Technically Speaking: Ben Feist

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Ben Feist
Ben Feist

People used to tease Calgary, Alberta-native Benjamin Feist that his English/Computer Science double major in university had set him up for a lifetime of writing manuals. The newly minted Taxi technology director seems to have avoided that fate, instead following a path that saw him help launch Organic's Toronto office in 2000, and spend the last three years as senior manager, interactive development at Sapient. He's followed up impressive digital projects like Sapient's site for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and bringing Coke's Happiness Factory online, with spearheading Taxi's drive into the digital space.

How did you get into this line of work?
When I graduated university I was given two job offers—one at a bank and one at a CD-ROM company. As a programmer, I wanted to do work that people would see. What struck me about the bank job was you could work all day and not be able to tell anyone what you achieved because it's a small part of a big system in a back office that's part of an even bigger system that you don't even really understand. So, I took the risky job at the CD-ROM place and ended up making things on Macromedia Director.

Why did you decide to join Taxi?
(Taxi CCO) Steve Mykolyn is someone I used to work with, and he tricked me into having a beer with him and then dropped a bomb on me. But if you asked me three years ago what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would've said this. Considering how agencies look to turn themselves digital and still make their creative ideas something of value in this new channel is exactly what Taxi is doing right now. And they're doing it differently from many places that have spun off little digital shops, which basically become banner factories.

How do you see the digital agency evolving?
The risk for agencies now is way lower because it's all visually-oriented technology. You can bring some hardcore coders in, but they're going to be Actionscript experts or Javascript coders, not Java dudes. It's not as big a cultural disconnect. There aren't so many layers between the coder and the creative director. It could conceivably be the CD talking to a one-man show Flash developer, as opposed to project manager who understands timelines who can communicate to the tech lead who can talk to the Java guy and by then, who the hell knows what you're talking about? So companies like Taxi that decide now is the time to really make your company channel agnostic, are making the smart decision. The technologies are in the right place and you have enough canvas to do some pretty interesting work without having to be an IT shop.

Where do you see creativity in this space going?
There's huge creativity just in seeing how all the different pieces can work together now. There's a GPS on your phone and a never-ending 3G wireless connection—what are some new things you can do with that? And that kind of creativity, a lot of times, stems from the geek who sees the potential. But it has to be the right kind of creative person who has the idea and knows if it can be done. It's great to be able to work with people who don't work under the confines of the internet all day but think about larger questions. Then you as a technologist, can see the potential and add your ideas on how this new thing can be created.
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