The One with the Jiragorgon
Savannah's Quick Sip : Part 1
Quite frankly, I’m not a technology person. Two weeks ago I bought my first ever, non-Apple iPhone charger – six whole feet of neon blue, parachute cord wrapped freedom – and I felt like Tony freaking Stark. I’ve just never had “the bug,” so to speak, for the newest devices or software updates. And I certainly never imagined a career in tech… she types on her laptop from her internship at a digital marketing agency. Irony, you cruel mistress. So you can imagine that a month ago when I flew out to Napa, CA and started my indentured servitude with Astra, I was nervous. I had no clue what kind of programs they would have me use. I had no graphic design skills, and Excel made me sweat. But no weapon formed against me shall prosper, and now I can do it all. I’ve got about 5 new software notches on my belt. I’ve got the basics of Photoshop down. I’ve been taught most of the guts of Google Analytics. And now, I make Excel spreadsheets sweat.
But even though I’ve undergone an Industrial Revolution, I completely empathize with the wine community and their hesitance to get into the digital world. I’m from south Georgia, a place commonly referred to as “the Dirty South” – not exactly a metropolis of innovation. I grew up playing in swamps and running around on farms, and my great granddaddy was using the mule and plow even after the tractor was invented. So I know how intimidating technology can be to people like winemakers. I mean, hell, if I’d spent decades picking grapes with my bare hands and building real friendships with my customers, I’d call it black magic and start sharpening my pitchforks the moment someone tried talking data to me. And to all the tech engineers out there – how can you blame us when you give technology such scary names? Just a few of the softwares and tools we use daily are called “Urchin Tracking Modules,” “Site Crawlers,” and then the mother of them all… literally the first thing I was exposed to on my first day at Astra… Jira.
Every Monday morning at Astra, we sit upstairs and plan our week together, sorting and delegating through tasks on Jira. And as the week progresses, we move these tasks into columns of “To Do,” “Blocked,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” Each task has what’s called “story points” – a number to measure the level of difficulty. For example, building a Facebook ad might be 3 points whereas building website content might be 13 or 20. And let me just say, Jira points are a currency in here. They’re like cigarettes in prison or crayons in a preschool class. Everything is measured by points. If you trade tasks, you trade points. If you add onto a task, you add on some points. It’s a way to quantify our success each week and get an idea of how to balance the workload efficiently for our clients.
And we love Jira, in a Stockholm Syndrome kinda way. She’s (yes, she has pronouns) nothing more than a super advanced planner, but quite frankly, Jira is some Black Mirror type shit. She’s exactly what that show warns us about. If the tech world ever stages a coup against humanity, it will undoubtedly be led by Jira… and Mark Zuckerberg, but that’s another blog. Anyway, as soon as I was given the rundown on her and her inner workings, I started having nightmares of Jira in a matrix similar to the Upside Down, getting stronger and stronger with each byte, until she one day manifests into that creature from Stranger Things, the demogorgon…. THE JIRAGORGON.
And if the Jiragorgon is Astra’s supernatural frenemy – and if I’m committing to the Stranger Things analogy – now enters our protagonists. Nick is without a doubt Dustin, the Jiragorgon’s human friend who raised her from a simple, innocent account to a soul-sucking master software tracking our every move. Nick is our CTO, our professional and beloved geek. (Nick, don’t act offended by this. You know what you are.) While everyone here is extremely tech-savvy, without Nick we would be engraving slabs of stone and sending carrier pigeons. He’s the one who originally shifted Astra from using a whiteboard to using a magnetic board with dozens of note cards to using Jira, and he continues to keep us in the 21st, maybe even 22nd, century. He does web design. He does data analytics and SEO strategy. He has yet to ignore my many Google chats asking for assistance. He does it all. I’m pretty much convinced his DNA is part code. Nick Billings is the happy-go-lucky smart kid in every 80’s movie ever made. You know, the four eyes with the cool gadgets and graphic tees, constantly being the sarcastically logical one. But the best thing about Nick is that he surprises you. You'd think that someone whose mind is always a step ahead of everyone else’s would be impatient or hard to talk to, but he’s quite the opposite. Nick never lost the beautiful childlike qualities that most of us wish we could've held onto - creativity, patience, and giddiness for cool stuff. However much like Dustin, it’s Nick’s pesky, no-good kindness that makes him the Jiragorgon’s only hope at gaining a human ally… again, besides Mark Zuckerberg.
The savior of my hypothetical, already-a-Netflix-series nightmare is one of our account managers, Dennis. He likes bourbon, he’s left handed, he’s talented (guitar player, child-rearer, ordained minister), and he works hard. Dennis is ridiculously likable – he has one of those names. "Dennis Whitaker" sounds like the kind of guy I want changing my oil and taking my team to the Super Bowl. "Dennis Whitaker" sounds like the bar owner who, for 20 years, has poured your usual as soon as you walk in. "Dennis Whitaker" sounds like a Bruce Willis character. You get the idea, but Dennis has Chief Hopper written all over him. Maybe it’s because they both have a herd of kids to look after, but they have the ultimate badass father characteristics. However, the only thing about Dennis that defies the physics of stereotypical dad-ness is his oneness with technology - he’s got Google Analytics fitted with a muzzle and fetching him beers on command. And while Jira is a whole ‘nother animal, she knows no fury like a Dennis parched. So whenever I need help or a good wholesome laugh, he's always there… whether he likes it or not because we sit 3 feet apart. Chief Hopper and Dennis are manly men – tall, broad-shouldered, solid facial hair - but they're like teddy bears if teddy bears looked natural on a Harley. They’ve got a laid-back presence that makes the room more calm and collected, and at the end of the day, Dennis will be the one to defeat the Jiragorgon… probably via whiskey-bottle Molotov Cocktail.
Now back to reality. I don’t want y’all to get the impression that we are letting robots and software run the office. As wild as my imagination is, that’s crazy, and that’s the point I want to get across to any technophobic people out there – especially the ones here in wine country. Digital marketing is a lot to take in. It’s a lot of moving pieces. It’s data and metrics and strategy. But behind all of the social media and search engine optimization, is you and us. People. People with dirt under our nails. People with the same favorite TV shows who read the same paper and eat the same cereal. People with humor, wisdom, and passions. All of this jargon and the thingamajigs are very important to chasing success, but at the end of the day they’re just tools like a shovel or a wrench – they’re nothing until an inspired hand picks them up. Whether we’re using laptops or abacuses, Astra would be nothing without the movers running it and the shakers hiring us, so with all that being said, and despite my caffeine-induced night terrors, we’re very thankful for Jira… and for our Google Home who we hope will choose to side with the Resistance should the civil war come.