Inside Redbox: meet Dan Smith, senior developer at Redbox
We talk to Redbox’s senior developer come entrepreneur, Dan Smith, about his work, pleasures and everything in between. A self-confessed car geek and café owner, Dan opens up about the challenges of his role and future goals.
Tell us about your work life before Redbox?
I’ve always been involved with the Internet in some way. I was about 17 when I started doing web work for a small agency near my home town in the Midlands. At that time, the ‘modern’ Internet was very much in its infancy and we were mainly building brochure sites, as well as the agency’s own recruitment platform, which is still around today!
My working career has mainly been agency-side, but I spent some time in-house working on Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, Goop.com, which launched in 2008.
Inhouse and agency work is poles apart, you see two very different sides to development. The negative side to agency work is that you’re not always part of the success of the site going forwards. On the flip side, it allows you to enhance your knowledge and understanding, and progress more quickly.
When did you start working with Magento?
I first started working with Magento more than 10 years ago when it was the wonderful 1.3.1 version. I recall having to learn how the platform worked and functioned in only a few months ready for a big launch. It was an enlightening time to say the least!
I’m mainly involved in Magento 2 build work for our clients, alongside assisting with pitch, discovery and specification. Moving from M1 to M2 was a steep learning curve. It’s a completely new platform with many new features and enhanced functionality. Those clients that have made the move to M2 are seeing significant benefits in terms of improved performance and scalability. It’s a better all-round experience for their customers.
What are you motivations in life?
As a father, it would be wrong to say my kids aren’t a huge source of motivation and inspiration for me. Seeing my girls develop on a daily basis, absorb knowledge and utilise it to the best of their abilities is amazing.
It’s something we should all take on board and try to follow in our everyday lives.
Any work achievements you are most proud of?
In a previous agency, I was tasked with rolling out M1 across seven languages and five regions on a single installation for the iconic knitwear company, John Smedley.
At the time, the required features and plugin functionality simply wasn’t available. The level of complexity around the build was a real challenge and one I relished. To see the site go-live in multiple markets, in multiple languages was a real achievement for myself and the team.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop.com was a very big departure from agency life. The site was a real success in that iteration of its history. It has successfully transitioned from a wellness/information site and into a large omni-channel business selling beauty, fashion and homeware amongst other things.
Any other achievements outside of work?
I’m a self-confessed classic car and Volkswagen geek. While I don’t get to spend as much time toying with them as I once did, they’re still a large part of my life. I’ve had two Volkswagens featured on the front cover of magazines - my 1963 Karmann Ghia and my 1963 15 window-split bus. Quite an accolade for a car guy!
I’ve currently got a 1970 VW Westfalia campervan that I’ve been building for the last few years. It’s just about ready for some adventures.
Dan's pride and joy - 1970 VW Westfalia campervan
We also own a cafe, bar and cooking school - Backhaus&Co - in Coventry, which my partner runs. We host special events there – gigs, cookery classes and comedy nights.
Main challenges of your role?
Redbox is one of the biggest agencies I have worked for and one of the main challenges is time. There’s not enough hours in the day.
Quite often I work across multiple projects at the same time and it can be difficult to prioritise which client needs your attention most.
But, our timekeeper and resourcing expert Laura keeps us all in check, plus we have a great team of project managers to guide the way (thumbs up).
What does the future hold?
Golden question but in general I’d like to increase the breadth of my knowledge across the platforms we use. Things change so quickly and it’s difficult to keep-up with everything. The team here have a huge wealth of collective knowledge and are always happy to talk things through and share what they know.
On a personal level I’d like to travel more, use my camper for what it was intended for and to show my girls just how phenomenal the world in which we live is!
Dan's busy cafe, Backhaus&Co, in Coventry If you had your time again, what would you do?
This is tricky one as I think it would lead me out of the tech industry to some degree. I love architecture and buildings, knowing how things work and how the aesthetics of our surroundings can be beneficial to the people who are viewing it. Almost like a social experiment revolving around built objects I guess.
This way of thinking is also extremely helpful when you’re trying to assist clients in establishing requirements that they may not have fully thought through. So, without being a structural engineer or architect, I get the same pleasure from what I do now and helping people reach that ‘lightbulb’ moment.
What's your favourite saying?
As Matthew Broderick once said in the 1986 film Ferris Beuller’s Day Off: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
If you could pass on one piece of advice you have been given, what would it be?
I’ve been offered so much advice over the course of my life, it’s hard to single one out. I do feel, however, that everyone should follow their own path. No matter where it takes them, it will always be the route they were supposed to take and if they hit a dead end, turn around and find another route.
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