projects I don’t see myself as simply a developer. I can develop, to a high standard, and I keep up on what to do and how to do it. But my real value to my company is I have over 12 years experience in doing that and I come from a creative background. I spend my time thinking about strategy, concerning myself with design, business and code. I always thought this was a weakness but now I feel it’s a strength because when I walk into a client with a thousand strong dev team I can sell in creative ideas and direction with a solid technology background.

    So I left this post conflicted. I get what you are saying but I also think in the end you will still hire people who straddle both design, strategy and development only they need to understand that through experience not via a university course. I totally agree these things are not textbook and I think it takes a long time to be at a level where you can take that role. I feel like I personally am at that level now, I only hope big agencies still want to hire good generalists with very broad deep knowledge than simply development specialists.

  40. Andre Assalino

      Wish I had read this over the weekend, so I would’ve had time to write a proper response, however, I must say that even though some of the points you make are right on the spot, it seems like you value development skills way more than the creative ones. I think they’re just as important.

      The way I see it, a CT should fundamentally act as the bridge between creative and dev, making sure both departments understand each other. At the very least, this should result in concepts coming to life exactly as they were envisioned.

      For some, that might be enough. I for one think that on top of that, CTs should be augmenters and instigators. 

      Augmenters because we can help creatives extend their ideas through a mix of creative + strategy + tech knowledge.
      Instigators because it’s our job to demand more, both from creatives and from developers.

      Now, to be able to do any of the above, CTs MUST understand both worlds (and others), just as well. This understanding can/should then be passed on to both teams, so developers and creatives alike can be educated and strive for more.

      We need to be the right mix between a Tech Director and a Creative Director, with a sense of planning & business logic, topped by a dash of insanity and optimism.
      In real life, that translates to a potential 1 man band, that can concept, design and build a prototype to get an idea across, (be it with circuit boards, code or paper and duct tape), but also translates to a digital coach, who ensures that all parts of the business (i.e. account managers, producers and even clients) are educated, inspired and kept up-to-date.

      Ultimately, Creative technologists should be the ultimate ‘yes men’, enabling creatives and developers by finding creative solutions to old and new problems.

      My 2 cents anyway 🙂

  41. Liam

    Haven’t read all the comments yet but had to post to say thank you so much for this. 

    It’s wonderful to hear this from someone in the agency world.  I couldn’t find a job I liked so I left to make my own two years ago, splitting my time between R&D in my downtime between freelance gigs.I haven’t once been tempted to come back to an ad agency. And there’s a whole generation like me – who don’t want to retire from making things but our only options were being bumped up to tech director which means lots of meetings, documentation and costings. Or taking a CT role at an agency, meaning lots of meetings, documentation and shoe-horning Augmented reality (or whatever) into whatever pitch is going on.  Amen. 

  42. Dennis Jenders

    Love the post. I think part of the issue is misunderstanding what the definition of “creative technologists” is.

    I initially thought your post was going to address why WK would not be hiring people with cross over skills, when in fact you are just trying to find the right people with hybrid skills.

    In your definition of “creative technologists” I would suggest those people may actually be better suited for agencies trying to make the switch because they can talk two languages. Creatives and Developers are very different in my agency experience. And the ability to bridge that gap is important.

    Ideally the “creative technologist” would either become a better creative or a better coder. If neither is possible they may be well suited in a project management or account role where their breadth of knowledge could better suit the team and our clients.

    Love that people are talking about this, and while I haven’t dug into all the comments it does appear people appreciate starting the conversation.

    1. Igor Clark

      Hi Dennis, yes, you got it – the right hybrid people, with the right hybrid skills – and the necessary, but not sufficient, baseline for that hybrid skill-set is: strong code.

      I don’t necessarily mean that “creative techs” should focus on becoming a better coder or better creative though – I’m in favour of breadth rather than over-specialised depth, and clearly particularly so for the hybrids we’re talking about. I just think, as I’ve said here, and on Twitter, and to anyone who’ll listen, that the label is becoming defunct through misuse and over-generalization, and we need to re-set, with a clear focus on strong code as a core competency.

  43. Joshua Newnham

    Good post – but obviously you need to do your due-diligence when hiring people (like many others, learn’t the hard way which caused me to lose about a week of my life re-writing their code).

    These thoughts are now becoming mainstream along with agencies needing to become more like silicon valley startups to compete with new demands.

    Having started and ran a small ‘mobile creative production house’ for 3 years its obvious that older/larger (and small ones) still don’t understand that consumers have changed along with how you need to communicate with them.

    My point is that I wouldn’t concentrate on the ‘creative technologist’ – programming is a fairly common skill now, and thanks to moore’s law, we (programmers) can now happily/easily be engineers that create visually compelling interactions (only really recently possible) – but rather concentrate on the ideation stage of the process and allow ‘partners’ or people who understand the medium to be involved rather than doing this in isolation.

  44. Cwebba1

    I think you are full of bombastic shit. We all know agencies such as Wieden+Kennedy only hire fresh-out-of-college twenty-somethings period. You deserve what you get and then bitch about it. What you argue for is silo management – as it’s always been in the agency environment. Your HR director/gatekeepers don’t understand strategic creativity OR Internet technology. They feed off the arrogance of snots like you and turn it into FEAR. Have the courage to hire people who can be trained and INVEST in their skills. Learn  to see potential in people and promote it. 😛

  45. Cwebba1

    PS: And so what if a creative technologist does not get it perfect the first time? After all, *It’s only advertising*

  46. Stephen Braitsch

    Excellent post. Bottom line IMHO is to hire & collaborate with people who can get shit done, not just talk about it, or even worse wander around waiting for someone to give them permission to produce in the form of funding.

  47. Doug L

    When I hear “Creative Technologist”, I think of sites like this: http://apps.facebook.com/questforthegolden/

  48. Christmas

    Igor, I love you. But you know whats good about specific, highly trained, well honed coders? NOTHING. At least not in an agency. You might not be ready to admit it now. But you will. And the team will disband. Because it has to. The model doesnt work. Not at your scale anyway.

    Creative technologists or whatever you want to call them leave a lot to be desired, sure. But they are also inventive forces of nature. They solve problems by any means necessary.

    CODERS on the other hand tend to hide. They follow rules. They throw up walls and create problems as much as they solve them. MOST are whiney, alarmist, expensive, lazy, basement dwellers that outright refuse to suspend disbelief long enough to work collaboratively in a team to invent a real solution to a problem.

    1. Mary Toves

      I agree with you that a model that prefers coders to multi-disciplinary Creative Technologists will struggle to integrate at a traditional agency, like W+K. But Igor won’t be hiring the types of developers who hole off in a corner and shoot down ideas. I commend the effort to switch the perception of developers from the idea killing, basement dwellers we’ve all encountered and hated. But, since I’m not from Adland, most of the developers I know are not bitter anti-creatives. They just have a different perspective on concepting/idea generation. And ad agencies give them little to no time to participate/learn how to concept. This is why I went to ad school, and also why it was the best decision I could have made for my career.

      1. Igor Clark

        Hi again Mary! My point is not simply to prefer “coders” to anyone else (certainly not the type Christmas mentioned, as you rightly say), or to completely exclude anyone multidisciplinary. The “creative coder” I talk about is all about breadth as well as depth, and definitely not about excessive focus on technique over content.

        My point is very much rather to emphasize that strong code should be considered a core competency for the role commonly referred to as “creative tech” – and that the over-use and generalization of the label, including the (apparently widely-recognized, given a lot of the responses here and elsewhere) proliferation of self-described creative techs with weak or no coding skill, has led to the gradual erosion of its meaning and value. Which is a great shame.

  49. Doug Sherrard

    Hi Igor,

    One of the best articles I have read in this space. Well articulated and your passion is evident. Nice work. Would love to pick your brain on what the right people are for the right places.. one day. 


  50. Geoff Gaudreault

    I come from a varied background – formally trained in architecture. I moved over to interactive design and web development in 1999. I’ve always worn many hats, doing coding one day, interface design the next, and even character art and sound design. Some may call me “a jack of all trades, master of none.”

    I’ve always believed that the people who should be involved in the earliest stages of design are akin to the “master builders” of early architecture. They were not only educated in classical architecture, but they worked their way up by training in all phases of design and construction. By experiencing all trades, they would gain the wisdom necessary to become an architect.

    The same should go for “creative technologists” or whatever the word would be. Unfortunately, in this fast-paced field, it’s almost impossible to become fluent in one field without becoming obsolete in another. This is why collaboration and communication skills are vital for the people placed at the hub of the design and development process. As long as you can speak the many languages of the varied disciplines, you can become an effective translator.

  51. Anonymous


    Great piece that has inspired some interesting debate. So inspiring that it has prompted me to add my own musings.

    Firstly it is true that the job title Creative Technologist sucks but then so do many others. Agency-land is awash with bullshit job titles for roles that differ wildly from business to business, many of which should never have existed in the first place (my current favourite in the crassness stakes is Chief Surprise Officer).

    The truth is that the creative prefix has been added to the technologist title because technologist on it’s own frightens the bjesus out of most non-digital creative directors. It’s a re-brand.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you regarding education. Outside a handful of the most elite establishments, usually heavily funded by industry, our education system is firmly rooted in the past. The dominant metric seems to be quantity rather than quality and success is measured in the acquisition rather than the application of knowledge. This is affecting all the sciences as well as things like media and business studies, the arts and design. It will take a generation to rectify and require significant investment.

    While lack of specialist knowledge is a major factor in the general lack of ‘tech’ success the real flaw is economic. Talent, structure and process usually play second-fiddle to commerce. Investment in organizational change, which is what hiring people like you represents, will only continue to happen if it creates significant new revenue streams for the business. Therein lies the real issue.

    The reality is that the clients of most advertising agencies do not come to them to buy software solutions (the fact that clients of a lot of digital agencies don’t come to them to buy software solutions either is a whole different can of worms).

    In my line of work I meet a lot of creative technology types who have made the leap from digital agency to advertising agency. I’ve done a quick straw poll and I reckon more than 70% of them are miserable as a result. Whether they are any good or not is almost a moot point.

    Sure they get a shiny new job title, the money’s nice and boy are the budgets big but the problem is they don’t actually make stuff that clients want to buy. As a result skills atrophy through under-use and self respect dwindles because the only currency that counts in an agency is making stuff the clients want to buy. Eventually they get fed up and leave or fall victim to the bottom line and are made redundant.

    So should creative agencies even be in the software business? Of course they should and it’s just a matter of time before many of them have to be to survive. So what should they be doing differently?

    The missing ingredient seems to me to be sales – of course you need to hire better coders but without a sales channel, what is the point? If you are now in the software business where is the software sales team?

    The advertising sector has to fundamentally get it’s house in order before it has a hope in hell of attracting and retaining the best technologists, creative or otherwise. It has to start selling what they make.

    The following job posting for MBA students with a computer science background is currently posted on the website of a leading software developer:

    ‘You’ve made a significant investment in your own education, expanding on
    the expertise of your previous work experience. At XXXX, we understand
    the value you bring. Here you’ll find a positive work environment,
    exciting projects, and endless opportunities to exercise your skills,
    expand your knowledge, and profit from your education and experience’

    Until this is true of the roles on offer in our organizations we will continue to get the ‘talent’ we deserve.

  52. Pingback: Why We’re Not Hiring Creative Technologists – media and arts technology

  53. andycameron

    There are 80+ comments above mine and I’m sure pretty much everything than can be said has been said, but here goes.

    Great post Igor and it’s hard to disagree with nearly everything you’ve written. To be honest, I wouldn’t hire a CT who couldn’t code – doesn’t have to be the world’s greatest developer but has to be able to do it at some level – it’s about basic literacy. If you can’t code how can you prototype and test your own ideas?

    Several commenters point out you don’t want an art director who can’t sketch and you don’t want a copy writer who can’t write. In just the same way you don’t want a CT who can’t make interactive experiences with his or her own hands, at least at some level. And that means coding.

    Best CTs I ever worked with weren’t necessarily from a Computer Science background. Very best tend to be self taught and as interested in art as they are in tech. Coding at this level is best understand as a creative craft.

    Comment from Michael Edge poses a difficult, important question – if you are a CT who is capable of coding something of value, why join an agency? Many of the most talented CTs I know would be reluctant to join even the best agencies out there right now. If advertising agencies are going to stay relevant they must find a way to build an internal culture where coding is respected and understood at a senior level and where coders feel they are given the recognition they deserve.

    1. Ryan

      Knowing how to code is not what makes a great CT. You don’t have to know how to code to build prototypes. I can develop a clickable wireframe in omnigraffle and test design much better than I could spending the time to develop something to make sure it works.

      IA is a skill that separates the good from bad, not code.

    2. Ryan

      Knowing how to code is not what makes a great CT. You don’t have to know how to code to build prototypes. I can develop a clickable wireframe in omnigraffle and test design much better than I could spending the time to develop something to make sure it works.

      IA is a skill that separates the good from bad, not code.

      1. Liam Walsh

        “You don’t have to know how to code to build prototypes”
        Depends what you’re prototyping. Maybe you’d like to make something new, or cool?  Also why would you *not* want to learn to code? What you’re talking about sounds incredibly frustrating.  Knowing how to code empowers you, it only adds to what you can do.

        You could hire a copywriter who couldn’t really write. They could use madlibs* instead.

        *Mad Libs is a game where key words in a short story have been replaced with blanks. Players fill in the blanks with designated parts of speech (“noun”, “adverb”) or types of words (“body part”, “type of liquid”), without seeing the rest of the story. Occasionally, hilarity ensues, but no one really believes that this is an effective method for generating great literature.


  54. Pingback: Why Were Not Hiring Creative Technologists | What About The Creative Technologist | Scoop.it

  55. Izaias Cavalcanti

    Great read Igor! Just one (hopefuly not too obvious) point: I’d be much more interested in people’s actual work and interests than whatever their titles are. Anyone could call themselves GOD, but do not do any miracles – the opposite is also true. 😉

  56. metavitae

    Good post!

    But it will never happen.

    There are about a grand-total of 15 people out there in the world who fit the bill you describe.

    To your point though, both @Sockington:disqus and I can understand the awful/Lovecraftian deluge of sprinkly-ninjas, 
    because the exact same inundation has happened with so-called “Social Media Experts” [wait, I just threw up in my mouth a little saying that; -one sec.], once Twitter got really popular. 

    ->So I do get the revulsionary disdain/skepticism.

    —>Hell, even Gary Vaynerchuck’s first book, “Crush It” sucked so hard, taught so little, and failed so spectacularly to make its readers more awesome, 
    the only thing that got crushed was the bank accounts of the faithful. 

    I also see that the selection screens for this type of JD might be tightened abit to filter out the talkers from the the walk-the-talk-ers.

    And another thing you neglect in this position-paper/call-to-arms: Human Nature. 

    Mother Nature rolls her dice and that’s pretty-much it.

    I’ve worked with many many developers/coders. Several had IQs above 155. 

    And you know what they were? -Gearheads. Innovation, creative, and zen buddhist philosophy could not have interested them less.

    *In all my travels, I have found ONE, Precisely ONE guy, -who was the type you describe.

    The other petrolheads could not conceptualize creative out of a wet paper bag if they tried. 

    If they were to understand anything, it was to be presented in Excel or tab-delimited format. 

    Otherwise… Nothing.

    +And lastly: 

    Steve Jobs Himself was EXACTLY a “Creative Technologist”.

    Woz may have been the kwisatz haderach of engineers, 

    but he was nothing more than an engineer without The Steve; 

    PS: Unfortunately, (unless rightly paper-trained by you) the uneducated pigeonholing dolts in HR, and the greedy, annexationist volvo-driving crank-turners in middle-management will usually be doing their best, (and by ‘best’, I mean ‘Worst’) to undermine the efforts you outline if attempted in any org over 50 employees.

  57. Brad

    I work with a film director to make a television spot not just because he can make pretty pictures, but also because of his interpretation of an idea and the creative value he brings to a board. A good director doesn’t simply execute, he improves my idea, but he also doesn’t try to come up with a totally new idea. I don’t have an in-house film production company complete with a roster of directors and neither do I see the need for one. Similarly, I choose to work with digital “directors” who will interpret my idea and bring creative value to it, not simply execute. I do not see the need to bring this expertise in-house either. “Digital” ideas are not the sole domain of the “digital” experts, we are all people who live in a digital world, consuming digital content and ideas and platforms everyday. Honestly I have no idea how to make any of those things, just as I have have no idea how to make a CG Yeti dance in a TVC, but that really doesn’t matter. What matters from an agency point of view is the idea – not the “digital” idea – and that’s what good creatives have always been paid to come up with. There are no traditional creatives and digital creatives, just creatives…who come up with ideas that will be most effective in certain channels and hence collaborate with the most inspiring and relevant production experts (director/photographer/game developer/etc) to bring that idea to life.

    Perhaps this may be a simplistic view, but I think the world can always do with a little more simplicity.

    Brad Reilly   

    1. Igor Clark

      Have to disagree, Brad. Interactive work isn’t the same as TV work. On a TV spot you can spend 80% or even 90% of the time upfront perfecting the idea, polishing the script and sending it off to a production company to make it. They culture the pearl, and eventually you have a rendered, finished piece. By contrast in interactive work you have to get cracking with the making after 20%, 10% or less of the time, because the way that people use it is a core part of how good a thing is, and you can only see how people use it by letting them play with it. Prototypes, proofs of concept, early versions, developing through iteration into a finished product – which usually isn’t even finished then, as real interactive work has to live, breathe in and absorb the activity patterns of its users, and if release-day’s V1 is where it ends, then … well, that’s where it ends.

      1. Eric Walker

        Interesting exchange, because I see it reflecting the unnecessary divide between “creatives” and “creative technologists” (we are all just creatives, imo). The reality is you are both right on certain levels.

        Frankly, agencies are in the marketing and branding idea business. Technology is central to this. As Brad rightfully points out, everything is digital these days. Big branding ideas for clients can come from creatives, creative technologists, or the account person for all I care, but we must remember that there are, and always will be, different members of the collective that are versed in different areas. I haven’t met a whole lot of the talented technologists working in our industry who have the branding experience that many “creatives” have acquired. Conversely, not too many “creatives” are writing elegant, consumer-empowering code. The director analogy isn’t all wrong. I don’t shoot my spots because Gondry will do it better (don’t I wish). I won’t be coding my next idea for client x, either.

        Brad’s main point is collaboration, although I agree that it’s insulting to suggest that our technologists are “production experts.” Your counter is that the process begins earlier, which doesn’t fully negate what Brad is saying, it just means that the rest of the agency needs to be smarter and more collaborative with those who are more technologically versed on the team. Your article uses writers as an example of another piece of the creative puzzle, yet underestimates
        what writers in agencies do. We do more than work with words. It’s this kind of limited framing of what each of us does that causes the horrible problems you rightly decry.

        The bottom line is “creatives” need to learn more about the technological limits and possibilities of what they conceive and the “creative technologists” (I’m not fond of the title either, btw) need to expand their understanding of the marketing and branding that underpins the ideas for our clients. All members of the team need to be embracing and including each other in the forming of ideas. When I work with an art director I don’t wait until he comes up with a visual. Segregation is creative death. That said, trying to find someone who does it all is ill conceived, although I don’t sense that is what your article is suggesting. It seems you are just calling for hiring exceptionally talented people, something Weiden has done with every employee since they opened their doors.

        I’m struck by the us/them tone of a lot of these postings. The reason for this article is that we are not being smart about how we collaborate. Whether that collaboration begins 10% into the process or 50% (which is more accurate to the film analogy than your counter of 80-90%, btw), we all must obtain a wider creative understanding of both the technologies and the marketing that will drive our clients brands forward.

      2. Darren Simpson

        I disagree here Igor, scripts often change after an ad has been shot, and the prototype stage you’re referring to here – is exactly what an edit stage is in a TV ad – you need to see it to know it’s going to work, because you’re working in a media that is visual – same reason you need to interact with a prototype. 

        There are plenty of re-edits, re-grades, re-records of sound, script changes, cut-downs, in TV ads it’s all very very similar. 

        Your timings are way off btw, you’re talking a few days at most for most scripts these days, then production covers 3 or 4 weeks after that, but it’s never enough time to make what you really wanted, and never enough money… Sound familiar 🙂

  58. KindOfCrabbyInTheMorning

    Hi, I’d like to read this article and while your white background and grey font looks cool and hip, my “old” 29 year old eyes can’t see anything. The fact that I have to zoom on the page to read this article makes for a bad user experience.

    1. Ilja Rotelli

      Perfect example on why instead of hiring creative engineers they should hire creative UX designers instead. But that’s the next evolution I guess.

  59. Steven Baughman

    It’s great to hear that agencies are thinking about this. I’ve been hesitant to get involved in the ad world because as a ‘Creative Coder’ I was unsure of how I’d fit in the process and fearful I’d be relegated to making banner ads in the basement. 

    And I agree, I think it’s critical to really understand the technology behind the ideas that are pitched. Otherwise it’s too easy to miss a opportunity to take the idea to the next level or propose something that has no chance in hell of working well. From my experience, the best process is a smart open-minded developer being involved from the outset, chiming in with ideas, outlining technical challenges, testing ideas with prototypes, and collaborating with designers to make something that is impossible to ignore.

    And the end of the day, coders are like everyone else: We just want to make cool shit that we can be proud of.

  60. Amy Mauk

    I love you for this, and I can’t tell you how often my friends have heard similar things come out of my face, even though I’m still just in coding school. In my past of building sites, I’ve found that people never know how long anything really takes, how much thought something took, or how last-minute “OMGWTFBBQ” deadlines lead to mistakes and messy code.

    “Why does this link lead to the OLD Facebook page?”
    “Maybe because I was on hour 18 of my work day because of your unrealistic deadline.”

    Just behave like a sane person and give me a chance to do my best work. How hard is that? (Hard than one would think, apparently.)

  61. Paul Albertson

    “Creative Technology”

    I really think the concept is solid, and it has a nice ring to it.
    Technology Creative Department just doesn’t work. I don’t really know what
    was wrong with “Interactive” though. If you are going to combine your
    Technology and Creative groups, as we are doing, this
    title makes a lot of sense. Both artists and developers are passionate about
    what they do. It is like creating a Corporate partnership and trying to
    figure out whose last name goes before who’s. Artists and Developers are
    more and more becoming one in the same anyway.

    Creative Technologist, just like any other advanced field that allows non
    qualified participants into its ranks, will become worthless. If the
    qualification to be a Creative Technologist is “passion for digital” then
    that title is just as valuable as Intern. Everyone has passion for digital
    these days. If the Creative Technologist position is filled, or evolved into
    by a special few, then the position’s worth can remain high.

    A Creative Technologist requires a very rare talent set and personality. Its
    not something you can learn in school. They can teach you all you want, but
    it only comes from years and years of SUCCESSFUL Interactive projects and
    the fruits of working with all the different types of people involved in
    deploying these projects. You can’t be hired out of school as a CT.

    I feel that a Creative Technologist should have a mastery of some sort of
    programming language and its real world application. Its one thing to learn
    to program in school, and another thing to write an application and get it
    out into the world, break it and fix it… Numerous times if needed, under
    ridiculous deadlines.

    I also feel that a Creative Technologist has to have the Creative background
    to be able to pull off the same sort of tasks that ACD’s do. This would be
    team management, logo design, photo editing, composition, layout, and at
    least real world knowledge of what goes into the production of traditional
    and broadcast campaigns.

    The sum of this experience will produce a hybrid individual, who should have
    the ability to, as stated in the article, roll up their sleeves and get
    their hands dirty. I will take it a step further and say that the CT should
    be able to do this in both arena’s. Write standards compliant code, and
    create pixel perfect designs, oh and communicate with clients, write
    technical specifications, manage teams, etc.

    The blend of these two schools is rare, and the position should be treated
    as such.

    Also, I think if you call yourself any sort of Ninja you are opening
    yourself up to getting killed in the shadows by someone with a sword.

  62. Edd

    Who are your favourite artists? Who are your favourite writers? Now name a great artists who was also a gifted writer?

    You can probably save a little by paying 1.5 times the fee for one person who fulfills both of these roles, but they are very rare, and that is because the tacit learning of one specialism physiologically negates the ability to flex the grey matter in the other field of practice, in the vast majority of people.

  63. raymosley

    @8064bb00e2d84d5ec46d49b66be8eb90:disqus  name a world renowned architect who didn’t understand structural engineering AND had creative flair.

    Think possibly missing the point anyway a creative technologist isn’t a cost saver in terms of hiring someone to do both creative and dev but an additional cost in having a middle ground to provide direction and bridge any divides between design and dev. Much like you have creative directors and technical directors, Information arhictects etc. It’s a broader view type position, seeing a big picture and strategic thinking than it is trying to be as good as a pure graphic designer or pure developer.

    1. Mike Morris

      @twitter-16606601:disqus Frank Lloyd Wright. http://www.gadflyonline.com/02-18-02/comm-fallingwater.html

      This post describes my precise philosophy about the role of the developer in agency culture better than anything else I’ve read. Writing code that’s “good enough” has become commoditized. Conceptualizing without being able to effectively prototype your ideas is only marginally useful. What agencies need is exceptionally strong creative coders who never want to stop learning.

      I can sympathize with @fd8ae56f9b80f27f786eee35d2d6036f:disqus about the frustrations of engineering jobs that pigeonhole developers into production roles and offer limited creative outlets. I began my university education as a Computer Science major, but ended up dropping it because I wanted to work in a profession that touched people, not just interfaced with machines. I ended up graduating with a degree in Advertising and a minor in Art, and now I’m working in the agency world as a developer.

      Integrating developers into the creative process should broaden the discussion, not limit it. Developers should take it upon themselves to be active participants, not relegate themselves to approving or vetoing the ideas of others. It’s this initiative that defines the developers who can have the greatest impact in an agency environment. These are the people who will craft revolutionary solutions to problems we may not even understand yet.

  64. Adam Martin

    Great post … but part of the issue with the term ‘creative technology’ is that true creative techs are somewhat apologetic about it, always prefaced with ‘we’re creative technologists, I know it’s a little cliche’d’.

    It’s a valid description of an emerging discipline ie thoroughbred hacker/understands agency world – but it’s being routinely deployed by production companies keen to re-brand their flash developers without ever sitting them infront of a client.

    Because others has misappropriated it, we shouldn’t seek to apologise for it, we should stand firm, explain in nice client speak terms what we mean by it, demonstrate what we mean by it and leave the client pondering a glimpse of the future of communications, when the world ceases to box media into digital, above the line, below the line, side line, experiential and just call the whole damn lot ‘media’.

    Or we all start calling ourselves Transmedia Innovators and be done with it.

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  69. @bartonow

    God it never occurred to me there could be people out there saying they were Creative Technologists without understanding technology for real. CTs and definitely DCTs have to have serious chops. Otherwise, ur just toast, burnt baby…

  70. Eboches

    Many good points. And yes, development is what matters.  This is an argument of semantics, however.  And lastly, I hope the code you write is more efficient and elegant than this blog post. 😉

  71. hans.gerwitz

    Thank you, Igor, for one of those precious posts that can be used as a proxy for otherwise long conversations. I’m sure I’ll be sharing this URL.

    Rather than simple add a “me too” to the comment entropy, I’d like to posit a thought about the history of “Creative Technologist”: in the pre-agile past, it was difficult to describe the need for developers that were prepared to be nimble and react to the constantly changing needs of a creative project. A highly skilled engineer who sits paralyzed until she is provided a solid specification is near-useless in an agency. So is the one who fancies himself an artist and cannot bear to throw away his precious prototype code.

    Also, it is still today often necessary to distinguish developers who appreciate human-centered design enough to guide their own compromises. Inevitably, a development team will have to cut a few corners, and many very competent coders find it unnatural to select for slower or less-accurate approaches for the sake of user conceptual integrity or perceived responsiveness. Partly because of this, we find it necessary to delineate “Design Technologists” who not only find this comfortable but can contribute meaningfully to interaction design.

    They’re hard to find and, to your point, never seem to have “Creative Technologist” on their CVs.

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  77. engtech

    I feel like a dick for saying this, but wow… this font is really hard to read.

    I’m not sure what’s up with ““understanding”” vs bolding the text?

    It’s great to be innovative and creative, but putting up barriers to comprehension serves no one when you’re trying to transfer ideas.

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  82. Anonymous

    Interesting opinions. I think the way you define “creative technologists” your piece makes sense, but there’s a big assumption in the article that “creative technologists” are themselves coders (bad ones). In my experience, however, the creative technologist isn’t supposed to be a coder, but someone who can liaise/coordinate the creative team members and the technical team members. On very small teams there is no need for such a role. But as teams grow this role becomes quite valuable, and shouldn’t have anything to do with whether or not you hire coders.

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  86. Layne Braunstein

    Pretty soon everyone in agencies and production will have to wear multiple hats as people mentioned above. I tend to hire people that have skills as a coder and have some sort of art background- open Frameworks / After Effects for eg., or Sculpture / Arduino. And yes, those are hard to find, but they are out there 🙂

    There will always be room for people who are strictly coders or animators. But people who can understand & execute both will be highly valuable. I worked with many of them on the Creator’s Project and on Google recently. And they can write code like a mofo, but can also animate, and layout boards.My suggestion to people that live in only one of those worlds, is to take some time and get familiar with the other. The “creative technology” stuff they are teaching in schools right now is new and unorganized yes, but that will change very quickly into a tight curriculum. I was in the new “electronic media” dept. in art school in the 90s, and it was completely non-directional. But that soon became the interactive design and gaming dept.; which is a powerhouse today.

    The days of the art director/copywriter combo are still around. But the “art director” knowing inDesign and some Photoshop as a skill-set are quickly dying.We are entering a new renaissance in design and advertising, and Da Vinci is a perfect example of a hybrid creative.

  87. steve or steven read

    good article, telling it like it is, cutting through the bs. its so complicated most agencies outsource the heavyweight development, which isn’t necessarily a bad way to go but leads to coding sweatshops. most software devs need creative and conceptual direction, but not at the expense of being taken advantage of. and like anyone, we want credit where credit is due. otherwise we’ll sneak off to the latest tech start-up… more money, more respect.

  88. Darren Simpson

    I think the future will see the role you’re referring to as Creative Technologist, become more of a Tech Director role in the sense of a TV/Film Director. 

    Right now agencies are still struggling to find the balance between creativity and production, I believe digital (for want of a better word) will evolve into the same structure as TV/Film production houses – as in they will be their own outside specialist houses. 

    TV and Film production used to be done in house by lots of ad agencies too, it’s possible and many still do, but I don’t believe it attracts the talent to allow you to produce the greatest work.

    Creative Technologists who bridge the gap between Technology and Creativity will act in the same way a TV/Film Director does now, and work between the agency creative team and the production companies. Bringing their vision and creativity to move a creative idea on another level, and to work with developers to make sure their vision is achieved.  

    Developers roles are so specialised, and the output so heavily influenced by an individuals skill level, that great people are spread too thin across multiple agencies trying to have their own in house production teams. Better to have fewer production bases that many agencies can use. 

    That way the developers are more protected by their very own agencies (solid deadlines, best working practices etc), and more good people can work together to create better work…

    Anyway it would make much more sense to work that way to me!

  89. Strantheman

    should “The interactive space by definition requires the fusion of the two, and technology at the heart of creation.” be ”
    The interactive space by definition requires the fusion of the two, and technology is at the heart of creation.”

  90. Strantheman

    should “The interactive space by definition requires the fusion of the two, and technology at the heart of creation.” be ”
    The interactive space by definition requires the fusion of the two, and technology is at the heart of creation.”

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  92. Suttonsantiagopartnerships

    this is heart breaking Igor…your inpsiration during your time at the Guardian was the stuff that inspired the marjority of the content team into becoming Creative technologists!


  93. Bart Jawien

    good article mate, its impossible to be a CT with out an execution/production hat. coming up with the ideas is the simple bit

  94. Joseph Perrone

    Excellent. Joe Perrone. Temple University Media and Communications. Even universities must rethink the depth
    of technological knowledge student’s need. “There are people who engineer excellent software. There are people who come up with amazing ideas. The interactive space by definition requires the fusion of the two, and technology at the heart of creation.”
    Thank you.

  95. Bernard Briggs

    I’m hiring Creative Technologists.  No manifesto why, we just love technologists who are creatively applying their skills.  
    Email me!

    bernard dot briggs at t-3 dot com

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  97. G M

    This comes off as a little defensive to me, but only because I used to get annoyed by new, creative and odd-sounding job titles. I now simply think most job titles are pretty much crap and should probably be viewed as such by both employers and employees.

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  99. Moo head

    First, this article sounds like a lot of business/exec speak. Who uses “digital” as a noun? I think ultra-creative independent-thinking types don’t like working for corporate superstructures like W+K. The best you can scrape are hard-working types who are not independent enough to aim higher.

  100. stinky_jones

    “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
    — Hermann Hesse, Demian

  101. mike

    This phenomenon has been happening outside the agency in the corporate environment as well. I have always been on the fringes of IT departments. Quietly developing software and designing systems without an IT title. I go to meetings with IT “Professionals” and “Architects” who do not even know that .net compiles to il or java runs on a VM or any of the other baseline knowlege that developers should know. But these same individuals are great at cockily spitting out tech jargon to laypeople to intimidate them with their “Knowledge”. But when you actually know what the jargon means, it becomes obvious that they do not know what they claim.

    From my perspective, the rush to fill IT positions has put non techs in IT jobs and their bosses do not even know the difference because they are MBA’s who do not know much tech stuff either. I would say that there is probably 10% of the people doing the work and the rest are explaining in uber technical jargon why it can’t be done.

  102. Amelia Winger-Bearskin

    I’m currently a student at ITP (NYU’s TISCH Interactive Telecommunications Program: The Center for Recently Possible) My biggest question-and you addressed it a bit- is what do we call someone who is a creative coder / designer /artist?

    Personally I do Hardware Hacking, Circuit Board Design, Animation, Code, Interaction Design, rapid prototyping and many other ways to describe what I did as an intern.. I built a robotic arm for the assembly line building our product in China and also worked on the design team doing aftereffects mockups of our mobile app, both jobs in needed to code for but one was in the Engineering team the other the Design team. Naturally a lot of other people in my school are calling themselves creative technologists and before that User Experience Designers…advice?


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