Chris Wallace Interview
Chris Wallace is a husband, father, boss, and cancer survivor. Feet firmly planted on the ground, he works hard at making sure the people around him are happy, at work and at home. His shop’s done work for AMC tv, as well as the responsive design for IFC.com. This is a guy you want to work for, and you know what? He’s hiring. Read on to learn more.
How did you begin your love affair with the web?
In 2004, while attending Missouri State (Southwest MO State at the time) at the age of 20, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. My wife was pregnant with our daughter and in the hospital with a very severe form of nausea/vomiting that was life-threatening (mainly because the doctors were unable to diagnose it at the time). I was forced to drop out of school and get a job and the only thing I knew how to do was build websites. I had been hacking around with Dreamweaver and Flash for years and had gotten to the point where I was able to design and develop with proficiency.
To prepare for a new, young family of three, I approached the leadership at a college where my parents worked and offered to redesign their website for free while I was going to chemotherapy treatments, in exchange for a job and a place to live while I completed my treatment. They agreed. So I redesigned their website during my chemo appointments over a three-month period and took a job as Webmaster at St. Louis Christian College making about $20,000 a year. (Amazing, right?) It wasn’t much, but they invented a position for me and provided a place to live and that was pretty cool. I ended up moving on to a company called Network Solutions and then to Enterprise Rent-A-Car as a front-end developer for enterprise.com. Eventually, I co-founded Lift and UpThemes in 2009 with Brad “Secret Sauce” Miller (that’s not really his nickname but I think it should be). We now build a few really awesome websites with WordPress and also create second screen experiences for television shows like The Walking Dead, Bridezillas, and Breaking Bad.
You run UpThemes and Lift. Tell us a little bit about your role at each, and your productivity secret for being able to run two web-based businesses.
Running UpThemes and Lift is great because it’s really a natural marriage of two types of business that feed into one another: services and product. With Lift, we build a lot of really cool things for awesome clients with WordPress and that inspires us to build really cool and affordable themes and plugins with UpThemes. In terms of roles, I am a wearer of many crazy hats, including, but not limited to: design, development, content creation, social media guy, payroll, HR, and quesadilla making. In terms of my secret to productivity, um… I rarely consider myself productive and that’s ok. The most important thing for me is that I’m happy and the people around me are happy. If I focus on productivity, I’m less happy (and less productive).
As a boss, what are the things you do to keep your team happy?
This is something I’m always thinking about. My goal as a “boss” is to hire team members to do things they want to be doing and help them get to where they want to go next in their career. We already offer awesome perks like working from home, company-provided computers (typically a MacBook Air or Pro), health insurance, and yearly bonuses, but the big thing I ask my employees is “what do you want to do?” If you’re a killer developer and don’t enjoy communicating with clients, I’m going to do my best to keep you focused on code and out of Basecamp. Obviously, you can’t work in a silo, but we try to do the small things to keep our team focused, happy, and as productive as possible. We also provide training with Treehouse, we pay for lunch from time-to-time, send team members to conferences, and also get together for company hack-a-thons. We’re always on the lookout for awesome people and have open positions listed on our website.
In your career, what project(s) are you most proud of? Why?
Easily, I’m most proud of the work we’ve done on The Walking Dead StorySync® and Breaking Bad StorySync® — a web-based second screen app that we built for AMC tv — allows you to vote in polls, watch videos, and chat with other fans of the shows. I mean, how often can you say you had to watch a show about zombies at work? In early 2012, we found out that The Walking Dead StorySync® won a Social TV award over NBC, Storage Wars, and another native mobile app. It was a huge honor. We’re working on a ton more stuff for television in the coming months but I can’t say too much about it or I’ll have zombies sent to my house to eat my brain.
We also had the privilege to perform a responsive redesign of IFC.com, which is all built on WordPress. I designed it and did most of the front-end development while my teammates Brad, Brian, and Anthony did information architecture, wireframes, and additional development. That was a rewarding project and working with the team at IFC was absolutely awesome.
What was the most challenging part of making IFC.com responsive? How did you overcome the challenge?
I think the toughest part was probably communicating expectations to the client. Not everyone understands the difference between a responsive website and a regular website with a separate mobile website. It definitely forced us to take a look at our responsive design process and figure out what clients want to know in terms of how it all works and what to expect when the site is launched.
What advice can you give to young web wonks who are just starting out?
I don’t know, this feels super cliché but I really would say that the best advice I can give is to find something you’re passionate about and figure out a way to make a living doing it. Surround yourself with people that can help you grow and learn every day. Don’t burn yourself out and remember that patience is hard but necessary. Sometimes things don’t happen the way you want them to, but if you keep at it, they’ll happen the way they’re supposed to.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in life that you’d like to share with others?
I’m a follower of Christ and I’ve learned that there’s a plan for my life. I may not always know it, but He says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Even for people who aren’t religious, I think it’s great to remember that. There’s a plan and a purpose for your life and it’s a process to learn who you are and what you’re good at. So go forth and be awesome.