10 Questions with... Steven York

1) What do you do at Graymatter?

I often cite that I solve problems for a living, and that’s perhaps the most fitting description I can think of because it encompasses so much. Whether that’s crisis management, architecting a solution to a client’s business needs or merely shuffling resource allocations at Graymatter to ensure everything keeps moving in the right way.

On paper, I lead the development team and have responsibility for all development output. In practice, this means I’m primarily acting as a Business Analyst and Solutions Architect.

2) What was the first job you had?

As a fresh faced teen, I started work at WHSmiths in a character-building customer-facing retail role.

I had what can only be described as one of the most catastrophic interview openings in the history of humanity when being hired for this role, whereby I managed to get my foot tangled in the store manager’s phone cable, so when he stood to walk me around the store - upon stepping away from his desk the cable went taut, then the entire phone was wrenched from the wall, crashing to the floor. It shattered.

An awkward moment of disbelief descended on the interview while teenage me was on the verge of leaping through a nearby window and writing it down as “experience”.

Thankfully he saw the funny side and offered me the role.

3) If you weren’t working in marketing what would you be doing?

If I stayed within the sphere of digital I’d no doubt be leading some level of digital transformation somewhere.

If I abandoned the entire digital development world; I’m an avid writer so I’d like to think I’d pursuing that further. Though I have come to accept that I’m never going to be a professional footballer nor am I going to become a famous musician.

4) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Marketers today?

The boring answer would be General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) because I think the demands on the average organisation are excessive and will cost untold sums of money for various entities to fully understand and then implement to meet compliance by May 2018.

The more exciting answer would be adapting to a maturing audience who have grown up in a world totally alien to most marketers. Instant gratification and immediate access to literally anything have created an incredibly demanding set of potential customers who are only a few years away from being active consumers. I think appealing to the juxtaposed values of more traditional audiences and the more frenetic upcoming ones is going to be a real challenge.

5) What are you most proud of?

I’ve been privileged to work on a number of fabulous brands over the years and been involved in several award-winning projects. But I’m probably most proud of how I’ve arrived here.

Coming from a household that wasn’t particularly scientific or IT literate and not only committing to a certain career goal, but making untold sacrifices along the way in order to meet it. That’s a real source of pride. I’ve had to do everything the hard way, so while my peers were going travelling at 21 or starting families, I was working 70-100 hours a week to build a career.

I was living in a 1 bedroom house with a broken boiler that I’d had to beg, borrow and steal to buy. I was prototyping, reading, experimenting and writing. I created a technology blog that was read by over 100,000 people per month, I was a creator. So, I’m proud of what I am now, because it was hard earned.

6) Tell us what has been your biggest career mistake.

When you work in the technical side of this business mistakes can be incredibly costly. As an example, at a previous agency a more junior member of my (then) team made a 30 second mistake doing routine maintenance that took down email (including calendars) for 6 offices for an entire day.

Technical mistakes are easily made and incredibly costly. Every developer has taken a live website down, they’re big mistakes but they’re essentially a rite of passage.

7) If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who has just started out in the industry, what would it be?

When I first started I was overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know. I sat in meetings understanding precious little of what was said and genuinely wondering if I was simply out of my depth.

You aren’t. Listen, ask questions and put in the effort to understand more. It’ll come incredibly quickly and you’ll soon be someone who bamboozles other newcomers.

8) What recent work has struck a chord with you this year and why?

Biased observation time, but Leeds United’s shift in marketing since being bought by a media guru has struck a chord with me as a fan. But that’s a far more personal resonance than I could ever attempt to explain to an objective party…

9) Tell us one thing someone wouldn’t be able to find out about you from looking at your LinkedIn profile.

I have a large chest tattoo of an octopus with a skull for its head, clutching a pocket watch in the crushing depths of the ocean.

I am also one of the only people in the world to have seen both the pop-group Steps and the death metal band Cannibal Corpse live.

10) If you were stranded on a desert island and could take any three people with you, who would they be?

I’m assuming that cats count as people, because they do. So, my pair Rambo and Gemma are coming with me, and my other half, obviously.

Though in the spirit of the question I’d take Sir David Attenborough, Bear Grylls and Professor Brian Cox. Simply because I feel that this would offer the best combination of stimulating conversation and survival probability. Does the island have Wi-Fi?